March 15 2006 12:00 AM

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tastes like Stella Artois

I like to believe I'd actually do something worthwhile if I had access to a time machine. But I'd probably just try to score with Joan of Arc, maybe see a Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan show back in their prime and prevent myself, at age 17, from cheating on Lauren George with her best friend.

I'd certainly go back about three years and invest some money in Stella Artois beer. Once a widely unknown Belgian import, Stella has become infectiously trendy. It is to hipsters what Sparks is to sorority girls, or what wine coolers were to yuppies and high school kids in the 1980s. It's a perfect example of clever marketing to a unique demographic, except for one crucial thing. Stella Artois-like its '90s cousin-Zima, tastes like ass.

Indie-rock bands are often treated like Stella. They are discovered and discarded. And, similar to malt beverages with metallic aftertastes, you don't have to be particularly good to become the "next big thing." Once tagged "it," your popularity will germinate into backlash. That's how the indie-scene works, has always worked. The bigger you get, the less cool it is to like you.

Philadelphia's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are certainly on the cusp of this, if not already there. Their self-titled (and self-released) debut album started garnering buzz late last summer, and has since spiraled into radio play and sold-out shows. I remember hearing them around this time, and recall thinking that they sounded like David Byrne fronting The Muppet Show's house band. I did eventually listen to the whole album several times to see if there was something I was missing, especially after they made dozens of "Best Records of the Year" lists.

Still nothing.

It's not so much that Clap Your Hands aren't catchy. They are. And it's not that the album is bad. It's fairly decent. It's just hard to hear what's so great about it-to identify what makes it deserving of Second Coming-isms. I'm not alone. A bunch of so-called critics and heavy-duty music fans are sitting around scratching their heads at the hype.

To be harsh, the music is blatantly derivative, recalling Talking Heads without the funk, or maybe Television with half the talent. What's more, you can't understand a damn thing frontman Alec Ounsworth is saying, which is a shame, because tenacious research reveals that his lyrics are pretty good.

Now these are certainly arbitrary reasons not to enjoy Clap Your Hands' music. If I lived solely on the criteria listed above, I imagine my record collection would be cut in half.

Sure, it's all a matter of opinion. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if something sounds good, then it is good. If the music "hits" you, then that matters more than originality or comprehensibility. And if it hits Pitchfork media (a portal of pretense and tastemaking,, then it matters to everyone who wears a white belt.

What Clap Your Hands Say Yeah represents is everything that's wrong with the indie-rock scene, that ever-pervading hipster culture where liking a band is not nearly as important as being "seen" liking them. It's not Clap Your Hands' fault. It's just that a good portion of their fan base likes them not because their music speaks to them, but because liking them is the thing to do. And such a fickle fan base tends to divide in half by the second album.

Still, I'll buy it, just to see if there's something the hordes are hearing that I'm not. And that pisses me off.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah will be "seen" at The Casbah on March 22. The show is sold out.


  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • The former local boy and creator of the highly influential blog, Advanced Style, will be signing and discussing his third book, Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, which features inspiring pictures and stories...
  • C.J. Chenier and Bonsoir Catin headline this annual Cajun inspired festival. Also enjoy 10,000 pounds of crawfish, dancing and cooking demonstrations. Held at Spanish Landing Park, across from the...
  • A Cinco de Mayo party featuring $2 tacos, cocktails and live music from Bostich+Fussible, Javiera Mena and Gepe
  • A spoken word showcase hosted by English instructor Karla Cordero and her City College students. There will also be a special reading from poet Mercedez Holtry, as well as an art and photography show....
  • Widely known as host of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and for his role in the Showtime dramedy Weeds, Kevin Nealon brings his unique humor back to the stand-up stage
  • New works from over a dozen UCSD undergraduate students. Participating artists include Charity Algarme, Richard Lin, Joseph Maas, Ignatius Nguyen, and more
  • This video art exhibition from UCSD MFA candidate Stefani Byrd features two installations that explore the themes of breath, mediation, and the nature of time. Takes place in the VAF Performance Space,...
See all events on Thursday, May 5