Freak the folk out

Hearts, stars and the Virgin Mary grace this hippie hymnal of an LP.

Becky Lang

For a band that reportedly writes their songs with “murder in mind,” and hopes that they sound like “crickets being put into a state-of-the-art wood chipper,” Yeasayer’s latest album is more like a summer carnival for your ears than a mic planted in Hannibal Lector’s woodshop.

Yeasayer

ALBUM: All Hour Cymbals
LABEL: Now We Are Free

This Brooklyn-based band has the feel of Monterey Pop streamlined through the ’80s and gussied up by technology. With Indian-inspired guitars and swanky back and forth rhythms that even Prince would envy, one might wonder if the members are drawing from latent childhood memories of being raised in a commune full of Tibetan prayer flags and sun catchers in windows.

Accordions, vocal showers, and rocket ships seem to make an appearance in songs that vary from a gospel feel to a Hare Krishna initiation. The album is like opening a giant paint box, full of color and not committed to any style in particular.

The title, “All Hour Cymbals,” provides a clever image that slyly references the band’s habit of reaching into worldly archetypes to turn them from holy to eerie. The track “2080” switches between a tightly wound rhythm to angry breaks, where tipsy, picketing voices shout, “Yeah, yeah, you can have 21 sons and be better than 30 Madonnas.” Yet themes of forgiveness and appreciation work their way in, making this an album at times sincere and at times cynical, refusing to be dominated by any final tone.

“Waiting for Summer” is possibly the best track on the album, full of drawn-out tribal chants and metallic, Eastern guitar tweaks, creating a moon-worshipping track that descends into ghostly fa-la-las and swishing tambourines.

Singer Chris Keating’s voice is classic: at times androgynous and street-savvy, at other times smooth and deep. Throughout the album, he seems to take on the sound scales of music from all over the world, and with such success that if he were to release an album of mountain yodels it probably wouldn’t be half bad.

As a whole, Yeasayer’s sound could be compared to the Byrds, as they are most definitely “eight miles high,” and share the same mastery of mixing psychedelic instrumental soundscapes with church pew hymn folksiness into something different altogether.

“Red Cave” exemplifies this union as a gently strung rising tide of swirling vocal rounds that could lure any hippie into a chapel. In the all-over-the-place ruckus of the album, this song snuggles in like a short yoga break. It is the equivalent of rubbing peppermint on your temples, or running through a field while a helicopter flies over it. Too much of it becomes a bit trite, but the freaky-deaky remainder of the album gives it a humble enough context to pull it off.

“All Hour Cymbals” brings us back to the glory days when pop music brought Eastern sensibilities to barefoot California music festies. Reviving nostalgia sans kitsch is a hard gig, and Yeasayer faces it with daisies out.