Alternative Elite: Clay Your Hands. Say Yeah

Let us all now raise our collective hands to the sky and praise the Great Spirit. We will no longer be force-fed NSYNC, Aaron Carter (cue the groundbreaking, pioneering smash “That’s How I Beat Shaq”), or vomit-inducing collaborations between Ja Rule and J.Lo. The Dark Ages, for the most part, are over. Thanks to the revolutionary rise of the internet, widespread file-sharing, and MP3 blogs, independent music has finally found a way to reach the iPod-toting masses, creating a powerful, hither-to unheard of avenue of exposure. Enter Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a Brooklyn quintet who has accomplished the Indie music equivalent of a moon landing. Formed in 2003, the band began playing shows and generating enormous amounts of local buzz, packing clubs and venues within months. The band, which repeatedly refused to reveal any specific influences to their unique and refreshing sound in numerous interviews, can best be described as a cross-section between alternative legends Talking Heads and Neutral Milk Hotel. The latter’s 1998 release, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, is cited as one of the finest Alternative albums of the past decade. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah refused to remain a local phenomenon for long. With the creation of their website, coinciding with the online release of a few of their songs, MP3 bloggers and Indie powerhouses like began to bestow hefty quantity of praise to the band. Soon the songs “In This Home On Ice” and “Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood” became fixtures of any respectable Indie snob’s hard drive. By the time their self-titled debut was released in the summer of 2005, the hype surrounding the band had grown to gigantic proportions. The self-released album sold out of its first pressing without support, promotion, or distribution from any record label, as the band did not have a contract with any sort of label, major, independent, or otherwise. To keep up with the demand, the band released pressings after pressings, each one selling out instantly. As a result, the members of the band, who had previously been packaging, sealing, postmarking, and shipping the album from their Brooklyn apartment, decided to hire a distribution company. Despite this tiny sacrifice, the band is still making around four dollars every time a copy of the record is sold, a goliath figure when compared to the eighty-something cents a major-label act receives for each CD sold. Fast-forward to the present: January 2006. The band has sold (upon current count) about 40,000 copies of their album independently, appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in December, was the subject of a major story on National Public Radio, and made dozens of year-end “best of” lists. Undoubtedly, this is immense hype for a Do-it-Yourself band like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The question that, without doubt, is restlessly lingering in the reader’s mind must be: “Well Jeezy-Creezy, is it really that good?” The Short Answer? Yes, it is. When I first heard this band, I’ll be honest, I was not the least bit hooked. I had heard a whole hell of a lot of buzz. When I finally visited their official website and listened to the MP3s provided, my life, sadly, was not changed. The sound was intriguing and innovative, certainly, but it also felt very awkward, and Alec Ounsworth’s trembling, bizarre vocal performances did not initially connect with me. Yet, first impressions can never reveal the full breadth and essence of an album’s core, and when I decided to dig up the few CYHSY MP3s hibernating on my iPod a few months later, I was blown away. The melodies are very strong, and the diverse array of instruments used (like, say, a toddler’s chiming plastic piano) are the perfect touch to the album’s distinct tone. Although difficult and distant at first, with every listen, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah becomes more and more comfortable and familiar. Standouts like “Over & Over Again (Lost & Found)” and “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” circle through your consciousness days after listening to them. These guys deserve every word of praise given to them. With the release of this album, Indie music and culture will be forever revolutionized. Finally, a band can achieve widespread recognition without compromising a fraction of artistic imagination, integrity, and independence. Thanks for breaking down the door, gentlemen.