Review: Yeasayer's Amen & Goodbye

Publish date:

EXPLORING THE AESTHETIC MOTIVE of Brooklyn-based quartet Yeasayer is a lot like playing golf for the first time: We wish desperately for there to be some secret trick to understanding it in totality, but if there is, there’s no way in hell anyone’s going to figure it out overnight, so it’s probably best to just sit back, pound a sixer of Milwaukee’s Best and drive the cart.

In this case, drive the cart = not be so analytical.

And this is by no means an insult to Yeasayer. Honestly, they’re kind of masterful at what they do. Never have I witnessed a band derive so much charm and affability from such a muddy, convoluted and downright chaotic sonic motif. On paper, Yeasayer should be a band critics love to avoid. But in practice, the opposite is true.

In fact, debut LP All Hour Cymbals has become a bit of a cultural waypoint in how psych-pop has evolved over the past decade. Admittedly, Yeasayer have never been purveyors of technique, but what they lack in innovation they more-than make up for in conviction. These guys mean what they say, and tracks like “Sunset”, “No Need to Worry”, and “Forgiveness” showcase the kind of presentation know-how that simply can’t be taught.

So when you really think about the progress Yeasayer have made between All Hour Cymbals and now, it’s hard to ignore how devoted they seem to be to focusing their craft on how their catalog feels, rather than the instrumentation. And for the most part, it hasn’t been a colossal failure, which is nice. Sophomore LP Odd Blood comprised “Ambling Alp”, “Madder Red”, “O.N.E.”, and “Rome”, tracks so iconic and memorable, I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard them. Imagine my surprise when 2012 LP Fragrant World delivered “Henrietta”, and “Longevity”, two more tracks to add to this rather impressive list.

So here’s where we’re at: Yeasayer have used the past six years to identify their niche, establish their role and perfect their contribution. So far, so good.

I suppose the biggest surprise associated with Amen & Goodbye, Yeasayer’s fourth LP, is that there aren’t really any surprises. Thanks to the internet, few albums will ever be a surprise in totality again, because pre-release tracks tend to ruin the crescendo before it even begins. Unfortunately for Yeasayer, pre-release singles “I Am Chemistry” and “Silly Me” amount to the best and most enjoyable moments on the album. It’s the music equivalent to discovering a movie’s most badass moments were all in the trailer, and then dealing with the disappointment.

That’s not to say the entire album is a wash or a waste of time. On the contrary, “Prophecy Gun” and “Uma” might go deeper than any Yeasayer track to date—an aggressive claim given the heaviness of their catalog, but I stand by it.

Holistically, though, I can’t help but posit that Amen & Goodbye could stand to lose a few pounds. “Dead Sea Scrolls” is the obnoxious kind of repetitive, while “Gerson’s Whistle” is about 50 seconds too long. About the only thing “Half Asleep” has going for it is that it’s aptly named, and the album features way too many less-than-two-minutes-long interlude-things. It feels disjointed and incomplete, which makes me wonder: Would Amen & Goodbye have been more successful as a five- or six-track EP? I don’t know. But probably. C