Last year, the Arcade Fire came out of nowhere. No one expected them to put out such a great record. No one expected them to put on the most intense live show around. No one expected it, but everyone acted like they did. That band was praised as the second coming of everything by everyone. And while they were very good, all that hype caused them to lose some of their mystique. Well, I think I've found the next band that will fall victim to that double-edged sword: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. With their self-titled debut album, it's like deja vu all over again.
The album opens with bloopy baseball game organ and vocalist Alec Ounsworth sounding like a carnival barker. He shouts things like "and away we go" and "just clap your hands" over background singing, stomping, and clapping, a fitting appetizer for what is about to come. The first real track, "Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away," begins with quietly strummed guitar and tinkling piano giving way to stomping drums and thumping bass. As Ounsworth whines the first line "I found a new thing, a new image staring back at me" comparisons to David Byrne spring to mind. His delivery contains that same shrill tone, that same gallant effort despite the fact that he has a terrible voice. That terrible voice is such a wonderful thing to hear. The song seems to glide along at about the same pace and engery the whole way through, the only differences being found in the vocals. This creates such a great subtle energy shift, which makes the song's crescendo actually a surprise. This is exactly what David Byrne did with the Talking Heads, especially on their first two albums. "Sunshine And Clouds And Everything Proud" begins with a music box and guitar combo before morphing into the countryish ballad "Details Of The War," a song in the vein of the Talking Heads' "The Big Country." Ounsworth's voice is still dead-on David Byrne with maybe a little Jeff Mangum thrown in as well. To this point it's good, but there's nothing really special other than the vocals. That is until the next song...
"The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth" is one of my favorite songs on the album. It begins with fuzzy synth and then fast disco drumming, twangy guitar, and penetrating bass. This song is very fast and dancy and the music is excellent, but Alec Ounsworth's vocals are still the star of the show. There's one point near the end of the song where he goes from mumbling a verse to an explosion of spastic screaming. The sounds could be words or just noises, I don't know, but whatever they are is amazing. "Is This Love?" is another great track. It features more spastic vocals on the chorus over whining backup singing and punding drums. Yet another great track, "Heavy Metal," follows these two. This is one of the harder songs on the album; it does a great job of threatening to get hard before it actually does. Once again, the lead and backup vocals are brilliant and the drumming as well. These three songs, making up the album's centerpiece, are an all out assault blending rock and pop and about a million other influences. By this point you're caught so offguard that you won't even notice the fact that you're dancing your ass off.
The third placeholder track, "Blue Turning Gray," begins the album's latter part. These songs fit well on an album like this because they give you a chance to catch your breath. "In This Home On Ice" is more like the three brilliant songs in the middle of this album; it's a fast-paced poppy gem with just enough rock edge. "Gimme Some Salt" is a bit of a departure; its sounds almost like Slint trying to get funky. The album ends with what may be its finest moment: "Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood" is an amazingly fun song. It begins with fast acoustic guitar and drumming complemented by a nice lead guitar part. The most amazing thing about this song is that Ounsworth actually manages to turn his vocals up a notch, making them more manic and crazy. When he sings "they are going out to bars and they are getting into cars..." it's like the crowning of a new king vocalist in modern day music. A perfect end to a near-perfect album.
This band is getting some crazy hype (Pitchfork is trying to keep from pissing themselves), but don't let that scare you away. This band is worthy of all the praise they are receiving. If you like the Talking Heads, dance-punk, new wave, or just good music, you should definitely check this out.