New Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album “Hysterical” too tame

Henry Clayton Wickham

In 2005, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut won unqualified praise for both its brave sound and independent, grassroots distribution model, but the intervening years have pushed the group to the fringes of indie-rock’s spotlight.

An interesting second album that was weirder and less coherent than the first and an extended hiatus have definitely not done wonders for the group’s name. Despite this, its new album Hysterical, made with acclaimed indie producer John Congleton, has garnered high expectations.
It will be a relief to some and a letdown to others that, in Hysterical, front man and band leader Alec Ounsworth swings the helm 180 degrees opposite the trajectory of the band’s second album. Hysterical is a cleaner, more processed record than anyone could have expected from a band like CYHSY. After four years, the band’s jangly, cacophonous, garage-pop has returned a bit poppier and it’s left the garage entirely.

Judging from Hysterical, CYHSY has spent the last four years taking pointers from mainstream indie groups such as Arcade Fire and The Shins. Not necessarily a bad thing, but Ounsworth’s distinctive vocals often clash with the over-produced instrumentals. Songs such as “Maniac,” “In Your Alien Arms” and “Yesterday, Never” are catchy and fun, but without the old, raw cacophony, the album sounds like an easy-listening revamp of their first. It’s as if all the band’s best idiosyncrasies were filtered out in production.

“The glory of a misspent youth,” Ounsworth sings, “chasing tire stains and trading sex for drugs. My Ophelia does not drown. She just barely hangs on.”

The album’s smooth style is most effective in “Maniac,” a great tune with an awesome ’80s dance synth and an infectious chorus.

Despite its shortcomings, Hysterical has the endearing dance-rock quality of the band’s first album, something the group’s second albumb Some Loud Thunder lacked. Some of the songs are upbeat, catchy, and listenable, and though the album is disappointingly unoriginal, it only has one or two real duds.

After a gem of a debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has now made two albums that were flawed for completely opposite reasons — one too obscure and the other too processed. Maybe if the fans still hanging around are lucky, the band will learn from its mistakes and find the perfect formula in the future. In the meanwhile, Hysterical is fun and worth listening to all the way through a few times. Just don’t expect too much.

Printed on Monday September 26, 2011 as: Indie band still falls short in new album 

Same Mistake by CYHSYband