Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s most recent album, Only Run,opens with quiet tremolo picking played through a wide flanger—fitting for an album whose cover image is a blurry, over-exposed shadow. One wonders if CYHSY has chosen to move on from the catchy, indie-pop style that made their self-titled, self-released debut an internet sensation back in 2005.

The first four or five songs leave the listener in limbo. Yes, these are the same catchy melodies, layered on top of one another to build into danceable anthems, but synths take the role that clean guitars once held in CYHSY. If it isn’t the same band, it’s at least a tasteful and intriguing re-imagining. The synth’s garbled singing does well to complement the tin-pan timbre of singer and lead songwriter Alec Ounsworth. This dip into electronica is furthered by the use of drum machines in songs like “Blameless.”

By the title track half way through the album, it becomes clear that CYHSY hasn’t run away from what helped it break through in 2005. Instead, the two remaining band members, Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhalgh (the three other founding members departed before work began on the album), are pushing up against their songwriting techniques—trying to create something new without losing the essence from their initial creative spark. It’s progression. And it works.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Mississippi Studios
Aug 3
“Beyond Illusion,” for example, features a drum machine beat that would fit on a Burial song, and depends on strange, interweaving synth sounds to drive the melodies. Listen closer though. Lying just behind the morphing electronic sounds is a guitar picking through barred chords, just like in 2005’s massively popular “Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Alec Ounsworth at Mississippi Studios
Alec Ounsworth

The next song, “Impossible Request,” returns to acoustic drums and prominently-featured guitar work, but moments of heavily-effected vocals and the constant, amorphous presence of synths continue to hint that Ounsworth has spent the past nine years listening to Boards of Canada and Animal Collective, rather than the indie-pop darlings who rose to popularity alongside CYHSY.

Only Run is sure to please a CYHSY fan who enjoys watching them evolve, but might be underwhelming to the die-hard fan of twee guitar riffs from nine years ago. The jams are in there, though, and an open mind or blank slate could possibly enjoy the album more than those with nine years invested.

[A previous version of this review ran on Exiled in Eugene.]

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