Their debut rides off the release of the single, "2080/Sunrise" that garnered stacks of nice press quotes. The album is a mesmerizing journey, and quite overwhelming for a premiere release. Live, this group brings out the boogie, radiating heat waves and rhythms. Songs once laid to tape are constantly restructured and reworked, show to show, for a new experience.
All Hour Cymbals
[We Are Free; 2007]
Over the past few years, a few of the most talked-about indie bands have been those making music with an ahistorical sense of mythic drama. TV on the Radio, Celebration, Grizzly Bear, and Animal Collective, among others, have been variously and inventively appropriating rock'n'roll's roots in ritualistic sounds, working toward individual aesthetics that merge mutual appreciations for surface and tradition. By and large, they draw upon ideas of the pre-modern (multi-part harmonies and chants drawn from religious rites, a fixation on the unseen power of the natural world), and express them through ultra-modern forms (synthesizers, electronic textures, heavy echo).
Perhaps unconsciously, these groups are working in the shadow cast by the late 1970s and early 80s collaborations between Brian Eno and David Byrne, primarily My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the Talking Heads albums Fear of Music and Remain in Light. By surrounding Byrne's rural preacher impression on "Once in a Lifetime" with angelic new age synthesizers and ethereal harmonies, for instance, the duo pulled an affective charge from seemingly incompatible elements. The co-presence of Byrne's anxious sermonizing, a West African rhythm section and Eno's stylish ornamentation signified not only the spiritual transformation of Byrne's character, but also an important shift in pop’s approach toward its own past along with non-Western forms of music.
Brooklyn's Yeasayer are the latest entry to this group of Byrne disciples, and one of the better bands to put a new spin on his polyrhythmic convulsing. The band gained recognition earlier this year for their fantastic first single "2080", possibly because of its sonic similarities to Midlake's buzzed-about 2006 single "Roscoe". Both share a woozy, woodsy ambience, but where "Roscoe", set in 1891, was nostalgic for a rustic world, Yeasayer gazes ahead-- and not optimistically. "I can't sleep when I think about the times we're living in," Chris Keating sings, continuing, "I can't sleep when I think about the future I was born into." After two preternaturally smooth choruses, the band lives up to its name. All new age elements temporarily vanish, and the group breaks through into communalism. The sudden, fervent "yeah yeah!" pulls from the same crowded Anglo-ethnic trough as the Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, and Danielson, and establishes the band's own link between the ritualistic and the futuristic.
All Hour Cymbals, the band's LP debut, is packed with similar moments of pan-ethnic spiritualism, filtered through walls of echo and layers of gossamer synth. The album opens on "Sunrise" with a gospel-tinged a cappella vocal that wouldn't sound out of place coming from TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and adds handclaps and austere piano. The mix is gently, gradually taken over by a droning synthetic ambience and Keating's vocals, which express his desire to merge with nature. The song's falsettoed chorus is then fleshed out with a vague Far Eastern vibe, that same sense of foreign tension reappearing later in "Worms".
This sense of apprehension lends the album a dramatic flair, best realized in "Forgiveness", which-- while reclaiming the synthetic handclap and keystroke incantation for the band's unnatural revival meeting-- calls into question the time-honored tendency to appropriate religion for personal gain. Guitarist Anand Wilder sings: "I've come to beg for forgiveness/ So forgive me," yet after pleading that "I've tried to teach by my doing, your undoing" he admits, "But my time will be your ruin." Elsewhere, "Germs" augments its earthly paranoia ("What's hurting me when I breathe/ Perhaps it's just the mold on the ceiling") with a sonic mood somewhere between Celtic and Balkan, and "No Need to Worry" is a buzzing cathedral of dread, its title only serving as an attempted calming influence.
The peak of All Hour Cymbals' tangible sense of unease, the pummeling "Wait for the Wintertime", is Yeasayer's Black Sabbath moment, transforming their chants into a dark, persistent march. Although it's not clear whether the song is the band's own origin myth, about the apocalypse, or both, the lyric, "On a cold day, you can walk forever/ On a cold day, nothing's gonna stop us," is charged with dread, only bolstered by the atonal saxophones in its climax. There and elsewhere, Yeasayer channel both a dystopian science-fiction sensibility and deep appreciation for the natural world, employing a wide, international range of sounds. The result is a unique form of indie rock world music that resists stepping into the essentialist, ethnocentric traps consistently tripped by high-minded hipsters.
-Eric Harvey, October 25, 2007