Yeasayer somehow managed to make its weirdest, most populist record
While it seems the rest of Brooklyn’s psych/pop class of 2008 seem to have either gone off the deep end (MGMT) or moved on to greener pastures (Vampire Weekend), Yeasayer has—a decade into its career—clung fast to its own out-of-time, deeply strange brand of music, somewhere in the space between Fela Kuti and Timbaland. The band’s fourth full-length, Amen & Goodbye, is its furthest-out yet.
In the four years since their last tour, the band’s three members—Anand Wilder, Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuton, who largely split songwriting duties—demoed tracks separately before decamping to upstate New York to record. Upon returning to Brooklyn, they enlisted Joey Waronker (Atoms For Peace, R.E.M.) to produce or, as they put it, “deconstruct,” what would eventually become Amen & Goodbye.
“Joey served as a really good lubricant,” says Tuton, “because by the time we got back to New York, we’d been doing this for a long time and there was motivation to finish, but it was fleeting. He brought a fresh energy, which I think helped us work at stripping the song structure down and building it back up.”
Along with Waronker, the band enlisted a formidable roster of friends and colleagues, including Suzzy Roche (of folk-rock legends the Roches) and Joe McGinty (formerly of the Psychedelic Furs), among others. Roche—a longtime idol of Tuton’s; he very highly recommends the Roches’ Robert Fripp-produced first and third albums—proves a revelation, her vocal turns (namely on the stunning coda to album highlight “Half Asleep”) each providing an uncanny counterpoint to the band’s own arrangements.
“Talking to Suzzy, it’s interesting because they never broke and became huge, but they developed an incredibly loyal fanbase,” says Tuton. “In some respects, I find some similar parallels between us. We’re not planning on becoming this huge band, but I think at this point, it’s amazing that we’ve found so many people and so many people have found us.”
It’d hardly be a Yeasayer album, though, without a laundry list of its own quirks, including a typically mind-bending album cover, courtesy this time of famed Canadian sculptor David Altmejd; and a trio of instrumentals, including the truly bizarre “Child Prodigy,” which consists solely of a harpsichord solo almost drowned out by stock applause. The band is well aware of the anomalies that set it so starkly apart from its contemporaries.
“I mean, if we’re going to engage in the world of making albums, then I’m much more interested in creating an interesting journey through the album than our best pop songs on side A and then getting worse and worse as you go along,” says Tuton. “Before making this record, we stepped back and said, ‘What are we? What are our strengths?’ We play to our strengths. And that’s what we’ve always tried to do, to maintain some sense of creativity and originality.”