“Hysterical” might have been an apt descriptor for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah several years and a couple of albums ago. The indie-pop outfit’s eponymous 2005 debut was hailed as a harbinger of the old industry’s end—singer Alec Ounsworth and company recorded, released, promoted, and distributed the record without any outside help. When labels came knocking, CYHSY didn’t even bother opening the door. The ensuing hype matched the freneticism of the songs—yappy, nervously charged things that squirmed in the subconscious—and 2007’s Some Loud Thunder drove deeper into that ugly, happy angularity. Hysteria abounded.
Unfortunately, Hysterical is anything but. CYHSY has reeled back the infectious madness, softening the edges once made so acute by pinwheeling guitars, buoyant bass, and danceable rhythms. The strummy, upbeat “Into Your Alien Arms” sounds like Arcade Fire without the oomph. The drumless, synth-swathed “In A Motel” is Destroyer without the weird. “Hysterical” is Clinic without speed. When the pace picks up, all the qualities that set CYHSY apart in the past are suddenly magnetized to the song’s core—the opener, “Same Mistake,” yelps and swoons, bursts and blooms over a 4/4 beat, while “Ketamine And Ecstasy” is as urgently off-balance as the chemical cocktail that inspired it. But these are mere islands of excitement in an otherwise wide-open, lifeless sea. “Yesterday never was,” Ounsworth coos at one point. Maybe for him, but the rest of us can revisit his band’s superior back catalog any time we like.