Six years have passed since Brooklyn’s Yeasayer released their second album, 2010’s magnificent Odd Blood. It received widespread critical acclaim and looked set to propel the quirky indie outcasts into the mainstream thanks to its irresistible pop anthems, such as Ambling Alp and O.N.E. However, Yeasayer are not ones to bow to convention, something they subsequently demonstrated with their experimental third album, Fragrant World.
Rather than simply repeating the formula that worked so successfully on their second outing, they changed their sound up again and continued to push boundaries, and the end result was darker and more daring, but harder to love than its predecessor, due to its dense electronic synths and additional technological flourishes.
Four years on, Yeasayer are back with their fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, which sees them dial back some of the many layers that made Fragrant World so impenetrable at times. They’ve not completely turned their backs on technology, but there is undoubtedly a more organic feel to their return that came about almost by accident during the recording process.
The band initially took themselves away to wilderness of Outlier Inn in Woodridge, New York, where they recorded together straight onto tape. But a rainstorm damaged much of what they had, prompting Yeasayer to salvage what they could and reconstruct it with the help of their trusty digital equipment and producer Joey Waronker (Beck, Atoms For Peace). The results are clear to see from lead single I Am Chemistry.
It’s full of all the weirdness you would expect from a Yeasayer track, including a restless, skewed synth melody, but there’s a clarity in the execution that makes it intoxicating, not to mention the heavenly choir that make a late intervention (“My mama told me not to fool with oleander/and never handle the deadly quaker buttons again”). Silly Me follows in a similar vein, with a catchy hook that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Odd Blood.
While Yeasayer have not exactly gone all-out pop, Amen & Goodbye possesses many more memorable moments than Fragrant World. The jubilant Dead Sea Scrolls is a perfect example of this, with its hummed “bah bah bah bah” harmony and alien synth line clear signs of a band enjoying their craft, while penultimate track Cold Night delivers an emotionally poignant message about the death of a friend through yet another infectious chorus.
Just because Yeasayer’s fourth LP is more accessible than its predecessor, does not mean that they don’t take risks, though. Half Asleep is a twanging, oscillating beauty that makes full use of the band’s wide range of instruments. Then there’s slow-burner Prophecy Gun, which builds up gradually from its lush synth melody and distant vocal into a dreamy crescendo.
Another standout is Gerson’s Whistle, where Yeasayer utilise woozy synths, a jaunty hook and the choir once again, as the song leads into its ridiculously addictive final refrain: “They yell out okay crazy/the world must have made him insane.” Yet for all its plus points, Amen & Goodbye is not perfect: for one thing, it contains far too many interludes that add little to the album, other than breaking up the momentum.
But these are a minor quibble in the context of the overall record and can be forgiven, considering how much Yeasayer get right on Amen & Goodbye. The band are far from fans of modern pop and their twisted take on the genre continues to beguile and enchant in equal measure, but the ideas never overwhelm their fourth album. As a result, their return sees them get back to something like their captivating best.