The self-released indie rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were celebrated by the blogosphere, then shunned. They’re back with what may be their most masterful record. But will listeners notice this time around?
In the summer of 2005, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah emerged and became a case study in how to succeed as a self-released band. Their quirky and upbeat sound inspired an internet feeding-frenzy as mp3 bloggers sang their praises, eventually helping CYHSY sell about 200,000 copies of their self-financed debut CD.
But the story didn’t end there. Not only did the band become a reference point for the new ways artists could succeed in the internet age – it also became the poster-story for the new ways they could flounder. For those readers who follow online record reviews, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah became a reference point for discussing the very notion of “hype and backlash” in the internet age.
According to John Congleton, who produced their latest album, it couldn’t have happened to a more unlikely band. “[Singer] Alec [Ounsworth] is probably one of the most technophobic people I know,” he says. “I’m not even sure he has an email address.”
Blocking Out The Noise
“It certainly was confusing at first – Both the speed at which we shot up in the beginning, and with the way things turned,” laughs CYHSY drummer Sean Greenhalgh. “It was confusing on both sides.”
“We didn’t really set out to be this buzz band,” he says, “and we didn’t ask to be some kind of cultural touchstone either. We just wanted to make a record.”
Today, a few of the outlets who led the original hype parade are now content to lead the latest wave of backlash, preemptively dismissing the band’s newest record.
“The internet giveth and the internet taketh away,” jokes producer/engineer John Congleton. The punchline? To anyone who’s listening, Hysterical is easily Clap Your Hand Say Yeah’s most masterful record to date.
And, while a few of the more fickle media outlets like Pitchfork have doubled-back, effectively panning their latest album, some of the more measured review sites like All Music and NPR have been much kinder, commending Hysterical for showcasing stronger songwriting, more confident performances, and a richer production aesthetic than ever before.
As someone who largely ignored the band’s first album due to the online media circus surrounding it, I was surprised to find just how much I liked this one. Singer Alec Ounsworth sounds more honest – and more like himself – than he has in the past.
The band is now able to deliver tighter performances while maintaining their quirky sensibility, and John Congleton’s production is powerful, organic, and atmospheric all at once.
Whether or not you’re a fan, it’s hard to ignore that this is likely the band’s most mature and well-honed release to date. But that might not help them much in the blogosphere.
Drummer Sean Greenhalgh has used the lessons he learned in the studio during the band’s three records to become a producer in his own right. But on Hysterical, he and the band still deferred to Congleton’s production expertise. When it’s time to work on your own music, he says it can be best to “turn off that part of your brain.”…