Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder

some loud thunder clap your hands say yeah

Some Loud Thunder stands inevitably up against the hype surrounding Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut, a following based on that helpful friend word-of-mouth, and the wonder that is the Internet. As such, their sophomore album falls upon the eager ears of many ready to be grabbed by the throat and flung into the dreamy, strange world that leader Alec Ounsworth oversees.  His voice, that unmistakable wail, leapt out of the first album and dove into my ear, rattling those little bones in there with the funny names.  The rest of the band chimed in with some catchy, excellent tunes and I was a fan.  With this new album I was ready to again fall victim to that whiney leader, but spent most of the listen waiting for that to happen. Some Loud Thunder has some quality songs by a band we like, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed as I waited and waited for that shrill siren song to lure me into the world I was used to.  Whereas with the first disk of songs each seemed to begin something immediately engaging, this new set seem more like endings.  They don’t build up to the same level of dancy excitement, and most drift into repetitive, sleepy noise with their endings.  Maybe these new tracks should be seen as counterparts to the others, the first set the energetic cries of “Here we are, we’re a new band that’s awesome,” versus “Hey, we’re a band, and we have some more songs here.”

So while I spent the whole listen yearning to help Ounsworth break out of the plastic bag it felt like he was stuck in, this lack of my usual focus led to a better consideration of what everyone else was doing.  Thusly, the album got a little friendlier to me after a few tries, the first one being admittedly tainted with the aforementioned vocal disappointment. I do like the song Emily Jean Stock, which is conveniently their first single.  Although not free from the muted and haze-covered feel that the album contains, it still manages to rock the house somewhat.  It starts out with a sort of 60’s, hippie happy song feel, which is soon interspersed with a little noise experimentation and our familiar backup moans. What I like about this song though is really only a reminder of the yearning I have for them to burst out of their shells, because at the line “Come along now now now now now now/ Don’t think on an offer that you can’t refuse/ Yesterday’s not quite the same let’s make it plain/ There are things that I can do,” Ounsworth suddenly lets out that sick-cat screech and after waiting for it like I have it really makes my enjoyment boil.

Overall I’ll admit that my reception of this album was tainted by antcipation, but then again how could it not be?  Perhaps the real question is: How might I have reacted if instead this album sounded exactly the same as their first?  Lyrically, Some Loud Thunder seems to contemplate these same issues of quick popularity, the resulting expectation, and the enormously daunting task that surely is following that up. At some points, Ounsworth can be found contemplating his own voice as something that people actually care about, and are listening to for some reason.  On the title track he admits to the awkwardness that is the result of sudden adoration with “All this talking/ you’d think I’d have something to say.” Also he addresses the odd responsibility that is knowing others are listening attentively in “Yes that was me digging holes for all the world to see.”  Of course I could be wrong entirely, because the lines on these tracks are certainly not free of the ever-cryptic artist’s license, and these boys do weave some interesting lines. What I do know is that while overall he may be confused about himself, and the band their newfound esteem and its place in this mystifying music scene, I can help you out my friends.  What we want to hear is some loud thunder. Heh.

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna_cover

On this their eighth album, it’s time for Of Montreal to get funkified. And with a name like Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? it has to be good. While their lyrics can be either cryptic, straightforward, or downright bizarre, compelling poetics and Kevin Barnes, the main dude, are no strange bedfellows. And what would one expect, with such mind-affectingly compelling influences as drug use and fucked up relationships?

As an Of Montreal album, Hissing Fauna ropes us in, as ever, with the booginess and catchiness that is the band’s sound, characteristics that send the listener to a happy place where dance parties abound. However, this joy comes not without its price, for upon closer listen, the lyrics are sad, shocking, disturbing, and a strange contrast from the mood you just thought you had been encouraged toward. One soon finds themselves, toe tapping all the while, in a world of depressing self-loathing (because sometimes kids, self-loathing can be quite the time!), obsession with past mistakes, and general shittiness. Amazingly, at any given point the words may be saying “Life is fucking fucked up,” while the tunes say “Let’s get funky.” This leaves you with a strange sort of optimism despite the fact that you’ve just listened to a troubled soul both dramatically and poignantly pour his heart out.

The first track “Suffer for Fashion” certainly meets this description. The album opens with an immediately catchy glam jam that also manages to be a downer. While the cooing baby “Laa laa laas” asks us to remember the innocence of childhood, Barnes quickly turns up the pace of life and throws the audience speeding through middle-aged turmoil. This song could be loads of fun on the psychedelic dance floor, but doesn’t so much back that up theme-wise with inspirational words. Barnes sends out wailing calls of action, backed by snappy violins zings and high keyboard bangings. The man-made Xanadu dance sounds combined with his layered wailing seems to be a cry for help, or to join him in action. “Let’s go along a journey kids, let’s listen to my very personal, very introspective album.”

We go even further with “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” which my God is catchy. My foot shakes furiously each and every time I have a listen. The opening sounds sort of like that of the beloved classic “Barbie Girl,” and it seems like we might be going on a delightful romp through Happytimeville, but we will soon be beaten down and away from these ill-informed notions. For a while the song conjures up the image of a carefree frolic on the mountains of a sunny afternoon, or a gay romp on a summer’s day, until those pesky lyrics remind us of the plights of the world. But then our dear friend “chemicals” comes barging in, and we don’t really know what to make of him. Drug fueled trips though fun and flighty lands can be an escape from one’s own mind, or the use of chemicals can be a delving even further into it. “Though I picked the thorny path myself, I’m afraid, afraid of where it leads” While our carefree world has been created through the mood that this song conveys, and we are reveling in it, Barnes is right there to question our enjoyment of such moments. Is the use of chemicals something that serves as an escape, so that we may create for ourselves a bit of time in this world that we may enjoy, or does the use of dangerous drugs actually send the mind further out into the journeys of madness? Barnes would seem to claim the former as he asserts “cause my own inner cosmology has become too dense to navigate.” We’re given a straightforward picture or idea of the strange trips this man has been going on, but personally are having the time of our lives on the dance floor.

With the songs on Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? Of Montreal creates beats and sounds that are engaging and joyful, while at the same time discussing topics that are somber, self-concerned, drug-fueled, and hideously depressing. Are we to come way after a listen feeling that all pursuits are hopelessly tainted by the pain of the past, the only lessons of which give us a grand fear in facing the present and future? Perhaps the high state that our spirits are kept in musically serves as the very “chemical” that will allow us to go on. The feelings are there and out in the open, but we can’t despite ourselves wretch away from the good-time parts. Those are the drugs in our life that serve as hope, are hope, and give us a reason to keep on going. Therefore, this is a good album.

Oh, the here’s the best line ever “Physics makes us solids bitches” (or is it “Physics makes us all its bitches?”).

ZZ Top for President

zz-top

With everyone from the Terminator to Al Franken turning to politics, I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more celebrities joining the ranks of the politically-inclined. There are the obvious options, the ones that I might actually vote for, like that lovable George Clooney and that sort-of-lovable Oprah Winfrey, but I’m more interested in what will happen when completely ridiculous people start to run. I guess Jesse Ventura falls into that category, but my real point is, I want ZZ Top to run. Yes, I know there’s three of them, but if a solo artist can compete against a band in the Grammies, it can work in politics.

Think of it! Whenever things looked bleak for the U.S., they’d wow us with a costume change, something furry, no doubt, to match their fur guitars. If some foreign country was acting the fool, we’d simply send the Top over to perform a synchronized dance number that involves spinning their guitars, and North Korea or whatever would be so enraptured with the sheer beauty (not to mention the beards) that they’d immediately stop being assholes.

Naysayers may say to me, ‘Nay! ZZ Top couldn’t possibly run for office! They know nothing of politics!’ and, of course, they’d be right. But we all know that brains don’t win elections, that it’s all about looks and charisma. And not only do ZZ Top have pretty much a stranglehold on charisma (if you don’t believe me, check out the way girls respond to their manly-yet-sensitive style and classic cars, as seen in any of their music videos), clearly, they are sharp dressed men. Plus, in at least one of their fine music videos, they are clearly seen to disappear into thin air. This power could come in very handy in assassination situations.

Plus, there’s that song about pearl necklaces. Ha ha, pearl necklace.