Amen & Goodbye
Yeasayer’s first two albums, All Hour Cymbals (2007) and Odd Blood (2010), came at a time when indie music and indie music journalism and blogging was in total overdrive.
Bands like Dirty Projectors, MGMT and Grizzly Bear ruled the school and if you weren’t from Brooklyn or dressed like you were from Brooklyn, you didn’t make the cut. Yeasayer made it to every end of year list on Pitchfork, Gorilla Vs. Bear and Stereogum in the years that their first two albums were released (third album Fragrant World was a bit of a miss) and if Dirty Projectors were the beautiful kids at school, MGMT the jocks who just discovered acid, and Grizzly Bear the sensitive souls, then Yeasayer were the art kids who stuck ham to their face. It sounds like an insult but it separated them from the rest and with Amen & Goodbye, their fourth album, their alt pop still has a way to pull at our heart strings.
Opening with ‘Daughters of Cain’, a reference to one of Adam and Eve’s sons and the first human born, Amen & Goodbye weaves religious themes and medieval melodies throughout as the band question existence and purpose; everyone’s favourite Sunday comedown ponderings. Paired with ‘I Am Chemistry’, the lead single that focuses on the poisons we literally consume and the poisons we metaphorically exude in relationships, it’s a perfect juxtaposition of the way we worship, from mythical characters to our own bodies.
As the psych-rock segues into a children’s choir singing “My mama told me not to fool with oleander, And never handle the deadly quaker buttons again”, we see a pattern emerge on the production of tracks. The chopping and changing of disparate sounds means that none of their songs can be defined by any one genre. However, ’I Am Chemistry’ is a trademark Yeasayer sound, not far from anything you’d find on All Hour Cymbals, as it narrates the ups and downs drawn directly from – yeah, you guessed it – dat chemical high.
The themes on Amen & Goodbye become more apparent as the album wears on. Loss shows its face in many ways. ’Silly Me’ is an upbeat and bouncy song that details a divorce and when the band aren’t investigating theology, they’re analysing that terrifying induction into actual adulthood: ”Suppose our parties now agree, On the writings drawn and the lawyers fee, With crystal ball I now can see, That I’m a man of low degree”. For those looking for the zest of songs like 2010’s ‘O.N.E’, you won’t find it here. The closest thing you’ll find to that is ‘Dead Man Scrolls’, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a YACHT album. The group are now older and wiser and they’re in a reflective state.
The finest moments on the album come at the very end when things slow down. ‘Uma’ is a gorgeous song dedicated to guitarist Anand Wilder’s daughter, not Uma Thurman. He sings about the anxiety of being a good father. “Uma, let out a little sight to let me know you’re fine… I hope I don’t pass down all my flaws to Uma”. It’s a gentle lullaby that captures the feeling of becoming a parent for the first time and learning to love in a completely new way. Excuse me, I have something in my eye…
‘Cold Night’ is by far the standout track on Amen & Goodbye. A highly emotional song, it is about the tragic death of a friend and what someone could have said to prevent it: “Was there something I could have told you to carry you through the cold night?”. The simplicity and honesty of this song catches you by surprise and with the line “To my daughter you’ll be an ancient memory, if we even mention you at all”, they capture the dreadful realisation that when people die, life for everyone else has to go on. There’s a before and an after and that’s perhaps one of the hardest things to come to terms with when someone you love dies.
Yeasayer dabble in the weird and the strange but their strengths always shine when they focus on the complexity of human emotions. For fans who have been there since the beginning, Amen & Goodbye feels like it was made to reflect our own personal growth and it’s comforting to see our own flaws, vulnerability and strangeness strewn across this album.