Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bestest of 2005 #2: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah s/t

Whenever we hear someone say "dude, its all about the music, man," we kind of have to laugh a little bit. Since when has rock, especially "indie" rock, EVER been "all about the music?" In most cases, "it" has very little to do with the music, or at least has equally to do with style, time, place, press, marketing, and whatever else goes into our decisions to buy certain records and not buy others. Of course the music matters, it matters a lot, but so does the seemingly extraneous context in which a band gets a break, releases an album, or plays a show. Even if we don't realize it, things other than music affect whether and how much we like particular songs, bands and albums, and they do so to a greater degree than most musicians and critics are willing to admit. Can you tell me that Velvet Underground would be as famous as they are if they didn't hang around Andy Warhol at the Factory, or that Nirvana would have made it as big if they weren't from Seattle, or that you wouldn't have liked that Maximo Park show any less if you hadn't been on a hot date that night? Of course not.

Case in point this year was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They self released their debut album, effectively sticking it to the man and sending a warm message to bands everywhere that they can spread the word and even make a little money these days without the support of ANY record label at all. Another significant thing CYHSY did was negotiate an unprecedented distribution deal directly with Warner Music's ADA distribution, the first of its kind that the company had ever done. Oh and another thing, this band got indie street cred faster than just about any other band in history. All the hipster blogs raved about them, the Williamsburg kids raved about them, Other Music ordered a bunch of CDs, Pitchfork gave them a 9.0 review, and the rest was history. Not to mention the fact that their sold out Gypsy Tea Room performance last fall was one of the most exciting concerts Dallas saw in 2005, even if the band was less than spectacular in its performance. So to put it mildly, this band had all the cards stacked in their favor a pretty long time before most people (even your hip ass) heard one note of their music. How were people not going to love them? And although the quality of the album warranted the hype, we couldn't help but speculate how much the hype machine influenced our love for this band, not to mention that of the mostly brainless Urban Outfitters army that embraced them with open arms. While its clear that all this excitement certainly influenced our experience with this record in some way, its also clear that the music might not have even needed the big push that it got, because it completely stands on its own.

If you forget the first song, you'll notice that this record flows seamlessly from one track to the next, even in places where the pace and feel of one song differs greatly from the next. "In This Home on Ice" was one of the best songs of 2005, recalling the Talking Heads and padding that sound with a burst of emotion and energy not unlike that heard in most songs performed by their other closest reference point, Neutral Milk Hotel. "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" was also one of the best songs of 2005, and featured what was probably one of the year's best bass lines. All throughout the album, manic vocals and cryptic lyrics met with tight instrumentation and melancholy pop hooks that always seemed to counter the band's darker aspects with a sense of joy that added even another layer to the record's complexity. And although all the other blogs said pretty much the same thing, we really did hear it too, and we really did like it just as much. Not to mention the fact that, as discussed above, the band was as good of a story as it was a listen, making the whole thing a little more exciting. Context does matter, and these guys were in the middle of a quite fortuitous set of circumstances. But the record convinced us not to be so cynical, and that indie hype might still, after all, only come as the result of a band being pretty damn good to begin with. Heres to hoping that its at least "kind of about the music, dude."


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