Yeasayer are a bunch of Brooklyn hipsters who mix West and North African rhythms with ’70s soft rock melodies and ’80s soul vocal stylings, with the occasional nod to gospel and electronica.
If you were a cynic you’d predict the results of this magpie approach to be pretty awful, and barely worthy of the graveyard slot on Later… With Jools Holland, sandwiched somewhere between the latest “indie” sensation and the elderly Peruvian gentleman playing the spoons.
But, as with their UK equivalents Foals, the insanely ambitious genre-straddling and studio experimentation really works for Yeasayer. And if the description on paper of their hybrid sound calls to mind Sting or Peter Gabriel it doesn’t matter a jot – because Yeasayer inhabit a world where everything goes and terms like cool or naff don’t really apply.
Throughout All Hour Cymbals, influences are absorbed and integrated seamlessly, with a depth and richness which echoes Brian Eno‘s early ’80s work with David Byrne and Talking Heads. The first three tracks are as good as anything I’ve heard this year. Sunrise, with its thumping tribal drums filtered into breakbeats, slick Talk Talk lead vocals and looped African backing vocals, sounds both ancient and modern, and ethnic and Western.
Wait for the Summer is a call to prayer buoyed along by rich warm synths and West African guitars, and is quite beautiful. Best of all is 2080, which, with its FM radio melody and afrobeat rhythms, sounds – in the best and happiest possible way – like Fleetwood Mac relocated to Senegal. You’d probably be dead already if it didn’t bring you out in a huge grin.
From hereon All Hour Cymbals becomes slightly more experimental, demanding a little more work on the part of the listener, as the sound pilfers Mediterranean pop and traditional Arab and gypsy music for inspiration. But the sound is always expansive and affecting, with a level of precision and depth that would have Steely Dan quaking in their boots.
Wisely the vocals are buried deep in the mix, adding to the headiness of the sound but avoiding the potential pitfalls of combining Western and ethnic influences. Mercifully Yeasayer are no Paul Simon (grafting urban angst onto tribal tunes), and, even better, no Sting (pretending to go native and wailing about the rainforests). Instead they communicate emotion through tone and atmosphere and half-heard lyrics, recalling the evocative power of early R.E.M..
It’s most surprising that this is a debut album. What could easily have been cack-handed conceptualism is forged into sheer quality: self-assured, fresh and utterly uncategorisable. Influences have been effortlessly absorbed, but no bandwagons have been jumped upon. It’s the sound of a new band already at the height of their powers.