The Tourist by Clap Your Hands Say YeahRelease date: February 24, 2017
There was a time when I would engage in the bold activity of purchasing CDs by bands I hadn’t even heard before, based on a review or a fleeting mention in publications I was reading at the time. I think quirky American indie-rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah must have fallen under that category. As part of the process of writing up this review of their fifth album The Tourist, I revisited their first two albums and struggled to find the song that would have lured me to buying their albums. I did go and see them around the time of second album Some Loud Thunder and they put on a very good show if memory serves me well. But it shows how much interest I maintained in the band that it’s only now that I realise they released another two albums in 2011 and 2014.
The band have dissipated in terms of members since the last album, now just down to frontman Alec Ounsworth and Matt Wong. What this means is that Ounsworth is all over this record and if you find his vocal technique of elongating random words and offering up something veering dangerously close to yodelling an issue then this probably isn’t an album you want to get close to. However, that’ll be your loss because the ten tracks that comprise The Tourist contain some very special moments.
It takes 45 seconds into opening track ‘The Pilot’ to drop the yodel, but at the same time, swooning keys distract to compliment the pleasing acoustic guitar chords. The melody is simple but delightful and the chorus of backing vocals giving you a warm fuzzy feeling. It is spacious and extremely lovely indeed, the song never rises above a simmering shimmer and it leaves you excited for the rest of the album. Such are the textures and ambience of The Tourist that it feasibly could have been produced by Nigel Godrich. These are very much to the fore on ‘A Chance to Cure’ and the two tracks present a very low-key start to the album before the drums are kicked into life by some out there keys/electronics. As the song expands and stretches, ably driven by Alec’s rubbery vocals, the soundscape becomes more cavernous, but we’re talking irregular song structures here folks.
‘Down (Is Where I Want to Be)’ is an fidgety number with a flickering drum pattern that just can’t settle at all. Ably mixed with insistent keyboards, stabbing guitars and bass, it features a wonderful up the mountain background vocal that weaves into the soundscape and you can envisage Ounsworth swirling round some Sound of Music fields. Still capable of thinking up some cookie song titles, the none-more-quirky ‘Unfolding Above Celibate Moon (Lost Angeles Nursery Rhyme)’ is a- Funereal paced oddity that slips from a quirky verse into a glorious synth explosion and an emotional harmonica solo, once again, regular song structures are f**ked into oblivion. A real highlight comes in the U2 tribute track ‘Better Off’ which has driving bass and Edge type twangy guitar notes. Ounsworth slithers and slides over the propulsive groove with a more introverted melody. The song almost erupts into ‘Beautiful Day’ at one point but instead slips off down a road marked Glorious Effortless Melody Street. They actually meet The Edge down there and exchange a cursory nod, The Edge giving a wry smile before reclining in his summer seat to enjoy the swooning backing vocals.
I might have missed the opportunity to hear this album as ‘Fireproof’ was the first track I heard. An irritating face poke of a song with Ounsworth pushing the tolerance limit with his vocal tics and mannerisms. The jumpy start eventually hits a groove and it starts to make a little more sense though it’s still a tough workout for those who aren’t so sure about CYHSY’s vision. On ‘The Vanity of Trying’ the drums are in a rush hammering out a basic put frantic beat while lush keys swirl and twirl, the aural equivalent of a lacy skirt and Ounsworth loses himself in an 80s disco. When the abandon kicks in fully it’s a wonderful moment, then the song stops momentarily before exploding in an insane Flaming Lips styled party popping cymbal smashing rush of electro pop brilliance.
Most songs with the dreaded rim-tap get consigned to the bin marked boke for me, but not ‘Loose Ends’. A quiet lovingly sung lament of twinkling keys and finger picked acoustic guitar, Ounsworth sings tenderly about someone exposing themselves in magazines and on a TV screen. It’s a very affecting moment and a beautiful part of an album that if only listened to once, would never reveal itself completely to you. Ounsworth decides it’s time to throw out the biggest shapes he can on the slippery grooved ‘Ambulance Chaser’, whether the song wants it or not. Flaming Lips style keys paint a psychedelic wash while he takes massive plunges into the froth, swallowing a little too much and ending up right royally smashed. Continuing the hospital theme ‘Visiting Hours’ begins with a one note drone howling over some lovely acoustic chords and Ounsworth teases out a sweet melody to end the album on a downbeat but beautiful track. When the ebo’d guitar drifts into the mix I’m enthralled and you are truly left with a feeling of fortified fun and joy in these difficult times. That band name makes perfect sense. Clap those hands, say yeah.
When I went to do a little reading on what Alec Ounsworth has been doing since we last crossed paths I was astounded to find out that he has found himself touring people’s living rooms. Add to that the diminishing band members and it could possibly have seen the end of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. With The Tourist, Ounsworth has created a superb little collection of off-beat, quirky, but downright addictive tunes and it absolutely deserves your attention.