Some Loud Thunder – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Some Loud Thunder is the obnoxious drunk philosopher at the end of the bar, speaking four ticks louder than necessary and repeating nonsensical phrases ad nauseum until you are so enthralled by the inanity that you find yourself moving down the bar, one stool at a time, until you are swallowed in fascinating one-sided conversation. The next morning, you wake up with it lying next to you, and without even thinking, you throw an arm over its hip, snuggle up a little closer and fall back asleep with a smile branded into your face.
Conventional wisdom would have a band with an already over-indulgent name wait until some later point in their career to make an overly indulgent record and for the time being, stick to the freaky folky dance rock of their last, which perked the ears of so many critics but for the most part managed to stay off the radio waves. It appears, however, that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are determined to blatantly defy said conventional wisdom, refuse any and all offers for record contracts, and release the follow-up to their self-titled debut on their own.
It’s a good thing, too, since few labels would accept a record so ambivalent to sonic consistency or volume control. The album’s two opening tracks are both significantly louder and more distorted than the rest of the albumso much so that it’s nearly impossible not to run for the volume dial immediately upon the first note’s mirror-shattering resonance. “Some Loud Thunder” is a career-suffocating, bullheaded boombox crackle that rakes tiny needles across the eardrums with all the subtlety of a two-headed battle axe through the stringy sinews of the neckthe sound could literally rip one’s head off. Though somewhat more melodic and slightly less irritating, “Emily Jean Stock” is almost equally jarring, and just barely sing-songy enough to sit through the static rattling from your speakers.
As the album moves on, however, it becomes apparent that its aim is not to irritate, but to challenge, and like any trial worthy of enduring, the first few steps are the most difficult. Full of even more self-indulgent song titles like “Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?,” which eases listeners away from the opening shock and into a warm but still slightly uncomfortable darkness, Some Loud Thunder is as eclectic as it is inconsistent, as inventive as it is ridiculous, and as genius as it is galling. While Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was a fresh, irresistibly fun, and yet slightly derivative pop record built upon the unique foundations of the Talking Heads and Violent Femmes, its follow-up takes the previously established conventions of post-punk and new wave architecture and constructs forms none of its predecessors could have imagined.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that frontman Alec Ounsworth has one of the most unique vocal and lyrical personalities to hit popular music since, well, David Byrne. At once both light and dark, he injects a playfulness into the sonic gravity of songs like “Love Song No. 7” and “Goodbye to Mother and the Cove” (which adds Tortoise and Biran Eno into the Talking Femmes equation), extracting a spontaneous frivolity from songs that might otherwise be a little too heavy for pop.
While their contradictory juxtapositions make for great critical fodder, their strengths are still the pop songs: “Satan Said Dance,” “Yankee Go Home” and “Underwater (You and Me).” While the latter two revisit the indie blues shuffle of CYHSY’s debut, “Satan Said Dance” takes a left turn down techno-pop alley that leads straight to a hell where things don’t really seem so bad except for the fact that the devil forces his tenants to dance for eternity to the never-ending ping pong keyboard whose groove just barely smoothes over the dissonance the band flaunts so deliberately.
Already the poster child for the MySpace marketing model of the new millennium, CYHSY take full advantage of the artistic freedom their position allows, crafting an album that, though less newbie-friendly, will at least draw a few more admiring mavericks to its fold. Though its inconsistency makes it a much tougher listen than its older sibling, Some Loud Thunder breaks CYHSY’s own mold, spilling just enough pop sugar to draw a few flies, despite its sometimes scary sounds of shattering china.