Review Summary: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah begin to rust away
“Same Mistake” almost had me believing again. The four-on-the-floor, hi-hat-happy beat, the fact that Alec Ounsworth no longer sounds like the bastardized child of David Byrne and the sound a junkyard cat makes in heat, the irresistible melody. It’s a great song, in the vein of “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” and “Is this Love,” songs that captured the offbeat quirkiness that originally endeared CYHSY to the early blogosphere. 2007’s Some Loud Thunder’s
critical and commercial misstep was turning that lovable wackiness into something obtuse and increasingly insular, easy to appreciate for what the band was doing but hard to actually like. Ounsworth’s affected off-key yelp had become annoying and the songs prickly and divergent, fleeing from that pop framework that grounded Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
and turned it into such a frenetic, unexpected ball of happily nervous energy. Four years and one “indefinite” hiatus later and it’s a bit odd to process Hysterical
, given that the scene CYHSY grew out of has largely passed on or morphed into something altogether new. For all its problems, Some Loud Thunder
had a definite identity; Hysterical
, sadly, has none.
sounds great. The production emphasizes sparkly guitars and trebly reverb courtesy of seasoned vet John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, many more), and Ounsworth’s vocal inflections resemble more a controlled burn and less Dan Bejar on methamphetamines. He’s matured, and so has the band – gone are the pointless attempts to scare away listeners with an abrasive opening track a la “Clap Your Hands!” Things are tight, controlled; the title track gallops along a foreboding synth line and a relentless rhythm, while the snappy footwork and crystal-clear cymbals on “Same Mistake” could almost be called martial. The fact that Ounsworth can pen a credible ballad like “In A Motel” that places the focus on his voice and pull it off is something that would have been laughed off on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
. And all of it, of course, sounds like something you’ve already heard before.
There’s shades of the Killers, on the jittery “Maniac” and “Misspent Youth;” a tinge of Two Door Cinema Club on the rote post-punk “Ketamine and Ecstasy;” any number of replaceable bands on any number of 4/4, vaguely dance-inflected tracks here with shiny hooks and shiner guitar tones (“Yesterday, Never,” “The Witness’s Dull Surprise,” “Same Mistake”… you get the idea). It gives Hysterical
an uncomfortable aura of sameness, something previously foreign to a CYHSY record. That same excited feeling I got when I first heard “Same Mistake,” the one that reminded me of “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth’s” sugar-high of a melody, faded quickly when song after song failed to distinguish itself from any number of middle-of-the-road, vaguely new-wave-influenced bands. The fact that a ragged, two-and-a-half-minute guitar solo that appears out of nowhere the otherwise routine “Into Your Alien Arms” can qualify as a surprise on a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record is a bit sad.
Only on closer “Adam’s Plane” do CYHSY even approach the measured mix between weird and accessible that made their debut such a gratifying mix of edginess and heartfelt charm. It takes them seven minutes of fiddling around with rattling pianos, random tonal shifts and a pleasantly throwback Ounsworth vocal performance/howl to compensate for the straightforward indie of the previous eleven songs. It’s an afterthought, one that is as out of place in the context of Hysterical
is in the context of CYHSY’s discography. For a band that once never failed to make an impression, be it positive or nauseating, the fact that the best Hysterical
can muster is indifference is simply disappointing.