Expectancy spoiled the party for Brooklyn/Philadelphia five-piece Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Their self-titled debut was carried far and wide on a tidal wave of young buzz, but tricky follow-up Some Loud Thunder lacked the charm and panache of its predecessor. These are the breaks.
Yet the band’s 2009 “indefinite hiatus” has not grown into the break-up widely expected; in spite of the various solo outings, side projects and extracurricular activities of its constituents – most notably lead singer and creative force Alec Ounsworth’s Mo Beauty LP – 2005’s most hyped act have got their house in order for another swipe.
Hysterical’s immediate impressions are good. Very good. Opener Same Mistake shatters the obtuseness of the Dave Fridmann-led sophomore as if it never happened, its glorious cacophony far more akin to the likes of Heavy Metal and In This Home On Ice; indie mini-masterpieces every inch deserving of the excitement they generated. The influence of newly-recruited producer John Congelton, whose satisfied clients include The Polyphonic Spree, Modest Mouse and Wye Oak? All signs point to yes – Hysterical is utterly listenable from the off.
Its title track, indeed, spans the sonic chasm between the band’s existing albums – dynamic and bright yet substantial, dense and long-lived – while Misspent Youth reminds that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, while subjected to and subsequently dismissed by here-today-gone-tomorrow blogosphere puff, have never put their name to throwaway pop: it is a distinctly gorgeous track, growing through distinct stages, patient and precise, and exhibiting Ounsworth’s musical, lyrical and vocal prowess.
Not that the man has lost his knack: giveaway single Maniac tugs at the wrist like an excitable child, its dynamic headlong rush belying the adversity of the last few years; Yesterday, Never strains the CYHSY formula through an acoustic filter that renders it altogether starker, clearer and even easier to cherish; Ketamine And Ecstacy breezes into earshot with the sort of natural energy the ear cannot ignore.
Of the album’s longer pieces, most – if not all – hit the mark. Into Your Alien Arms, though a touch uneventful, ploughs a furrow well worth following, while the outstanding In A Motel forsakes percussion in favour of acoustic strumming and dreamy strings, and Siesta (For Snake) pulls the tempo down for powerful, moving balladry of the highest order.
Granted, there are times at which Ounsworth’s comparatively thoughtful moments overstay their welcome, most noticeably in the album’s closing pair: The Witness’ Dull Surprise and Adam’s Plane each embark full of promise before bearing hallmarks of a fair idea drawn out, the latter captivating well into its seven-plus minutes before suffering somewhat for its indulgence.
Nevertheless, Hysterical marks a significant return to form and fortune for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. By reputation, their self-titled debut will never be topped. Some Loud Thunder, on the other hand, hasn’t taken much beating; it is to the band’s credit that they have exceeded it with aplomb rather than by the skin of their teeth.