Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Only Run- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is one of those bands that maintains it’s strong sense of identity despite the responsibility of artists that singer Alec Ounsworth specified as the need to take musical risks and shift aesthetic gears between albums. Although the band saw the loss of two members, guitarist/keyboardist Robbie Guertin and bassist Tyler Sargent, their fourth studio album Only Run preserves the perplexingly pleasant sound their known for while inserting increasingly electronic production, capturing the essence of our Cartesian world as well as a possible homage to the internet, the site of CYHSY’s initial success and purveyor of their status as one of the first groups to gain notoriety from music blog praise.
In this new album, the band smartly makes the choice to couple the shrouding guitar of their 2005 self-titled debut with a heavy use of synthesizer, expanding on the 2013 EP Little Moments, which essentially acts as a precursor to Only Run, with both tracks making an appearance on the album. Drawing from their first attempt with heavier electronic use on Hysterical, CYHSY develops a more successful balance on Only Run between real instrumentals and those like drum machines and synthesizers all while progressing the anxious beats of 2007’s Some Loud Thunder. However, while the band may be perfecting aspects of previous work, Ounsworth’s vision of the album as a “renewed sense of optimism” in response to news-stories detailing “overwhelming odds” embodies CYHSY’s exploration of a more complex, fresh-faced sound on Only Run.
‘As Always’ introduces the album’s enveloping electronic sound with hard percussion and strums of lo-fi guitar breaking through the sheet of synth that cloaks the track. While the ear may stick to the gooey guitar squirts in ‘As Always’ rather than Ounsworth’s signature vocals, ‘Coming Down’ has them on full display. After the Ben Folds ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’-style opening, Ounsworth’s voice swirls from fizzy mumbles that slip into a gut-fueled, Brandon Flowers-esque crone before sliding into his piercing caw. ‘Coming Down’ displays all the elements of Ounsworth’s voice before it calls on the baritone stylings of The National’s Matt Berninger, another songwriter with an uncompromising sound, to weigh down the hopeful rise & falls of Ounsworth before they both crash into a synthesized riff.
Tracks branded with a mid-tempo melancholy reminiscent of Radiohead like ‘Blameless’ and ‘Beyond Illusion’ dig an even deeper sense of variety into the album. A quick paced drum machine scatters across a streak of synth while Ounsworth stretches a pained tone across ‘Blameless,’ whose conflicting timbres convey an urgent hopefulness. ‘Beyond Illusion’ becomes a high point of the album as Paul Lanksy-pitched keys tinge an otherwise down-tempo beat, coating the track with a new wave glaze.
Further Lansky, ‘Idle Chatter’-type influences become apparent by the chopped-up spoken word samples spliced into songs ‘Only Run’ and ‘Your Advice.’ The former opening with a female voice stating “I’m writing you from acid” before vibrating into the repeated “It’s a beautiful world,” urging one to pop the album like a tab of LSD, melting self-pitiful concerns into an optimistic view of the world. Bouncing synth and quick percussion pierce a haunting, Brian Eno-esque soundscape as chest-kept vocals fluctuate throughout. ‘Your Advice’ opens with laughter and a pondering “Do you feel happier?” before Ounsworth tells us to “ignore the new world” while he takes from it, displayed by the dense waves of synth, whereas the compelling drama of the chorus line “I miss the comfort of your chains” stands out in this otherwise wall-flower of a song.
Opposing its title, ‘Little Moments’ bloats with blinking keyboard and synth skipping along upbeat instrumentals and the high-pitched strength of Ounsworth’s voice, making it a big moment on Only Run. And although the contribution of master turntable artist Kid Koala is relatively unheard in ‘Cover Up,’ the track’s slow spaced drums and alien-esque reverberations provide a setting as ghostly as Ounsworth’s eerie crow and prove CYHSY can innovatively produce while maintaining their “ugly-pretty” peculiarity.
The repeated refrains of the original ‘Impossible Request’ drags on as Ounsworth’s characteristically sounding vocals are obscured by heavy-handed synth and oddly vanishing guitar. However, the alternate version at the album’s end does a successful renovation. Softer synths weave through drum machine beats before refined vocals hollow out the song’s thickened sound in a smooth sprawl while the addition of female backing brightens the track with hopefulness. So although CYHSY’s journey to producing an album as consistent as their debut has been an unsteady one, the band solidifies their antique charms with a refreshed finish on Only Run, as well as their listener’s “renewed sense of optimism.”…8/10