So it goes with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the New York band that became a blogger sensation in 2005 with their self-released, self-titled album that ended up selling over 100,000 copies based almost entirely on Internet buzz. The band smartly placed three of their best songs on their website for download, and folks like me who were caught up in the buzz were able to quickly discern their talent for smart, catchy indie pop. For those who were able to track down a copy (while easy to find now, I had to get the album on back order from InSound in the States), the band’s first album was immensely rewarding, and easily made my Top 10 list for 2005.
And now we get to the turn, where the band’s success gets torn down by legions of indie snobs who get to pretend as if they never even enjoyed the band in the first place. With cries of “they’re a better story than a band” ringing throughout the blogosphere, the backlash is beginning, and with Some Loud Thunder, the band is almost giving it ammunition. That says less about Some Loud Thunder, though, than it does about the 21st century relationship between bands and their audience.
In this age of instant gratification and Internet attention spans, bands are simply not allowed to make transition albums, or significantly depart from their original sound without completely satisfying results, or make anything less than an album equal in quality to their previous work. People simply don’t become emotionally invested in artists and bands anymore; in the Internet age, it’s the music that we love, and don’t dismiss this as just a trivial difference. With so much to listen to available right at our fingertips (and without any financial investment), our patience for following an artist’s journey through missteps, mistakes and growing pains is nearly non-existent. We love the music instead of the band because it’s much easier to break up with the music when it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to.
All of which brings me back to Some Loud Thunder, an album that makes no apologies for its desire to stretch the band’s sound into more complicated soundscapes but only succeeds in making great music roughly half of the time. The architecht of the increased sonics is producer Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, who fills out the band’s streamlined indie pop into something more expansive, instrumental and experimental. And when it works, stunningly wonderful indie pop results: the slow-burning “Goodbye to Mother and the Cove,” the upbeat “Satan Said Dance,” the jangle of “Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?” and the stunning pop beauty of “Underwater (You and Me)” stand equal, if not higher, than the best moments on the band’s debut record.
But there’s also plenty of moments where things don’t go so well. Both the opening title-track and “Arm and Hammer” feature vocals and guitar fuzzed and distorted to the point where the tracks sound like badly ripped MP3s instead of album tracks. There may be two good songs buried here, but you can’t tell because they sound so unbelievably miserable (were these some sort of commentary on the public’s willingness to download poor-sounding MP3s or something? it’s lame regardless). When combined with underwritten material like “Yankee Go Home” and “Love Song No. 7,” Some Loud Thunder ends up being somewhat less-satisfying than its predecessor in spite of its highs.
The material here that works will likely stand the test of time throughout 2007 and end up on many a music fan’s year-end mix tape. The material that doesn’t will be used as justification for absurd proclamations that the band was never all that good to begin with. But while logic would have the first of these truths take precedence, instead it will be the latter as record sales fail to meet the debut’s heights and as the band moves from Internet buzz sensation back to cult favourite. Who has the patience to keep listening these days?