IS THERE HOPE AFTER HIATUS? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

The indie sensation garners
applause with the release of its 3rd studio album. But Alec
Ounsworth doesn’t care what we think anyways.

 

BY PARRY ERNSBERGER

 

“I think, you know, that maybe, I mean … Maybe we should
like, take a break.” These are words you probably don’t want to hear from your
significant other. A break, time apart, a hiatus – call it what you will, but
that shit is bad news bears. And as much as hurts to hear those words from the
sweet lips of the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with (or
at least until summer rolls around again), it can be even more damaging to know that your favorite band has
uttered those same fateful words and that their next album is now considered
TBD. Indefinitely.

 

So when self-starting indie-rock darlings Clap Your Hands
Say Yeah announced that they’d be taking a hiatus after their sophomore
release, Some Loud Thunder, many fans
were left wondering if they’d ever hear the piercing warble of Alec Ounsworth’s
distinctive voice again. (It should be noted, however, that Ounsworth valiantly
insists that Some Loud Thunder “was
the album we intended to make at that particular time in that particular way …
[and] it was a success.” Even though it essentially tanked in comparison to
their self-titled debut release.)

 

But there can be
hope after hiatus, right? I mean, look at The Backstreet Boys and New Kids on
the Block: They’re like, really, putting themselves out there again and like,
totally doing their thing. Except now their original fan base has grown up and
likes real music and their tour didn’t sell all that well so, like … Okay, bad
example. But wait – Yes, it can be
done. Look at Phish and Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They went on
hiatus, took some time to get their shit together, came back, and totally
Z-snapped their way back into the hearts of their fans. Because at the core of
each of these bands is good music.
It’s music that isn’t overly processed, music that can defy generational gaps,
and it’s music that didn’t get sent through the Lou Pearlman machine (although
*NSYNC will always have a special place in my heart). These are bands with staying
power. And drug issues. But mostly staying power.

 

And I’m here to tell you, if Alec Ounsworth ain’t the king
of Z-snapping in the face of critics, then you can butter my butt and call me a
biscuit.  Defensive, protective and often
disdainful towards public opinion, Alec made a damn good point when speaking to
Blurt on the subject of the band’s nearly five-year break: “I don’t see why
people should not, from time to time, and maybe even often, venture out of
their comfort zone to work on other material – especially in a creative field.
If we were to come back to Clap Your Hands, the only way was to come back with
passion.”

 

“Same Mistake,” the lead track off of Clap Your Hands Say
Yeah’s latest release, Hysterical, is
dripping with passion. Joyful crescendos, anthemic, soaring orchestral backing
– it’s one of those beautifully layered songs that begs to be heard in the
comfort of headphones or booming from a stereo with killer speakers.  Of being back in the studio again, Ounsworth
says, “It felt good. It felt like beginning again, but in a stronger, more
informed capacity. In short, our enthusiasm was recovered.”

 

Hysterical was
recorded in Hoboken and Dallas, with the help of indie-savvy
producer, John Congleton. “John is an excellent producer,” says Ounsworth. “If
we fell out of line musically or otherwise, he would tie us to a post for 10
minutes and tell us to think about what we had done. It worked.” And despite
Ounsworth’s insistence that Hysterical is not, as Pitchfork’s
recently dubbed it, “self-conscious” (how quickly some can turn their backs –
Et tu, Brute?), it’s clear that the band likely did spend some quality time
tied to a post, so to speak. Hysterical is certainly a departure from the darker, more subdued Some Loud Thunder, harking back to the sounds of the band’s
self-titled golden ticket into the blogospheres.  It’s indie rock at its best – sunny and
vibrant, yet at times ambiguous and melancholy. 
And just as “Same Mistake” plays to the sunny and vibrant side, so does
“Misspent Youth” play to the band’s more melancholy side. Ounsworth laments
“The glory of a misspent youth,” backed with gentle, lonely piano notes, softly
strummed guitars and the faint echoing of percussion. 

 

So, enthusiasm recovered, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is back,
with or without the support of the critics that first launched them onto the
musical map. When asked if the band’s hiatus was the consequence of lukewarm
reviews of Some Loud Thunder,
Ounsworth tells BLURT, “I think that journalists, and maybe others, imagine
pressure a bit more than we do. The only pressure that is felt is the pressure
to make a record we believe in.” Which, considering the unexpected nature of
their rise to fame, appears to ring quite humbly.

 

CYHSY was one of the first bands to garner notable success
from internet-based hype, and since then, we have seen the likes of Justin
Bieber rise from the ashes of You Tube in phoenix-like form.  But CYHSY has done it their way from day one,
sans trendy haircuts, screaming tweens and aid from Usher. Not that there’s
anything wrong with that (the kid must be set for life), but they broke the
label-dependent mold and became trendsetters for the tickets and t-shirts new
industry ideal. Despite the recent demise of the old label success standard,
it’s often times difficult to imagine a small band from Philadelphia/Brooklyn
breaking through the white noise of mainstream radioplay without proper
professional backing. I ask Ounsworth if they’d ever consider attaching
themselves to a label in the future, and whether or not there was anything they
felt like they were lacking from a business perspective by going it alone: “I
think that we are uniquely equipped to go it on our own in this regards,” he
says. “Each of us has certain tasks outside of simply making albums and
performing. I don’t know if this is the perfect way to go about things, but it
is what we know and I guess we prefer to be a bit more hands on. I don’t know
if there is anything we are missing from a label. Perhaps at some point, the
day-to-day operations of this project will become overwhelming and we will need
someone to lean on … ” He trails off.

 

That being said, it’s safe to assume that Clap Your Hands
Say Yeah can at least count on being able to lean on their fans for the
foreseeable future. Their recent “homecoming” show at Bowery Ballroom in New York sold-out in advance, and Ounsworth says that in Europe, where the band began their recent tour in support
of Hysterical, “The audiences were
spectacular. I think that some of the shows over there were some of the best we
have ever had as far as execution and reception.”

 

So is this the promise of a long, healthy musical marriage?
Are they going to put a ring on it or should we tread lightly until the
uncertainty subsides? Who knows. At least we can be happy in knowing that
whatever lies in the future, it will be something that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
is proud of; and, if we are truly fans of music, we  should be able to accept that for what it is.
Or lawyer-up. You guys didn’t sign that pre-nup, did you?

 

 

[Photo Credit: Pieter van Hattem]

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