If you didn’t think art could sound deliriously haunting, nasal and sexy all at once, you haven’t heard “Love Song No. 7” on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s new release, Some Loud Thunder.
The quiet pistons of alternating left-hand/right-hand piano chords duly clear the tracks for lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s splintering warble, followed by a casual whistle. Over military tom-toms he croons “We’re safe and sound / So safe and now” like some kind of murky indie mantra – which will be considered ingeniously abstract by some, inane by others – as if partly underwater, his voice burbling and weighted by the auxiliary instrumentals.
And it’s just lovely.
On CYHSY’s follow-up to its critically lauded, self-titled debut, there are a number of these transcendent moments – you just need to search for them. There’s no Appalachia-to-Brooklyn come of age and no soft spot for dental discoloration (“Yellow Country Teeth”) on Some Loud Thunder. The quasi-surrealist lyrics are still very much present, but even though the whine of harmonica shows up from time to time, they’re certainly tamer than on “Heavy Metal” off the first album.
CYHSY’s sophomore album exercises restraint and a subtle experimentalism. While it stings something fierce when they slip up, you’ll be able to appreciate the Motown and ’60s American strains that push through clearer now than before.
On “Goodbye To the Mother and The Cover,” Ounsworth’s voice glides through the glockenspiel, bass and layered harmonium as if they were buttercream frosting. The baroque-influenced melody keens and crescendoes as the drums vault Ounsworth’s voice upward to meet the harmony. The percussion sounds as if from a fatalistic march, sister to those on “Love Song No. 7.”
The 19th century circus strain – a novel, if cutesy, device on the first album – makes itself heard in more subdued fashion on the minute-plus interlude “Upon Encountering the Crippled Elephant.” The track sounds exactly like its pathetic title: Sad-sack accordion rises and falls with a harmony that’s purposely just off pitch. It slips leisurely into the following track (the aforementioned “Goodbye”).
CYHSY rode the hype train for the majority of last year after signing with Wichita Recordings to cap off a Cinderella story for the ’00s: They famously won a fair amount of praise and fans (including David Bowie and David Byrne, who were spotted at their shows) through the Internet before they actually had a record deal. Thus the presence of songs already made popular on the road seems natural, like the whirling “Satan Said Dance.” While the chants of “Satan, Satan!” live at The Blind Pig succeeded in creating an occultish, dance-or-die mood, on record the track loses some of its overwhelmingly visceral appeal.
Strangely enough, the most lackluster tracks fall at the beginning and end of Some Loud Thunder. The title track and opener is a blustery, ill-synced mess. The vocals are too loud and the guitars, in comparison, not loud enough – although volume is less of an issue than the distracting, careless harmonic texture. The intent of raw production is as jarring and doesn’t match the rest of the album. If CYHSY wanted to build a bridge for fickle fans between the two discs, “Some Loud Thunder” isn’t the correct choice. Ending track “Five Easy Pieces” has a few keen details – the return of clear, open harmonica is a nice touch – but drones on without saying much.
The band isn’t throwing the joyous cacophony of “Yes, we’re borrowing this from the New Romantics and that from post-punk, and topping it off with circus noises – and you will love us!” in our faces anymore. And although it was that quality that first swept the Pitchfork generation off its feet, it’s worth taking the few extra spins to let this calmer Clap Your Hands sink in. The novelty of the band may have won you over on the last album, but the maturity of Some Loud Thunder will keep you interested this time, and for future efforts.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Some Louder Thunder
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars