Clap Your Hands Say Yeah first caught my attention with their rather unique self-titled debut album. I distinctly remember playing the album and then immediately switching it off because Alec Ounsworth’s nasal vocals hurt my ears. This was at the beginning of my indie phase when I was still dipping my toes into the genre and staying more within the realms of indie artists that were easy to listen to, like Radical Face, or artists that were loud and upbeat as hell, a good example at the time was The Pigeon Detectives. Eventually I rediscovered them with their less obscure third album Hysterical but I still never returned to that debut album until I heard “By the Skin of My Yellow Country” play in one of my favourite films: The Art of Getting By. I feel in-love with the song and was rather taken-aback when I found out it was a CYHSY song. I gradually learned to like that debut album and now it is one of my favourites.
Only Run is CYHSY’s fourth album. Four albums down the line and you’d think that they would have found a way to sabotage their career by releasing something ridiculously obscure and overly-theatrical. For reference sake: see once again Arcade Fire’s Refleckto. Side bar: I love Arcade Fire but can’t stand their recent album for the aforementioned reasons. CYHSY manages to maintain a unique zest of obscurity while still creating music that is incredibly accessible and relatable.
What I love about Only Run is how they band has taken all the elements from their previous albums and managed to mesh them together in a way that seems original and unique. Ounsworth’s nasal and twangy vocals, which were more pronounced on the debut and on Some Loud Thunder, crop up in a few of the songs. The more melodic vocals from Hysterical also appear. The distorted guitar riffs present on the album are underlain by a fuzzy synth line, a throbbing bass line and 8-bit drumbeats. The concept behind the record is Ounsworth exploring his life in music and finding a way to balance the optimism and pessimism.
Only Run opens with the synth heavy “As Always”. Ounsworth’s vocals mix his nasal style with a more melodic sound. Within the context of the album, the song seems to embrace a theme of music always being present in Ounsworth’s life and how one day he’ll show the people that doubted him that he was right: “Sooner or later I will change and we will be all right”.
“Blameless” is yet another song reliant on synth lines. It is almost a stab at emulating a less emotionally depressing Radiohead. One of the true gems on this album is “Coming Down”, which features a legend within the indie scene: The National’s Matt Berninger. This is a song that rests entirely on a monstrous bass line and few fuzzy guitar riffs so one would expect the vocals to be beautiful. Berninger adds his nasal snarl to Ounsworth’s heart-wrenching moans.
“Little Moments” is, mind the pun, truly a little moment of pure bliss. Resting upon a throbbing synth line and the equivalent of an 8-bit kickdrum, the song opens with a triumphal introduction that gives away to Ounsworth painstakingly screeching: “There is no time to waste on pleasantries”. This song is a blissful and soaring song that carries you into a deep trance, only to be rudely awoken by a surprise visit from Alvin and the Chipmunks.
One of the short-comings in the album is the synth and its total misuse. A fairly obvious example is the incredibly bland “Your Advice”. The only instrumental to be heard is a sweeping soundtrack styled synth line over which Ounsworth’s vocals are glossed over in the indie version of autotune. This is the album’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. It holds the album together, yet it also impacts in negatively by contrasting Ounsworth’s nasal and twangy vocals.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah takes you on a journey through a guitar performer’s mid-life crisis where he decides to experiment with an electronic sound. Anybody want to claim the rights to this as a film? It could be titled When Guitar Went Electric or just Only Run. The redeeming quality of Only Run is that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah did not lose sight of their vision and slicked to their roots of being obscurely relatable. It is remarkable effort and an experiment that can definitely be said to be a success.