Monday, October 24, 2011

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Hysterical - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

On its third studio release, Hysterical, Brooklyn quintet Clap Your Hands Say Yeah seems determined to leave the raw, distorted production and unabashed weirdness of previous releases Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Some Loud Thunder behind them in favor of a more tightly produced, less amateurish sound. While they are successful in some ways, the efficient yet unspectacular result leaves the listener wondering if their formerly less polished mien is what gave them their niche in the world of indie rock music.

There are several winners on Hysterical, including the title track, which soars on a blasting, heavy synth, streaks of squawky guitar, and surging choruses, both lyrical and wordless. “Ketamine & Ecstasy” with a striking guitar blast and the sort of rapid fill-heavy drums that mark the album (close inspection reveals that the drum pattern matches Devo’s “Whip It”
almost exactly). The instrumental section that concludes the song is one of the album’s musical highlights. However, the album’s number-one tune is “Into Your Alien Arms,” a song that reveals the band’s affinity for not only Talking-Head-resembling vocals, but The Cure-level moody atmospherics. Whether it’s intentional cribbing or not, the jangly guitar accompanied by
free-flowing synth is absolute magic. Sounding impossibly romantic without even trying, the song also features Ounsworth’s best vocal work and a two-minute closing guitar solo that feels focused yet improvisational. It’s some sort of beautiful monster for sure.

Alas, the disc is eventually marked as uneven due to the band’s unwillingness to experiment as wildly as they have on past work. “Misspent Youth” is a low-tempo, gently drummed piano ditty. It’s OK, but not inspired and certainly not the sort of thing that this band does best. Ditto for “In a Motel,” which can only be described as a vocal showcase for Ounsworth, and if you have ever heard the man sing, you would know that the terms “Alec Ounsworth’s voice” and “vocal showcase” should never go together. His affected David Byrne-like wail is literally made to be accompanied by loud instruments. It should also be said that by the time you arrive at the second half of the album, the bands limited template – drums, synth, guitar, and indistinctive bass – begins to make the album sound a little too familiar. “Idiot” suffers not only from this, but from some unsettling vocal overlapping. It’s a return to eccentricity that would have worked well before, but seems out of place on this full-length. By the time you get to “The Witness’ Dull Surprise,” the been-there-done-that-two-songs-ago feeling hits a fever pitch, and the closing “Adam’s Plane” is simply boring, derivative, and – in a development that seems to be crippling several releases by major artists this year (hello, Wilco!) – way too long, checking in at over seven minutes.

If Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should choose to make a fourth album – they are a collective in seeming constant danger of disbandment – hopefully they will look to do something a little more in their wheelhouse. Which in their case is to be as weird as possible. For on this, the professional-sounding album they may have hoped would help separate them from indie rock’s great unwashed, they seem to have taken a step back into the pack.

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