Do you often turn to one of Salvador Dalí’s pieces and wish that a musical representation of what you are looking at exists? Are you tired of mainstream pop hits because of their humdrum qualities? Do you constantly search for music videos that straddle the line between artistic genius and really fucked up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Yeasayer’s new album, Amen & Goodbye, should be first on your list of albums to listen to.
Even if you hate Dalí or prefer your music videos on the tamer side, Amen & Goodbye still needs to be queued up on Spotify, because it does what many albums cannot do well: combine aspects of surrealism and music to create a dynamic, surreal, cohesive story that traps the listener from the first song and doesn’t let them go until the last. With synthetic pop sounds blending with lead singer Chris Keating’s mellow vocals, Amen & Goodbye is more than just an album; it’s a work of art.
The album begins with “Daughters of Cain.” Slow and intense, this track serves as the amuse-bouche of Amen & Goodbye as well as the exposition. Masterfully blending folk and electronic, this song gives listeners a hint of what’s to come throughout the rest of album while also maintaining a quiet power beneath the simple tune. It’s an introduction that doesn’t overwhelm but instead inspires; “Daughters of Cain” serves as a blank canvas that lets the listeners go wild imagining all the different possibilities that could be splattered on such a vulnerable surface.
Yeasayer doesn’t disappoint. “Daughters of Cain” smoothly transitions into “I Am Chemistry.” Vibrant, futuristic and powerful, this song is 50 shades of badass. And even though the song is a little over five minutes, the listener never once loses interest. A combination of attention-grabbing lyrics (“she doesn’t need my help poising the well beneath the rue leaves / she only needs my help pleasuring herself beneath the rue leaves”) and Yeasayer’s ability to piece together different rhythms and sounds without being all over the place helps create the Jackson Pollock-esque musical powerhouse that is “I Am Chemistry.”
The fun doesn’t stop there. With tracks like “Silly Me” and “Dead Sea Scrolls,” Yeasayer keeps people on their toes by continuing to push their sound higher and higher. “Silly Me” is everything the title suggests, with a fun, pop-punk beat making the song glossy along with an added layer of electronica. “Dead Sea Scrolls” takes that electronica and drives it one step further by adding more depth to the one-dimensional, noncommittal sound found in “Silly Me.” Chris Keating’s deeply melodious vocals in “a mock up of the dead / a mock up of the Dead Sea Scrolls” helps to make this song a real three-dimensional presence.
From “I Am Chemistry” to “Dead Sea Scrolls,” Yeasayer consistently throws paint upon the blank canvas that “Daughters of Cain” introduced. Continuing to build and build, these space age, ultramodern and extremely formidable songs develop off each other until they reach the climax at the ending five seconds of “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The music just hits the edge between concentrated and overpowering and the noise level unceasingly rises and rises until, suddenly, everything flattens out into the tranquil “Prophecy Gun.”
“Prophecy Gun” marks a shift in Amen & Goodbye. Its muted and organic sound mimics the quiet beauty of a soothing forest rather than a grandiose, high-tech landscape, and thus it’s a complete contrast from the first half of the album. However, this change isn’t off-putting. Instead, “Prophecy Gun” is a much-needed break from the action, providing the perfect bridge to smoothly transition into the rest of the songs of Amen & Goodbye. While the songs before “Prophecy Gun” were exultant and avant-garde, the songs that come after “Prophecy Gun” seem to have taken a turn into the shadows, with every track unfathomable and slightly dark.
For example, “Divine Simulacrum” is rain clouds personified, with “there’s heaven in the sea, driftwood in the sand / tell him to go to hell, and take me by the hand” over a morose and daunting beat. Both “Gerson’s Whistle” and “Uma” feature moments of vulnerability and loneliness as Christ Keating’s vocals soar out over a minimal background. If songs pre-“Prophecy Gun” were Yeasayer slinging paint at a blank surface just to create something, these songs post-“Prophecy Gun” are Yeasayer coming in and shaping the fine details with a paintbrush. The songs are intricately personal, satisfying in their intimacy and comforting in their simplicity.
Amen & Goodbye ends with the title track, which features no vocals and no clashing rhythms or stimulating beats, but instead one simple tune that signals the closing of the album. “Amen & Goodbye” is an open-ended question, a suggestion for the listeners to finish the story Yeasayer started in the way they prefer. A story that is one part revolutionary, one part despairing and all parts captivating, beautifully meshed together into a brilliantly weird work of art that deserves its own place in the MoMA.