Even as the first throbbing electro-cadences of Hysterical‘s opening track fade in, and the thought that this could be the unpublished coda to “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” pushes its way into your head, you have not heard this album yet. The initial nervousness dissapates as soon as leadman Alec Ounsworth croons “Open Road”, the drums pound louder, and the somehow firmer more manly guitars soon shake the gnawing feeling that you have heard all this before, and you realize about the third listen through that there is no looking back.
Many might say that Hysterical, the first new album for the band in more than three years, picks up where their self-titled indie breakthrough left off, but that would be to ignore a major evolution in the band, its members and, most importantly, the music. For what is any band without its digressions? And where would The Clap (great diminutive) be without their dissociative 2007 sophomore effort Some Loud Thunder, whose songs reeked of potential yet couldn’t run a solid connective thread to unite the album? Certainly not at Hysterical. What about the chops they built up in four years of almost nonstop world touring? The abortive attempts to record Number Three in 2009 leading to what by all appearances seemed to be the untimely demise of the Little Band That Could? Flashy Python anyone?
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Get Seriously Hysterical
It was at their final show at Fujirock 2009 in Japan that you could feel a certain trepidation in the misty mountain air during the first few songs, which may have caused many in the crowd to wonder if the band that had seemingly found a way to supercede the record industry (The Internet! Mail! Who knew…?) was destined to implode before they really ever got warmed up. Despite shaking off their early chilliness and killing the capacity crowd a few new songs thrown into with the rest of their short but infectious live set, there was a bittersweet funk in the air as they encored with “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away” and it wasn’t the cherried joints poking up in the dusk sky.
The thing about The Clap has always been a stirring kind of intangible mystery to the music which makes for a beautiful kind of anxiety, that sense that they might not be able to hold it together any longer and were about to follow Ounsworth’s warbly voice off the road, clapping and yeahing all the way down into the annals of if only. At first listen the monikers of the hiatus-CYHSY albums–Flashy Python and Uninhabitable Mansions–among other projects, seemed to confirm that despite these solid musical efforts, the various solo projects were destined for the dusty bottom of the dollar bin at whatever stores still actually sell cds.Picking up Hysterical‘s lp sleeve, at first glance there seems to be a sentimental tinge to the various track titles, “Misspent Youth” and “Yesterday, Never”, as if this album is a message to the dancing satans of the past to back off, but not too far (and keep dancing). Although that doesn’t stand up to examination as soon as Robbie Guertin (guitar, keyboards), Lee Sargent (keyboards, guitar), Tyler Sargent (bass guitar), and Sean Greenhalgh (drums, percussion) chime in with their respective instruments, all pointing toward jumping into the same car and driving to the same place this time around, which, even if the members don’t necessarily know where that is, at least they are all in the same car. This is especially noticeable on the album’s eponymous second track, which alongside “Maniac”, the first single from the album, seems to shake off any ideas of latent rust and point them firmly down that open road Ounsworth first mentions in “Same Mistake”.
The decision to take a hiatus after playing the Fuji Rock Festival seemed to have served its purpose, causing the members to experience a renewed desire to make music together, even if they didn’t know that was the case. In spring 2010, Ounsworth, Greenhalgh, and Sargent reconvened in Philadelphia, as well as at CYHSY’s Brooklyn practice space, to toss around ideas that would be developed by the band, eventually culminating in the songs on Hysterical. 2010 became the year the Clap came back, spent time creating their new material and recording dozens of different demos in order to construct–and then tear apart–each song, giving them the ability to see what worked and what didn’t.
“The band works best together by letting stuff happen,” Sargent says. “That was the problem with the second album, things weren’t allowed to naturally progress. Whereas on this one, they were and so there were a lot of musical ideas generated.”
Ounsworth says, “For me, it’s all about us coalescing.”
Collaborating with producer John Congleton, known for his work with Okkervil River, Explosions In The Sky, Clinic, and The Mountain Goats, at Hoboken’s Water Music, proved to be exactly what the band needed.
“It was a nice process,” Sargent says, “everyone playing together in this big room. It’s not like you have people separated into these soundproof rooms where they can’t really look at each other. We’ve tried that before and it takes away that chemistry.”
Congleton has employed characteristics of Phil Spector’s trademark “wall of sound” production mode, with multi-layered keyboards, noticeably bigger, bombastic percussion, explosive guitars and worked particularly on coaxing the best of Ounsworth’s trademark vocals. The origins of what you once loved about the band are still peppered throughout the twelve songs, but with production values more in tune to The Clap’s idiosyncrasies, achieving a more seasoned sound.
Before encoring their paean to jamband scratch-rock “Cool Goddess” at Fujirock 2009 CYHSY did herald Hysterical‘s rock-opera epic finale, “Adam’s Plane”, with its initial stark piano tones that turn to eddying rhythms and propulsive melodies echoing in your head long after the song weighs in around seven minutes. The tentative nature of their set had mirrored their precarious start as a band in a world without a record label. Music executives nervously asked themselves, “How long could they last?” Yet as their energy and talent carried them through the wasteland of the Modern Music Business–and the body of their playlist on stage–the realization dawned that to be more than that one band, they would have to take another tack. The Industry smiled and feigned a pat on the back stance. The band realized that those quirky characteristics which once endeared them to millions would need to mature into smart music, hence the hiatus–which was not very long. The Industry “Huzzahed” and shook its fists in surviving the end of their ubiquity, but too soon! It was only once they has rebanded with renewed devotion, as well as a new approach to making music, that moving from the strictly upbeat meat of “Yellow Country Teeth” toward more of a mixture of introspective chords and speculative genres, could they close the show with two songs from two different eras, signalling to one and all that despite all the hysteria, that initial independent mystery still drives the car down the open road, it’s just a nicer car with a better sound system.
See the full gallery of photos from the “last” live show (as the original band) at Fujirock in Naeba, Japan
Upcoming Japan Live Shows
- 1.6.12 // Tokyo, Japan // O-EAST
- 1.8.12 // Nagoya, Japan // Club Quattro
- 1.10.12 // Osaka, Japan // Big Cat