It doesn't get more "indie" than the self-released success of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Want to challenge a music writer? Then request an accurate portrayal of the musical bounty that is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The Brooklyn rock quintet's output begs for description by way of an overused, hyphenated combination of influences, but on their debut album, the musical glossary at listeners' disposal is bewildering.
In one song, Kinks-ish '60s psych-pop reigns, and in the next, a half Built To Spill, half Modest Mouse guitar sound wobbles over a British revival drumbeat. The voice of lead singer and songwriter Alec Ounsworth bears a decent resemblance to the wail of David Byrne, yet there's more panic and power to his voice, and the songs beneath only slightly resemble Byrne's Talking Heads. No, their style changes every song with shades of bands like The Magnetic Fields, Interpol and The Velvet Underground, yet those comparisons don't strike gold, either. Heck, one song is an organ-driven dirge that makes the group sound like genre-less circus freaks.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah performs at the Gypsy Tea Room on Wednesday, October 12, with The Black Angels and The Hourly Radio.
So I decided to cheat and just ask the lead singer himself. Alec, what's going on?
"Sorry about that," Ounsworth says, a few minutes late for our phone interview. "Was walking around Seattle, and I lost track of time."
Ounsworth, on his first-ever tour, is too busy reflecting on the first break he's had during a nonstop concert-every-night streak to stop and answer my question. It's hard to blame him--the band self-recorded and self-released its self-titled debut only four months ago, only to get swept up in Internet buzz and see their initial CD pressing of 5,000 sell out almost instantaneously. And all without a label? I'd need a break, too.
"The deal was to put this album out and, hopefully, one thing would lead to another, and we'd be signed to a Columbia or a Beggars Banquet or whatever," Ounsworth says. "But it just turns out that these days, that's not as essential as it used to be."
What has followed is a madcap tour that has attracted new fans like David Bowie and Byrne, and at opening gigs for New York's The National, CYHSY saw crowds clear out before the headliners took the stage. That means a lot of critics are talking about the Hands and, in Ounsworth's opinion, getting their sound confused.
"People can speculate all they want [about our influences], and it doesn't really matter to me," Ounsworth says. "They're generally wrong, though."
So come on, Alec. Now's your chance: What do you sound like?
"If anyone ever asks, I usually tell them whatever I was listening to earlier that day." At first, the response seems like a joke, but considering the scope of the band's sound, Ounsworth's answer makes sense. "I'm listening to music all the time."--Sam Machkovech
Franz Ferdinand's Hometown has a surprising rich musical legacy -- and we ain't talkin bagpipes
Glasgow, Scotland, is a well-respected center of music and culture, having birthed such native sons/daughters as Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, the Pastels, Bis, the Delgados and Teenage Fanclub. None of these bands sound alike; the only things they really have in common are critical acclaim and rabid cult followings.
Where do Scot stars Franz Ferdinand fit in? Well, in some ways, they don't. Their self-titled debut sold multiplatinum worldwide. Their follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better, released this week, will probably sell more by itself than the aforementioned bands' entire combined catalogs. But in sound and pedigree, Franz Ferdinand is a Glaswegian band to the core.
Consider their roots. Vocalist Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson spent years on the fringes of the Glasgow scene, hanging around such hallowed dives as Nice 'n' Sleazy and the 13th Note. Kapranos and Thomson were also in a later incarnation of the Yummy Fur, a nervous, raucous band that specialized in catchy chants rife with sarcasm and sexual ambiguity. Neither was a songwriter in that band, but consider how the Yummy Fur approach carries over to "Michael," from Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut, and the new single "Do You Want To": Both are absolutely drenched in libido and innuendo.
Examine the trademark Franz Ferdinand sound, anchored by a jittery, shambling, four-square beat. This rhythm can be traced directly to Postcard Records, a cheeky, early '80s indie label whose flagship bands, Josef K and Orange Juice, crossed the Byrds with wannabe-disco beats. Franz Ferdinand has acknowledged the debt, citing both bands as primary influences, and FF's success has allowed its label, Domino Records, to rerelease archival goodies by OJ and Edinburgh's similarly minded Fire Engines.
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So how has Franz Ferdinand succeeded where its progenitors did not? Perhaps the world has finally caught up to the classic Scottish indie sound. Or perhaps they just sound better-built for stardom--confident, brash and world-beating. So Much Better shouldn't slow them down an iota, adding elements of the Fall ("Evil and a Heathen") and Village Green-era Kinks and Blur ("Eleanor Put Your Boots On," surely about a certain singer from the Fiery Furnaces) to the catchiest parts of their debut. Really, as long as they don't cover "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes anytime soon, the guys in Franz should do just fine. --Mike Appelstein
From The Band comes The Box Set of this season
A Musical History is intended to apply to The Band--not a band, not the bands, but The Band, greatest of all the bands ever to play rock and roll and _______, the space left to allow for every other idiom left. So this box set, then, is bigger than one band, because The Band was bigger than one sound or one man or one country, even; hence the amalgamation of four Canadians and one redneck, who together played with a rockabilly hack from Huntsville, Arkansas, an electrified folkie from Hibbing, Minnesota, and, mostly, with each other till kingdom come and gone in the span of some 15 years. Maybe that's why, two box sets later, still The Band mystifies. Shit's mysterious, all right, but not inaccessible.
This collection, assembled by control freak Robbie Robertson to seal the coffin lest anyone else have final say, consists of some 103 cuts, about a quarter of which haven't been heard by anyone save the men who made it and the bootleggers. So the classic stuff's here, as are the Hawks singles and Dylan doubles (including a live 1973 "Highway 61 Revisited" that tears down the blacktop like a motherfucker) and the triples that could have been homers had they been on better records. (The heretofore unreleased "Smoke Signal" off Cahoots is better than the version on the album, which was probably its best cut to begin with.)
But it's the "song sketches" across five discs that make this thing memorable, if not immortal--these motel-room doodles that play and stay far better than most other acts' recording-studio paintings. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel would splinter off and sing to each other like friends sharing secrets no one was ever meant to hear; or Robertson and Levon Helm, old friends who would become older enemies, hand-jiving an idea out of thin air. You will get lost in this endless journey of music, wandering from cold Canadian nights to bloody Civil War battlefields to late-night poker games with Van Morrison to warm Woodstock afternoons. There's a book here, too, a hardbound history written by the winner--Robertson, interviewed at length, with his former comrades either too stubborn or too dead to respond. And a DVD, also, with concert footage and SNL appearances and other lost-and-found ephemera--all of which is amazing, more so if you close your eyes. --Robert Wilonsky