- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Some Loud Thunder

Self-released (no label)

The 2005 self-released debut of the indie-rock quintet Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sold a miraculous 200,000-plus copies, mostly via the Internet and hand to hand at concerts, thanks to word-of-mouth from devoted fans and a near-unanimous critical seal of approval. Easy to love and, more important, hard to dislike, CYHSY plays songs that engage a playful harmony of opposites. They are earnest and sly, melodic and dissonant, thoughtful and carefree, peppy and mopey all at once.

On the new “Some Loud Thunder” the songs range from the sudden hurdy-gurdy carnival dirge “Upon Encountering the Crippled Element” to the near-seven-minute epic “Five Easy Pieces,” which echoes with haunting harmonica lines and a surfeit of reverb on the vocal track. The album’s title track can be read as a self-effacing reaction to the band’s precipitous success, with lines such as, “Yes that was me breaking glass/ and pretending to start/ something big/ some new taste.”

The sound is determinedly lo-fi; even the mock-electronica number “Satan Said Dance” features piano riffs and muted trumpet growls around the main synthesizer theme. While “Some Loud Thunder” sounds as if it was put together on a professional mixing board, it retains a do-it-yourself four-track sensibility: Even on the more complex arrangements, the overdubs never feel forced or gratuitous.

Comparing CYHSY to other bands is more of a Rorschach test for music writers than an authentic critical exercise. Do you like Radiohead? Then name-check Thom Yorke. Older critics reliably bring up Talking Heads, and lead singer and songwriter Alec Ounsworth’s warbly, raw voice does ring with some of David Byrnes’ hipster evangelism, although it is more sniffly and less authoritative.

I would add that there is a hint of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus lurking: The two songwriters share a fascination with non sequiturs, if lyrics like “Salad nicoise/Good to meet ya,” are anything to go by. Though not larcenous by any means, the two-minute song “Arm & Hammer” is redolent of Pavement’s “Speak, See, Remember.”

CYHSY is one of those rare bands like the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Galaxie 500 and Pavement that astonish not so much with musicianship as with deft orchestration. It is impossible, not to say unsatisfying, to imagine their songs any different from the way they are recorded.

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