Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!

(Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!; 2005)

By Aaron Newell | 19 October 2007

(It’s funny how scared people can be of good, new bands)

Do you even have time for another OMG WTF band?

Better question: does David Bowie?

His appearance at the Arcade Fire gig last year (if you consider an Arcade Fire gig in February 2005 to amount to “last year” because of the expired trend-intrigue of its composite parts) was a sign of celestial approval of earthly deeds. The Duke forsook cult-leader Tim DeLaughter and --- once again defying his own mystique --- pitched tent in Webster Hall, NY, ordered a large tub of gold-embossed popcorn, and, without saying a word, proclaimed “the Arcade Fire is the shit, for real," just by gazing at them for 45 minutes. With his recent materializing at a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig last weekend (Knitting Factory, June 18, 2005), you could say he’s well on his way to becoming the Paris Hilton of indie rock: twenty minutes of his time, a wink at the stage, and an instant validation/backlash tumble-dry results, threatening to shrink the band before anyone even tries them on / wears them in public. Except, with Bowie, I think tha ---

Wow. That was rude. Sorry readers, I think…yeah, I can hear someone yelling in Manhattan. Oh? Ok. I’ll repeat that for the readers. What he said was: “CLAP YOUR HANDSSAYYEAH ARE NOT THE NEXARC ADEFIR fffIRE FUKc1!OFFF”

Well, OK. I agree with that statement. But I’m not sure where it comes from, except for that facts that: 1) the Arcade Fire surprised everyone with an immediately universally-praised debut album, as did CYHSY; and 2) David Bowie attended an AF show, and then, four months later, attended a CYHSY show; and 3) some internet publications really like both bands (including CMG); and 4) both bands seem to have suffered backlash for the simple fact lotsa people like ‘em.

What’s funny with CYHSY, however, is that of their original run of 2000 copies of their self-released/recorded debut album, they had only placed roughly 200 by June 22, 2005. And yet some folks have somehow managed to digest the record enough to be able to sweepingly attack their ‘songwriting’ (which, I presume, means they don’t dig the lyrics or, perhaps, would have employed different time signatures and/or arrangements and/or tweaked the melodies a little, and other valid listener critiques that can be generated after hearing half of the album, once).

Well shit guys, what about the album, though. Not who likes the actual album. And, albeit by tenuous association, perhaps even the music one can find on it? Call this a plea for suggestions. How in the world do we refocus listener attention directly on a given disc’s contents, and away from the messenger who presages the market about the quality of those contents. If we change our hype-generators might we feel a little ok about liking hyped bands? And maybe then be able to cease chucking bastard, parentless, miscarried opinions out into the world simply for the sake of claiming something as our own?

Since it’s somewhat ridiculous that things like this even matter, here’s my proposition for a remedy: we appoint David Bowie as an indie-to-real-world liaison, or maybe Governor General, something like that. So when websites and blogs register universal approval of a given band, and the natural-born contrarians --- who obviously feel that their individuality will be threatened if they sign on to the Bill --- subsequently attempt to strike it down (without having heard its contents, more often than not), David can show up at a reading, wink at everyone, and we’ll all know that it’s ok to collectively dig the band, since David said so, and not Brian Howe. David made the best album of the '70s after all, didn’t he? And you can’t appreciate music today without having an intimate knowledge about the basement-of-cards upon which today’s house was built, can you? And he’s already proven he does his homework on this shit, so who better to defer to? Beat your desk with your right hand really hard if you agree.

Anyway, we of the Independent Principality of Cokemachineglow hereby proclaim that David Bowie is now officially our official 2004/2005 independent rock music tastemaker/circuitous-human-press-stunt of the month for today, Saturday, June 25. And yes, he has lobbied again, just this past weekend, swinging his massive stamp of approval around his gorgeous hair and elven features, from high in his personal balcony in the Knitting Factory Congress, bringing it down with a thunderous squish upon Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and splaying the band’s guts, souls, and guts for all to examine.

And what a pretty mess these guys have made. (This is where the review starts).

Apologies. I don’t hear all that much Talking Heads aside from the danceable, funk-for-accountants basslines and periodic prancey guitar (“Upon This Tidal Wave of Blood”), so everyone calm the fuck down. This is definitely ‘just’ indie rock, but ‘just’ indie rock in the sense that someone tricked-out “Sugarcube” a dozen times (a “No Surprises” hood ornament there, matching “Goodnight Georgie” and “Distortions” seat covers, “The Fly” (yes, U2) rims and a “Thinking of a Dream I Had” decal set). In terms of what-kind-of-band-are-they, I do hear some Clinic. Yeah I do; in parts this thing pulses and buzzes like Clinic. You might not hear this. That’s ok. There is also a knack for isolating and mutating-to-death the perfect melody, and in that respect there is an appeal to the Russian Futurists. I also hear some Radiohead (and you definitely also hear Radiohead, there’s no choice in that). Older Radiohead, though, as if Johnny bounced and Colin was left to do the weird parts, rendering them not so melodically weird as politely oddly interesting. But not boring, because Radiohead (read: CYHSY) are incapable of that. Unless it’s Com Lag, but this doesn’t sound like that, it’s much better, so don’t panic.

Woops. They don’t sound at all like Coldplay.

CYHSY’s songs ring of The Bends-era songwriting, but loungier, more playful, more comfortable in their own skin. But also with the vocal harmonies that Yorke would scar us with on OK Computer. So The Bends rerecorded during the OK Computer sessions on the happiest day of Thom’s (Alec’s) life. And co-produced by Eno, but not necessarily Talking-Heads-brand Eno, just Eno. Slick like the Smiths were, but rougher around the edges, spiney. Vocals lifted from the “How Can You Be Sure?” Thom-in-a-pub vein, complete with the requisite amount of perfect, just-an-inch-over-the-top emoting (Ounsworth is hurtfully endearing). Yorke excited about covering Morrissey (kind of like “Yes I Am” or “Bishop’s Robes”), but without a hint of the throaty fullness that both are capable of (that, for example, defines Morrissey). This is because Ounsworth often doesn’t sound like he has a throat at all, really. Or, if he does, it’s just made up of noses. Or the most wonderful sounding kazoo, ever. Perhaps Luke Jenner with a soul, but that’s stretching the imagination a little too far. Ounsworth also starts each line with Bejar-bursts of ratty pronouncement: “My words are here!”.

If you could argue that they are indeed words, I mean. But you usually can’t (now think Thom doing Moz through a kazoo after the dentist, or as Jean Chretien, or, easier, “just Clinic, but stretched out, and sexy”). The vocals get over for the same reason that Joanna Newsom’s got over: despite the fact that they can be a lil harsh, you can’t not get sucked in by the beauty of the surrounding weirdo-popness, and it entrances you just long enough to desensitize. Think of the spent inner ear as a worthwhile investment.

So. Checkpoint: now do you get a feel for how Ounsworth sings? Not really? Nor how the band sounds? Of course not. Do you, however, get a feel for what category/level/echelon/company of front-man he’s in? Good. And how excited we have a right to be that he’s backed by some not-that-inventive, but gorgeously-wrought mid-paced indie-rock music? (Consider complaining that despite the fact that Audrey Tautou and/or Gael Garcia Bernal are very beautiful people, evolution just wasn’t really being original with those guys). And, regardless, shouldn’t CYHSY get bonus props for pushing the formula’s envelope? This is a very fantastic album.

The words. In a recent interview (last Tuesday) that you won’t see printed because we just sort of chatted and I was too interested to actually short-hand anything (sorry), Ounsworth said that the one line of his that he’d like to see in a fortune cookie is this: “You’ll pay for your excessive charm” (from “Details of the War”). I personally would like to get: “Know the emptiness of talking blue the same old sheep” (from the Brockian-titled “By the Skin of These My Yellow Country Teeth”), but who am I to interrupt a barbecue.

And, in any case, CYHSY shouldn’t be stripped down to its song-by-song psychoannals. Like Gimme Fiction (as indicated by the huggable Amir), this album has a cohesive, overarching ‘theme’. “Oh No” you say, you listener spoiled with 99 cent itunes and folders full of half-albums from P2P - “I thought we killed ‘challenging album’…”. The context is in the intro, a Carnival / Ring Leader play-off between Alec and his band: ““CLAP YOUR HANDS” / but I feel so lonely / “CLAP YOUR HANDS” / but I might look silly / “CLAP YOUR HANDS” / but it don’t do nothing…”

What’s it mean? When prodded, Ounsworth tiptoed an explanation (paraphrase): “I don’t want the album to be known for its back story…It’s just that tragically shitty things happen to everyone….No one is “more special” in that respect, and everyone eventually just has to get on with it.” You can boil the message down to that “Smile until you actually mean it” adage, but no one’s ever really respected anyone who has so advised, because usually folks are too wrapped up in their own lifeshit to consider that other people have experienced nasty stuff, too. But, shit, maybe they did. And maybe this record comes from a little intestinal fortitude, perseverance, guts, gettings-over-it, and makings of the most of it. And not, on the other polemic, so much of the irony or sloganeering as may be passing for songwriting at your other hypewells (how far can you drill? FAR). Who knows. Maybe this thing is tough, immutable in spirit, like Astral Weeks, or like The Bends (no, no, no, it’s not an “all-time classic, TLA”, I’m not getting married or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future, this band had one of those in them). Consider, though, that maybe the record is just content to have balls, instead of selling them, and then lamenting their loss.

There are five guys in CYHSY. There are two synthesizers, one lead guitar, one rhythm guitar, drums, bass, and a harmonica. There’s a little guilt. There’s some misunderstanding. There’s a sentiment that even though David Bowie turns up at your show, to see you, you should (quote) “try not to distinguish between David Bowie and some guy who is really good at…um…carpentry.” There’s a feeling that even though you’ve gone through a tough year, and you could put your life out on the wire just to see what it catches, you’d rather let your work speak for itself, as much as it can, because if you’re honest about what you do (quote) “stuff comes out one way or another, so I’d rather not draw direct attention to it.” So there’s certainly a hint that the bare, human side of songwriting can’t be bottled and corked, no matter how hard some try. There’s an element of cohesion, theme, and of a unified sentiment behind an engagingly detailed album. There’s definitely a feeling that you’d rather people stopped asking so many questions and making so many comparisons and just listen to the thing - hole up with CYHSY for an hour instead; that this would be better for them.

There’s a feeling that because I’ve done that already, I’m too interested to be able to resist asking questions or making comparisons or defending the band (and the Arcade Fire, and probably eventually Wolf Parade) from unreasoned anti-hype. And I hope I’m not alone down here. But I do have a feeling that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, aside from the periodic visit from David Bowie, are going to be lonely, because they’re hopefully going to be important, and they’re probably going to want to hide from that…

So sorry, Alec. But you ruined your own thing.