Sophomores, all: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Arcade Fire
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SONIC REDUCER O brother, where art thou, blog-worthy, buzz-besieged bands? Whither the classes of 2004 and '05? As memory fades and fads pass, the Klaxons and Beirut had best look to the respective fates of Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, both of which have spawned second albums at a time when Britney Spears's postpartum-postbreakup cue-ball cutes (uh, was she actually a musician, mommy?) score almost twice as many hits as Beyoncé or any ole artist who has actually issued fresh tracks in the last four years. How has blogosphere-borne hypey held up? Can the viral gospel survive, with or without fast-buck comps with the word "Hitz" in their titles? (Was I dozing through Now That's What I Call Indie! Vol. 23?) Was there any substance to the sound of the mid-'00s when it comes to Arcade Fire and CYHSY two indie taste sensations that musically mimed Talking Heads and, in their number, resembled villages more than singular villains? Can they bring sexy back sonically, even though they never bumped billiard balls with the naked-noggined queen of pop?
From the sound of the last CYHSY show I caught at the Warfield, the PhillyNew York sprawl seemed well on its way to sell-out-by staleness. Out were the frothy, Afropop-derived David Byrneing campfire rhythms. Enter monotonous, monochromatic indie rock.
Yet although CYHSY's new (and still bravely self-released) 'un, Some Loud Thunder, peters to a dull roar by the time "Five Easy Pieces" rolls around, the full-length still impresses with its sense of aural experimentation. Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann throws fuzz, shmutz, and the noise equivalent of cat fur and tumbleweed over the proceedings, futzing the opening, title track into a cunning combo of foregrounded murk and tambourine-shimmy clarity. CYHSY cut through the fog of pop with the dissonance-laced sweetness of a cockeyed, choral "Emily Jean Stock" and the Dylanishly titilutf8g manifesto tease of "Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?" Some Loud Thunder is a freakin' busy record with the emphasis happily on the freak and it's almost as if CYHSY were trying to reach beyond the easy, cumbersome cool of their name (always suspected to be a major part of their appeal) and toward, hoo-boy, depth. Too bad the lyrics aren't often up to the musical intrigue on such songs as "Satan Said Dance" and "Goodbye to Mother and the Cove," making CYHSY sound like the E.E. Cummingses of indie, for whatever that's worth. "Gravity's one thing and / Gravity's something but / How about coming down ...," Alec Ounsworth whinnies. "Weird but you're back talking." Wonderfully weird, yes, though is it unfair to ask if you have anything to say?
Back also, in priestly black, are Arcade Fire, who have plenty to tell in the three years since Funeral was unveiled. Amid the majestic choral sheen, synth pop flock, and Tijuana brass of their new album, Neon Bible (Merge), Win Butler and party have unearthed and dusted off the lost threads of connection between the teary tough-guy sentimentality of Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison, the jittery junked-up teardrops of "Little Johnny Jewel" and Suicide, and the quavering, coaguutf8g pop syrup of the Cure and OMD. Arcade Fire have crawled through a creaky, darkened looking glass and found a lost, perhaps losing world populated with forlorn soldiers, urban paranoiacs, rough water, guiding lights, lions and lambs, and idling vehicles.
Cloaked in increasingly trad folk and '80s pop-song structures, engineering by Markus Dravs (Björk) and Scott Colburn (Sun City Girls), and contributions by members of Calexico, Wolf Parade, and Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire thankfully put lyrical clichés to work during Neon Bible's clamorous service, to the end of genuine storytelling. They're preaching the gospel of transcendence through music and art something that now seems unique to rock, in contrast to rap questioning a holy war in "Intervention" ("Working for the church while my family died / Your little sister is going to lose her mind / Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home / Hear the soldier groan / He'll go it alone") and the god-fearing hysteria of "(Antichrist Television Blues)" ("Don't want to work in a building downtown / I don't know what I'm going to do / Because the planes keep crashing, two by two"). Arcade Fire are far from the first to fire artful shots in response to wartime, but Neon Bible as bold and beautiful, as hysterical and hopeful, as corny and acute as a rockin' soap opera or Jesus Christ Superstar feels like the best album of 2007 so far. *
June 12, 8 p.m., $31.50
UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.
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