Not too long ago, it seems, a young upstart New York based truly `indie’ band arrived on the scene like the arrival of a three ring circus, complete with a ringmaster’s introduction asking us to do exactly what the band’s name implores of us, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Well, the circus is back in town and the big top has never been so appealing. Some Loud Thunder is one of a huge handful of the most eagerly anticipated albums of 2007, and, perhaps unlike the rest of the pack, doesn’t just live up to the requisite hype, it exceeds it. CYHSY have broadened their sound, enlisted the help of a top producer in Dave Fridmann, all while remaining fiercely unique.
The band welcomes their fans back to the fold with one hand while at the same time pushing them away with the other in the opening title track. Listeners will at first think that they will have burst their iPods or stereo speakers after listening so intently to Mastodon the night before thanks to the fuzzed out production on the drums. By the time you become accustomed to the percussive bass sound, which is normally only heard from the rattling windows and trunk of a car playing sumpin’ crunk, Alec Ounsworth’s unconventional yet magnetic voice is once again recalling David Bowie, this time mentioning “station to station to state.” After the eardrums settle and you’ve realized that your speakers are okay, we begin to peel back the layers of Some Loud Thunder, finding that not only is it a good album and a decent follow-up, it’s even a great album and proof that CYHSY is more than just a story of internet hype and DIY willpower.
“Emily Jean Stock” has short moments of the jarring fuzz, but pealing bells and acoustic guitars overlapped with deep and resonant bass and electric guitar lines tend to make up for it. There’s a bit of a ’60s feel to the song, as if the Velvet Underground were mashed up with the Bangles’ “If She Knew What She Wants.” “Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?” follows, and is a definite highlight. There’s a pervading eerie feeling to the first half of the track, which matches the hopeless lyrics of a failed relationship, but at about two and a half minutes in, the song turns a corner into something absolutely breathtaking. Ounsworth begins a series of four syllable lines sung in succession, rapid fire one after another, with Beatlesesque backups chiming in for support over time. After the Hold Steady, CYHSY become the second band in a small period of time to namecheck poet John Berryman in a brilliant lyric that also references a Randy Newman song, “Know that Mama told me / Never to come / But I came softly, slowly / Banging me metal drum / Like Berryman / Bed-wet poet fears / That better men / drink taller beers.” The lyric chain then ends with a very Smiths-like “la da dum.”
Both “Mama” and its successor, “Love Song No.7” find Alec Ounsworth and the band sounding much more like Destroyer than the Talking Heads, and I’m certainly not complaining. However, with the high nasal delivery and a reference to “taking the wrong way home,” there’s more than just a whiff of Supertramp. And really, it’s about time for a Supertramp revival. Maybe CYHSY are just the band to get it done. Then, they do their best !!! impression with the poppy, funky and infectious highlight, “Satan Said Dance.” I wanted to dance right along with Beelzebub upon hearing this disco-fied treat, but it was Alec’s post “Said Dance!” asides, such as “So dance, go!” and “alright!” that won my affection. The manic energy of the guitars and keys at the close of the song merely sealed the Faustian deal. The hypnotic “Goodbye to Mother and the Cove” follows a short instrumental, featuring a chant to marching drums with weaving backup vocals that are awfully compelling when put together.
“Arm and Hammer” brings back the fuzz, but also finds similarity in some of the Beatles’ more experimental work, a la The White Album. “Yankee Go Home” gets things back on track, being part Radiohead, part Weezer and again, a touch of Destroyer. Maybe to try and prove a point that this album seems to get better with every track, CYHSY save two of the best for last in “Underwater (You and Me)” and “Five Easy Pieces.” The former is a bouncy tune that takes its time, favoring style over a frenetic punk pace. There are moments of Waterboys’ sense of drama and Depeche Mode’s sense of pop hooks. Ringo’s “Octopus’ Garden” may not have been able to convince me to live the life aquatic, but this one just might. The latter song evokes U2 and Dylan, if you can believe it, with simple echoing vocals, wistful harmonica and a bassline reminiscent of the Cure’s “One More Time.” The repeated phrase “give up” at the close is slightly sad, as is the rest of the song, as Ounsworth lets us know that sometimes more is not better. While that message may not match the message of the production, the point is taken.
As opposed to most of the bands that I was told I was `supposed’ to like over the last two years, I actually did enjoy Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Alec Ounsworth’s signature vocal style definitely led to the use of the term `quirky’ in reviews more often than not, but I found his voice charming and his lyrics witty. In a way, however, they were like that band formed by you and your friends in high school, an exciting prospect mostly because it was fresh, new and adventurous. Some of those high school bands turn into college coffee house mainstays before they graduate to the big time, but with this sophomore release, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has skipped college altogether, matriculating early and going professional. Sometimes it is a great career move to leave home and join the circus.