Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has two major artistic impulses. The first is to write and perform beautiful pop-rock tunes as sincerely as possible. The second is to fuck them up. That’s a move this Brooklyn/Philly quintet made on Some Loud Thunder, its cooly-received 2007 follow-up to a 2005 debut that was embraced to the point of near-religious fanaticism.
With Hysterical, CYHSY nails the balance between earnestness and artful deviation. Having learned hard lessons from Thunder with Dave Fridmann — a fantastic producer who nevertheless makes every band sound like his own Mercury Rev — the group here clicks with John Congleton, a sonic savant who favors vast, robust sounds but tempers them with detail. Hysterical suggests that leader Alec Ounsworth is still smarting from hype-and-crash syndrome and maybe one particular journalist: On album midway point “Yesterday, Never,” the singer asks, “In your article, how did you put it?/ You had me ’round your little finger, did you?” as earthquake drums and tsunami bass temporarily interrupt ELO-style synth fluttering. There’s got to be a story there.
Song after song, a theme emerges: The past is an enemy, and the only solution is forward movement: “Letting up and letting go…we should just grow up…I can’t go back there no more…you better escape while you can…you couldn’t stand it any longer…now you know what it means to fly,” Ounsworth sings at key points throughout. The restlessness is relentless, nowhere more so than on “Into Your Alien Arms.” The band locks into a desperate groove, chords seesaw back and forth as drums and voice race blindly ahead until suddenly everything drops out but some queasy synth strings. The charge resumes; this time lead by Lee Sargent’s raging, hyper-distorted guitar, which shrieks and screams and roars and rants until it can’t anymore. It’s CYHSY getting ugly again, but this time the effect is indescribably lovely.