clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Missing the STD Connection Entirely

I am about to bitch about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! I am doing this in 2006, and I realize this is a horrible thing to do. Nevertheless, I feel I am justified and that it will be a somewhat productive exercise. Let me take the first part first and the second part second.

I started this blog in 2003. I picked the name based on the name I had chosen to release music under, which I chose some years prior--2000, I'd say. I had picked this name as a reference to gonorrhea ("Clap is derived from the obsolete French word clapoir meaning sexual sore") but when searching on (RIP), I discovered that a Cleveland horror-rock band had already claimed that name. So I added the s. It was a happy coincidence: as the blog started to focus on pop, the name became strikingly apropos.

But then those fuckers came along.

I never really liked them, but it was always more of a focused ambivalence. I certainly was put off by their name (which I can't imagine predates mine), as I am indeed by all the imitators that have sprung up in their wake: Austin's "Clap! Clap!" (whose existence, when I discovered it, sent a shiver of revulsion through my body) and Dublin's "The Clap" who I kind of like given that they have a picture of gay bodybuilding Hitler on their website. (Even though, again, name's taken guys, at least in Ohio, and where else matters?) It annoyed me in that narcissism of small differences way--was I really kin to these fuckers? And should I really be third on the Google page? I was being kinda stupid, you see.

As I said, I never really liked them, but this was really on the basis of one or two songs, which told me, I thought, all I needed to know. But then people I know, people I like, told me they were good, and that I would like them. They said I should listen to them more. I ignored them. Then yesterday, I was searching for the new YYYs album, and I got theirs as well. So I grabbed it, and today I listened to it.

And holy shit.

Thinking about what I'm about to say, I feel a bit weird, because a lot of what I'm about to say is exactly the kind of stuff I've complained about other people saying. I don't like it when people complain about bands being derivative, because that doesn't seem to matter, and I don't like it when people complain about a singer sounding like another singer, because who cares? I don't like it when people complain about bands being popular (or, I guess, indie-popular), because people liking things is nice, and the whole thing just makes me feel like a grumpy old man, which I hope I'm not.

But what I've realized is that all of this stems from one basic fact: not only do I not like this band, I do not understand why anyone would. Maybe this is a failure of imagination, but I honestly cannot hear anything about this band that would seem to inspire affection or joy or passion. And because I can't understand, based on the music, why this band would be so well-liked, I must conclude that there are other, extra-musical reasons. And I must bitch about them. So here I go!

The thing that strikes me about CYHSY is--and this is the narcissism of small differences thing again (hey, might as well abbreviate that: NOSD)--is that they sound remarkably like what a band I was running would sound like if they made all the choices I would consider but then avoid. It feels like they've rummaged through my back catalog and picked all the songs I decided not to pursue, the ones that were too samey, too droney, too default-rock. And then they arranged them like an unsatisfying demo, with unnecessary instruments and rocking-out parts that fail to acheive any feeling of rocking out. The drums do what they're trying to do but no more. They're too quiet, too constant.

I'm personalizing this, but it's not personal. CYHSY are very much of my generation and demographic of musicians, and so a lot of what they're incorporating feels very familiar. It's just that they seem remarkably skilled at taking this set of influences and choosing all the worst ones, or rather, I guess, all the safe ones--all the ones I hear people talking about at a party or in a bar and immediately steer clear. (Here's an example: the production aesthetics of Neutral Milk Hotel rather than the song structures and lyrics and vocals, which seem by far to be the interesting part about that band, but there you go on the CYHSY album: fuzz bass and toy piano. Woot.) And for all the influences that get thrown around, I can probably reduce it to one bon mot: they sound like a bunch of late-period Wilco fans got together and decided to make an album.

And then there's the voice. The voice, no matter how the vocalist arrived at it, sounds like David Byrne. There's simply no way around that basic fact: dude sounds like David Byrne. And this makes me think horrible, horrible things, like: has indie-rock become one giant impersonation contest, one big game of trendspotting where the music nerds become musicians and we worship them as originators? Have we drifted maybe a little too far from our puritanical 90s roots? Or is it just that the cult of low expectations has become a bigger cultural gatekeeper?

But the big worry, the one that keeps me up at night, the reason I bitch about a band having a name similar to that of my blog, stems from the fact that CYHSY and me are clearly both working from a similar set of ideas and aesthetics. They're a poppy, happy band, with disco beats and non-rock instrumentation, so it seems reasonable to assume they have a mistrust of miserbalism and (see above) authenticity, as well as affection for dancing and cheerfulness and all that crap. But the music they make, which presumably is a result of those values, sucks. It sucks monkey brains. Even worse, it's something those values were specifically meant to oppose: it's boring.

This is why CYHSY so repulse me. It's not so much them, it's the fact of their popularity. My peers have voted, and this is what they want. For all the effort made to change indie attitudes, apparently there's so little capacity for ecstacy in that crowd that it ends up in a sort of mown-lawn mush. If they're not moping, they've got nothing, just some rock guitar and pallid beats you can move your feet to and a retro patina that just makes me shudder. If this is where all this is heading, count me out.