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WPGM Recommends: Yeasayer – Amen & Goodbye (Album Review)

Wonderment. Defined as: 1) a feeling of amazement and admiration for something unfamiliar and 2) a curious desire to know something. Throughout their 10-year reign, the Brooklyn band Yeasayer have possessed this attribute and unleash its magnetizing qualities to audiences in equal measure.

Evident through their colourful use of instruments, eclectic array of influences and erudite respect of historical figures – presented in unpredictable compositions similar to Animal Collective but a little catchier like the otherworldly indie of Bombay Bicycle Club.

However, along this road of discovery, two admirable features of Yeasayer’s psychedelic debut All Hour Cymbals – which gained them their initial enthusiastic applauding fanbase – became evanescent on the otherwise brilliantly giddy Odd Blood and underground-electronica of Fragrant World. That was the Fleet Floxes-like harmonies and the mesmerizing Middle Eastern exotica.

Thankfully on their fourth and hopefully not final album Amen & Goodbye, those characteristics return. Opener “Daughters of Cain” and “Prophecy Gun” reintroduce the calming and mellow harmony whilst “Half Asleep” and “I Am Chemistry” enhance it: the former with overlapping duet technique and the latter with a bridge that sounds like a choir of goody-two-shoes children – it’s actually a grown up folk vocalist called Suzzy Roche.

Indian instruments such as the sitar and other ethnic apparatus can be heard consistently throughout the album giving Amen & Goodbye an earthier tactile, compared to the inventive yet metallic basement-dwelling precedent Fragment World.

However, rather than rehash their humble beginnings, it compliments another whirlwind of wonderment and unexpected delights, that is appropriately summed up by the Sgt. Pepper-esque sleeve artwork designed by New York expatriate David Altmejd – a multimedia extravaganza that requires multiple glances featuring a manga character, body-less heads and topically Donald Trump.

Their curiosity this time lies in their various disenchanting responses with the replication of polished copy-catting modern pop music (a genre which they dabbled with in their structural own way on Odd Blood). Firstly, it’s an album that’s best heard as long play listen, based on the four interludes and patient building on tracks such as “Prophecy Gun“.

Secondly, the album embraces the importance of accidents – in a similar vain to DeLux’s 2015 album Generation – shown by the track-skipping on “Dead Sea Scrolls“, usage of random found sounds such as the razor sound at the climax of “Divine Simulacrum” (relevantly for the pop concept, it’s about poor imitations), the decision to include the seemingly pointless finale “Amen and Goodbye” and the reference to the rainstorm that destroyed their earlier recordings at the start of “Gerson’s Whistle“.

Intriguingly, Yeasayer also transport back to past eras for nostalgic refreshment: baroque classical performance on the clap-laden “Child Prodigy“, a tribal society on “Computer Canicle 1” and the usage of horror-associated theremin on “Uma” and “Dead Sea Scrolls” – an instrument used very recently on Esperanza Spalding’s “Ebony and Ivy”.

Lastly and unsurprisingly, Yeasayer again boldly investigate unsual and intellectual subjects that would make worthy zines. In the past, they studied drug queen Griselda Blanco (“Griszelda”) and cell innovator Henrietta Lacks (“Henrietta“).

On Amen & Goodbye, there’s a warning about poisonous substances that would make a Science teacher proud (“I Am Chemistry”), a song about American physician Max Gerson who developed an alternative cancer treatment (“Gerson’s Whistle“), ancient texts (“Dead Sea Scrolls”) and a study comparing a biblical story to atheistic thinking (“Daughters of Cain”). Who knows where the wonderment train will stop next?

Yeasayer’s Amen & Goodbye is out now via Mute, purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Matt Hobbs

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