There’s no denying the influence of chemical enhancement—or at least the hazy trappings of it—on Yeasayer’s music, but to dismiss or define what the Brooklyn band does as simply “druggy” misses so many other fitting descriptors. Its fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, is florid, psychedelic, poppy, complicated, aggressive, touching, and gorgeous in various measures. And sure, it’s druggy, too. Just look at the cover; it’s a collage of headfuckery so grandiose that it almost begs to be dissected while under the influence of whatever you’ve just snorted or sorted on its gatefold sleeve. (“I think the cartoon bankers represent greed, but they’re looking over that pool of blood at Mark Twain like they’re jealous, maaaaan.”)
Amen & Goodbye even starts with a track, “Daughters Of Cain,” that sounds like a spiritual descendent of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage,” with a plunking melody guiding ghostly voices. But that’s just a lead-in to Amen’s first of many peaks, “I Am Chemistry,” a harrowingly catchy ode not to recreational chemicals, but poisonous ones. It could be read as vaguely political—it mentions sarin and VX, two weaponized chemicals—or maybe it’s characterizing the singer as poison to relationships, but in any case, it’s every Yeasayer strength in a nutshell: dancey, strange, catchy, and familiar without being imitative.
“I Am Chemistry” also signals a return to Yeasayer’s pop leanings, which blossomed on 2010’s Odd Blood but took a backseat on 2012’s Fragrant World. Amen & Goodbye feels carefully measured—when one instinct gets the upper hand, its equal-and-opposite pokes its head out. When things get too radio-ready, in comes a chorus of children or a short instrumental to rebalance the mood. So you’ve got “Silly Me” on one hand, which sounds like Erasure gone slightly tribal, and “Prophecy Gun” on the other, with its electronic undercurrent and ghostly harmonies. What they share—and what almost the whole album offers—is a beautifully crafted, fearless balance of sweet and dark. The only real misstep comes when Yeasayer goes too direct: “Divine Simulacrum” can’t find its feet. (Too bad, because it references The A.V. Club-coined “manic pixie dream girl.”) But that’s a small quibble for an album this ambitious, an album that can go from Midnite Vultures-era Beck jamz (“Dead Sea Scrolls”) to a gentle look at parenthood (“Uma”) without missing a beat—or, more often than not, adding a new one of its own.