When Clap Your Hands Say Yeah appeared in 2005, AlecOunsworth’s jerky, punky indie troupe were lauded by many as themissing link between Talking Heads and The Rapture,their unique zeitgeist-surfing mixture of dance, art school nonchalanceand ragged guitars sending hipsters and critics alike into paroxysmsof joy.
This, their sophomore record, comes laden with the kind of nervoustension that can destroy groups. After flying in under the radar withtheir first long-player, with bloggers creating the kind of publicitythat A&R departments can only dream of, CYHSY have it all to do -create a record that sells by the bucketload, and try and stick totheir alternative guns to appease hardened fans.
It’s a confused tactic, and one the band seldom seem to pull offhere, veering dangerously between ‘deliberately difficult’ and’commercially acceptable’, often within the same song. Much of theblame should be placed squarely at producer Dave Friedman’s door – afine knob twiddler in his own right – who desperately over-producesmost of the tracks here into bizarre and convoluted shapes. When he’sworking with songwriters as good as the Flaming Lips andMercury Rev, it’s an excellent combination. Here, with a bandstill finding their feet, and desperate to remind the world to knowhow alternative they are, it’s just plain annoying.
For example, instead of, say, opening their make or break recordwith a stonking pop number, first track Some Loud Thunder iswillfully, bizarrely obtuse – a half decent Strokes-soundalikethat Friedman renders practically unlistenable with ear-bleeding vocaldistortion. While CYHSY may be giggling like schoolboys at theircleverness, it’ll simply end up with legions of confused fansdesperately fiddling with the treble controls on their ipods.Similarly, the otherwise pretty well-structured Emily Jean Stock isruined by Ounsworth’s vocals, warbled like a hillbilly who’s had toomuch moonshine. It’s almost as if the band have set out tointentionally separate the wheat from the chaff, the kids who enjoyedThis House on Ice from the last record are picked off like flies withthe opening salvo.
Only lead single Satan Said Dance is anything near the tone to thefirst record – all jerky guitar cuts and electronic beeps – but thereisn’t the sense of warmth and low-fi fun that typified their eponymousdebut. For a five minute single, there are an awful lot of fancyproduction techniques thrown in to what is, essentially, a RaptureB-side.
In fact it’s the end of the record that impresses most – Yankee GoHome is easily one of the best tracks on the record, despite thevocals having the uncanny ability to render the uninitiated toscreaming agony in a matter of seconds. And while there is hardlyanything here that matches the heart-tugging frazzled beauty of firstalbum highlight Over and Over Again (Lost and Found), closer Five EasyPieces runs it close – a romantic bath of fuzzy, underwater vocals andunintelligible yelps from Ounsworth.
It’s a striking end to an album that doesn’t so much fail todeliver, as forgets to post the thing in the first place. There aremoments here that remind you exactly why you fell in love with theband first time around, like gorgeous ballad Underwater (You and Me),but, with too many ideas swimming between the band and their producer,this album is too much of a mess to be seen as a worthy follow-up tosuch a great debut. If they peg everything back, and employ DangerMouse on the next record, the next one could be veryinteresting.