Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Grade: 84.5%
Official Score: 84.5%

What The Others Think

Pitchfork Score: 9.0
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 4 1/2 Out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score: 84%/80%

It occurred to me last weekend, while I was listening to this album as a primer to writing a proper review for this prestigious blog, that fans of indie music tend to play the game "spot the influence" much more than their popular music loving counterparts. I have a few possible reasons as to why.

The first is that popular music tends to be more reliant on producers than artists. This is true of all popular music, but it is especially prevalent in pop, rap, and R&B, where chances are Timbaland produced the last 5 songs you heard on top 40 radio, and therefore wrote the actual music you're hearing. Yeah, Justing Timberlake is singing, but it is unmistakably Tim's music.

My second theory is that popular music is too reliant on formulas, clichés, key signatures, chord progressions, etc. Basically, the song is all too familiar, even if it is the first time you've heard the song. If you've ever heard the Nickelback mp3 of two of their singles mashed up together and matching up perfectly beat for beat, note for note, you know what I mean. Listening to a hard rock station is essentially like listening to an album by one band. Tool sounds like Chevelle sounds like Nickelback sounds like Staind sounds a little like Godsmack. The only relief comes when they play a classic Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, or Nirvana song, but then you're horribly reminded how those bands essentially paved the way for this new shit in the first place. The same thing goes for Alternative rock. Fall Out Boy sounds like Taking Back Sunday sounds like Brand New sounds kinda like My Chemical Romance, and even when we get a classic Jimmy Eat World or Get Up Kids song, again we're reminded of how they're responsible for this shit in the first place.

In all honesty, I think the real reason lies in some compromise of the two theories, because what they both basically say is that every song on mainstream radio sounds exactly the same. As a result, fans of the indie genres tend to play spot the influence because we are often proud of the fact that our beloved bands are capable of trying new things, mixing different styles, or what have you. This is also why fans of the indie genre are quick to dismiss once beloved bands after they've jumped ship to the majors and start to blend in more with the popular, contemporary sound (see Modest Mouse - "Dashboard") and/or lose steam and release an album that is delegated to a mere footnote in a genre they helped revive (see The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth, though technically they were never really indie, were they? Okay then, how about The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan, is that better?) Of course, there are those few people that will play the game to disparage a certain band, for example, by saying that the new Arcade Fire sounds like Bright Eyes (an insult, to them) but that the new Wolf Eyes sounds like nothing you've ever heard (a compliment), but after a while it becomes easier to spot these people and, as a result, to take every comparison they make with a grain, or truckload, of salt.

So what does this have to do with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Playing spot the influence while listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self titled album is like shooting fish in a barrel, taking candy from a baby, using an old cliché, etc. It is something you have to endure if you want to be a fan of the band, so feel free to check out now if you thought you might be stumbling upon something truly original.

Actually, the first track is pretty unique. Never before have I heard a song that sounded like a circus ringleader was pleading with his audience to "clap your hands!", at least not on a record or since I was, like, 5 years old. Once this track is finished, which doesn't take long, let the games begin.

"Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away" lifts a bass line from a Snow Patrol song and singer Alec Ounsworth does his best Jeff Mangum impression (the most common point of reference on this album). "Details of the War" sounds like the Velvet Underground might if Paul Banks Jeff Mangum traded off verses. The album's highlight, "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth", sounds like a long lost Modest Mouse track, and the following song "Is This Love" has a repetitive keyboard sample like the one in the Grandaddy classic "Crystal Lake". The instrumental "Blue Turning Grey" could have been an Elliot Smith interlude. "In This Home on Ice" sounds like My Bloody Valentine or Yo La Tengo at best, or is a complete rip off of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Real Love" from the ill-fated Machina II at worst. The album's last two tracks are straight outta the Talking Heads, especially the finale "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood". Whew, that was a blogfull.

Despite not being anything close to original, the band is strangely unique and insanely catchy, which not only saves this album from becoming a total mess but makes it one worth many repeated listens. The band's strengths are Ounsworth's impassioned vocals, which help many of the songs escape parody, and the band's tight rhythm section, which will often make you want to dance. When the two are combined, as they are so well in the album's midsection, chances are you will forget all about who they sound like and focus how great the songs actually are.

This album is a grower, there is no escaping that. It took me several listens to really get into the whole thing, but now I can understand why it was all the rage upon its release in 2005. You may at first find yourself wondering why you didn't just put in Neutral Milk Hotel or Talking Heads in the first place, but once the songs get stuck in your head, you too will understand.

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