Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Loud Thunder

The Clap made one canny decision in hiring Dave Fridmann as producer. Although it doesn't necessarily seem that way on the opening track. Some Loud Thunder sounds like Mark E Smith might have been at the controls, not the mastermind behind The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder

 

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah burst onto the pop scene at the beginning of '06 with their really rather good debut album. As ever in this day and age most people will know how they rose to fame (on the back of a rave Pitchfork review) even if they don't know the music itself. How strange it is that if one plays the word association game most people will respond to the Artic Monkeys with 'Myspace'. But there you go. Returning to The Clap, they have just released their follow up album, Some Loud Thunder, to something less than a thunderous reception. At least, that's the impression I get. The reviews I've seen have been polite, and largely positive, but hardly earth shattering.

 

Part of the reason could be the dreaded second album syndrome. You bung all your best songs on the first album and then have to write the second album whilst touring. At the same time your sound becomes known so the follow up can't have the same impact the first one did. Life can be hard. But The Clap made one canny decision in hiring Dave Fridmann as producer. Although it doesn't necessarily seem that way on the opening track. Some Loud Thunder sounds like Mark E Smith might have been at the controls, not the mastermind behind The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. The sound is distorted, like when the recording level is set too high on the tape you are making (or more likely made). Younger readers will just have to imagine this, I'm afraid. Behind the distortion Alec Ounsworth's voice is as still high pitched and scratchy. For a song that essentially plods along amiably enough it doesn't half sound like a racket.  Perhaps it is just the way The Clap like it – their debut album opening with something of a din too. Emily Jean Stock sounds like they got the recording levels right. Grinding guitars, chimes and harmonies from Alec kick the thing off and a piano also tinkles away at one point. The sound is rather muddy and perhaps this is because the intentions are – it's a mix between a sweet doo-wop song and a dirty garage wig out with low end fuzz guitar scrawling all over it.

 

It's continues the sense of self-sabotage that the opening track suggested. Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning? Sounds more like the debut album. Organ washes and percussion give way to a genuine chorus that is simple and catchy. It's a good song though, as ever, I have no idea what Ounsworth is bleating on about. Perhaps we need to ask American colleges to stop teaching the beats (if they do) because it feels like most alternative US bands try and write lyrics via the cut-up technique. Random words and phrases seem to abound. Or maybe it's not the beats and it's Pavement that they all copy.

 

Love Song No. 7 is rather melancholy and based around a maudlin piano melody. It takes a bit of listening to but it becomes rather affecting after a while. And it is worth listening to on headphones as there is quite a lot going on in the background. When I saw the band last year one of the best tracks they performed was Satan Said Dance and it's no surprise to find it on the album. It opens with electronic chatter and then something of a dance beat. Electronic squiggles and poorly played brass instruments flit around the driving beat. A piano takes over at one point, then a glockenspiel – all the while the beat goes on, as do the weird noises. There's some great guitar work and the overall song is fun, interesting, experimental and rocking.

 

I suspect this was the sound they were aiming at for the whole album. I'm just not sure they've managed it. I think they've tried to move their sound on by becoming a bit more experimental. This isn't such an easy ride as the debut and the pleasures to be found are not as immediate. Rather, they are hidden and because the essential songs 'rock' there's an initial suspicion that they are simply less catchy than those on the debut album. I don't think this is the case. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on – it just takes a bit of listening to. There are songs that don't really work (Arm and Hammer) but there also ones like Yankee Go Home which I imagine will be a live favourite (except in the deep south) – it's another of their songs that synthesises the New York sound and that also gives it a good shout along chorus.

 

It's not an unqualified success. But it is the work of a band prepared to take a risk and to make an album that doesn't pander to the audience. (It's also housed in a really depressing cover that probably hasn't helped sales.) Maybe it is an interim album; maybe it's an album that will ultimately turn out to have been something of a dead end. I'm sure the grottiness of some of the guitar sounds will put people off, and the album is perhaps darker than the debut, but it is certainly worth persevering with. Let's see what they come up with next.

 

Words: Chris Dawson.