It’s hard to hate on a new band so disharmoniously dissimilar to today’s current crop of could-bes and should-bes, the fellow recipients of the cursed h-word – while Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! share column inches with the same-sound-come-around-again likes of The Kooks and Larrikin Love, they shower their songs in the kind of Monterey Pop acid-colours rarely seen since Jerry Garcia popped his proverbials. There’s just a single, glaringly-obvious-from-a-first-listen obstacle preventing the listener from fully immersing him or herself in this debut album: ‘singer’ Alec Ounsworth can’t sing, at all.
So what? Certain folk’ll tell you Dylan couldn’t hold a note, too; these ears’d back up such a statement, such was the horrendous din whenever he approached the microphone on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury’s main stage, some muddy year or other. Rewinding again to Monterey of '67, many a stoned gent decked in their girlfriend's finest frock might tell you that another legend of our times, Janis Joplin, was unable to 'sing', instead screaming as if she were a witch on a flaming stake. But Ounsworth’s wayward ramblings are_ so_ detached from any kind of vocal convention that it’s really tough to let Clap Your Hands Say Yeah roll to its natural conclusion first time around – the skipping of songs is absolutely necessary. Not so when the compositions hold their own against such testing tones – the mid-album double-header of ‘The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth’ and previous single ‘Is This Love’ is wonderful – but too many times the newcomer to these songs is left feeling distinctly unimpressed. It’s like London’s Circle Line: a good handful of drab so-whats capped by the colourful exhibits of Gloucester Road. Even after repeated sober listens, closer ‘Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood’ remains as insufferably awful as its title.
But something draws you back, and perhaps it’s this indescribable something that has led to inky fingers praising and raising Clap Your Hands Say Yeah so highly when they’d gladly let a thousand others fall back to the sidewalks and sewers – remember, once the h-word fallout subsides, it becomes remarkably tough to remain a saint in these fast-moving cities of short attention spans. Let Clap Your Hands Say Yeah air its wares once more and delights are unexpectedly uncovered. That shriek-filled punk-funk-lite effort that flew by in thirty seconds ‘cause you gave in to skipping temptation? Well, it’s ‘Heavy Metal’, and it’s wonderful second, third and fourth time around.
Blundered Blues Harp toots again bring us back around to the desolation of peak Dylan – harmonica features prominently on ‘Heavy Metal’ (swiftly becoming the standout track eighth time through; surprisingly it’s the oldest song here, having been penned eight years ago) and ‘Details Of The War’. Its impression on the latter isn’t wholly appealing, but perhaps given the subject matter its provoking presence can be understood. Indeed, for all the joviality here, certain lyrics reveal a darker mindset just below the surface: “They’re gunning for us,” says (let’s skip the ‘sings’ for good, shall we?) Ounsworth on ‘Heavy Metal’, “But they never even met us.” Perhaps the lyric is to be taken in a warfare context, perhaps it’s pre-empting the backlash from those that haven’t even taken the time to play Clap Your Hands Say Yeah before writing it off as another flash-in-the-pan affair? Minutes later the vocalist is talking about ploughing down unknown enemies on ‘In This Home On Ice’; the realisation that there’s a degree more depth – graphically and inspirationally – to this self-titled effort than preconceptions may have figured only brings the listener back again.
But, it’s not a great album: as was mentioned way back, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah lack a singer; live, Ounsworth can ooze charisma as easily as the other heirs to the indie-rock throne can flail themselves into a sweaty mess under the bright lights they’ll so soon fade from, but here he never really sounds in tune with his band mates. He never once shines vocally; then again, his way with a melody – he single-handedly wrote the majority of these songs – can rarely be faulted. The score below may seem harsh on a band with so many strings to their bow, so please read it like this: strings they may have, but darts straight to the heart they don’t. All the essential elements of greatness are here in some small form or other, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s time is not now – come album number two, though, they’ll almost certainly surpass any hideous h-word connotations.
6Mike Diver's Score