Yeasayer’s New “Amen & Goodbye” Recalls The Beatles in Its Embrace of Art-Pop

19 Sep

What would the Beatles sound like today? I believe a case can be made that they might sound something like Brooklyn’s Yeasayer, which a few months ago released its fourth album, Amen & Goodbye.

“Now, hold on a moment,” I hear you saying. “Are you comparing a relatively little-known indie art-pop band with what may be the greatest rock and roll group of all time?”

Sort of.

I’m not saying that the two bands are on the same level in terms of their impact on the music world. What I am saying is that this is where the Beatles might be today if they had been born 40 or 50 years later. Let me explain.

The Beatles started in 1963-1965 as a typical boy-pop band with formulaic hit songs that made young girls scream and throw personal articles of clothing on stage. By 1966, they had become accomplished songwriters and musicians, composing meaningful songs about life and love.

But beginning with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles crossed over into art-pop. They employed new instruments (such as the sitar), incorporated new synthesized sounds, and developed new production techniques. Plus, their now fully mature songwriting skills were consistently on display. Nothing was off limits. Baroque-pop. (“A Day in the Life”) Edgy rock. (“Helter Skelter”) Child-like songs. (“Octopus’s Garden,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”) Uncategorized. (“Piggies.”)

There was no “Beatles style.” There certainly was a sound, because the Beatles’ voices and the harmonies they deployed were so distinctive. But there was no box that you could fit their songs into.

Fast forward to 2016. In its fourth album, Yeasayer has continued to push the limits of its musical artistry. In Amen & Goodbye, the considerable talents of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder are on display. Keating and Wilder are both strong enough to be lead vocalists and this adds variety to their songs and strengthens the ever-present harmonies. Compositions often integrate instruments from around the world in addition to a full palette of electronic effects. And the topics the band writes about range from the threat of chemicals to modern existence to the Dead Sea Scrolls (unless the ancient texts are a metaphor for something). Somewhat Beatles-like, don’t you think?

The second track on Amen & Goodbye is “I Am Chemistry.” A mesmerizing rhythm created with electronic drum and bass is set against a wailing, Beatles-like chorus as the lyrics cite the chemicals that threat us — from DDT to C4H10FO2P (sarin gas).

“Silly Me” shifts 180 degrees and puts listeners in a dancing mood with a bouncy synth-pop number that has a strong backbeat.

Five songs into the 13-song set, we’re rerouted yet again. “Dead Sea Scrolls” has a sound that is like something out of the 1970s — except that Yeasayer has added clapping, a harpsichord-like electric piano, jazzy chorus, and saxophone solo (or something similar) in the lead break.

“Prophecy Gun” sparkles with sounds that make one think of water seeping into a cave or dripping from the edge of a snowpack. Then, rich harmonized voices backed with a synthesized orchestra carry a melody that once again evokes images of the Beatles — topped with spiraling, whistling electronic effects.

This endless unpredictability continues with “Gerson’s Whistle,” a song that’s like a trip through a funhouse alternating between the ominous and the cavalier.

With such strong songwriting, vocals and wide-ranging music stylings, one can’t help but think about the band that blazed so many trails in the 1960s.

 

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