After more than a decade making ends meet as a solo act, Mike Doughty has emerged from beneath the shadow of his former self with Yes and Also Yes. Perhaps age, antidepressants, the healing passage of time, or a combination of each have contributed to his lighter outlook. In any case, Yes and Also Yes is downright joyful by Doughty’s standards. That’s not to say that he’s turned over a new musical leaf here – after all, he actually used an antidepressant capsule as a percussion instrument on the album, and when he sings that he’s a “Rational Man,” he sounds like he might be smirking at the notion just a little. The acerbic wit and dark edges that have propelled his music for so long are somewhat intact, but anyone who has followed Doughty since his time with Soul Coughing and through his schizophrenic solo career will surely find this his most upbeat offering since 2008’s Golden Delicious.
Armed with his best band yet, including longtime cohort “Scrap” Livingston and go-to indie keyboardist Thomas Bartlett, Doughty twists his uncanny lyrics around big beats and dense structures. There’s more going on behind his relentlessly verbose vocals than there has been since the Soul Coughing days. Strings, drum machines, and synthesizers work their way into prominent roles on nearly every song. As always, Doughty’s trusty diatomic duo of brusque guitar strums and convoluted lyricism form the foundation, but the album still sounds more like a group effort than any of his other releases. Album opener “Na Na Nothing” is quintessential Doughty, the singer playing with words like “flux,” “cruff” and “clunker” over an insistent rhythm as strings drift and tremble below. “The Huffer and the Cutter” is another song that only Doughty could have written, a classic tale of damaged people in love. Lyrics like “she doesn’t fall in love, she takes hostages” crystallize the desperation. It’s one blatant spot of darkness among an otherwise upbeat experience. “Have at It” and “Strike the Motion” highlight a more forceful full band sound. Fun songs like the half-baked folk-hop of “Vegetable,” the gleefully meaningless “Day By Day By,” the irreverent “Makelloser Man” and the dreamy “Into the Un,” with its zinging strings, dominate the album. Yes and Also Yes even includes the indie nation’s first holiday-esque tune of the year, “Holiday,” which features the arresting vocals of Rosanne Cash. She and Doughty make a surprisingly well-matched vocal pair as they wax poetic over a collage of strums and bells.
Yes and Also Yes isn’t a drastic departure for Doughty. The album is 40 minutes of the musical touchstones he’s become known for, but the major difference is that anger and desperation are mostly absent from these songs. The music is melodically richer, the embellishments perfectly realized, and the album as a whole his best in years.