Some Loud Thunder, the sophomore album from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, begins with what could be considered its catchiest and most frustrating song. The title track comes crashing through the gate, with lead singer/songwriter Alex Ounsworth wasting no time in declaring “all this talking, you’d think I’d have something to say”. Along the way he proves himself wrong as he packs most every line with too many syllables, racing to keep up with his hyperactive band. Along with “Underwater (You & Me)”, the song is the closest the band gets to straight pop on the album, but at some point they decided to bury it beneath a harsh wall of distortion. On first listen the decision proves to be distracting. I thought it was a damaged or corrupted mp3 file, but after a few tries the fuzz began to fade and the song shimmered its way into my head. The song’s refusal to sound as it “should” is representative of most of the album. There’s an obvious growth in musicianship running throughout the album, and the band has become comfortable dabbling in “weird”, textural sounds that betray the charming pop they hide. This system works for the majority of the record, but falls short on a few occasions.
The most immediately noticeable improvements on the album are the increased production quality over the debut, and the more diverse, fuller band sound. Producer David Fridmann has helped some pretty huge bands in the indie rock world further their studio capabilities. He practically re-invented The Flaming Lips on 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, and prior to that he did the same for Mercury Rev on their brilliant 1998 album Deserter’s Songs. He has expanded the palette for CYHSY as well. The album is filled with sounds that were nowhere to be found on their debut, some natural, some of the “blips & bleeps” variety. Together with the improvement in the band’s playing, the production leads to a thoroughly dense album, one that rewards repeat listening, and one that may scare off listeners expecting a retread of the more straightforward song structures on the debut.
Most of the songs on the album come off as totally schizophrenic, in the best way possible. They usually shift wildly in sound and tempo inside the same song, and rarely follow any sort of traditional structure. “Emily Jean Stock” is pure 60’s psychedelic pop deconstructed, brimming with memorable hooks and an inventive arrangement. “Underwater (You and Me)”, with it’s bouncy rhythm and hummable melodies, is the only song that comes close to sounding as if it could have been on their debut. And album closer “Five Easy Pieces” is a gorgeous soundscape, with harmonica, acoustic guitar, toy piano, indecipherable vocal chants, and what sounds like accordion floating in and out of the mix indiscriminately. It’s all held together by the bass, which enters proudly around the 1-minute mark and hoists the song on its shoulders, carrying it and the album to an unforgettable close.
Several songs fail while attempting a similar ambition. “Satan Said Dance” is actually one of the more sonically impressive songs on the album. It’s a hybrid of video game sound effects and a fierce dance-rock groove. However, the repetitive, non-sense lyrics are too much to take for 5 ½ minutes, overstaying their welcome by at least 2. And apparent first single “Love Song No. 7” is a monotonous, piano-driven ballad that only hints at releasing the tension it continuously builds. Sporting a melody that never seems to find its footing, the song comes across more as an unfinished demo than a fully-realized song. The fact that these two songs appear back-to-back halfway through the album disrupts the flow set by the first three and last five songs.
Some Loud Thunder can be seen as the kid brother of Here Come the Warm Jets, finally at the age where it can stand up to him and not have to worry about a beat-down. Both share a nasally-challenged vocalist (Ounsworth sounds like David Byrne meets mid-90s Dylan), skewered pop song structures, and an ADHD sense of experimentalism. Big bro is proud, and maybe slightly jealous, that despite the lack of a label to help with promotion, Some Loud Thunder is an ambitious stab at greatness. It actually achieves this goal intermittently, with several stunning songs that one-up the debut, and several that don’t work nearly as well. For now, big brother can sleep easy.
MP3 from Some Loud Thunder: