After the release of Only Ran in 2014, percussionist Sean Greenhalgh left Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, leaving frontman and principal songwriter Alec Ounsworth as the band’s only original member. Greenhalgh’s departure coupled with the album chronicling CYHSY’s history led some to believe that the end of one of indie music’s great bands was coming. The development was shocking, especially considering in 2005 Clap Your Hand Say Yeah’s self-titled, debut album was a seminal moment in music history. The LP was fresh, euphoric, whimsical, and delightful from start to finish, and it gave life to a genre on the verge of an identity crisis.
Throughout 2016, Ounsworth performed living room shows across North America. It was an opportunity for the singer-songwriter and guitarist to refocus, recharge, and once again reshape the band that once delivered one of “The 50 Most Important Recordings Of The Decade (2000-2009)”, according to NPR. How much Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s fifth album, The Tourist, was influenced by Ounsworth’s solo tour is largely unknown, but the record is the band’s best effort since their very first. The arrangements are sharper, and the instrumentation is more focused and stripped back. What makes the album rewarding, however, is its intimacy and personal nature, as Ounsworth has revealed his inner soul.
The album, according to Ounsworth, is a moment of clarity – an “exhale” if you will – following a difficult time period in his life. A sense of loss and uncertainty, however, rings throughout The Tourist, where Ounsworth is a stranger in his own life and reality. This is best revealed on the breathtaking, acoustic folk-rocker, “Loose Ends”, where he sings, “I can’t take a breath and settle down. This revolution is only in my head. The loose ends are coming for me now. They’re coming for me now.”
Likewise, “Better Off” is a journey into a day and life of the Philadelphia resident. Ounsworth’s voice is rich, full, and endearing, yet there is an ounce of vulnerability in it to reflect a man searching for answers and possibly solitude. The delirious arrangements and the cinematic storytelling perfectly describe the awe, apprehension, and euphoria that are simultaneously felt as one embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
“The Pilot”, which opens the album, also offers a moment to see into Ounsworth’s psyche. He questions his role as a leader and possibly frontman, noting that he was raised to be the tourist. He perfectly captures the insecurity experienced by many, especially during difficult times when all feels lost. These feelings are further harbored on “A Chance to Cure”, the album’s most oft-kilter and innovative track. Beneath the urgent rhythms and the breathtaking melody, Ounsworth sings, “I know where you’re going. The signs say it all. But I can’t help that it is snowing. I tried to break your fall.”
The album’s final two songs, “Ambulance Chaser” and “Visiting Hours”, which must be heard together, offer a glimpse of the race Ounsworth is running – or possibly running away from. The former is steeped in memory and feels like an apology is given while the latter reveals an immense weight has been lifted. To whom and for what, the songs are unclear in their targets, yet there is a sense of pain and relief.
There are, however, moments where euphoria is reached and the belief that Ounsworth is indeed exhaling. The stuttering anthem, “Fireproof”, has Ounsworth recalling his youth and the invulnerability and exuberance that comes at this age. Meanwhile, “The Vanity of Trying” recalls Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in their infancy. The song is fearless and inspiring, a sonic wonderland of sound that will have you believing anything and everything is possible. “We can be whatever we want”, Ounsworth exclaims, as he pulls away the curtain that has enclosed his life during this difficult time. And maybe, just maybe, Ounsworth has found his way unlike The Tourist that has occupied his mind.
The Tourist is out now. Physical copies are available at Undertow; digital copies at iTunes; and it can be streamed on various platforms.
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