When New York indie rock band Yeasayer named their 2016 LP Amen & Goodbye, it raised a big question among fans: Was this the end? The trio of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, and Anand Wilder had given the world four records over the course of a dynamic decade, and covered an immense range of sonic and thematic territory. For a band whose musical horizons seemed limitless, facing the prospect of an endpoint was unsettling.
“Every record you make is always your last record,” says Tuton. “People are lucky to be able to make records whenever they make them. The spirit of collaboration is a finicky beast, and you don’t always know if you’re going to be able to harness it. But when the time came to discuss what our future was going to be, the desire to collaborate was still there.”
Amen & Goodbye ended up signifying a certain type of ending for the band. They are releasing their new LP, Erotic Reruns, independently. After years of records on Mute and Secretly Canadian, Yeasayer now brave the wild on their own.
“Universal wasn’t exactly knocking down our door to offer us multimillion-dollar offers,” Tuton laughs. “That being said, we are in a really fortunate spot in a lot of ways in that over the 14 years we’ve been together as a band, all of us have focused on our recording skills, honing in the kind of equipment that can help our processes, developing our own studios in our homes. When you are a band like us, having that complete freedom is a really empowering thing.”
A band like Yeasayer are, of course, one that follow their own rules. The group have produced their own material since their inception, and this has accompanied them to dazzling, uncharted sonic terrain. But braving those new places alone can be taxing. “It’s really daunting,” Tuton says, “because there’s no one left to blame.”
With this mindset at the helm, Yeasayer’s latest outing is a tight, no-frills record of excellent indie music. Instead of looking outward to grandiose arrangements, the trio showcase their strengths as songwriters and musicians in a collection of intelligent and engaging pop songs. Erotic Reruns contains the most accessible and immediate material of their career, without sacrificing any of its complexity.
“Amen & Goodbye had way deeper orchestration and textures and pads, and it was probably a more cinematic record,” Tuton says. “For this record, we were trying to be more direct in the demos that we worked on — not super-heavy on the verbiage. And then by extension, we were really trying to harness our own directness of playing and arranging.”
Thematically, Erotic Reruns picks up in a lot of ways where Amen & Goodbye left off in spring 2016. Yeasayer’s last record ends with “Cold Night,” the most sparse entry in a colorful, kaleidoscopic body of work, wherein Wilder weighs the pros and cons of protecting his daughter from the coldness of the world. Fast-forward to the present, and Yeasayer find themselves a bit closer to the future of “2080” they predicted so long ago on All Hour Cymbals, still surrounded by old men in power who refuse to consider the consequences of their decisions.
“My political life has been pretty scary, really, to tell you the truth,” Tuton says. “There’s different issues now, but it’s the same conversation — just the extremes might have changed. By no means is this the first iteration of powerful people in America doing terrifying and terrible things to disenfranchised people with less power. The band has always existed inside of that reality, and you are a construct of your time, whatever your time is.”
Erotic Reruns is littered with dystopian messages. “Let Me Listen In On You” shows the affectionate side of phone tapping. In “I’ll Kiss You Tonight,” Wilder feels unable to “resist your authoritarian embrace.” But never in Yeasayer’s history have they painted a picture so lucid as “24-Hour Hateful Live!” in which the news cycle of perpetual madness is taken to bat. “You can’t have no empathy in Golgotha,” the band sings, using biblical metaphors to make sense of the present.
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“My grandmother used to say it can always get worse, but it can always get better,” Tuton says. “All three of us tend to have a fairly pessimistic view. Humans have done some terrible things to each other at scale. How do you make sense of that? Or, go a step deeper, how do you make sense of being a part of something like that, willingly or not?”
Tethered by a troubling mortal coil, Yeasayer continue to brave the unknown with unquenchable curiosity. They inject a lightness into our world of dread, and on Erotic Reruns, they prove the exploration of darkness is an engagement worth enduring.
“When you’re on stage, mistakes happen,” Tuton says of bringing the record to the live setting, “but you’re hoping they are happy mistakes of trying to push the envelope.”