Category Archives: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical
After their polarizing sophomore record, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah took an extended break, with little evidence when, or if, they’d ever return. But after a long period of silence—broken up by the occasional live performance and Alec Ounsworth solo record—the band suddenly reemerged with the announcement of Hysterical, their third full-length. This hiatus and reappearance, along with the mixed reaction to 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, means that this is the first CYHSY album to arrive without any excessive hype or pressure. Optimistically, this could mean that this is the record where the band decides to relax and branch out a bit since there aren’t as many troublesome expectations to live up to, and indeed, Hysterical is CHYSY’s most carefully considered batch of music yet. At first, this would appear to me a smart move, reigning in the erratic, meandering tendencies that sometimes marred Some Loud Thunder in favor of something more refined. Unfortunately, John Congleton’s production, while taking advantage of what sounds like an atypically large budget, sucks up most of the band’s manic energy, arguably their most distinctive trait. But the production isn’t solely to blame. Ounsworth’s songs are short on ideas and hooks, arguably his weakest set to date. Sure, there is some diversity here, but while Ounsworth’s decision to write majestic ballads and mid-tempo rockers results in a few lovely moments, these are often drab, lifeless affairs, previously unthinkable from the group that brought us “In This Home On Ice” and “Satan Said Dance.” First the good news: “Same Mistake” and “Hysterical” are joyous romps, even if they’re not quite on the level of past CHYSY highlights; “Ketamine And Ecstasy” injects some of the group’s past energy, and both the propulsive “Into Your Alien Arms” and tender “Adam’s Plane” end in unexpected jams, arguably the hardest the band has ever rocked. But among these isolated moments, the album moves from moody ballad to punchy rocker and back again, all leading to “The Witness’ Dull Surprise,” which has its best descriptor in its title. These tracks are all listenable and have their moments, but they are often predictable and lazy, so even the meandering tracks don’t yield that many interesting ideas, the way they did on Some Loud Thunder. Despite its best efforts, Hysterical never rises above the level of pleasantly conventional. And when you’re Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, sounding “pleasantly conventional” is one of the biggest sins you can make, even if there are enough moments to make this album worthwhile for dedicated fans.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Hype has always been the life blood of the music press, even if no one likes to admit it, and it means double in the indie world. Hitmakers have the major labels and radio play doing the bulk of the publicity, but when you’re an underground no-name, all you can hope is that someone will spread the word. Back in the mid-2000s, tastemaking music blogs like Pitchfork were gaining steam as legitimate forces for breaking new artists, plucking bands from obscurity and changing their lives forever. And of course, once all this hype builds to a climax, the backlash appears and unwarranted hatred starts to build. For better or worse, Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were among these first Internet buzz bands. Unsigned, self-produced, self-promoted and even self-distributed, the group’s eponymous debut was the ideal subject for bloggers since CYHSY seemed so defiantly underground. But that’s just the thing: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s spirit is so far-removed from the trend-a-minute world of Internet-era indie media that it’s almost hard to believe the band was swept up in the first place. Unlike, say, Arcade Fire, whose first album was buzzed about to high heavens only a year prior, CYSHY certainly don’t sound like they intended this album to be a major statement. So why this band and why this record? It’s not innovative, nor excessively weird, nor some hybrid of disparate styles. There’s nothing even incredibly original about the album—play it for a friend, and they’ll tell you what bands it reminds them of—but nothing obviously derivative either.
Instead, Clap Your Hands is something that’s too rare nowadays—a group of friends having a good time, who seem to just love making music, playing joyously on a set of great, hooky songs. Chiming glockenspiel, slick synths, harmonica and lots of lo-fi guitars play simple, catchy melodies, with an overall aesthetic borrowing from ’70s art-punk, ’80s pop and ’90s quirkiness (the last of which can most easily be seen on the drunken carnival of an opener, “Clap Your Hands!”). The most immediately arresting aspect, of course, is Alec Ounsworth’s yelping David Byrne-esque vocals, which only adds to the band’s ramshackle personality, even if it may turn off a few listeners. But the group has written a surprisingly satisfying set of songs given the familiar territory. There’s the slow-burning, cathartic “Details Of The War;” “In This Home On Ice”‘s maximum strength melody; the slinking groove of “Gimme Some Salt” and the chugging “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away.” And though the band occasionally overdoes it, the record never drags for long. No, it’s not a stone-cold classic, but it may be something better: an album that’s simple and fun, created by a band that’s too unpretentious to have deserved the innocence-stealing hype/backlash machine. At the same time, though, it’s that very same machine that garnered the band recognition they wouldn’t have otherwise received. It also turned Clap Your Hands Say Yeah into one of the decade’s most important records by proving just how vital the Internet had become for burgeoning bands in the music industry. Not bad for such a modest record.