People love good stories, and no music story in 2005 could beat the tale of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. With the name itself nearly synonymous with blog hype and DIY distribution (never mind the deal with Warner’s ADA), romanticizing the ascension of CYHSY into indie/mainstream consciousness is exactly what a self-conscious blog community dreams of -- a rags-to-riches story practically pre-written for richy rags like Rolling Stone, if not for its capsule-esque qualities, then for its sugary narrative. With the increasing power of the internet as a way of leveling the playing field, it was bound to happen at some point.
But since little was actually discussed about CYHSY’s music, it seemed that often what we were really negotiating was music’s relationship with capitalism and the internet. In fact, listening to CYHSY after reading the hype was almost anti-climactic. Sure, Alec’s stylized-to-the-point-of-absurdity vocal delivery produced hip comparisons and adjectives aplenty, but CYHSY’s self-released, self-titled album was by no means a musical revelation. CYHSY sounded exactly like the kind of indie band that could’ve/should’ve opened for The Arcade Fire: poppy, melodic, inviting, energetic, and with just enough reverb, distorted guitars, and jangly picking to create the illusion of something “big.”
But now that we’re past the mythical tale of plucking an obscure gem out of the ether, Some Loud Thunder unfortunately has to contend with the fabled sophomore slump, a sick tradition in music criticism. Although the album continues in a similar tone to the group’s debut, the most notable difference is the influence of Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. Replacing the kitschy DIY aesthetic with intentional roughness and bloating each nook and cranny with some sort of sound, what’s emphasized is its production, not its songwriting. The music is full to the point of upchucking sounds at every sharp turn. CYHSY aren’t necessarily known for their dynamic variety, but with songs like “Yankee Go Home,” the blatant dynamism engenders clichéd responses.
At the same time, however, it’s the production that makes the album somewhat interesting. Despite using distortion as a mere aesthetic “technique” (“Some Loud Thunder” and “Arms and Hammer”), the roughness bodes deceptively well for a band that could’ve just as easily have sounded squeaky clean -- just imagine “Emily Jean Stock” without the distorted drums. The production waves its hands again as it attempts to stitch-up “Satan Said Dance,” a rare moment on the album that sees the band loosening its template for much-needed dissonance, but unfortunately it can't stop the fluffy content and overreaching vocals from bleeding through. Perhaps the problem is that they decided to ape the synthetic squeals from Talking Heads’ “Born Under Punches.”
Of course, this is coming from a guy who failed miserably to form a connection with their self-titled record. Taste at this point has become so overtly subjective that trying to convince a friend of Some Loud Thunder’s worth or worthlessness is an arbitrary endeavor. Although it could very well be the background harmonies and melodramatic chord changes fucking with my head, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound like they have a lot of heart -- but then again, so do a lot of high school talent-show bands. Pop’s forte has never been reinvention, so when a band comes along that sounds so much like the flavor of the month, adding only bells and whistles to the same template in a different context only serves to justify the existence of notions such as “sophomore slump.” With only dubious distinctions left and without a good story to back it all up, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have to fight an uphill battle in order to get the timely reverence they achieved with their self-titled debut.
1. Some Loud Thunder
2. Emily Jean Stock
3. Mama, Won't You Keep Those Castles in the Air & Burning?
4. Love Song No. 7
5. Satan Said Dance
6. Upon Encountering the Crippled Elephant
7. Goodbye to the Mother and the Cover
8. Arm and Hammer
9. Yankee Go Home
10. Underwater (You and Me)
11. Five Easy Pieces
12. The Sword Song (Bonus Track)