Artist: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Album: Some Loud Thunder
Comments: It’s kind of hard for me to really put my finger on what made the first CYHSY record so good. I mean, sure, it was a fun pop record and all, but a lot of fun pop records suck. It sounded original, but originality doesn’t guarantee success, accessibility, or even quality. I’m confident that if I were to record an album of children banging on pots while I blow on a jug and read Plato’s Republic, it would be both original and awful. No, what really made Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self titled debut so good was how spur-of-the-moment, “come out of nowhere” it was. This was an album that was recorded, produced, mixed, edited, pressed, and sold entirely independently, with the band paying for everything. It sounded like it was recorded on some ancient 8-track in the drummer’s basement, and it was still able to sell over 100,000 copies, and not sound like garbage. It was unpredictable, and an absolute blast.
But the secret is out now, and CYHSY have either got to shit or get off the pot. So they release their sophomore effort, “Some Loud Thunder”. This is by no means a sophomore slump, but it finds the band doing the best that they can in a tough situation. I feel bad for bands like this. Their situation is one in which they will never be able to please everyone; if they make an album that is sonically and emotionally the same as the first, people will call them a one trick pony and ignore the record. If they try to move in a different direction, people will say that they’ve sold out or lost their magic, and will ignore the record. In this way, CYHSY have almost shot themselves in the foot by making a debut record that was so embraced by the people. Their only success would be to break up and be another “what could have been” band.
There are two big problems with this record, that in my mind keep it from being as good as their first effort. The first problem is sonic problem, and that is with the new production. Part of CYHSY’s appeal to me was how lo-fi the first record was. It sounded like music that was recorded with limited equipment, and the band was still able to make the songs work. The jumped out of the speakers and danced in front of you, bearing their warts and scars with a confidence and abandon that made them more attractive. On this record, however, the production is stepped up. It’s full of different layers and more textures. I guess that this isn’t really that big of a deal for most people, it still sounds good, but I think some of the charm of what CYHSY stood for to me is lost.
The second, and really the much bigger problem with this record, is that the fun is gone. Listening to their first record, everything from everything to the vaudevillian opening track to the repetition of the phrase “child stars!” on the last track was full of life and real joy for what was being done. The lead singer’s voice would warble and wail and move in spontaneous ways that some found irritating, but also had their own charm. The band would kick in together at certain times, and you could almost feel the love for what they were playing. Sadly, this love for their craft seems to be missing from this record. The best example of this is the titular track, “Some Loud Thunder”. Musically, there is nothing wrong with this song; it’s a guitar driven track that features the lead singer’s David Byrne like croon. But this time around, the jams sound forced, and the vocal fluxuations sound planned. Instead of accidental or half hearted, things sound workman-like. The spontaneity that I loved so much on their first album is all but lost on this record.
Even with these two problems, the album still delivers some really good tracks. The disco groove of the quirky “Satan Said Dance” is a personal favorite, because it is not only the most fun song on the record, but it is also the only one to benefit from the extra production. “Yankee Go Home” is another winner, with lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s polarizing croon warbling all over the place in an authentic way. The album closer “Five Easy Pieces” is an ethereal track that takes the listener on a journey that is both parts soothing and troubling. “Emily Jean Stock” is one of those rare songs that is able to build but not crest without sounding incomplete. It also features some of the awful band backup singing that is either a guilty pleasure or a deal breaker depending on your preference.
I really hope that these guys keep making records, and I hope that some day they can move out from the shadow of their first release. After recording what I consider a Lo-Fi classic in their first record, there was really only one way that this review could go. And while it doesn’t live up to the standard set by their first record, “Some Loud Thunder” ultimately has a charm all its own. Maybe someday I will be able to stop comparing a band to their best work, but until that day comes, I’ll keep listening to these guys and hoping.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Key Tracks: “Satan Said Dance” “Yankee Go Home” “Five Easy Pieces”
Worth The Money: Yeah