February 2, 2007

Shortcuts—Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Some Loud Thunder

There is something to be said for a band’s willingness to take huge leaps. However, with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s sophomore release, Some Loud Thunder, they appear to have skipped a few necessary steps and missed the landing a couple times on the way. Many of the things I enjoyed about their self-titled debut album were curiously absent from its successor.

Guitarist and lead singer Alec Ounsworth fronts the quintet. Ounsworth’s voice is far from ordinary. His slurred falsetto is still very much intact on Some Loud Thunder. Although it lacks any real melodic capacity, the band’s premiere work played rather perfectly to Ounsworth’s strengths. As a result, they created idiosyncratic pop ballads like “Is This Love.” Those songs possessed a strange quality that gave the band its most unique sound. The sudden shift may be too much too soon. Unfortunately, the more one hears Ounsworth’s voice the more it grates the listener. The end of this album does not come fast enough.

Overproduction may be the first on a long list of culprits dooming this record from the outset. Many of the songs with possible potential are covered in flowery nothingness. An incessant background twanging for its first three minutes dogs the song “Goodbye to the Mother and the Cove.” The noisiness is more of an annoyance than anything else. On Some Loud Thunder, complexity is nearly always chosen over simplicity. Too many of the songs are closer to noise than music.

The last song on the album, “Five Easy Pieces,” borrowing its name from the 1970 Jack Nicholson film, loses any of its pleasure because the vocals sound as if someone is singing inside a suitcase. Sadly, the other four members of the band forgot to let Ounsworth out.

I found myself listening to the album and wishing certain tracks would end. Some people have said that Americans cannot stand movies longer than two hours. When it comes to the music on Some Loud Thunder, two minutes is about all this American can handle. “Arm and Hammer” starts off rather nicely in a reserved acoustic fashion but quickly degenerates into a shadow of a tune and nothing more.

The only two songs of the album that may give fans some hope are “Love Song No. 7” and “Yankee Go Home.” Both tracks play to the strengths of the band and utilize the misplaced energy found of the rest of the album. These songs are two of the most restrained and that may be the recipe for future success. There is something more to come, but it has not been discovered yet.

Some Loud Thunder is simply that, loudness without substance. The phrase itself conveys a dismissive tone. The album is all thunder and no lighting. As a listener, I want to see some downed power lines and rows of trees on fire. That makes the listener stop and take notice. All Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have given us are a few bangs in the sky with nothing to follow. No more flashes of brilliance as of yet.

Some Loud Thunder is an unadulterated disappointment considering where the band started from two years ago. They may have been given too much credit. Only the all-important third album will tell. And I would suggest they get in the studio as soon as possible to help fans forget Some Loud Thunder.