Brooklyn’s Yeasayer have always thrived on what is sometimes referred to as “maximalism”, which means exactly what you think it does: more is more. They throw everything into the mix, both sonically and lyrically, and while this can often produce catastrophic results, these guys get the balance right and the final product ends up a rich, rewarding experience.
That’s the case with their fourth and latest album, anyway. Amen & Goodbye is all over the place. A variety of instrumentation is littered throughout each song, which allows the listener to discover something new each time. The general vibe — if you can reduce it to one — is “trippy”. First listens recall a slightly more reined in version of the Flaming Lips, as there’s an air of slightly unhinged psychedelia. The catch is that it’s all framed by smart, classic songwriting.
Take “Dead Sea Scrolls”, for instance. Disembodied vocals are often filtered through effects, which would seem distracting if they weren’t in the service of what sounds like a great, long-forgotten Todd Rundgren power-pop single circa 1981. “It’s just another fake-out,” the lyrics go. “Just another sleight of hand to keep control.” You wonder if this is a reference to how the easygoing pop is masking darker motives. Or perhaps it’s just a song about the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A beat-up, detuned acoustic guitar kicks off “Silly Me” before a tight, danceable beat takes over and it soon becomes one of the album’s most infectious tunes. Lyrically, it’s a classic breakup song, complete with impassioned pleas of regret (“She said are you kidding me / Your narcissistic behavior has been killing me / For three years or maybe more”).
Elsewhere, things continue to get weird while still maintaining a sense of melody and pop songcraft. “I Am Chemistry” — complete with trippy animated video — appears to address drugs and poisons in the first person, a wordy run-through of a series of chemicals (“It’s a gas, a sarin for high tea / A C4H10FO2P puts you on your knees / I say it again: I am a chemistry”) while synthesizers bleat and a martial drum beat hammers away. This is before the entire song abruptly switches gears for a haunting choral section led by guest vocalist Suzzy Roche: “My mama not to fool with oleander / And never handle the deadly Quaker buttons again.”
The album often switches into more haunting, droning spaces, as is the case with “Prophecy Gun”. A mesmerizing music bed washes over an almost hymnal chorus. “The sky is falling, into the world to come / Abraham’s bosom can’t welcome everyone.” Keyboards spray a light prog rock vibe over the whole thing, giving the song both new and old textures.
Brief interludes pepper the album and give it a broad, conceptual feel, as is the case with the spacey “Computer Canticle 1″, which spills into the baroque, Beatles-meets-Syd-Barrett hallucination that is “Divine Simulacrum”. Likewise, “Child Prodigy” provides a brief, odd change of scenery – it’s basically one minute of solo harpsichord with a smattering of applause covering the entire track.
One of the more straightforward and eloquent tracks on Amen & Goodbye is the terrific “Cold Night”, where an uncharacteristically sparse music bed of percussion and processed guitar lays the groundwork for a simple love song. “Was there something I could have told you / To carry you through the cold night?” It’s uncomplicated and direct in its execution, a stark contrast to the wordiness of the tracks that precede it. This is not better or worse than the rest of Amen & Goodbye, but simply another layer of this beautiful, mind-blowing album.