These songs are busy spectacles.
There’s an impulse to tag a band like Yeasayer as “druggy.” That tends to happen when you go around describing yourself as “Middle Eastern-Psych-snap-gospel” at the outset of a career, or referring to the single from your new album as “Sgt. Pepper meets Hieronymous Bosch meets Dali meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” While it’s true that over the course of three albums, and again on its latest record Amen & Goodbye, the band exhibits a creativity and willingness to explore genre that only the most stoned can often boast, their command of these tools is closer to genius than anything under the influence could actively expect to achieve.
A common thread of Yeasayer’s work is the merging of unconventional rhythms and instruments to create buoyant pop music, a quality that Amen & Goodbye has in spades. “Silly Me,” the album’s most immediate and conventional song, creates a cheerful dance-pop track out of a jerky acoustic guitar riff, a keyboard modded to sound like a background choir and winding synth riffs that recalls steel drums and a theremin kit in equal measure. “Dead Sea Scrolls” combines prog-rock vocal harmonies with downbeat R&B and a 40-second-long honking saxophone solo that carries the track to a different place.
Even the transitional tracks like “Child Prodigy” and “Computer Canticle 1” indulge in baroque (the former) and aggressive electronica (the latter). In lesser hands, this mixing and matching of stylistic hallmarks would result in a hodgepodge. Here, it turns threads into complete works. Even songs that don’t totally come together are fascinating for their ambitions (late album “Uma” comes to mind.)
Still, what sets Amen & Goodbye—and Yeasayer as a whole—apart from other pysch-art bands of their era (Animal Collective, Wolf Parade) is the joy with which they jump in to these hodgepodge elements that make up their songs. At every turn Yeasayer play these songs as if they are enjoying the hell out of every lurching change. The element of “can you believe we’re getting away with this?” is especially present on lead single “Prophecy Gun” and “Dead Sea Scrolls.” In lesser hands, all these diversions and attempts to merge disparate sounds would serve as tedious art projects. Here, they make up a tapestry. Sure, there are probably easier ways to make a pop record, but there likely aren’t many more fun ways to do so.
It is that willingness to play that makes Amen & Goodbye worth coming back to. These songs are busy spectacles that, at their best, come together to make a sonic tapestry unlike any other. Music this far-reaching can be consumed by the statement that there’s greater meaning to be gleaned here if one is willing to dig for it, but its greater triumph is how approachable this music is despite occasionally being a messy pile of influences.
It’s difficult to pin a record this fun and varied to any one genre; that said, I have no doubt this would be a fun record to do drugs to. I just don’t believe this could be made by anyone druggy. Amen & Goodbye is a studied collage of freak elements distilled to their most catchy parts.