Escaping your past is something that a lot of bands seem to be attempting this year. You have bands Japandroids and Animal Collective who’ve come to terms with their current standings and have found a place of calm, and then you have bands like Cloud Nothings and Foxygen who’s latest releases have them messily fighting everything that made them who they are.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sadly belong in the later category. Their newest release, The Tourist, has lone original member Alec Ounsworth attempting to move past the band’s tremendous 2005 debut with a more mature record that never quite finds it groove.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, while not the best record there is some things about The Tourist that are commendable. Firstly the production is excellent and makes for the most distinct sounding CYHSY record yet. The guitars are punchier and the synths sound heavenly, especially on tracks like ‘Ambulance Chaser’.
Special shout outs are also in order for the drumming on ‘The Vanity of Trying’ and ‘Better Off’ which adds so much to both songs and becomes one of the most charming parts of the whole album. Even the quieter cuts like ‘Loose Ends’ sound better than ever and provide a good template for what the band should strive for sonically in the future.
However, outside of the production the album never really moves the listener one way or the other, instead aiming to be as passable as possible. Ounsworth has never been a great songwriter, but that hasn’t really mattered before since the band’s youthful energy carried even the weakest of songs. But a decade later that energy is gone and all that’s behind is some bland songs about soul searching.
Sure, the subject matter brings out some gems, especially on the final two songs, but overall it’s just the most basic songwriting possible with lines about “beating around the bush” and a “past on fire” that read more like childish journal entries than a song written by a grown man.
It’s clear that Ounsworth is trying to move the band to a new direction with a more introspective lyrical path but he just doesn’t seem up to really trying and that causes the words to show their age.
Vocally Ounsworth is sounding of age too, his once fun loving sound now comes across as raspy and weird. This is especially true on ‘Ambulance Chaser’ which contains parts where Ounsworth yelps in gibberish – we are supposed to find it moving but instead it just comes across as hilarious.
If the same level of care had been given to the lyrics and vocals that went into the production this would have been a much better listening experience. But what we have now is just another CYHSY release that tries too hard to escape what made the band so fun and unique a decade ago. If they want to continue the band should refine not run from their past, because it’s the only way they’ll have a future.
The Tourist is out now.