New Fragility by Clap Your Hands Say YeahRelease date: February 12, 2021
Label: CYHSY/Secretly Distribution
Philadelphia’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are back with a new collection of songs to engage you. Entitled New Fragility, this album finds singer songwriter Alec Ounsworth in state of unease, much like the rest of us. Describing the new record Alec says “It’s pretty personal. It’s about what I think we’re all experiencing at the moment, certainly here in the United States anyway-trying to move forward amidst an almost cruel uncertainty”. You might think it’s going to be a harrowing listen from that, but no, this record is a delight from beginning to end. Albeit the end may leave you a little unsure.
Like ‘The Pilot’ on 2017’s The Tourist, this opening song reels you in with a keen sense of melody and an insistent vocal from Alex. The combination of soothing backing vocals, flickering strings and layered guitars buzzing like agitated wasps is intensely pleasing. Alex’s voice is still one of those love/hate sounds and when he howls “you are the one who just don’t care!” at the end it could actually be point break for the rest of the album. But you’d be a fool to walk away now as ‘Thousand Oaks’ is a gorgeous winner of glorious melody and marvellous instrumentation that tickles the twee-o-meter but has enough oomph to pack a punch.
The tragic countrified ballad ‘Dee, Forgiven’ swims with harmonised Alecs and you can just see a packed bar of sad lonely souls swing their beers to and fro. When that lonesome harmonica woozily drifts in you’ll be swept away in the drunken sea of regret. Title track ‘New Fragility’ bops and pops on a jaggy groove of guitars and piano and it’s bursting with wondrous hooks, making this album, at only four songs old, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s most accessible and best album to date.
The layered strings at the start of ‘Innocent Weight’ coupled with Alec’s yearning melody are truly heart breaking. When he sings “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong” you’ll be holding back the tears. As the song swells with strings and guitars you can feel the love that has went into making this record. The opening lines of ‘Mirror Song’ are akin to OK Computer-era Radiohead. Thom Yorke has forgotten how to write this kind of melody and I’m enthralled that Ounsworth has come up with this beauty. Swooning over a rolling backdrop of reverbed piano Alec plays it straight keeping the histrionics under lock and key and it’s magnificent.
The bizarrely named ‘CYHSY, 2005’ contains some woozy strings that swerve and twist allowing Alec to do something similar with his melody. It’s as slippery as an eel writhing in a vat of washing up liquid. ‘Where They Perform Miracles’ is an acoustic ballad that finds the previously restraint vocal theatrics begin to infiltrate, sensing the album might be coming to a close. A melancholic organ warms the heart and our trusty harmonica comes back to add some extra hues of blue. It takes ‘Went Looking for Trouble’ to allow my attention to dip from what has been an outstanding triumph so far. The first song to offer a little ray of hope, Ounsworth’s voice becomes a too nasal and hits high-end frequencies that are too much for my tinnitus-riddled ears to handle.
The album ends on the fireside ballad ‘If I Were More Like Jesus’ which sounds like it may have been recorded in a cave. Ounsworth’s voice is actually distorted, but underneath the lackadaisical production, this is a yearning song that is tragic to the core and it leaves you with a feeling of immense sadness and loss. The album ends with Alec singing “If I were more like Jesus, I’d get down on my knees and pray. But I’m not…” before there is an abrupt and discerning end to the field noise that has been sneakily permeating the song.
I’d had high hopes for New Fragility after the rather splendid last album. I’m pleased to report that this record has much more accessibility and the songs are certainly more memorable. Ounsworth keeps the exasperated elements of his vocals firmly in check and this allows the excellent songs to flourish. There is much to enjoy with New Fragility despite the underlying current of angst and dark themes that inspired it’s creation.