3 Stars out of 5
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s best music evokes its band name. It’s exuberant and hyper and attention-commanding and doesn’t pause for commas.
After becoming darlings of the indie rock world with its self-released, self-titled debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released the muddled, experimental Some Loud Thunder and seemed to disappear. Almost five years later, its members have returned with their third album, Hysterical, and brought back their synths and yelps.
The ultimate litmus test for a potential Clap Your Hands Say Yeah fan is Alec Ounsworth’s voice. It’s the band’s most identifiable quality and, consequently, mixed above the rest of the music. Nasal and piercing like Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Ounsworth’s voice lacks any range beyond squawking. However, sound is where the similarities end, as Ounsworth’s lyrics are more up-tempo ramblings than poetic short stories.
“Same Mistake” gets the album going with its lock-step rhythm section and skittering guitar-strumming over big, stretching synth strings that are reminiscent of the Killers. Ounsworth sings, “We’ll make the same mistakes,” over big, stretching synth strings that are reminiscent of The Killers. It’s the one time the band demands that the listener joyously follow along on an album that otherwise lacks a fresh sound.
Most of the songs on Hysterical are weak echoes of the band’s 2005 debut, taking the carnival keyboards from Sunset Rubdown and guitar from Modest Mouse that were so popular then and mixing them with new-wave synths and drums. It’s frustrating to listen to a band whose sound hasn’t grown beyond its debut - like the girl who peaked as a junior in high school but still wears the same clothes. She looks (and sounds) good, but she’s not as jaw-dropping as she used to be.
At least Hysterical‘s songs have appropriate titles. They run the gamut from the skittering “Maniac” with its acid-trip wah-wah effects to the bad comedown of “In a Motel.” A listener should know what to expect from a song like “Ketamine and Ecstasy,” but that’s part of the problem.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has made an album of predictable songs that are similar to, but not quite as good as, its debut. Each song is marked with Ounsworth’s signature warble and stream-of-consciousness rambling, but he never lets his voice be as free and loose and grating as he did on “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away,” the build-and-release killer that begins Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Nowhere on Hysterical does the group play anything as hyper and catchy as “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth,” which is the group’s potential distilled in fewer than six minutes. Instead, the listener gets “Adam’s Plane,” which takes seven minutes to get louder and fuzzier while a piano scale repeats over and over again.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah rose to indie-stardom because of their do-it-yourself success story and the unrestrained excitement in itheir music, but both of those qualities have been diluted. Hysterical has refined the jagged edges of an unknown band into clean, pleasant indie rock. On “Misspent Youth,” Ounsworth is right when he laments, “The glory of a misspent youth/ chasing tire stains in muted thunder.”
If only he could get back to that weird, old glory.