CD: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

(Witchita Recordings)

Towards the end of last year, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were big news on the new bands front. The story of how the Brooklyn-based five-piece produced their own album and sold it via their website - shifting 25,000 copies from the luxury of their own living room - cued much smacking of lips and a sold-out UK tour.

Then came the Arctic Monkeys. Suddenly, singing with anything but a broad British (preferably northern) accent seems untruthful. Unless you're detailing the scratches and scars inflicted by teenage kicks, you're simply not trying. In the midst of this chav-baiting, new wave of Britpop, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have released the eponymous debut that caused all the initial fuss.

Luckily, they've got the melodies to keep them afloat. With their eyes on the indie-club dance floor and their fingers rifling through Talking Heads' back catalogue, Clap Your Hands make clever but catchy pop. High keyboard notes add a tension to the skipping drum beat of The Skin of My Yellow Teeth, but the guitars, jangling like house keys, make you tingle with anticipation. The subtle harmonies of Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away keep the bubbling edgy rock chords in their place.

Clap Your Hands hold another ace in the deranged vocals of Alan Ounsworth. He sounds like David Byrne in the middle of a panic attack, and yelps like Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes with his fingers shut in a door. But without him, the band would be purely pretty, as instrumentals Sunshine and Clouds (and Everything Proud) - which sounds like a baby's cot mobile - and Blue Turning Gray prove.

It's thanks to Ounsworth that Is This Love? sounds like a man repeatedly hitting his head against a brick wall; that Over and Over Again (Lost and Found) turns from an uninterested lament to an eager sprint through disappointment.

Sadly, his lyrics are a letdown. Take this example from In This Home on Ice: "I don't know how you can stand next to me/ You talk like a noose/ And only confuse my perplexity." Or: "The ravaged cabbage drifts on dark red skies." Random imagery and "interesting" grammar abound.

That the supposed profundity doesn't resonate shouldn't matter. But in the light of their plain-talking contemporaries - who, ironically, are at an age when you expect just such sixth-form poetry - it just might. When the tunes are this good, it certainly feels like a wasted opportunity.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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