Brooklynites Yeasayer have never been ones for treading the same path. Since the release of their debut almost a decade ago, each long player moves in a different to the last, though all remain interwoven with myriad multicultural and spiritual influences. 2010’s excellent Odd Blood seemed perfectly timed, more glossy than their debut, more unashamedly pop, reminiscent of their peers Vampire Weekend and MGMT. Its follow-up Fragrant World, an altogether more minimalist effort, appeared to take a left turn away from the celebratory sounds that typified ‘Ambling Amp’ and ‘O.N.E.’ Four years away and Yeasayer’s return is another sharp turn in another direction and one that feels quite unexpected.
Amen and Goodbye is obviously the work of the same band, not least thanks to front man Chris Keating’s distinctive voice but also for the psychedelic, worldly themes that run throughout. An ambitious record, it sits almost as piece of academic work as the band combine themes of science and civilisation to pull together a thesis that has a few weaker chapters than others.
There’s something traditional about this record, less electronic and digital in feel than their previous efforts. Recorded in a studio in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the sense of space and the slower pace of life comes across, as does a sense of history. Keating has said they listened to a lot of 60’s/70’s groups for inspiration while recording the album and the influence is clear within.
The captivating ‘I Am Chemistry’, which follows a pleasant but unnecessary one minute intro, has an otherworldly pop feel; the song that takes an unexpected turn as undulating synth falls away to a gorgeous choir-like refrain from guest vocalist Suzzy Roche of folk sisters The Roches. Keating sings of being various toxic chemicals – “I’m digoxin from the foxglove plant / I’m an ACN and I’m DDT / I am chemistry”. Whether a simple show of scientific knowledge or a meandering ode to a destructive relationship, it’s hugely enticing and when the song falls into ‘Silly Me’, an upbeat list of self-deprecation, it’s as perfect a combination as you’d hope for.
But it doesn’t last, a sprinkling of instrumentals including the odd ‘Child Prodigy’ – a harpsichord played over constant handclapping – seem extraneous and while ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ is an interesting, simple rock song on its own, it sits strangely with the rest like it’s slunk in from another album. Cohesion isn’t everything though and when it comes to playful tunes crammed full of unexpected twists and turns, Amen and Goodbye has that in spades. One thing you can never accuse these boys of is being boring.