Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut album is a wonderfully individual set of songs. From the opening fair ground organ and big top style sales pitch of the title track, you know you are in for something out of the ordinary. What first grabs your attention is Alec Ounsworth’s wailing impassioned vocals. There is clearly a debt to Talking Heads David Byrne, but his shifting tonality add emotional intensity to his lyrics. You have the impression he is singing because he has something he really needs to get said, rather than simply aping previous rock cliches of content and styling.
“You look like David Bowie,
But you’ve nothing new to show me!”
is his wonderfully sarcastic take on his less innovative peers.
The album is unusual in structure, as there are various musical interludes linking full songs. The whole album has a home-made, ramshackle feel to it, and the use of a range of percussion, harmonica and analog synths adds to the rustic feel. Another trademark of the album is the provocative use of repetition: some of the songs seem to almost test your tolerance, such is their dependence on what almost sound like organic loops, but on the best tracks when the break comes it feels like a joyous sense of release as a new melody emerges. Album closer Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood seems to dare you to sing along till the tide finally breaks, like a child holding his breath underwater until his peers have given up. On other tracks, musical shifts within the songs are so seismic it almost sounds as if another band have butted into the studio halfway and started playing over CYHSY, with only the unmistakeable wailing vocals confirming they are still in the room!
Like the Violent Femmes at their primitive best, this is a band who create powerful dynamics in their songs, using a few simple elements and a powerfully emotive voice to successfully build songs with a strong emotional release. The Skin of my Yellow Country teeth is a great example, starting off subtly with neat little bass runs and softly plucked harmonics before the vocals kick in and build to an impassioned rant over a New Order bass line and feverishly strummed Wedding Present style guitars.
This is an album that really has to be listened to in full as it creates a mood all of its own, and the songs have a cumulative effect. Wrenched from their bedfellows, individual songs can sound weak and spindly, but as a whole the album builds its own irrepressible inner logic and songs blend into each other to create a wonderfully coherent and unforgettable whole.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah never scaled the same heights after this stellar debut. Follow up Some Loud Thunder was almost deliberately obscure. Third album Hysteria had a couple of great tracks that I would swear were originally penned alongside the contents of their debut album, but the rest of the album lacked substance, and contained too much uninspired synth driven mediocrity. Their debut on the other hand is well on the way to becoming a classic in the indie canon, as their last gig in Covo Bologna showed, sold out and people queueing round the block. Every song from the album was received rapturously and rightly so. Do your ears a favour and give this album a spin.