Every band has an untapped potential that either dissipates due to a break-up or blooms with every incarnation. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah fluctuates between both sides of the spectrum. Alex Ounsworth, frontman for the band, measures his own worth by his definition of success, which from past interviews means making music for himself. From the band’s humble beginnings as a DIY wunderkind to their apparent jump on the bandwagon of the synth infused indie rock wave, they have been plagued with bittersweet reviews mainly due to the grating quality of the singer’s vocals.
On the band’s fourth LP, Only Run, Ounsworth seems to have wrangled the bull that turned so many people off. He exhibits unprecedented control over his vocal chords in such a way that it reminds one of an almost-Thom Yorke. His vocal chops are less distracting on this band’s latest effort to the point that it almost sounds like a completely different singer than CYHSY’s debut album. The singing is still vulnerable, still strange, still unique, and now, even more impressive than before. These melodies complement the subdued synth that characterize these chill rock tunes.
The opening track, “As Always” starts off with a shimmering and eerie synth drone that is quickly followed by a pounding drum beat. The dulcet tones from Ounsworth’s vocals begs the question “how can I open up?” Ironically, only he can answer that question. The opener ends with a post-rock dirge that transforms into an acoustic guitar solo leaving the listener hungry for more of the same vulnerability.
The second track, “Blameless” continues with the synth odyssey in the background while the thunderous drums bring in Ounsworth’s soft whisper. CYHSY also includes “Little Moments” from their Little Moments EP. This anthemic indie synth track makes you want to awkwardly dance at that very moment, especially after Ounsworth’s vocals glide over the syrupy electronic keyboards. The somber theme of the album grows darker as “Only Run” takes a post-punk turn a la Echo and the Bunnymen. “Beyond Illusion” is a more upbeat take on Radiohead’s “Idioteque.”
Overall, this album offers a satisfying listen as the vocals and instrumentation seem at par with each other. CYHSY’s heavy use of synth drones and synth leads complement Ounsworth’s shaky melodies. With drums reminiscent of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm and with the help from The National’s Tom Berninger on “Coming Down” and Kid Koala’s collaboration on “Only Run,” Only Run presents an unchallenging but solid listen if you’re already a fan of CYHSY or even for first-time listeners.
For all of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s efforts to set themselves apart from their eponymous debut, they have strayed from an idiosyncratic indie rock band into a watered down version of themselves that could not be differentiated from all the other indie synth bands if it were not for Ounsworth’s vulnerable cries for an elusive objective. We, and maybe he, may not know what that is, but we are left wondering. We wonder what will become of CYHSY. Over the past decade we have witnessed the rise and fall of a band with potential and maybe that’s all they are. Signs of life can be heard from the yelps and wails that offer vague clues as to whether the band will flower or wilt. For now, we enjoy the acquired taste that is CYHSY.