CD Review of Some Loud Thunder by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

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Some Loud Thunder
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Released: 2007
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For those who embrace the “indie” in “indie rock,” the rise of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was one of the most inspirational stories of 2005. The Brooklyn-based quintet self-released its gorgeous self-titled debut, relying mainly on the buzz generated by music blogs to market the album. When the record companies came calling, the band bucked the trend by rejecting their offers. At press time, CYHSY remains without a US label (though they did sign to Wichita Recordings in the UK), so the band’s sophomore effort, Some Loud Thunder, is also self-released. As is often the case, it’s tough to meet bloated expectations when following up a successful debut, but if fans can keep their optimism in check, they’ll find the band pretty much holds its own.

CYHSY is a quirky outfit, and Some Loud Thunder reflects this, right down to the mix. On the first track, not coincidentally titled “Some Loud Thunder,” the guitars and drums are inexplicably loud. No matter where you play the CD (computer, stereo, car), it sounds brutally distorted. I noticed this when the band streamed the entire CD from its MySpace page, and figured it was a problem with the software. But here I sit, listening to a review copy of the CD, and the mix is exactly the same. Adding to the mystery, there’s a version of the song available on the Internet that sounds a thousand times better, but has a faster tempo, which trims a minute off its running time. Weird.

The song itself is microcosm of the album. To fully enjoy it, you’re going to have to work a little. I’m a half-dozen listens in, and the songs are just starting to take hold. Producer David Fridmann, famous for his work with the Flaming Lips, layered the album with atmospheric sounds (“Five Easy Pieces” is a great example), giving it more depth than its predecessor. The band has a gift for creating beautiful melodies, which work well with (or in spite of) Alec Ounsworth’s warbled vocals (which, for the uninitiated, make him sound like David Byrne’s marble-mouthed little brother). Still, there’s something really emotive about his vocals, and CYHSY just wouldn’t be the same with out them.

“Satan Said Dance” is probably the most infectious track, due to its quick beat and catchy chorus, where Ounsworth repeats “Satan” several times and then a group of people shouts, “Said dance!” “Yankee Go Home” is a little subtler and features a slower beat, but is nearly as accessible. Tyler Sargent delivers some terrific bass on both that track and “Underwater (You & Me),” a wistful, mid-tempo number with a jingly-jangly feel.

But back to that distorted mix. It rears its ugly head twice more, in the drums of the otherwise beautiful “Emily Jean Stock,” and “Arm & Hammer.” Apparently, it’s intentional, at least according to an article in The Independent, where Ounsworth laments that he didn’t send out LPs to critics. Considering that the band made its name by having its songs digitally traded throughout cyberspace, it’s pretty ironic that what Ounsworth really wants is for Some Loud Thunder to be heard on vinyl. But despite the sketchy mix, there’s a lot to like about the album, even though it’s quite a departure from the debut. In this case, quirky is mostly good.

~John Paulsen