Riding home on the Q train, I’ve discovered a secret that I pretend no one else around me knows. It is my shield from the derelicts and drunkards of the late-night New York train system. As I fade into its rollicking mood changes and invigorating expulsion of energy and emotion, my body separates from the world around me, and for just about thirty-nine minutes, I exist only for the music channeling through my headphones. It is the self-titled debut from the Brooklyn five-piece Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
The fade out begins when life’s simple problems are solved with the kitschy mantra “Clap your hands!” on the opening track of the same name. That track ends in a dreamlike ramble that sucks me through to the album’s ulterior reality. From then on, existence is led by such simple and perfectly placed details as how the tambourine repeatedly hits three times on “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” and how the harmonica wails so aggressively on “Heavy Metal.”
Most hypnotic is the nasal war whoop of frontman Alec Ounsworth. Although Ounsworth strikes David Byrne-chords a few times, specifically with the yelping jumps of the verses on “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found),” there are many more facets to his voice than this most obvious dimension. The strength of Isaac Brock, complemented by Modest Mouse-ish struck and bent guitar noises, seeps through the vocal work on “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth.” Ounsworth even dips into G. Love territory with the shuffled and jazzy “Gimme Some Salt.”
But then there are such songs as “Sunshine and Clouds (And Everything Proud)” and “Is This Love?” where Ounsworth’s screech seems to come from a back-of-the-throat, uvula-shattering gust of cathartic release that occasionally scratches between notes as his range yodels into its higher register. Moments such as these ground the singer with a quality of imperfection — contrasting his otherwise jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics — that enhances the music with its bare honesty.
And then there’s the album’s end, the handshake that seals the deal. Just as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea ends with the subtle sound of Jeff Mangum getting up from his chair, wrapping that album with the feeling that there is nothing more left to say, “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” closes Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with the sound of a needle pulling off the record. The terse silencing of the song mid-measure comes unexpectedly. Ounsworth has just finished caterwauling the plight of child stars and the music has locked into a looping groove so intoxicating that it’s difficult to pull away from the silence several minutes after the record ends. But like the significance of Mangum’s creaking chair, there is nothing more left to say here.
This is the band’s statement, and listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah makes all of the attention lumped onto the group seem trivial. From the initial praise of the bloggers and the Interweb-dot-comers to rapidly selling all two thousand of the initial printing without support from a record label or publicist, all of these inconsequential elements fall to the side. Total immersion in the passion of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah reveals the true power of music as a means of artistic expression.