All Hour Cymbals – Yeasayer

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As if it is obligatory to categorize your own music, Yeasayer calls itself a “Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel” band. This seems to be as accurate as possible. This might also be helpful to those concerned about genre and style before listening to a band. As accurately described as it may be, the music itself seems to defy current indie rock nomenclature. The thing that is really hard to understand is that All Hour Cymbals is Yeasayer’s first LP. The eclectic mix of experimental orchestration, thickly-textured harmonies and overall ironic radiance that flows from the record are handled with a mature gravitas well beyond the band’s scant discography.

It struck me as well that they maintain a particular diversity from track to track but carry a dystopian yet ironically hopeful narrative throughout. The attitude, of a hazy bleakness in the face of contemporary existence still laced with nostalgic yearnings for more placid times, makes the album as much a worship service as a rock album. With “Sunrise”, an ebulliently eerie invocation and “Red Cave”, the benedictory kum-ba-yah, there's the sermonistic undertones of “2080” and “Germs” and the dirge-like dronings in “Ah Weir” and “Forgiveness.” It all culminates in the climactic day of Pentecost in the guitar-frazzled “Wait for the Winter Time”.

“Sunrise” opens the album with a sweet mesh of vocal harmony, hand-claps, multi-layered synths and trippy drum beats. “Wait for Summer” follows with a Middle Eastern flair and harmonizing vocals most recently reminiscent of Grizzly Bear, though heightened and intensified by a layering of melismatic vocalizations.

In “2080” lyrics become clearer, laden with dystopian irony: “Yeah yeah, we can all grab at the chance and be handsome farmers, / Yeah you can have twenty-one sons and be blood when they marry my daughters, / And the pain that we left at the station will stay in a jar behind us. We can pickle the pain into blue ribbon winners at county contests.”

Impressively striking is the acoustic guitar sound that begins the last track. “Red Cave” acts as a benedictory love-fest with sappy, earnest words that fly in the face of dark irony that pervade the album: “I am so blessed to have a good time with my family and the friends I love in my short life. I have had so many people I deeply care for.” It is this moment of campfire togetherness that makes this album a complete work, and much deserving of the outstanding reviews it has received since its late October release.

[Ed: Let's call this a very mature evaluation of a great album of 2007.]