All Hour Cymbals, the first and most well-known LP by Brooklyn band Yeasayer, came out in 2007, a year that, in hindsight, may have been indie rock's zenith. That was the year we got Beirut's Flying Club Cup, Okkervil River's The Stage Names, The National's Boxer, Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Radiohead's In Rainbows, and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. Those and many more albums that year set the stage for any so-called indie rock band who wanted to find relative success while still maintaining a level of cred. Some of these groups found their individual artistic highs before or after that year, but today, even a mere mention of Yeasayer recalls a time when rock could be outsider-y enough to avoid radio play, but accessible enough to easily win fans.
The ghost of 2007 still sticks with Amen & Goodbye, the band's fourth LP. In the years since then, the band's discography neatly mirrors the commercial boom and subsequent "lost years" of indie rock — All Hour Cymbals is the most recognizable Yeasayer album, it's 2010 follow-up, Odd Blood, is the most commercially savvy, and 2012's Fragrant World was more ambient, melding mechanical electronics with foggy vocal effects. Now, with Amen & Goodbye, Yeasayer sounds like the band's attempt to cover all their bases. It feels like a double-album: half look ahead, and half looking back.
Ren-Faire woodwinds, choirs, and caterwauling
Yeasayer has always been an intellectual band, and their strength lies in their ability to make experimental compositions sound like digestible pop songs. From their inception, they've shown a knack for weaving strange, often unidentifiable sounds into more palatable structures. Parts of Amen & Goodbye heavily feature Ren-Faire-worthy woodwinds, and vocals that resist any descriptor besides "caterwauling." The members of Yeasayer have said they don't subscribe to any specific religion, but their use of choirs and hymn-like lyrical structure can often come off as spiritual, like they're ushering you toward a new level of consciousness.
There are times when Yeasayer's inclination toward sonic oddities feels grating. The woodwinds in the proggy "I Am Chemistry" belie an attempt at a psychedelic Beatles song that the band is never quite able to sell. "Half Asleep" has vocalist Chris Keating singing in an affected, lilting cadence that brings to mind a court jester with a harp. "Dead Sea Scrolls" makes a sharp left turn into classic rock, with a chorus of ba-ba-bas and synthetic vocal stutters skipping over guitars.
"Cold Night" is one of the album's best, simplest songs
But it wouldn't be a Yeasayer album without a few lullabies, most of which show up in the album's second half. "Prophecy Gun" features Anand Wilder whispering sleepy, beautiful nonsense like, "The sky is falling / into the world to come." "Cold Night" is one of the album's best songs, and also one of its simplest. Percussion and a thick guitar line carries the track, which recalls the more emotional moments of All Hour Cymbals.
The album's title makes it sound like a final farewell treatise, but while Amen & Goodbye comes with its share of nostalgia for the band's past lives, there's nothing conclusive about it. And the album keeps pushing all the way to the end — the title track, which is also its last song, is just 36-seconds long, and composed entirely of spacey atmospherics and reverb. Its brevity makes it it feels like an interlude. But because nothing comes next, it's more like a cliff-hanger.