Remember blog rock? Yes, Zoomers, believe it or not there was a time before TikTok and Snapchat in which one way people discovered new music online was via passionate fans’ affectionate, long-form, journal-style outpourings on the World Wide Web. Although perhaps not the quintessential blog rock band, in 2005 you’d have been hard-pressed to have been scrolling through posts from your favorite music blogs without seeing a mention of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled, self-released, critically acclaimed debut.
Sixteen years later, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is proving they’re still a vital band, albeit one that has downsized from five members to one. But when that one member is CYHSY’s original guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Alec Ounsworth, what more do you need? New Fragility is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s sixth studio album and the first since their debut to include at least two singles directly inspired by U.S. political/socio-political occurrences.
New Fragility opens with one of those singles. “Hesitating Nation” is a song that begins unassumingly enough, fading in and building tension nicely with staccato strings and minimalist drumming. The initial instrumentation is soon joined by an expressive bass and an emotive lead guitar line. “All of the innocents we’ve yet to cast out, in a hesitating nation on the way to nervous breakdown, in a certain way, I’m sitting pretty now, I’ve got a hundred-dollar bill to plug the politician’s mouth,” Ounsworth sings in his distinctive cry. The track’s cynical lyrics cleverly offset the tone of the otherwise optimistic opener. “Hesitation Nation” rolls directly into the record’s second single, “Thousand Oaks”, a song about the mass shooting that took place in the city of the song’s namesake in 2018. While at turns more dramatic musically than its predecessor, Ounsworth’s lyrics are no less biting, taking direct aim at complicit politicians’ willful inaction regarding gun control. “We’re reasoning with messengers, who try to pass for grown men, and they’re coming up empty, and they’re sending you their thoughts and prayers,” Alec sings.
New Fragility’s first ballad arrives with the lovely “Dee, Forgiven”. Utilizing an analog organ under a plaintively played piano, the track helps open the record sonically by providing the introduction of instrumentation as diverse as a theremin-like synth and a harmonica solo. The album’s title track arrives just before the halfway point and is strangely unremarkable. The track that follows it, however, “Innocent Weight”, is a brilliant standout moment marked by a gorgeous string section, with Ounsworth strumming along on an acoustic guitar and providing some of New Fragility’s most emotional vocals.
Side two opens with another piano ballad in the form of “Mirror Song”. Here, Ounsworth sings in the first-person, rolling markedly into a wistful bridge in the song’s final minute with the lines, “And I can tell you’ve been thinking you can outrun all the nightmares, it took a while to find that some people care and some don’t.” New Fragility’s penultimate track, “Went Looking for Trouble”, is also the record’s longest. To Ounsworth’s credit, the singer manages to help distinguish the song with his voice crescendoing beautifully in time with the dynamic strings. As if reaching the apex of a hill, halfway into “Went Looking for Trouble’s” nearly six-minute runtime, things take a dramatic turn when the song begins what feels like a downhill race, with the track spinning to an appropriately theatrical, exhausted end.
New Fragility is concluded in the form of the record’s third and final piano ballad, “If I Were More Like Jesus”. The song’s lo-fi production is accentuated by an airy hiss and slightly overmodulated vocals that cleverly help to give the illusion the listener is privy to something private and unintended. Here, Ounsworth doesn’t hold back as he unabashedly emotes, his voice sounding its most fragile and sincere. It’s a wonderfully revealing ending to an album full of raw passion. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s New Fragility is the first great indie rock record of 2021.