w/the National, Talkdemonic
Thurs Sept 29, Crocodile,
9 pm, $10 adv/$12 DOS.
w/M83, the National, John Vanderslice, others
Sat Oct 1, Neumo's, 6 pm,
$20 adv (KEXP benefit).
Early this summer, word spread among the musical elite about a Brooklyn/Philadelphia quintet called Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. If you happened to hear of them, it wasn't because of a premeditated industry hype so often compartmentalized into neat little press kits. Nor was it the result of a hard-working PR agency's guerrilla marketing campaign. No, CYHSY, who have shipped over 25,000 copies of their debut disc since July, have done so organically. In what's been deemed a refreshing turn of events, CYHSY's music has been forced to speak for itself. The band have no label and only recently began working with a publicist. They've never even been on tour before.
"I think a lot of people are intrigued by the same thing," says CYHSY frontman Alec Ounsworth of the band's grassroots success. "I guess they think there's something sort of ostensibly virtuous about it all. Frankly, I don't think people wanna be hearing about it all the time."
From their earliest gigs in New York, CYHSY's reputation was solidly built by word-of-mouth, which lead to moderate Internet and local press coverage before they even released their record. But it wasn't until June, when online snarks Pitchforkmedia.com bestowed the finished product with a 9.0 review (for the uninitiated, 10.0 reviews are reserved for "legendary" records), that they became a sensation akin to Arcade Fire.
"I gotta say I didn't know Pitchfork at all before this," says Ounsworth. They were responsible for getting a wider number of people into us. I can't help but be thankful for it."
In addition, heavy rotation from KEXP's John Richards, who also chose the band to perform as part of his John in the Morning at Night KEXP benefit, helped expand their national audience. "It was June when we first put them on the air," says Richards. "I had been hearing about them for months before that from our listeners in the Brooklyn area... the kind of 'You have to see/hear this band' reaction that we had with the Arcade Fire and the Wrens. [There was] total and complete listener reaction from the get-go."
According to their publicist, Ken Weinstein, CYHSY's success is something truly cosmic. "The buzz has really come from this very rare connection their music has with people almost instantaneously," he says. "That's the only thing I can attribute it to."
Formed just over a year ago, CYHSY took shape when Ounsworth first met guitarist Lee Sargent while the two were living in Cambridge, MA. Before splitting for their respective home cities (Sargent is from Brooklyn, Ounsworth from Philly), Ounsworth passed along a batch of demos. Sargent's interest was piqued by what he heard and soon his twin brother, bassist Tyler, was recruited, along with drummer Sean Greenhalgh. Multi-instrumentalist Robbie Geurtin later entered to round out the band.
Recorded in Providence, RI, and Brooklyn, CYHSY's debut is remarkably rich for such a green band. Opener "Clap Your Hands!" introduces Ounsworth as David Byrne rallying boozy pirates for a sing-along. The album then gives way to the throbbing new wave of "Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away." "Over and Over Again (Lost & Found)" introduces Ounsworth's singular vocals, with their yawning vowels ("Liiiiight another fiiiiiiiire/and watch it slooowly diiiiiiiiiie"), while on "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" he approaches a paranoid trill, like a frantic Tom Verlaine. All along, Sargent's guitar warbles with vintage Isaac Brock noodling. Ultimately, it's "This Home on Ice" and "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood" where the band shines. With shimmering guitars and throbbing bass recalling the Cure's most climactic moments, CYHSY end the album with infectious pop songs built for continuous replay. As an epic album closer, "Young Blood," builds and pulsates before being abruptly cut mid-note, forcing the listener into demanding more.
Now on their rookie tour with the National, it's doubtful CYHSY will extinguish the blaze they started. Most likely, they'll serve it a huge spray of lighter fluid. But Ounsworth does express reservations about CYHSY's overnight success. "You see those movies where folks are drifting down some sort of calm stream and then they see the waterfall come and they try scrambling to the shore. Sometimes they go over and maybe it turns out okay. This is kind of like the waterfall," he says, laughing: "Oh God, that sounds like I just smoked a huge joint!"