When your debut album sells in the six figures without support from a record label and signals a new era of do-it-yourself music, you could do one of two things. You could embrace your underground success or work full throttle to shed it. If you're Clap Your Hands Say Yeah , you do both.
With an inspiring back story that proved the music could stand for itself, CYHSY was 2005's little indie-rock band that could. Band members sold CDs out of their Brooklyn apartments, turned a blind eye to major labels, and had their girlfriends design the album art. The hype machine and music bloggers kicked into overdrive.
Today, with the self-release of the quintet's sophomore album, "Some Loud Thunder," the spotlight shifts from the hype to the music. Already there are grumbles, from fans and critics alike, that CYHSY has made an album with little regard for the listener. It's rough around the edges, but as perplexing as "Some Loud Thunder" is, even combative in parts, it's also a rewarding listen. That it's challenging attests to the band's strident independence, something fans expect from lead singer and writer Alec Ounsworth and his bandmates.
"Some Loud Thunder" makes no concessions to sophomore-slump expectations, nor does it pander. There are lumps in the batter, of course, starting with the opening title track, which is so leaden with fuzzed-out distortion and countermelodies, it sounds like an unintentional mash-up of two disparate songs.
Where the self-titled debut was all jangly guitars with dance-floor appeal ("In This Home on Ice" ), "Some Loud Thunder" is a more abstract rumination. It hits its stride four songs in, finally dropping its guitar hooks for the bleak piano current of "Love Song No. 7." It marks a breakthrough for the band, where the music is in synch with Ounsworth's lyrical desolation: "Now that you're here and see/ Everyone of us seem to take the wrong way home." (It's a good thing there's a lyric sheet; you're still not going to understand Ounsworth's tinny, yowling vocals without it.)
Aside from the fevered dance pitch of "Satan Said Dance," only "Underwater (You and Me)," a love song cleverly veiled as a bouncy bit of chamber pop, comes close to sounding like a hit single.
The album dissolves into a vapor with "Five Easy Pieces," a nearly seven-minute paean to orchestral drone that hinges on a stretch of lofty lyrical sketches ("Too big/ Too strong/ Too weak" and so on). It becomes clear that "Some Loud Thunder" may not be the road fans and once-adoring bloggers expected the band to venture down, but it's still the high road.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.