Yeasayer have big ideas. In February this year, they released a visually stunning music video for new single ‘Prophecy Gun’, which travelled through the set on which the album art was shot. Sculptures of Donald Trump, Caitlyn Jenner and Mark Twain litter the pastel-colored set whilst the slow-burning track takes you on the sinister journey of their pop culture charade. Brooklyn’s Yeasayer have a unique band set up: there are two lead vocalists, fronted by Anand Wilder and Chris Keating. When I spoke to Wilder about the complexities this might bring to their creative process, he told me that time has allowed them pick up the pieces and figure out where to go.
“We didn’t have a recording advance for a while so we had to work on the project little by little. It ended up being a worthwhile process because we were able to make tons of revisions and get tired of inferior songs that might’ve gone out into the world if we hadn’t had so much time to ruminate on them.”
It has been four years since their last full-length release, and Wilder told me that the album process was more grueling than usual: “I feel with the completion of this album, which has been the longest and most arduous process for us so far in our career. It address the relief and sense of accomplishment.” Amen & Goodbye possesses a dull flamboyance that you’d usually associate with a Yeasayer record – it embraces the classic pop album format, employing a range of tempos and emotion. Still, this album wasn’t intended to be pop at all. “We didn’t want to go for that lowest common denominator pop formula that so many of our peers seem to be shooting for. Instead, our intent was to respect our fans’ intelligence and give them a final product that was all over the map.”
However, texture isn’t the only thing that they boast – there’s substance. The language surrounding this record is one that nods heavily to religion, and not just as blatantly as the album title and tracks. “We were toying with the idea of the pop music album as religious manifesto, and it seems to me that the main concern of religious texts is helping humanity cope with mortality, the fleeting nature of life,” Wilder told me. “Say a little prayer and kiss your ass goodbye.” However, these sacred themes aren’t new for the band – this is something they’ve been exploring since their first release in 2007, when they described themselves as “middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel”. Sonically, their influences sound spiritual, with multi-harmony choruses that build up a tension so counter-climactic it feels like the tedious wait for Judgement Day. Previously expanding on the subject, Wilder once stated: “When you lack any specific religion, you become open to all sorts of religious music. And I think everyone can agree that some of the most beautiful music ever written was done so in the name of God or gods.”
“I want a healthy balance of joy, comfort, sexual arousal, anger, fear, frustration, and violence”
Amen & Goodbye is a dig on the connection between violence and religion; pop culture and surrealism; mockery and truth. It’s a listen that will bewilder, challenge and comfort loyal fans and casual listeners alike. I asked Wilder if that was their intention, and if those were emotions they wanted to provoke in people. “I want a healthy balance of joy, comfort, sexual arousal, anger, fear, frustration, and violence, all with a vocal you can sing along to and a backbeat for bobbing the head. I’d rather someone hate one of our songs that not be able to remember how it goes.”
Ultimately, Amen & Goodbye doesn’t leave you scratched beneath the surface like previous records, but it does assert their craftsmanship and vision. Although it relies heavily on nostalgia, they’ve found the right sounds to fit the emotion they want to convey and they exist comfortably within a cultural landscape they can occupy. Before ending our conversation, I asked Wilder where he wanted Yeasayer to stand as a band. “I want to be considered a relevant piece of the pop cultural landscape, to reach as many people as possible without losing my street anonymity,” he told me, with an air of calmness. “So far, so good.”
Photos by Rachel Lipsitz