With its mixture of world music rhythms, western pop structures, and ethnic weirdness, Yeasayer's debut finds a home somewhere between the trendy bars of Brooklyn and the villages of developing countries. On paper, the album looks like an all-out mess, a jumbled pile of sitars, synths, bongos, sequencers, fretless bass, choir harmonies, and whatever else Yeasayer deems necessary to conjure up the globetrotting images that fuel these 11 tracks. But All Hour Cymbals rarely strains under its own weight, even when it mixes Beach Boys harmonies with minimalist art rock ("No Need to Worry") or steel drums with sludgy, Sabbath-styled metal ("Wait for the Wintertime").
New York City has hosted its share of experimental bands in the early 21st century, from TV on the Radio to Animal Collective to the otherworldly experiments of Grizzly Bear. Still, Yeasayer's appeal is not that they're otherworldly, but are instead entirely grounded in this world. Rarely does a debut album sound so geographic, so well-traveled -- even if the journey through All Hour Cymbals feels slightly odd, as if the bandmates constructed some Paleozoic musical map in their heads where the landmasses of Africa and America had been pushed together, blending the disparate traditions and instruments from both continents. Sequencers figure prominently in some songs, but they're trumped by the clannish, tribal sounds that bring Yeasayer back to earth: the polyphonic percussion, the chant-like melodies, the Middle Eastern influences. Throughout it all, the band remains rooted in pop music, and songs like "2080" (which was tossed around the Internet in early 2007, bouncing from blog to blog in a game of hipster hot-potato) have instantly memorable hooks and gorgeous, airy harmonies.
The real treat is when those styles collide -- the western and the Middle Eastern, the urban and the native -- as they do on "Wait for the Summer," where guitarist/vocalist Anand Wilder echoes the anticipation of many an American grade-schooler ("Wait for summer, we'll sleep when we wanna") over a bed of sitars and vaguely foreign scales. Who cares if it's often hard to hear what Wilder is saying? His melodies are mumbled, harmonized, repeated, and hidden under piles of instruments, so they may as well be delivered in some indigenous language by the time all is said and done. "Wait for the Summer" consequently comes across as ritualistic, something with which to praise the sun or awaken the rain gods, but it also serves as a bizarre "School's out!" anthem for the indie crowd. Could Yeasayer be indie rock's answer to the absence of adventurous worldbeat figures like David Byrne and Peter Gabriel? It's too early to tell, but All Hour Cymbals is a mature, cohesive, and highly recommended debut.