Some Thunder, But Too Much Lightning

Fancy overproduction nearly sinks blog-rock's gawky golden boys

Yeah, it's supposed to sound that way. "Some Loud Thunder," the title track off CYHSY's sophomore release, is a fun, crisp pop song—all hand claps and cowbells and jangly guitar—fed through a haze of radio static, like it's crackling between AM channels on a long drive through the desert. A nostalgic gesture, I guess. But it's also hard not to be skeptical. This is a band that emerged in 2005 as though genetically engineered in some East Village basement to generate blogger appeal. Their first, self-titled disc was packed with all the hippest rock references—Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.-—but instead of being angular and crisp, those influences sounded as if they'd been left out in to the sun too long and melted into something warped and druggy. Frontman Alec Ounsworth sang like David Byrne and looked like a waiter at a vegan restaurant; like true hipsters, his band was accelerated and responsive, a psychedelic amoeba consuming rock idioms and excreting catchy little bits of digested zeitgeist. Take Thunder's dance-punk confection "Satan Said Dance," which wraps its pumping beat and twitchy chants in a swarm of electronic squiggles, belches, and bleeps, a rapturous sound that nonetheless sounds absolutely redolent of the Rapture. On top of all this, they had a silly name, and enough "DIY integrity" to flatten a polar bear. If they didn't happen to be so good, CYHSY would've been a pretty ingenious bit of meta-parody. As it stood, they were that rare rock item: a postmodern band that seemed to be genuinely, excitingly weird.

Applaud & Concur
photo: Steve Double
Applaud & Concur

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Some Loud Thunder
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Sadly, knob-twiddling wooze-hound Dave Fridmann makes them sound very aware of all this on Thunder—the producer's atmospheric flourishes have always been heavy handed, but here they muddle tightly conceived pop tunes that would've sounded better scrappy. Too often, there's simply not enough of the band in the mix. What the record does have, though, is a collection of truly great melodies, and when the music focuses directly on them—meditating on simple chords—that new sense of sound and space offers moments of pure euphoria. "Emily Jean Stock" finds Ounsworth's strangled yelp riding the crest of a gorgeous Technicolor harmony, and the sub-aquatic "Five Easy Pieces," ripe for a Cameron Crowe love scene, is an equally beautiful bit of cycling mist. Time for a new producer. Two words: Danger Mouse.

 
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