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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

On last year’s Hysterical, these Brooklyn indie-rockers added bright synths and rhythms fit for a Killers album to their typical mix of jangly guitar and Alec Ounsworth’s avian whine, reaching out to listeners beyond those Brooklyn indie-superfans who pine solely for plodding, experimental song constructions.

Sun., July 8, 8 p.m., 2012

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Some Thunder, But Too Much Lightning

Yeah, it’s supposed to sound that way. “Some Loud Thunder,” the title track off CYHSY’s sophomore release, is a fun, crisp pop song—all hand claps and cowbells and jangly guitar—fed through a haze of radio static, like it’s crackling between AM channels on a long drive through the desert. A nostalgic gesture, I guess. But it’s also hard not to be skeptical. This is a band that emerged in 2005 as though genetically engineered in some East Village basement to generate blogger appeal. Their first, self-titled disc was packed with all the hippest rock references—Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.-—but instead of being angular and crisp, those influences sounded as if they’d been left out in to the sun too long and melted into something warped and druggy. Frontman Alec Ounsworth sang like David Byrne and looked like a waiter at a vegan restaurant; like true hipsters, his band was accelerated and responsive, a psychedelic amoeba consuming rock idioms and excreting catchy little bits of digested zeitgeist. Take Thunder‘s dance-punk confection “Satan Said Dance,” which wraps its pumping beat and twitchy chants in a swarm of electronic squiggles, belches, and bleeps, a rapturous sound that nonetheless sounds absolutely redolent of the Rapture. On top of all this, they had a silly name, and enough “DIY integrity” to flatten a polar bear. If they didn’t happen to be so good, CYHSY would’ve been a pretty ingenious bit of meta-parody. As it stood, they were that rare rock item: a postmodern band that seemed to be genuinely, excitingly weird.

Sadly, knob-twiddling wooze-hound Dave Fridmann makes them sound very aware of all this on
Thunder
—the producer’s atmospheric flourishes have always been heavy handed, but here they muddle tightly conceived pop tunes that would’ve sounded better scrappy. Too often, there’s simply not enough of the band in the mix. What the record does have, though, is a collection of truly great melodies, and when the music focuses directly on them—meditating on simple chords—that new sense of sound and space offers moments of pure euphoria. “Emily Jean Stock” finds Ounsworth’s strangled yelp riding the crest of a gorgeous Technicolor harmony, and the sub-aquatic “Five Easy Pieces,” ripe for a Cameron Crowe love scene, is an equally beautiful bit of cycling mist. Time for a new producer. Two words: Danger Mouse.

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A Fudge-Pop Cocktail for Fucked-Up Kids

If I had an infant, I would want to build him a musical mobile to spin above his crib. This wouldn’t be just any mobile, it would be the platonic ideal of a mobile: Brooklyn’s own Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut would be the mobile’s soundtrack. Whimsical, circus-y synth work and merry-go-round titles like “Sunshine & Clouds (and Everything Proud)” make Clap Your Hands Say Yeah the perfect aural stimulant for a child. Of course I mean “perfect” in a twisted, gothic, Edward Gorey cartoon way, but who doesn’t want their infant to be exposed to the sinister and depressed?

Clap Your Hands’ Alec Ounsworth has a slightly unhinged quality to his voice that recalls David Byrne, but with an element of demented ringleader to it. Particularly in the opening track, when Ounsworth is goading listeners to “Clap your hands!” and a chorus of dissenters cries, “But I feel so lonely!,” he sounds like a creepy Willy Wonka, encouraging a child to gorge on chocolate. Seems plenty of people are waiting to be turned into sideshow freaks: With help from Pitchfork and insound, Clap Your Hands sold out its initial pressing of 2,000 copies and has shippped 15,000 total already. Send in the clowns, I say.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah play Mercury Lounge September 16.