A Decade Removed From Its Lauded Debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Continues to Evolve

June 4 at New Brookland Tavern
By Kyle Petersen
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth

It’s been nearly 10 years since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came into our lives. Surging through buoyant and bleating New Wave indie pop on its generally beloved self-titled debut, the outfit rushed forth in 2005, spurring one of the Internet era’s first truly overwhelming hype waves. For a time, the group’s label-less rise to critical acclaim and relative commercial success seemed like a fairy tale, a notion summarily discharged when the 2007 follow-up, Some Loud Thunder, landed to mixed evaluations and waning enthusiasm, another early indicator of the music market’s increasing fickleness.

Since then, the band’s frontman and primary creative force Alec Ounsworth has released a solo album featuring New Orleans session musicians, recorded with a few side projects, and released a much-delayed third LP with Clap Your Hands, 2011’s polished but brusquely received Hysterical. Not long after, long-time members Robbie Guertin, Lee Sargent and Tyler Sargent all left the group.

But Ounsworth carries on. The way fans view his art can’t be helped, so he tries not to sweat it.

“It seems somewhat arbitrary whether people like what you do,” he muses. “A lot of it just comes down to people liking different things. If they like it, so be it.”

What: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Wednesday, June 4, 8 p.m.
With: Stagnant Pools
Price: $12
More Info: newbrooklandtavern.com

In fact, despite the band’s impending 10th anniversary, Ounsworth has actually found creative solace in his post-split material. The fourth Clap Your Hands LP arrives on June 3. Entitled Only Run, its promotion is led by the advance single “Coming Down.” The song is a nervy slab of darkly anthemic art-rock not dissimilar to the work of The National, whose Matt Berninger guests. It seems to build on the expansive polish of Hysterical, feeling increasingly distanced from the quirky, ramshackle beauty of the group’s debut. For the work of an outfit with so much history, it feels remarkably free and unburdened.

“It’s difficult to carve out a space for five guys,” Ounsworth offers. “It kind of feels like I’m starting from scratch again. It’s frightening and liberating at the same time.”

“I think people are going to get carried away with calling it dissimilar to [my other records],” he adds. “What the band does is always going to be fairly consistent.”

Indeed, the band’s sonic calling cards — lush synthesizers, sharp post-punk guitars, warm harmonies, sticky hooks and Ounsworth’s own inimitable vocals — are all present, but they serve songs that feel like distant relatives to that earlier material. The new music is less David Byrne and Jeff Mangum than it is Lou Reed and Thom Yorke. Vocally and musically, this is a more celestial and stately version of the band, one that flies in the face of the manic irascibility that dominated its first two efforts. It feels counterintuitive, but Ounsworth writes it off as a natural evolution.

“I’ve always felt like one CYHSY song leads to the next which leads to the next,” he says. “After all, I don’t want to make “[The Skin of My] Yellow Country Teeth” parts two, three, four and five over and over again.”

This attitude toward a fan favorite from Clap Your Hands’ first record might rub some people the wrong way, but it really makes sense. After all, the impetus of the group’s lightning-fast coronation was its insistence on recording and releasing music entirely on its own terms, unburdened by music industry convention. A decade later, Ounsworth still carries himself in the same manner.

“It’s really surprising, but after 10 years I feel like I am about right where I started,” he says. “I’m just counting on people in my corner and hoping they want to go on this journey with me.”

Let us know what you think: Email music@free-times.com.

More music

Enter to win tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters
Enter to win tickets to SCSM's Museum of Oz
Enter to win tickets to Columbia City Ballet's Gala with a Bite and Dracula
Free Times Now Hiring
Download the Free Times app
Subscribe to Free Times newsletters