Despite nearly everything said about them in the press, Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound very little like Talking Heads. Vocalist Alec Ounsworth does possess a yelp in the vicinity of David Byrne’s, but that’s where any resemblance ends. (And Ounsworth sounds more like Tom Verlaine than Byrne half the time anyway.) Musically, the quintet recalls the Feelies’ ebb-and-flow repetition, Polyrock’s skeletal minimalism and Murmur-era R.E.M.’s ability to craft memorable melodies that are simultaneously alien and completely familiar.
The group’s self-titled debut became a phenomenon in 2005 when online buzz catapulted it to national prominence without any substantial label involvement, making it one of the most successful self-released albums in memory. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is worthy of the attention, as it reveals a band of great ability and confidence brimming with ideas. The opening sideshow bark of “Clap Your Hands!” can be safely skipped but after that everything’s good, notably “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found),” “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth,” the very R.E.M.-sounding “In This Home on Ice” and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood,” which sounds like Polyrock listening to My Bloody Valentine over the intercom. A more than promising debut from a band whose grassroots success just might be the template for the future of the music industry.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah recruited producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Mogwai, etc.) to helm their second disc, with decidedly mixed results. Some Loud Thunder is too enjoyable for a full-fledged sophomore slump; “sophomore swoon” might be more apt. Where the debut featured sharply focused songs, the sequel is fuzzy around the edges. The band’s unconventional but instantly memorable melodies are nowhere to be found, lost amid frenzied energy and lots of sonic trickery. (Perhaps they were concerned about getting their money’s worth out of employing Fridmann.) The closest thing the album has to a centerpiece is “Satan Said Dance,” a wild groove with lots of vim and vigor and nothing remotely resembling a brain in its head. It’s fun, but ultimately just feels pointless. Some Loud Thunder is a disappointment compared to the debut, but let’s give Clap Your Hands Say Yeah the benefit of the doubt and consider it the work of a young band with a ton of ideas that got away from them this time. With discipline they can do better.