If there’s one thing that’s still surprising about rock music in 2007, it’s that there’s always room for something new. As easy as it may be to grow cynical about the increasing number of bands doing their own uninspired takes on Loveless or Slanted and Enchanted, somewhere, someone will eventually find a way to break through the commonly accepted norm and find a way to make these conventions seem interesting again. Given the cyclical nature of pop music and the relative short attention span of human beings, what’s new quickly becomes old again and vice versa—all it takes is a little time off to be able hear something with fresh ears and renew one’s interest. But while a personal perspective can change existing sounds, it’s the idea that new ones can still be pieced together or shaped when music becomes really exciting.
To hear Yeasayer’s debut All Hour Cymbals is to hear something inspired and alive. It’s familiar, and there are even a few definite reference points come to mind pretty easily, yet their stylistic patchwork comes off as something new and different, which is, sometimes, the best thing a record can be. Yeasayer, who hails from Brooklyn, shares a few common traits with a few of their neighborhood contemporaries TV on the Radio and Grizzly Bear. Much like the former, they have a knack for dreamy and dense exercises in rhythm and thump, yet like the latter, their music has a disorienting and sweet ambience. Effects, beats, pulses and a thick sonic soup drive the ten songs on All Hour Cymbals, which may not initially sound like a particularly new combination, but throw in a flair for the exotic and admiration for Lindsey Buckingham worn squarely on the quartet’s sleeves, and the equation yields more interesting results.
Earlier this year, Yeasayer already had people declaring their single “2080” the single of the year, which is a perfectly acceptable conclusion to which one could jump after hearing it. It’s an exquisite song, opening sweetly with a dense and delicate melody reminiscent of peak era Fleetwood Mac, transitioning into a sublime chorus and ultimately climaxing in wild, Animal Collective-like chants. While the song seems to jump through countless hoops and pulls itself into numerous directions, it never loses the overall aesthetic appeal or flow. Debut singles are rarely this triumphant, and as such, made the impending All Hour Cymbals an even stronger temptation.
While “2080” is certainly a high point on the album, one particularly difficult to even reach, let alone top, the overall product of All Hour Cymbals is one of stunning melodicism and pristine sonic bliss. “Sunrise,” the b-side to “2080,” opens the record with a sexy yet tribal stomp, sounding at once danceable and accessible, yet foreign and intriguing, though not nearly as much as “Wait For the Summer,” which once again recalls Buckingham, through a filter of Peter Gabriel ambience. While moody and hazy at first, “Summer” makes a striking shift at its halfway point, as shaking hand percussion propels it into an exotic Mediterranean bounce. In “No Need To Worry,” the band crafts a somber, spiritual lullaby, while “Forgiveness” is bizarre, vocal-chopped sample pop with sparse riffs and a rubberband bassline—magnificent to say the least.
In an interesting parallel to the earlier “Wait for the Summer,” there is a track titled “Wait for the Wintertime” on the second half of the album, and much to the contrast of its counterpart, bears an ominous and intense atmosphere, heavy and fraught with darkness. This is also one of the best tracks on the album, bluesy, yet driven by Middle Eastern riffs and their trademark layers and layers of vocals. Tipping the scales back to a lighter sound, “Worms” sounds almost like a tabla-driven Echo & The Bunnymen.
If there begins to appear a pattern of incongruous parts somehow merging harmonically, that’s exactly Yeasayer’s M.O. In a very crude sense, the elements that go into their artsy genre mashup aren’t new themselves, yet the way this foursome combines them, chops them up and melds them into a renewed whole is part of the appeal. The other part is their songwriting talent, which is an essential aspect to making the whole thing work. And boy, does it ever work.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.