Critical Voices: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Hysterical

September 22, 2011

For a group that started out as an internet buzz band, music blogs have been pretty quiet about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s new album, Hysterical. Where the band succeeded by keeping it simple but original, this new album disappoints by kicking up production and burying its tried and true style, ending up sounding like a singing telegram to later releases by The Killers and U2.
CYHSY made a name for itself with a simple formula: jumpy drums, easy guitars, and Alec Ounsworth’s signature squawk. On Hysterical, though, Ounsworth’s voice is barely distinguishable from Brandon Flowers’ or Bono’s (and in this case, that isn’t a compliment). Backed by reverb on all sides, the songs find no steady foundation, a contrast to earlier CYHSY releases where Ounsworth’s awkwardness, backed by steady rhythms, was much more tolerable.
The only track where CHYSY accomplishes the sound they are trying to achieve is “Idiot,” the eighth track on the album. Through the overzealous strings, the listener can hear some satisfying drum fills and Ounsworth allowing himself to sound more lazy than tense. There’s no waiting around, and there’s no point at which to realize you’re bored.
There is little range between songs, and it feels as if CYHSY never breaks through the ceiling with hard tracks, favoring a more timid, anticipatory atmosphere for the album.  This aggravating choice in style accomplishes little other than leaving eager listener’s patience utterly unrewarded. The biggest offenders here are “In a Motel” and “Misspent Youth,” both fraught with inconclusive musical awkwardness.
Songs like “Same Mistake,” and “Siesta (For Snake)” start after introductions that overstay their welcome. As opposed to making songs more ambitious or instrumentally interesting, the unfulfilling endings create flat, arid songs.
Hysterical’s songs sound like they’ve been given a great deal of attention from a producer, but the musicianship and songwriting are far from the group at their fullest potential. Even an effort to make their music sound “new” (read: hip) would be more interesting than this offering.
As a band that broke out during the mid-2000s, CYHSY is part of group that has largely tapered off in terms of popularity. Bands like Wolf Parade, Tapes N Tapes, and even Hot Hot Heat have either progressed or stopped playing. CYHSY has chosen to do neither. It’s not so much of a burnout as a flat tire.


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