Remember how, when the Internet first began to swell in popularity, that there were many predictions that this brave new world would make the role of record companies redundant? How enterprising bands would release their music on the web direct to their fans? Well, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are the first indicators that these predictions may well be coming true.
The Brooklyn based group have taken the phrase ‘word of mouth’ to a whole new level. A couple of years ago, they were playing gigs in New York to a handful of people – those people started writing about the band on their blogs, word began to spread like wildfire and six months ago bass player Tyler Sargent responded to demand by sending out copies of the band’s album from his apartment.
Without the aid of a record company, they’ve already sold 40,000 copies, can count David Bowie amongst their celebrity fans and arrive on these shores with a distribution deal with Wichita Records and a very definite buzz around them.
So apart from the fact that they’ve got a cool name, plenty of buzz behind them and some eye-catching titles (Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood anyone?), are they actually any good? Thankfully they’re extremely good, although there’s always going to be a danger that an awful lot of people who buy this on the off chance will be left scratching their heads.
The main talking point about CYHSY will be Alec Ounsworth’s remarkable voice. The much quoted resemblance to David Byrne is certainly there, but there are also touches of Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and Win Butler of Arcade Fire. It’s a real ‘love it or hate it’ voice – and it’s debatable whether Ounsworth can even actually sing, but these songs suit his voice perfectly.
Is This Love? relentlessly chugs along, fired by an insistent guitar riff, and is utterly addictive, while Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away is a distant cousin of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion (Lies), and just as heart-racingly euphoric as its Canadian cousin. It’s these more upbeat tracks that grab the attention on first listen, but repeat plays bring even greater rewards.
Those repeated plays throw up some truly wonderful, albeit surreal, lyrics: “you look like David Bowie, but you’ve nothing new to show me” runs Over And Over Again (Lost And Found), while Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood assures us that “There is nothing left to fear, no now that Bigfoot is captured”. Is This Love meanwhile contains the instruction to “do the zarathusta” which is both completely ridiculous and rather cool.
Most importantly of all, CYHSY manage to make a real emotional connection, despite the initial ‘none more arty’ impression. The album’s centrepiece The Skin Of My Yellow County Teeth is gloriously uplifting, the listener caught up with the song as it urgently builds to its climax. Home On Ice is hypnotic, the swirling guitars bringing to mind My Bloody Valentine, and Details Of The War (the closest the album comes to a ballad) is surprisingly affecting.
It’s true that sometimes Ounsworth’s vocals get rather too whiny at times, and they do overplay the whole ‘quirkiness’ angle a bit too much. Yet that shouldn’t distract from the fact that, for a debut album, this is remarkable stuff and hints at even better things to come. It’s also heartening that, even in today’s corporate age, a record this strange and original can reach a wide audience without a money-making machine behind it.