Who needs a record label? After gaining huge internet buzz in early 2005, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah personally shipped massive amounts of their self-titled album until it grew beyond what they could handle. I'm sure they could have had their pick of the label litter, but instead they just got some help on the distribution and other odds and ends (I do believe they have a UK label, however). So the guys are still doing things their way yet have a name that can help them grab a producer like Dave Friedmann, whose work you've heard on albums by Sleater-Kinney, Thursday and most notably the Flaming Lips, who grabbed him a Grammy for At War with the Mystics in the Best Engineered Album category. Now none of this background info would mean much without great tunes, and after spending a solid month with this album I think it delivers them but not without a few flaws. Now that the hype on them has died down a bit, can haters open up to the actual music?
Some Loud Thunder comes roaring out of the gate with an unexpected move from a band who should be wary of sophomore jinxes and utilizing the renowned producer who is at their disposal. But that just wouldn't be their style, would it? The album's title track has the levels up waaaaaay too high and is clipping at every possible moment, everything booming, buzzing and distorted. To get a clearer picture, pop in Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and listen to when the drums kick in on "Holland, 1945" where it sounds like it just blew out your damn speakers. Like with NMH, you can tell there is a great song behind the fuzz. Cowbell, tambourine and handclaps keep the steady drumbeat company while a bendy guitar lead glazes around Alec Ounsworth's slurred vocals which crescendo into a fevered shout.
"Emily Jean Stock" returns the band to cleaner production, but still gives a jolt when the mostly drum-less track bursts with a distorted sampled bit of drummer Sean Greenhalgh cutting in and out suddenly, which made me think instantly of the effect achieved by Gnarls Barkley on their "Just a Thought." While Friedmann is known for big drums and crazy effects on his work with the Flaming Lips, he merely opens up the band's arsenal and gives them a fuller sound from their dry debut, but for the most part he sits back and lets the band to do their thing.
Perhaps he could have guided them more actually, for some tracks come off as underdeveloped. "Upon Encountering the Crippled Elephant" is a short instrumental waltz featuring accordion, but it seems merely a studio exercise. I guess it tops the little musicbox interludes that popped up on their debut. "Satan Said Dance" is fun on first listen with all the synth bleeps 'n bloops over a disco beat, and who doesn't like singing "satan" repeatedly? But upon further inspection, the song has little lyrical content and makes little progression musically through its too-long five and a half minutes.
Over repeated listens, "Yankee Go Home" has emerged as my favorite song, being in my favorite under-utilized meter (6/8) and finding Ounsworth playing with silly rhymes ("Honolulu / How do you do?"). "Arm and Hammer" has a harsh mix like the opener, but it isn't as jarring because it starts with only acoustic guitar and vocals in a bedroom recording style, but when the full band breaks out and shakes the place the effect is fantastic.
"Underwater (You and Me)" is a great tune despite its repetitive nature -- a steady drumbeat and single chord progression last the entire song with the chorus vocal repeating for the last two minutes to fade the song out, but even that gives a dreamlike almost hypnotic effect. This song could have fit in on their debut, but "Love Song No. 7" showcases their growth in the songwriting department. The band swells the song with sparse percussion over the piano's 'oom-pah' push, building to dizzying harmonized vocal 'ahh's and marching snare drum rolls.
On their debut, the songs were mostly straight ahead indie-dance songs with consistent drum beats, guitars and keys throughout their duration; here the band is more aware of songs building from point A to point B and not remaining stagnant. "Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?" is a perfect example, building from atmospheric to jangly pop and back again.
This isn't a perfect album, but I think the quirks and experimental tendencies of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are what make them great. A perfect album in most eyes would probably require them to stick with a formula from their 'hits' and that would be a drag. Some Loud Thunder finds the band testing new directions and instruments and exploring the studio. Remember in your comments that the band will not be reading them, and that they don't give a shit about what you, or I for that matter, have to say about them, and will probably continue doing their own thing for quite some time. I for one enjoy the record and am excited for what the future holds for them.