Over And Over Again

Nine years is like a century in the Internet era but that is how long ago Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the American indie band, which is mainly based in Brooklyn, New York, created a ripple when it burst upon the music scene without the help of a record label, an agent or any other facilitator.

CYHSY, as they’re known in short form, released their self-titled first album as a completely DIY project, aided only by a virtual buzz by fans, bloggers and websites. That buzz got deafeningly loud in indie music fans’ circles; the band’s first album became a hit; and critics sat up and took notice.

WATCH: Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah

That was in 2005. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the album, was sonically what you’d classify as art-rock – experimental, form-shifting, genre-hopping and, best of all, an album that you knew the band probably had as much fun putting together as you had when you heard it. Frontman Alec Ounsworth and his bandmates made art-rock, which can be notoriously self-indulgent and abstruse, instantly accessible, danceable and hummable too. It helped that Ounsworth had a medium-pitched voice that warbled with nervous excitement but exuded a pop-like happiness even when he sang about his deepest thoughts.

That first album with memorable songs such as Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away, The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth and Details of the War, was hailed as one of the finest in the music world and the band instantly got touted as one of the hottest ensembles to look out for. In the next few years CYHSY released two more albums – Some Loud Thunder (2007) and Hysterical (2011) – but although they were well received, they never really created the sensation that their debut DIY album had done.

In between those releases, Ounsworth did some solo work – his 2009 album Mo Beauty is like a CYHSY album with a couple of standout tracks – the low-key Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans) and the percussive South Philadelphia (Drug Days) are ones I like. Then, I gathered that four of the six-member band had quit in the past couple of years, reducing CYHSY to a duo with only Ounsworth and the drummer Sean Greenhalgh.

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Then, just as people were writing their obit, the band resurfaced and this year, in June, CYHSY as a duo dropped their fourth studio album, Only Run. Ounsworth and his remaining band-member do multiple duties on the album, which unlike CYHSY’s earlier ones, has a lot more keyboard use, synth lines and, in general, more polish than those earlier ones.

To some, that may be a disappointment. Or not. Only Run has interesting collaborators – one track has The National’s Matt Berninger doing a stunning cameo reminiscent of his band’s early albums such as Boxer and Alligator; on another, we discover the Canadian DJ and turntablist, Kid Koala’s contribution.

When I first heard CYHSY, their sound seemed very familiar yet new. Here’s why: on their early albums you discovered the influence of a rash of earlier bands on CYHSY – ranging from older ones such as Joy Divison, The Clash and Talking Heads, to relatively newer indie bands. Yet, Ounsworth and his band managed never to sound like a derivative of those. They had their own sound, characterised mainly by Ounsworth’s singular vocal style. On Only Run, the band sounds more evolved and sophisticated, though, interestingly, it is self-produced like their first album (the second and third had outside producers) but the CYHSY’s trademark – that of springing sonic surprises – remains intact.

If you’ve ever travelled on the New York subway then Moon Hooch’s rock-infused jazz music may seem familiar because it sounds as if they’re playing in an underground tunnel – in fact, the band says it plays ‘cave music’. Moon Hooch began as buskers in the NYC subway system and in front of the city’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art before being talent-spotted and then landing gigs opening for bigger bands. A record deal followed and their self-titled first album, Moon Hooch, which has 14 upbeat tracks, showcases their trademark sound: jazz with rock and dance music influences, all of it delivered by way of two saxophonists and a drummer. It’s a lively affair Moon Hooch’s music, instantly accessible and guaranteed to raise your spirits – jazz-rock-soul fused to make an exuberant cocktail. For a taste, head over to their Bandcamp page (moonhooch.bandcamp.com).

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