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.


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