Album Review: The Tourist, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

One-time indie darlings thrive in the margins.

In the dim and distant mid-2000s, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were a new kind of sensation. With the rise of music blogging, it was suddenly possible for an unknown to surf to prominence in a heartbeat, and this Philadelphia band were among the first so elevated. Where they went Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend et al would follow.

This turned out to be bad news for the ensemble’s retiring singer Alec Ounsworth, who famously declined to sign a record deal and grew increasingly prickly under the spotlight.

But, as he soon discovered, in the brave new world of web-fuelled hype, insta-fame can quickly segue into overnight anonymity. By 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, Clap Your Hands’ quirkiness teetered on confrontational eccentricity and the cheerleaders evaporated as quickly as they had materialised.

Maybe that was the plan. When Hot Press interviewed Ounsworth in 2011, the singer was clearly in his comfort zone steering the band through ever more experimental waters. Shrinking audiences and a diminished profile were prices he was willing to pay.

Now, after forays into bedsit electronica and countrified indie, he turns full circle with his fifth CYHSY release. Here he returns to the scratchy, Talking Heads-ian jitter-pop of the group’s initial incarnation (he is the sole permanent member). Adding to the intrigue are the recent personal upheavals, which the 39-year-old has allowed to infiltrate the songs.

“The album was a type of purge,” Ounsworth commented recently. “It was not an easy album to make, by virtue of the fact that it was an emotional time for me.”

Indeed. ‘Down Is Where I Want To Be’ is a raw-veined dirge that juxtaposes soft-rock with a treated David Byrne-yelp, while ‘Better Off’ and ‘Fireproof’ surf anxious basslines, Ounsworth delivering his lines in a Michael Stipe mutter.

The results are darkly devastating – and perhaps Clap You Hands Say Yeah’s finest hour yet. Long may these mumbly introverts continue to seek freedom in obscurity.

 

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