Alec Ounsworth takes his long-running project in a different direction -- a new branch on a creative tree 12 years in the making.
Twelve years on the Internet is an eternity. When Clap Your Hands Say Yeah first burst onto the scene in 2005, MP3 blogs were all the rage, and major labels were flailing in frustration for the Next Big Thing to save their dying model. CYHSY were among the first wave of bands in the BitTorrent era to eschew that path, building a buzz and eventually selling more than 100,000 records on their own.
From the press they received around their self-titled debut, you'd think they were destined for stadium greatness alongside bands like Arcade Fire. That never quite materialized, but neither did CYHSY implode creatively or sink into the muck of obscurity. Instead, Alec Ounsworth and company forged their own path, one through bold experimentation, disappointing sales, crossover attempts, and band members leaving. Now, only Ounsworth remains. Which isn't a bad thing -- The Tourist is a good record, and this newest iteration of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sounds very promising.
The Tourist reflects the transition from a quintet to a solo project. It's dark and wry. Insular. A statement boldly mumbled, some of which would be barely recognizable to those enthusiastic college students -- now technical project managers and content marketers -- who buoyed CYHSY's early success. Tracks like "The Pilot" and "A Chance to Cure" take on downtrodden tones, Ounsworth's vocals cynical and quiet. Mostly gone is the manic energy of the old days, the jangle of nerves and distorted guitars. Instead, The Tourist provides intense if pop-minded, navel-gazing -- a kindred low-key spirit to Say Hi's moody vampire disco.
That's not to say the party is totally gone. "Fireproof" features some groovy guitar, "Better Off" swells to an anthemic climax, and "Ambulance Chaser" has some major-chord orchestral touches that lighten the mood, but the overall tone is dour, Ounsworth crooning early on "I know better than to think at all / a tough love mother fucker who was a born a clown" and ending the album with approximately the same view of himself.
After previous records, The Tourist feels almost deflated, everything scaled down and pulled in like a ship awaiting a storm. Even the folkier acoustic cuts from previous albums would feel out of place here. Think Some Loud Thunder's "Arm and Hammer" played from behind a screen, the guitar strums dulled, the feedback stripped away. Or think the jangly, harmonica-laden garage rock of "Heavy Metal" with the effects pulled back and the vocals whispered. Ounsworth has always relied on slurred vocals to extend the emotional range of his voice, "Gimme Some Salt" being a great example, but the quality of his voice on The Tourist is different -- more self-conscious mumble. The effect is one of vulnerability, exposure, which is interesting. It's also interesting that the best way to describe these songs are "like earlier songs, but different". That's exactly how The Tourist fits into CYHSY's oeuvre -- precursors exist, but nothing sounds exactly like it, and that's the most exciting part.