Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
e retreat into the Bowery and its crude antiquity for a reason. I, too, am weary of now. Scrape at the surface for a moment, Downing Street memo and beyond, and it’s getting harder to avoid the ominous similarities ‘twixt Nixon and Bush.
Sure, one man’s megalomania is another man’s faith, but it ends in the same Orwellian pit. Maybe there’s something to be gleamed from our popular return to the frantic leap-abouts of the gilded-CBGB era, the rehumanizing of its cartoon statues—the Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie. Maybe this glorious skip-forward through generations of the best post-Nixon pop culture is more regeneration than retread, more cranky revolt than historical-revisionism. We need cacophony now. We need to limber ourselves in awkward dance. Everything’s become too quiet. The papers run rolls of faceless print. The television news is apoplexy via death toll. Maybe this is all too obvious to you. Maybe I should shut the fuck up.
Either way, we should thank Christ (er, Bush?) for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They make us loud again. They have debts to shoulder from us all. They refuse to voice themselves in the kind of faceless subtlety that evokes modernity without a history, now without a then. You can’t avoid the obvious; lead singer Alec Ounsworth has studied the pre-80 Heads’ records. He knows every one of Byrne’s jumpy lead vocal gymnastics. That much is obvious. Fortunately for the band, they summon the manic lightning of the Heads and countless other bands while making them sound crisp and brutal at once. Shit, put all the if-you-like-then-you’ll-likes aside: such influences don’t tire in the hands of adept students.
After the Augie March-like carnival start of intro “Clap Your Hands!” “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” whispers with the colors that dominate the album: auger red inter-locked guitars, crisp black drum rolls, and the swirling oranges of tambourine in their background choruses. It’s a mix that plays well only in the dark, forced to blush and hide in the openness of the day. “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found)” repeats those gains, adding jeweled synths to the tangled guitar lines. Ounsworth’s lyrics are half-indecipherable, slurred out like a hipster urchin bound to the stool for one dark bar-time swallow.
“Details of the War” is the record’s garbled torch song, emblazoned not by flame but by neon and brick mortar. Concrete and heat, and the stiff return to both, seems to swell within the song’s mournful air. As summer boils on, it’s hard to imagine a song that better embodies our retreat from the air.
Yet perhaps it’s the album’s final trio which best flaunts its wares. “In This House on Ice” is jangle-pop gone candy-apple reds and fluorescent greens, while “Gimme Some Salt” grinds out its angular pop-blues with Ounsworth's garbled delivery dancing atop airy organ runs. Closer “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” is Roy Orbison joining the cock-eyed pop group James and tearing through a blue-eyed soul joust in the gutter light.
If there are complaints to lobby against this remarkable debut, they lie mostly in its sound-quality. Namely, it sounds like what it was: self-recorded and self-released. Given their month-long residency in the LE Side’s Pianos in January, and the word of mouth that has begun to spread about the band, that will soon change. Ounsworth and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah better prepare themselves. It’s about to get all Have a Cigar on their asses. By the way, which one is Pink?