Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Some Loud Thunder (s/r)

cd_cyhsyAll of the 2006 hype has made Some Loud Thunder one of the most anticipated CDs of 2007, with critics and fans eager to see what singer/songwriter Alec Ounsworth will do with some exposure to fame and new resources. The result is a markedly more complicated, almost maniacal experiment in track layering and production.

 

 

 

In case you haven't heard, Clap Your Hand Say Yeah's 2005 self-titled debut album was recorded independently and distributed out of a basement by the band members themselves. Internet communities and the blogosphere took care of the marketing, and the band went from mailing out CDs to touring the world, achieving mainstream recognition and selling over 100,000 copies of the record. With this success, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah became more than a band with great songs—they were a phenomenon, the poster band for the promotional power of the Internet and its ability to popularize independently released music. And we all heard about it…a lot. The buzz was inescapable and they were the darlings of the indie-rock world, self-starters whose mythical ascension was driven by the strength of their music and the nerds who discovered it, without any aid from the industry's big machine.

All of the 2006 hype has made their new album Some Loud Thunder one of the most anticipated CDs of 2007, with critics and fans eager to see what singer/songwriter Alec Ounsworth will do with some exposure to fame and new resources—i.e., a sizeable budget and producer Dave Fridmann* at his disposal. The result is a markedly more complicated, almost maniacal experiment in track layering and production that provides plenty to laud, along with plenty of fodder for criticism, in the event that anti-establishmentarian urges provoke the hipsters to slay the very monster they created.

Those who have been sharpening their arrows can aim directly at the album's lead track, and justifiably so; "Some Loud Thunder" is drowned out in static and noise, and the distorted vocals become more annoying as the song's intensity increases. Maybe this is Ounsworth's thesis statement in response to the love-fest, as the studio work sounds less like a complicated experiment than an intentional defacing of a catchy song. On the next two tracks, however, Ounsworth makes it work. "Emily Jean Stock" fuses haunting vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar, hand-claps, the perfect electric guitar riff, piano, bells, and more as it builds toward a symphonic climax. "Mama, Wont You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?" follows suit, denying the listener its grand pop finale until the song's final refrain.

"Love Song (No. 4)" dawdles too much and doesn't have the same effect, while "Satan Said Dance" is one of the album's more radio-friendly songs—a pulsating techno-rock experiment that has the potential for legitimate exposure in the clubs. Throughout the album, the percussion work of Sean Greenhalgh stands out, and in the title track, Ounsworth does us a favor by killing the noise and ending with the spotlight solely on Greenhalgh's bouncy mixture of cowbell, tambourine, and drums.

After the instrumental "Upon Encountering the Crippled Elephant," the intricate but anticlimactic "Goodbye to Mother and the Cove," and the awkward "Arm and Hammer," the band closes the album strongly, with the triumphant chorus of "Yankee Go Home," the album's most radio-friendly number "Underwater (You and Me)," and the beautiful "Five Easy Pieces," the last two tracks driven by simple, melodic bass lines that are tough to remove once they're stuck in your head.

Some Loud Thunder features myriad sounds, studio effects, and layers, and the band is at its best when the cacophony doesn't distort or detract from Ounsworth's brilliant melodies. They're going to take some heat, because this is a challenging record that doesn't always reward the listener who accepts the challenge. Plus, Ounsworth's squawking falsetto is an acquired taste that some listeners may never acquire. It's a grandiose, complicated effort that at times appears self-indulgent and overdone, and many listeners will accuse the band of losing its charm, trying too hard, and abandoning the accessible, quirky pop songs that made them so adorable.

If Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had simply recreated their first record, however, these same critics would invariably chastise the band for failing to evolve. While there is no "Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" or "Is This Home on Ice" on Some Loud Thunder, the band deserves credit for experimenting with complicated layers and themes, exploring new territory, and creating a handful of great songs in the process. B+ | Andrew Scavotto


* Of Flaming Lips fame

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