by Safiya Hopfe
VANCOUVER – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah first stole our hearts in 2005 with their self-titled debut, only growing bigger over the years as hits like “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” and “Blue Turning Grey” appeared on movie scores and became near-anthemic to their fans. Now, over a decade later, the band have released their fifth album, The Tourist.
The sound is neither like nor unlike them. Frontman Alec Ounsworth prides himself on aiming for variation when songwriting, and yet there is a distinct structure and dynamic that listeners can continue to recognize the band by. It sounds like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as we know them, and we’ve come to know them well. The patterns heard on The Tourist are as apparent as the vivid variation. Tracks like “Better Off” pay clear homage to their signature style, percussively and lyrically. “A Chance to Cure” sounds a little like Hail to the Thief, and “The Vanity of Trying” incorporates a melodic progression reminiscent of The National. Some of the album’s edgier songs might even remind one of Spencer Krug of Moonface and Wolf Parade. The Tourist manages to blend, experiment and dabble, all while remaining consistent.
After all, it is Ounsworth’s intention to both honour himself artistically and to continue evolving. “From one album to the next I’ve never set out to do what I did on the last,” he says. “I make a conscious effort to try not to repeat myself, from one album to the next. I can’t believe it when I hear a band that makes an album and then makes the next album and it basically sounds more or less exactly the same. That, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense, except maybe from a marketing point of view. To me, you’ve sort of got to stay on your toes. If you’re bored on stage, it’s going to come off. One of the reasons I took a relatively long break between the second and third album, I found it to be a little taxing and I didn’t care to be dishonest in front of people. So I needed to take some time off to figure out how to be…how to like it again.”
Out of convenience, the band started out playing in New York, a city with no shortage of variety and venues, nor a shortage of critique and diverse tastes. After all this time, engagement with audiences has come to mean much more than recognition. As a matter of fact, Ounsworth refers to recognition as the “icing on the cake.” As the band’s audience has become “more cult-ish and refined,” according to him, this interaction has come to mean something much more intuitive and has led him to redefine success. To Ounsworth, this concept simply translates into finishing a record and being able to declare with pride that he has done everything he can do.
For him, writing music seems to depend a lot on authenticity, honesty, and laying all of his cards out. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, and I’ve been writing songs for 20, so I’m just used to doing it in when I have something I need to say,” Ounsworth says. “If you don’t really have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all. I think for this particular one I had something to kind of get off my chest, and that’s often how the albums come about. That’s how the first album happened, and kept going for the five.”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah perform March 18 at the Imperial (Vancouver)