Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Album Of The Week: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- s/t

Depending on how the rest of the new bands from this decade shake out, I'm thinking about coining a phrase for indie bands who come out of nowhere with a brilliant album, receive a ton of critical praise and blog hype, live on good faith for a year or so, release a disappointing follow-up album, and then drift away on a sea of rumblings about solo projects, hiatuses, and break-ups. "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Syndrome" seems like a pretty good name for it.

So much of this decade has felt ephemeral insofar as feelings towards bands go. Everyone seems to get behind a band or album and then, due to the actions of the band or some unconscious change in groupthink, that band or album receives a vicious backlash. I don't know that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ever really received a vicious sort of backlash, but once their second album turned out to be an aimless, experimental, and forgettable lump, we all sort of forgot they existed. It's hard to believe that it was a bit over four years ago that we were all listening to the band's self titled album over and over again (err, no pun intended). Yet here we are now, in 2009, and I find myself wondering, was I merely taken up in the hype, or is this music still great??

It helps, I believe, to compare this album to their leaden second one, Some Loud Thunder, to figure out why this one is so good. For, yes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is good. I would even go so far as to say that it's great. That's because the album has a sense of forward motion, surprising grooves, and excellent hooks. All things that were almost entirely excised on Some Loud Thunder. Sure, the singer dude's voice is like a more nasally and irritating version of David Byrne in his Talking Heads days, but the band make this into an asset: witness 'The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth', with its vibrant bassline and that cool skittering drum line thing, which trades blows with Alec Ounsworth's stretched, creaking vocals. Especially that excellent moment when he offers "ohh, this boy could use a little sting, alright!" Whereas Some Loud Thunder unwisely tried to make the band experiment with sound and layered textures--simultaneously wasting their gift for fun, head nodding indie rock and turning Ounsworth's vocals into a detriment--Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is rife with excellent catchy pop songs. Admittedly, these are the pop songs of music blogs and indie rock followers, not teens or your parents, but they're pop songs nonetheless.

And for the record, you do not **** with 'Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood.' I am always tempted to end every mixtape with this song, if only for the addictive acoustic guitar part and the "with their sex, and their drugs, and their rock, and rock, and rock and rock and roll, hey!" line at the end.

Really, though, the reason this album was so beloved in 2005 and why it's still great today is that it's just a blast to listen to. I hesitate to resort to such 4th grade jargon as "a blast", but much like Surfer Rosa by the Pixies or Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? by the Unicorns, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a succinct, endlessly listenable, and addictive album; as fun and excellent as indie rock gets without being ironic or co-opting other genres.

Hell, I even like the cheeky-but-annoying-to-some-people first track.

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