Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

"Imagine Byrne as a child at a supermarket. He's at the till with mother and she has said he can't have any of the sweets on offer. He wails and cries and moans. That gives you some idea of how Alec Ounsworth sounds. "

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah


The next American guitar band to make it big: that's the promise. But by God the opening track on the album doesn't fill one with confidence. Intro sounds like Tom Waits (on helium, admittedly) in full-on carny mode. A high pitched yelp is backed by one of those organs that you hear at Baseball matches and then a child-like choir take part in a bit of call and response action. Xylophones, boozy moans and semi-incomprehensible ranting leave one to think: what the hell? Have I been duped here?


Fortunately The Clap (as I don't suppose too many people will truncate their name to) don't leave it too long before they answer the question the opening track posed. Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away is much more what you'd expect: chattering guitars, pounding drums, crisp lead guitar lines and buzz cut bass. But again there's that voice: high, geeky and unrestrained. It is the voice of someone (Alec Ounsworth) who has never been told that he can't sing. His voice slices though the songs like a rusty scalpel. Lost and Found follows the template of Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away. More bass heavy and less urgent, it still features that simple classic interplay of drums and guitars.


Sunshine and Clouds is a brief instrumental that sounds like a theme tune for a Japanese Commodore 64 game played on the xylophone. Details of the War sounds very familiar too – I'm not sure what it reminds me of and it is damn irritating. That terrible chap from the Divine Comedy? Surely not, but it might be. Anyway, once the opening is over the suspicion fades away. Yellow Country Teeth constitutes the centrepiece of the album in the sense that it occurs roughly in the middle of it and is at least two minutes longer than all of the other songs. Ounsworth's singing is full of longing. Around him the guitars dutifully jangle and organs make high-pitched whines (even higher than Ounsworth's). What is he singing about? No idea, but the lyrics have been printed so you can check if you want to. I don't recommend it – sometimes it is nicer to imagine. Not always of course, but without wishing to completely denigrate the lyrics it is in this case.


Is this Love sounds like the name of a Talking Heads song (more of this later) but the swirling organ sound actually puts one in mind of the last Grandaddy album. Once the singing starts, the guitars kick in and the drums rumble it turns into a good three-minute racket. Heavy Metal sounds snotty before a harmonica somewhat spoils the mood. Still, the drums rumble once again, the guitars skank and there's a good shout-a-long chorus. Home on Ice loses the drums and the song shimmers rather than rocks. For the first time Ounsworth sounds tired, his whine muted. Gimme Some Salt promises to launch into a full-on assault but never does: it adheres to the Wagnerian template of never allowing the tension to be released. Last up is one of the most successful songs on the album. Tidal Wave is simple, catchy and is probably the main reason why David Byrne has been cited so often. Ounsworth's voice is pretty much in control here. It is still high and wired but it is also flat in terms of the delivery. The vocal performance makes the song in much the same way that Byrne's did on the first couple of Talking Heads albums. Indeed this really does feel as though it could have come from More Songs About Buildings and Food. Even the lyrics seem to fit: "they are going out to bars and they are getting into cars / I have seen them..." It's enough to give you the C-B-heebee-G-Bs. Add to that the Jerry Harrison organ washes and it is not surprising that the Heads have frequently been name-checked in reviews.


But has the similarity been overplayed? The main reason for the comparison is Ounsworth's voice. Imagine Byrne as a child at a supermarket. He's at the till with mother and she has said he can't have any of the sweets on offer. He wails and cries and moans. That gives you some idea of how Alec Ounsworth sounds. As for the music, well it certainly fits into the post Strokes sound world. Like Talking Heads they are a distinctly urban band and they certainly are inheritors of the New York sound. But there is more to The Clap than that just as there is more to Franz Ferdinand than Joseph K. Some bands can draw on influences and yet still look forward. Others allow their influences to overwhelm them. It is still possible to take the very basic elements of guitars and drums and make a racket that sounds modern and new and exciting. I wouldn't suggest that The Clap are pioneers in any way, but at least they are looking in the right direction.



 Words: Chris Dawson.