Escape from planet Indie Rock

Pub date January 23, 2008
WriterFred Miketa
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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With so many indie rock bands riding the wave of all things post-punk or psych–this and that at present, it’s rare that fans of subversive music are able to listen to subterranean songs as a means of escape. I mean, Band of Horses permeate Ford commercials during the NFL playoffs, and little brothers and sisters everywhere are air-guitaring to everyone from Mastodon to the Rapture.

So it makes perfect sense that Brooklyn, NY, band Yeasayer has managed to engage even the most cynical of indie veterans with its escapist realm filled with an uncompromisingly authentic helping of psychedelic — and extremely technically proficient — guitar noodling, hypnotic pop vocals, and worldly percussion that’s as reminiscent of Carlos Santana as it is of Animal Collective or the Cure. How can you not escape when listening to something that trots along so many unexpected musical paths?

It’s no surprise that this extension of the avant-indie wing is composed of two ex–barbershop quartet members and a rhythm section that employs a bounty of instrumentation including but not limited to accordions, bongo drums, sitars, and sequencers. Driven by guitarist Anand Wilder, the group is a four-piece, genre-eradicating machine, with each member trading off vocal and instrumental duties by track. Eleven months in the making, Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, was snatched up by Jason Foster of Monitor Records (Battles, Early Man) and eventually became the initial — and cornerstone — release of his newest imprint, We Are Free.

After a gazillion positive reviews, rumors of the band’s outstanding performances at Austin, Texas’s 2007 South by Southwest Festival, and yes, acclaim from MTV as part of the burgeoning Brooklyn scene, the band has become one of the few tripper acts that render a true sense of escapism as indie rock’s merge with mainstream culture becomes a reality. I strongly recommend listening to the goth-pop–meets–Middle Eastern music psych-epic "Germs," followed by a serious bong rip. Then turn to the haunting, shoegazing barbershop bhangra of "Waves" and attempt to question what mental plane and planet you inhabit.

But what makes the mysticism of Yeasayer more mind engulfing than that of the mountain of other Dave Sitek– and Paw Tracks–approved artists (e.g., um, Celebration, Panda Bear, Ariel Pink)? One should first look at the group’s penchant for gospel. While it may be hard to associate any of the long-haired and art school–ish members with that genre’s religious core, just about every track on All Hour Cymbals radiates some sort of spiritual a cappella à la TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe — if he were ever a member of a South American Baptist choir. Even more interesting, the band’s lyrics take the proverbial 180 degree turn from gospel’s posi-vibes. Take, for instance, Yeasayer’s single "2080": the members switch off melodically chanting, "I can’t sleep when I think about the times we’re living in / I can’t sleep when I think about the future I was born into," only to follow with "I’ll surely be dead / So don’t look ahead / Never look ahead." Now we have an apocalyptic, uplifting, shredding whirlwind of pop innovation. Whoa.

With a European tour under their belt and an extensive United States tour in progress with their fellow Brooklyn troupe of indie revolutionaries MGMT, Yeasayer are spreading the bounty of escapism worldwide. Experiencing this fearless entity, which is staring indie rock’s mainstream monster directly in the face, should be an entertaining, if not enlightening, glimpse into the future of progressive songwriting as we might know it. *


With MGMT and the Morning Benders

Mon/28, 9 p.m., sold out

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455