No sooner have I compiled my best of 2006 list with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's stunning self titled debut coming in at number one when it's follow up, slated for a January release, lands in our laps. They say the second album is always the difficult one and this must be made all the more so when your debut received such overwhelming critical acclaim. Some Loud Thunder is certainly not what I was expecting and after the first few listens I was quite disappointed not to be dazzled by the energy that was present on the first album. I would like to tell you that now after about 25 plays it has solidified it's place in my 2007 list but I can't. I am enjoying it a lot more than I was, but there remains a slight whiff of disappointment still.
The structure of the first album was was quite relentless with many high points, few lows, some nicely placed instrumental breathers - all of which culminated in a fantastic finale that just made you want to start the whole thing again. This time it's a different agenda. It's a much more low key affair with really only one obvious peak coming mid way through the album. Most of the songs seem as if they are building to something but never do and while they have virtually abandoned the instrumental fillers they have adopted a slow burning sound that whispers rather than shouts. This new approach at times produces some beautiful moments and really challenges the listener to stick with the program but also makes parts of the album quite laborious.
So, purely on the strength of their debut I have persevered with this one and have come to see it in a new light. Instead of viewing it as the weak follow up to a fluky start I have a sneaky feeling that this is the work of a band that intend to be around for a while. It seems their debut was designed to get our attention and all the praise that this brought has provided them with the creative space to explore new territory. This could be the album that calms things down and eases off on the pace that quite often leads to a bands early demise, or it could be just plain crap. - BC (3 stars)
Some Loud Thunder is by turns intense, moving and powerful. There is barely a bum note on the album and the song writing and music have taken on a depth and scope beyond Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The album sounds quite like a movie sound track in places and a lot of the music often seems very familiar - regularly sounding like a reprise to a track you never heard.
This quality is also it's flaw and the first few tracks sound like a slow building intro into the album, before the remaining tracks quickly sound like tghings are winding down. With the exception of the obvious single Satan Said Dance there is no middle ground on the album and it feels like it is missing it's heart. The album never quite grabs hold of you as a complete piece of work, and it lacks the cohesiveness of the first record. The infectious, awkward quality of their previous effort is also noticeably absent.
The relative lows are no where near as annoying as the ditties on album one, and the album remains almost completely solid in quality - but also lacking in the giddy highs of Yellow Country Teeth, Is This Love, Home On Ice or the countless other peaks on the rollercoast ride of the debut album. Some Loud Thunder's main flaw is in it's pace. Improved track sequencing and editing back of some of the tracks, plus a couple more more tracks would have made this an instant classic, rather than just a solid follow up - CSF (3.5 stars)
Here's a song by song break down:
1 - Some Loud Thunder. The album starts abrubtly, with the band mid-flow and sounding at their most Talking Heads. This seems an odd place to start as it sounds like a mid-album track. This song makes it clear that this isn't going to be an album like the first one. No real chorus to speak of but some nice rhythm and hand claps. Hopefully the shocking sound quality of this track is due to the promo only featuiring a rough mix, that will be improved by January.
2 - Emily Jean Stock. This seems a better place to start but sums up the first half of this record. The whole song seems to brew like it's building up to something but never does, but it has a lot of the harmonies that made the first album so listenable.
3 - Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles In The Air And Burning? A very low key affair and continues the steady build up of the record. It simmers up to mid point then plateaus nicely into a harmony filled home-straight. A bit like a Radiohead b-side, with a few tuning up/washing up sounds.
4 - Love Song No.7 (mp3). The beautiful piano opening of this one mark it pout as a definite highlight. The sparse, atmospheric atmosphere smake sit sound like a love song rising out of the chaos of a sound check.
5 - Satan Says Dance. This is where the album peaks and it's tempo puts the previous songs into context as you realise that everything has been building to this point. It is the one song that recalls their previous work as we are treated to the rolling drum running pace that made the last record so electrifying. They have thankfully updated this format with a myriad of electronic bleeps and tweaks that lay down a rich tapestry of sounds, sounding like tuning up chaos in a kids music class. We get the familiar repeated vocals of and the odd "alright now" which certainly gets the toes a tapping. This song rises like a polished, crisp gem from a murky pool to become the standout peak of this album, and a certain single. "No whips, no chains, just dancing, dancing, dancing". Welcome to Hell.
6 - Upon Encountering The Crippled Elephant. This is the only instrumental ditty here and and makes fine use of the stereo recording format. It's as if you're walking down a deserted street and in the distance a lone figure approaches, as he gets closer you realise he is playing the accordian and you stop and cautiously watch as he passes you by without so much as a glance, then he is off on his way into the distance once more. That is unless he bumps into Damon Albarn and spends the afternoon in an East End music hall.
7 - Goodbye To Mother And The Cove. This is a beautiful song that starts off with a delicate high pitch plucking and ever so slowly builds. Sounding like a reprise to earlier themes, the vocals are dripping with melancholy and help to gently carry the tune to the military drum finale.
8 - Arm And Hammer. The acoustic strumming structure of this song never seems to go anywhere and the vocals jar more than ever making this one of the weakest tracks, which should probably have been relegated to b-side status.
9 - Yankee Go Home. The free-wheeling of the first album is a distant memory on this methodical and well-planned track. The first of several finales.
10 - Underwater (You And Me) (mp3). This could be the closing credits to a film. The pounding drum beat gives the mood a light feel and never changes all the way through. It is accompanied by a floating bass line and clanging bells that have cropped up frequently throughout the album, again echoing the idea of reprise and themes of retreat. Sadly it's not the final track as it's monotony seems to draw things to a close nicely.
11 - Five Easy Pieces. The monotony is continued however here on the album closer. An acoustic structure this time provides the background to the reverb-heavy distant vocals that wine and wail and threaten never to stop. They are punctuated every now and again by the gloriously dreamy bass line that really makes this song a fine one to bring things to a close.