Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Album Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Hysterical

Label: V2
Released: 12th September

Let me start by talking about The Killers. You remember them right? They came out of nowhere with a barnstorming album in Hot Fuss, full of chart-slaying singles, and then went a bit... well... off. It was clear that they wanted a new sound, which worked for some singles, but generally destroyed what had gone before. This reviewer even walked out of their headline Leeds Festival set around the release of Day & Age as they'd lost the dancing, arms-in-the-air side of their performance that had drawn many in before (although Hot Club De Paris and Young Knives were on another stage)!

So why mention The Killers at this junction? This is a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah review after all. Well, several years after The Killers experimented with a change in sound, CYHSY have actually followed them down the route of that same sound, but here the results actually work. Comparisons will always exist, as if you squint your ears on Hysterical's longest track, 'Adam's Plane', or on 'Siesta (For Snake)' you may even think you're listening to Mr. Flowers. That illusion soon disappears when other tracks follow.

Despite this, to pin this album down to one sound actually does it a disservice. Hysterical marks a step change for a band who's first record was undoubtedly “indie”, whilst their second felt like they were trying to be deliberately obtuse at times and certainly not mainstream. This third record, ambitious at 55 minutes, actually broadens, refines and cleans up their sound. Songs still feel distinctly CYHSY due to Alec's vocals (more on that later), but of their three, it feels like this record has had the most care in its composition. The contribution of strings and piano, in particular, at times feel so beautiful that the music to these songs would happily stand alone of the vocals as an enthralling instrumental.

And this of course is where most people's love affair with CYHSY would immediately come to an abrupt stop, the vocals. To my ears the voice of Alec Ounsworth actually perfectly complements the music, particularly on tracks like 'Hysterical' and 'Ketamine And Ecstasy', but to others his voice will sound whiny or moany. It is fair that his vocal style is the reason that so few lyrics are referenced in this review, as they can often be indecipherable, but personally that is not a reason to avoid this excellent and wide ranging album.

Hysterical offers something that few other albums do, in that every song feels like it has its place. Strangely, despite its length, this record doesn't feel long, with the evolution of the sound as the record progresses being the likely cause of this. From the really “big” opening tracks of 'Same Mistake' and 'Hysterical' to quieter numbers like 'In A Motel', there is certainly no room for filler. A good example of this is 'Maniac', which sounded rather ordinary as a free-download release in advance, but between 'Misspent Youth' and 'Into Your Alien Arms' it's place is clear. I've not tried it myself, but I'm certain this LP would sound at its best through the largest speakers possible to truly appreciate the breadth of the audio.

Many will say that they don't like CYHSY in much the same way as Marmite, however if you think you know Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I can certainly say that with the release of Hysterical that it's worth not jumping to conclusions. In short, buy this record and give them a second (or possibly third) chance.


John Wilkins

Keep Pop Loud

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