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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Defy Time, Drop Introspective Charmer ‘Only Run’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: June 03, 2014
Label: Xtra Mile

Its been nearly 10 years since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah lit the budding “blogosphere” on fire with their self-titled debut, becoming an overnight lightning rod for the current state of how music is made, distributed, and consumed. They were the original Lana Del Rey: Whether you loved them or hated them, everybody had an opinion on the little five-piece from Brooklyn. Strip all that away and you’re still left with a band that made a fantastic debut album. But unlike other acts that were starting to ride the digital buzz wave—Arcade Fire, the National, Arctic Monkeys to name a few—their popularity tapered off over the years. Maybe it was 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, a lackluster follow-up that was probably doomed by expectations from the get go. Or maybe it was a lack of focus, with band members dabbling in other musical endeavors, including frontman Alec Ounsworth’s “solo” effort, 2009’s Mo Beauty, recorded with the Meters’ George Porter Jr., Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, and keyboardist Robert Walter. Whatever the reason, in just four years Clap Your Hands Say Yeah felt like yesterday’s news, a one-and-done band that had a great year and made us all hate the word “buzz.”

But over the last three years, the band rebooted, starting with 2011’s Hysterical, which felt like an attempt to capture the immediate, dance-funk fueled vibe their debut excelled at. Now they’re back with fourth album Only Run, their most eccentric, diverse sounding record to date.

The band is essentially just Ounsworth these days. He’s still got that hyper-nasally voice, and over the course of nine songs it’s just as tough to make out what he’s saying as it has been in the past. The first listen isn’t that great. There’s distracting little voice recordings that open up a handful of songs; at times, the drums sound a bit too high in the mix; and “Coming Down,” a duet featuring the National’s Matt Berninger, is probably one of the oddest vocal pairings you’ll hear all year.

But if you dig deeper into Ounsworth’s lyrics, the songs take on a deeper meaning. Only Run is largely about feeling lost, whether in our own hyper-savvy world or amidst our loved ones. Highlights include the guitar-driven opener “As Always,” where he confesses to being “too weak to fake it,” and the twinkling, synth-driven “Little Moments,” a slow, tender song that ruminates on the passing of time. But the best example of where Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are these days comes toward the end, on the upbeat eighth track “Impossible Request,” as Ounsworth passionately sings, “It was a stranger put me here, and in a way I’m at the mercy of a stranger again to take me away.” The song is filled with tension and hope, and Ounsworth’s voice is full of longing. It’s this yearning that animates Only Run, and it’d be easy to assume it’s a commentary about the band’s past, but Ounsworth isn’t that guy. The album is about what we all struggle with: finding meaning in our daily lives and hoping regret doesn’t get in the way.