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January 31-February 6, 2007

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Second Set of Hands

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah replace clarity with clamor

By David Sason


It's really no surprise that David Byrne was spotted at Clap Your Hands Say Yeah shows a couple years back. After all, the Brooklyn/Philly quintet's exceptional debut album sounded at times like a twitchy half-hour variation on '77's "Pulled Up" and singer Alec Ounsworth's emotive, acrobatic whine--more so than other vocalists from Tom Verlaine to Ian McCulloch--channeled the most talkative Head's vocal inflections.

I wouldn't be surprised if Lou Reed is their next legendary audience member, judging from how their second self-released record, Some Loud Thunder, starts. The opening track kicks off the album White Light/White Heat-style, but beneath a wave of distortion. "All this talking, you'd think I'd have something to say," sings Ounsworth, barely audible amid production replicating a poorly leveled home cassette recording. Each bass drum crash drowns out everything else, effectively burying any hopes of repeating their first record's polish.

However, the song's harmonies fight through and much of this mostly rewarding album is easier to swallow, from the harmonious '60s-style chamber pop of "Emily Jean Stock" to the instant crowd-pleaser "Underwater," a low-fi Badlands that pushes the Killers' recent Springsteen tributes further into embarrassment. But the band's straying from their proven pop forms offers mixed results. The multifaceted "Arm and Hammer" pleasantly evokes early Who mini-operas, but the repetitive Krautrock excursion "Satan Said Dance" does little else but allow the band to test out their many spooky keyboard effects.

Thunder's sometimes blatantly reactionary aural filters are a necessary evil for a sophomore effort from a band who could probably never improve upon their previous twitchy jangle. But also muffled in the '60s-rock production survey course is their originality, which was more apparent on their debut's differently derivative aesthetic. Breaking the mold is commendable, as are the formidable melodies that survive the clatter. But if they want to add standing ovations to their namesake, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should take their talent forward instead of backwards.


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