Monday, November 19, 2007

all hour cymbals

it's hard to discuss grandiose bands in simple terms. i've run into this problem every two to three minutes while conceiving this review, and it's a doozy. yeasayer is a band instructed by contradictions, a band that embraces double standards and duplicitous perspectives - in other words, the most authentic american band of the new millennium. yeasayer waves this banner high, the flag of fear and uncertainty, bedecking their sound with pangeaic rhythms from countries that we fear the most. it's a compelling hybrid, coupling worried lyrics with globally inspired sounds, and it makes all hour cymbals one of the year's most ambitious releases.

the brooklyn quartet vaulted into the musical consciousness earlier this year, after the release of "2080," the band's first single. driven by a restless bass hook, "2080" is yeasayer's multiculti paradigm, and the lens through which they will eternally be judged. charismatic and precocious, "2080" is all hour cymbals in miniature. on the track, frontman chris keating's voice is tremulous and boasts a hefty amount of reverb, begging the oft-repeated peter gabriel comparison. the linchpin of the song is the near-acapella chorus midway through, backed by bare drums, acoustic chords, and a distinctly subcontinental pan pipe melody, a carefully arranged cultural hodgepodge. such is the blueprint for the entire album, especially their repeated four-part vocal harmonies (all of yeasayer's members were in vocal groups as young men). it is keating's words, however, that inspires yeasayer's entire framework; lyrics from "2080" are not only the most often scrutinized, but they also adorn the pages of their website. deservedly so - "2080" is a capsule of fear and worry, as the graphic to your right sums up. the song opens with keating's honest fright as he sings "i can't sleep when i think about the times we've living in; i can't sleep when i think about the future i was born into," tapping into a natural (universal?) fear. but keating remonstrates us, "in 2080 a.d. i'm sure to be dead, so don't look ahead, never look ahead." fearful but determined to live for the moment, yeasayer's sprawling sound reflects our national attitude.

yeasayer has positioned themselves at a unique intersection in music, one that both defines and generates their sound. they play what is undoubtedly "world" music, called such not because they hail from a different musical heritage, but because they have assimilated (and reinterpreted) the sounds of the world. all hour cymbals features, in addition to a clear homage to genesis, peruvian pan pipes, native american and pagan imagery, african drumming patterns, the laughter of children, shaker harmonies, and sleigh bells, just to name a few. this trans-cultural borrowing is yeasayer's hallmark, along with their bizarre songcrafting. yeasayer are so deliberately progressive that all hour cymbals could be the product of a resourceful (and brilliant) one-man band, slowly layering disparate phrases until the aural goal is reached; as it is, a yeasayer song is like a mystery novel, with seemingly unrelated clues accumulating until awareness comes. yeasayer are globalization bluesmen, spinning yarns about our unsteady times with melting pot melodies.

yeasayer - "2080" (from their daytrotter session)
"sunrise" (from all hour cymbals)

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