Review Summary: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah turn down their eccentricities a notch on their sophomore effort. The result is a slightly uneven record that may disappoint their fans, but might attract some new listeners that were put off by their debut.
Ah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The indie darlings that seem to be revered everywhere except in our own Sputnik community.
The defining characteristic of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is not really up to discussion. It’s Alec Ounsworth’s vocals. Call them quirky, nasal, horrible, expressive, or whatever you want to, they’re definitely hard to describe. One thing’s for sure, they’re unique – for better or for worse. Alec Ounsworth has said in an interview that he changes his singing to suit the individual song and compared it to when guitarists use effects on their instruments. A lot of people might prefer it if he switched to ‘clean’, but hey…
Their indie pop sound has been compared to bands like Arcade Fire, Talking Heads and Neutral Milk Hotel. Combine the playfulness of Talking Heads with the nasality of five Jeff Mangums and you have a general idea of their sound. In the interview I mentioned earlier, Alec also said he didn’t care whether people liked them or not. He doesn’t care whether he played gigs for 5,000 people or 5 people. He just wants to make music. Normally, it’s hard to take such a statement at face value, I mean who doesn’t want some appreciation? (pos vote me, dammit!), but CYHSY certainly sound uncompromising when you listen to their two albums. They were discovered by talent/fate/luck or whatever you call it, without the help of a label, and to my best judgement Alec Ounsworth is simply making music to make music. Admirable, isn’t it?
So is the music good or not? That’s what I’m here to tell you I suppose. The vocals will sound grating at first to most people. It seems like Alec’s unconventional sound will only appeal to listeners who are very open-minded, fans of indie rock (a genre more or less known for peculiar singers), or both. Ultimately, his voice will often separate listeners in extreme opinions. Some give Clap Your Hands Say Yeah inordinate amount of praise, in my opinion partly due to eccentricity of his vocals, and some write them off instantly because of his voice. Either way, it’s hard to deny the talent of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They have a strong sense of melody, and can stand up pretty well to a lot of indie rock groups today.
Some Loud Thunder
seems to be dominated by several really good songs, while the rest aren’t as interesting. This makes the record arguably more uneven and less consistent than the debut, though some of the highlights make up for it. “Satan Said Dance” was chosen as a single for this album, and it’s quite an odd choice at that. It’s not the most immediately appealing song on the album and it isn’t the best either. It’s a solid song, driven by a disco-flavored drum-beat. It’s slightly repetitive, and at 5:32 it might be overlong. My personal choice for a single would be “Underwater”. It’s catchy and fairly easily enjoyable (even for people who hate the vocals, possibly). It’s also a long song at more than five minutes, but arguably a better choice than “Satan Said Dance”. That said, I doubt Alec Ounsworth really gives a ***. If we are to believe his statements in the aforementioned interview, why should he really care which song is a single? Especially when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are so oddball and incompatible with mainstream tastes.
The albums zenith is easily “Love Song no. 7”. Driven mainly by a melancholic, almost hypnotic piano, Ounsworth’s rather dramatic vocals suit the song perfectly. It’s very much a cyclical song, revolving around repetition, with layers being added and added to make the song dynamic. Unlike “Satan Said Dance” it never actually becomes repetitive in a negative way, and the recurring chorus just adds to the emotion of the song. “Yankee Go Home” is one of the quirkiest songs on the album, with Alec almost shouting his way through the captivating chorus. The two electric guitars compliment the song greatly, making it one of the best songs on the album. Sadly, that’s more or less it for the highlights on the album. The rest is a mix of decent to good indie rock songs, that will appeal to most people, but hardly blow anyone away. Aside from “Love Song no. 7” and possible “Yankee Go Home” (“Underwater” too, if you want another one), nothing here is essential listening. It’s a good album, very enjoyable once/if you get past the vocals, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have yet to make an album that makes them worthy of the amount of praise they’ve been getting.
Is it better than the debut though? It depends. Ounsworth’s spastic singing has been turned down a notch, as has the overall quirkiness of the group. Roughly, people who loved the first record will like this one less and people who hated the first record will like this one more. Does that make Some Loud Thunder a better album? You tell me.