Clap Your Hands Say Yeah will always have a place in the story of alternative music. Their 2005 debut album was an early beneficiary of the new media influence on the industry, rocketing to acclaim and success predominantly based on online sharing and blog raves. Their struggle ever since has been to avoid becoming entirely defined by their triumph of timing and circumstance and to be considered as a career-long interest.
Where in 2005 they were considered a complete band, by the time that their last album Only Run was released in 2014, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah felt closer to an Alec Ounsworth solo project. For that album, three of the founder members had deserted, and the music became inward and solitary. If anything, that trend has continued on this fifth record, and whilst Ounsworth’s idiosyncrasies have been the band’s USP all along, they have rarely been this hit and miss.
The album starts in a surprisingly polished and slickly produced place, with opening track ‘The Pilot’ choosing a smooth, shiny and confident sheen over the more typical kookiness that the project is remembered for. Ounsworth’s vocals spill out at a breakneck pace, with a set of inscrutable lyrics to match. The new aesthetic works, and if it signposted a firm new direction for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, it could be an eye-catching and potentially rejuvenating breath of life.
The trend does continue on ‘A Chance to Cure’, which is powered by the same tripping vocals – he’s bursting to tell us what’s on his mind, evidently. They are set to a backdrop of strange, strangulated slide guitar parts, reducing in part the crystal production, but relatively speaking this is still a straightened-out version of the band, addressing conventions in new ways.
The album does not see out the full transition, however. The second half of the record is littered with direction-less, uncommitted tracks like ‘The Vanity of Trying’ and ‘Ambulance Chaser’, which drift curiously. The former track is filled with a long, formless, seemingly rage-filled vocal groan from Ounsworth – whether there were originally words that somehow became fumigated or not is unclear, but what remains is strangely inert. The latter song lacks anything even that memorable. What started as an intriguing and precise, well-crafted incarnation of this band actually limps over the line.
The lead single ‘Fireproof’ is the bridging point here between the old and new. It boasts the captivatingly odd warbling vocal style that Ounsworth built a reputation upon over a decade ago, a blend of Robert Wyatt and Jeff Mangum. “Oh what a drag it is to win,” he sings, which plays almost as a dare to reviewers to diagnose him as resenting his early success. It reminds the listener that at the peak of his powers, he can produce some of the manic pixie dust with which so many have prospered since 2005: Panda Bear, Ariel Pink, etc.
The Tourist to some extent feels like an aborted project. An entire album’s-worth of tracks like the opening two salvos could have ignited a resurgent interest in this most noughties of bands, but by the closing track, they feel like a distant memory. There will be a core group of fans for whom Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are an instrumental and formative band, but they may find themselves feeling more and more alone.
The Toruist is out now through CYHSY Inc.