Only Run would have been a fitting title for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled 2005 debut, which is (in addition to adored and the shadow in which frontman Alec Ounsworth lives) perfect to run to. It’s so spare and angular that listening to it feels like climbing the scaffolding of an album filled out only by the smeary charms of Ounsworth’s voice and leaving whole great spaces for the listener to inhabit.
The fuzzy logic of this year’s “Only Run” is that burying all the sharp lines and painting over all those blank walls with a thin coat of synth and buzz and drums (that are too high throughout, by the way) will bolster the vocals. But this pairing of fuzzy and bleary just takes away any foothold for the listener. With the exception of a few bright moments, it’s all quite slippery, when clearly the blueprints called for something chic.
This latest album reflects the departure of three-fifths of the original band lineup, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was really always about Alec Ounsworth’s voice. And what a voice it is—its strangeness is everything. It produces kinetic energy and the pops and clicks of a record player. That strangeness, that capacity for hypnosis, is owed in no small part to the juxtaposition of youthfulness and damage that was mirrored perfectly in the stabbing yet rollicking self-titled album that every other album since has been measured against.
This isn’t to say that every track on Only Run is a disappointment, only that the overall success of the album is qualified, and especially so for longtime fans who are inevitably going to hear other, stronger Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tracks in the syrup-soaked vocal twists peculiar to Ounsworth. Newcomers to the band will find a highly listenable, comfortably sloppy outing that pairs well with summer.
Matt Berninger of The National appears on “Coming Down,” producing the meeting of two of the most iconic voices in indie rock today. It’s a bit of an odd outing, though. Kid Koala also seems a little out of place on “Cover Up.” Preview “Little Moments” here for a fun summer jam.