Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is back with their fifth release, The Tourist. Well, Alec Ounsworth is back with his fifth release under the name Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CHYSY,) as he is the only member left in the band. Basically, this album is the sound of one man clapping (and saying yeah.) While the album has some good points, it never really grabs you. I keep thinking of The Tourist as a person. Maybe The Tourist is one of those people you don’t really click with for some reason. It might be his anxiety, it might be yours; even though you share lots of common interests, there’s this disconnect when you try to have a conversation. He throws a Lou Reed “Vicious” reference about hitting with a flower into the conversation (which actually happens on “Better Off,”) but it’s not enough to make up for the lack of chemistry and you need to find an out from this awkward conversation.
The best word to describe this album is jittery. If The Tourist were a person, I picture him as a nervous man, maybe with a nervous tic, dealing with some serious health issues (there’s a theme among the song titles like “Ambulance Chaser” and “Visiting Hours” that point to hospital visits and the lyrics on “A Chance to Cure” place it inside an ambulance.) Much of the nervous sound may come from Ounsworth’s nasally, tenuous voice. The jitters were multiplied both figuratively and literally because Ounsworth’s vocals were doubled but the tracks weren’t always lined up perfectly, creating a trippy effect. “A Chance to Cure” starts off very soft but the computerized noises become dizzying and the vocals become desperate. “Down (Is Where I Want to Be)” starts slightly psychedelic but builds to become nearly frantic.
Not all of the songs are nervous; in fact, the album gets progressively more relaxed after the first few songs. “Unfolding Above Celibate Moon (Los Angeles Nursery Rhyme)” is a lumbering song that sounds like the product of Neil Young joining Arcade Fire. “Fireproof” is made of confidence despite the warbling vocals. It’s got maracas and finger snaps, both of which ooze swagger, plus the lyrics are about newly discovered invincibility and backstage nudity. It is easily my favorite song on the album and seemingly the only one that I could connect with (like one great, shared joke in the middle of an awkward conversation with this tourist guy.) “The Vanity of Trying” and “Better Off” sound like they could belong with the new wave revival in 2005, though not CYHSY’s 2005 material. “Loose Ends” is soft and relaxed; it sounds like a slightly worried, nasally Donovan trying out some synth on a folk song.
“Ambulance Chaser” seems like it’s trying to build drama. It’s got synth that could have been taken straight off of The Killers’ Hot Fuss (including this weird synth drain sound at the end that also ends “Mr. Brightside.”) This song is begging for the theatrics of The Killers but it’s lacking and underwhelming. That’s the thing with much of this album: it could be so much more, but it’s missing the drama necessary to get you really invested. Without that investment, the nasally vocals and other little tics easily become grating. I wanted to love “The Vanity of Trying” as it sounded so much like the new wave revival soundtrack to my college years in the mid-00s, but the vocals on the chorus came straight through Ounsworth’s whiny nose and drove me batty.
The Tourist is a person that you know you should get along with on paper, but there’s just something missing to make the connection in person. Maybe I just can’t get over the nasally vocals, which would bother me about a real person, but it’s more likely that there’s an ingredient missing, keeping us from a more perfect chemistry.