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Fractured World

Jul 11, 2016 Photography by Eliot Lee Hazel Issue # 57 - M83
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Burnt out after spending the better part a decade on an unending tour cycle, Yeasayer retreated to the rural Catskills to write and record their follow-up to 2012’s Fragrant World. While the rustic setting proved a fruitful place for the band to escape the distractions of city living, they were faced with an unexpected hurdle when a rainstormand a leaky roof over the control roomdestroyed much of their tape. While many artists would have viewed such wholesale destruction as a setback to their process, Yeasayer’s creativity was sparked in a new direction.

“We were forced to go through what we had and rebuild it,” says Chris Keating, explaining how the band returned to Brooklyn to sift through the wreckage. “We sampled what we recorded, and kind of re-contextualized some of the recordings. Some of the songs are pieces of multiple songs stuck together. In a way, we were kind of trying to achieve that second side of Abbey Road.

Required to take a step back from their live recordings, Yeasayer-Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, and Anand Wilder-suddenly had a new approach to the surviving material, and sampled it as if it were found sounds. Fragments of lost songs now connected new pieces on an album that may be the band’s most cohesive. The 13 tracks are bound by a theme that’s present even in the record’s title, Amen & Goodbye.

“This is our religious album,” Keating says, laughing somewhat nervously. “There are songs about birth and death, and references to different Biblical passages and Babylonian gods. The last album was our weird, darker, electronic, vaguely urban album, but this one felt like we were trying to deal with things a little bigger.”

While Keating recognizes that focusing on singles is a more contemporary way of working“You can just put out one single a month and never acknowledge an album came out at all”he still romanticizes the album format. With their fourth LP, Yeasayer sought to “explore the classicism of the album as an art form,” not only linking the songs together aurally, but packaging them in way that reflected their vision for the work as a whole.

“I listen to music on my phone and I have albums that I enjoy and listen to a lot, but I don’t really know what the artwork looks like,” says Keating. “I haven’t had the experience of sitting and holding it, looking at it, reading the liner notes. So, from a physical standpoint, we thought, let’s make an album cover with a gatefold that opens up and references this world we’re trying to create.”

To illustrate that world, Yeasayer approached Canadian artist David Altmejd, who designed the massive, collage-like image that graces the album’s fold-out cover. Blending live models with sculpture and cut-outs, the photograph stands classical symbols alongside pop culture figures such as Caitlyn Jenner, an anime schoolgirl, and Donald Trump.

“[Altmejd’s] imagery looked the way I wanted our music to sound,” Keating explains. “It has otherworldly qualities, references horror movies and science fiction, and plays on themes of undiscovered worlds and religions…. I just felt that he was trying to do things visually that we were trying to do sonically.”

Brighter and more textural, Amen & Goodbye stands in stark contrast to Fragrant World, but then, every Yeasayer album has proven quite different from the preceding one. That’s part of the band’s goal. Keating expresses frustration with musicians who make the same record time and again, and respect for artists such as The Beatles, Kanye West, and especially David Bowie, who reinvented their sound with each new release.

“From album to album, [Bowie would] range from very accessible to very obtuse. Even from side to side on an album, he’d have a song that was catchy but bizarrely arranged in this really fabulous, unique way, to a song that’s completely ambient,” says Keating. “We’re in it for the long haul. At this point, 10 years in, we’re looking at what our catalog is going to look like 10 years down the line.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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Tablas surf
July 14th 2016

The videoclip of Silly me is just amazing! Great job guys!

April 7th 2017

The data is incredibly important.