Best tunes of 2011: #23 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! “Hysterical”

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Here at number twenty three of my Best tunes of 2011 list, we have “Hysterical” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. For this post and song, I’m going to plagiarize myself a bit from some words I wrote back in 2011.

In the fall of that year, I drafted the first of what would become many best albums of the year lists, the first bunch being for my old blog, Music Insanity! (yes, I still have all the content, despite decommissioning the site). In that first list, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah made a surprise appearance in the top ten. The following somewhat explains:

“When their debut album came out in 2005, it was much hyped by all and hyperboles were unleashed from all directions (e.g., the best indie album ever!). I personally thought the hype a bit much but did really enjoy the album. It sounded to me like it was informed by the geek rock post-punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s, bands like the Violent Femmes, the Talking Heads, and Devo. It was peppy, poppy, and sat nicely in just the right space on the weird scale. Unfortunately, when “Some loud thunder” came out two years later, I couldn’t get into it. I was never able to put my finger on why but I guess to me, it just didn’t sound like the same band.

“Fast forward to 2011 and I had all but given CYHSY up for dead because I hadn’t really heard much from them in three to four years. In September [of that year], they released “Hysterical” (self-released domestically, but with indie label help in Europe, like their previous albums) and I gave the band another chance – as I often do for bands in whom I have seen shades of brilliance. This time around, I was pleasantly surprised to find CYHSY back to energetic pop that I fell in love with in 2005. It was as if that second album had never happened.”

I’ve since grown to appreciate “Some loud thunder” but still enjoy the band’s first and third albums better. “Hysterical”, the title track on the latter of the two is great example of the energy we can find there. Frenetic, danceable drumming over washes of synths, the melodic and jangly guitar work, and overall “new retro” sound. But what really holds the music together is the vocals of Alec Ounsworth, whose voice and singing mannerisms are the amalgam of Gordon Gano and David Byrne.

Turn up the Geek rock and bring the noise!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Live music galleries: Young Galaxy [2012]

(I got the idea for this new series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop*. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next week, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

Young Galaxy live at Osheaga in 2012

Artist: Young Galaxy
When: August 4th, 2012
Where: Trees stage, Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, Montreal
Context: Young Galaxy played their last show for the foreseeable future this past weekend in Ottawa, having recently announced an indefinite hiatus. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the show because I was in Toronto for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, so instead, I’ll reminisce a bit and post pics about the time I saw them six years ago at Osheaga. It was one of the excruciating schedule conflicts I had to navigate that weekend: see The Raveonettes for the first time or see Young Galaxy in their hometown. I’ve never regretted my decision. They’re not only one of my favourite Canadian bands but one of my faves from all time and they’ve always been great live. This performance was the year after “Shapeshifting”, their first collaboration with Dan Lissvik, was released and signalled a shift towards a more electronic sound. Brilliant show, all told. 
Point of reference song:
We have everything

Stephen Ramsay of Young Galaxy
Stephen Kamp of Young Galaxy
Catherine McCandless of Young Galaxy
Matt Shapiro of Young Galaxy
Stephen Ramsay of Young Galaxy
Andrea Silver and Stephen Kamp of Young Galaxy
Catherine McCandless of Young Galaxy
Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless of Young Galaxy

Top five tunes: The Sisters Of Mercy

Who? The Sisters of Mercy

Years active: 1980 – present

Band members*:
Andrew Eldritch (lead vocals, keyboards, guitars, drum programming) 1980 – present
Doktor Avalanche (drum machine) 1981 – present
Gary Marx (guitars, vocals) 1980 – 1985
Craig Adams (bass) 1981 – 1985
Wayne Hussey (guitars, backing vocals) 1983 – 1985
Patricia Morrison (bass, backing vocals) 1987 – 1989
Chris Catalyst (guitars, backing vocals) 2005 – present
Ben Christo (guitars, bass, backing vocals) 2006 – present

*The above is only a selected list of band members. There have been a number of members throughout the band’s existence, of which Andrew Eldritch is the only constant.

Discography:
First and last and always (1985)
Floodland (1987)
Vision thing (1990)

Context:
So it’s October and Hallowe’en is just around the corner. I didn’t do anything holiday-themed last year and typically don’t observe the holidays too much on these pages but well… I’m due for another Top Five Tunes post. I thought about doing a Top Five favourite Hallowe’en tune post but didn’t have the energy to dig too deeply into my iTunes collection . Then I thought about going Goth and even that felt like I would have to wrack my brain a bit too much. (You’ll have to bear with me, I’ve already started looking at narrow down my favourite albums for the end of the year series and it’s taking a lot out of me.) So I settled on making October Sisters of Mercy month this year.

Interestingly, if frontman and driving force behind the group, Andrew Eldritch, every read these words connect his group with Hallowe’en and anything remotely goth, he’d likely shudder, scream, and want to scratch my eyes out. He’s never been happy with the label, finding it quite offensive that the genre itself exists and even worse that anyone connects his work with it. I’ll never forget the only time I saw them live, back in 1999, and having noted all the black clothing, dyed hair, and heavy eye makeup in the audience, imagined all the collective jaws dropping in the dark when Eldritch took the stage with bleached blonde hair and a Hawaiian shirt. (If you’re wondering, yeah, it was a freaking awesome show.)

It was my friend Tim that got me into the Sisters of Mercy. He could tell you for sure but I feel like before he sold off his vinyl collection in the early 90s, he had a boatload of their 12″ singles. He started me off by including one of their songs on each of the many mixed tapes he made for me in our last couple of years of high school. But I think the night that really sold them for me was a night he was driving us all home from a drama performance night (yeah, I was a thespian back in high school) and “Ribbons” was blasting in the car. Tim hit a speed bump just as Eldritch was screaming “Incoming” and a good portion of the soft drink I was holding was dumped on whoever was sitting in the back seat behind me. The song stuck. And the rest is history.

Eldritch formed the group in 1980 with guitarist and friend, Gary Marx, taking their name from a Leonard Cohen song. He started off as drummer but quickly put that aside to concentrate on vocals, replacing himself with the first in a line of many different drum machines, all nicknamed “Doktor Avalanche”, that would provide the group’s rhythm throughout the years. This drum machine would be the only other constant in the group besides Eldritch to this day. You might have noticed above the strange fact for a group that has been in existence for almost 40 years: they’ve released only three studio albums (I’ll get to the why in a minute). But it’s also interesting to note that each of those albums were recorded by an almost completely different group.

After those three iconic records and a bunch of singles and compilation albums, recorded output from the band stopped. The recording hiatus started out as a protest against their record label but East West (Warner) released them from the contract 1997. Still nothing. The touring continued, however, and apparently so did the writing of new material, as was evidenced by the appearance of unreleased songs performed at these shows over the years. Rumours have abounded of new albums in the almost thirty years since “Vision thing” but the closest I think we have come was recently when Eldritch himself posited that they may have to finally get back to the studio should Trump be elected president. Well… the unthinkable has happened, perhaps we’ll see a new Sisters record soon. Until then, these are my own favourites from the old back catalogue.

The top five:

#5: Alice (from “Alice”, 1982)

“Alice” was The Sisters of Mercy’s third ever single but the first to gain any real traction. With its initial release in 1982, it got play on John Peel’s radio show, which led to its re-release the following year on a four song EP. It is one of the group’s best known songs and still regularly appears on set lists. It was re-recorded in 1993 and released as a B-side to the Sisters’ final ever released recording: the single “Under the gun”. Both version are quite good but I actually prefer the more austere and claustrophobic production of the original to crisp and flashy do-over. The song is about drug addiction, the title and name of the protagonist being a nod to the Alice of the children’s stories, and how little else matters to a junkie but the drugs. It is dark, edgy, and haunting, so post-punk and goth, even tending toward industrial before there was such a thing.


#4: Dominion / Mother Russia (from “Floodland”, 1987)

“Dominion” was the second single released off of “Floodland”, which some of you might remember made an appearance on my Best albums of 1987 series that wrapped up last month. Many different versions and remixes of varying lengths have been released but I prefer the seven minute version on the album that includes the “Mother Russia”. It adds a whole other element to the song, with lines comparing the US and Russia, almost equating the two as one. But even without this final piece, the song is very much reminiscent of the Cold War. With the clattering drum ominous guitars, and choral backing vocals, it evokes austerity and totalitarianism and propagandism and the threat of nuclear war. “Some say prayers – I say mine.” Yup.


#3: More (from “Vision thing”, 1990)

This one has already appeared on these pages when it peeked its goth rock face out at number seven on my best tunes of 1990 list last October (coincidence?). It was released as the first single off the outfit’s final studio LP, “Vision thing”, and features heavy handed piano and synth washes, muscular, machine gun guitars, and the backing vocals of Scottish singer Maggie Reilly. Like the rest of their catalogue, it is dark and sinister in sound but if you actually sat down and read the lyrics without the music, you might question it being penned by Andrew Eldritch. It reads like a straightforward love song, albeit one bordering on obsessive, almost junkie territory. “All I want, all I need, all the time is more of your sweet love. Too much just ain’t enough. I never needed a fix like this before.” A great tune for driving in the middle of the night with tears streaming down you face… or… wait… just a great tune, really.


#2: This corrosion (from “Floodland”, 1987)

Recorded during the same sessions as the song at number three above, “This corrosion” has Jim Steinman written all over it. The song is epic big in length, scope, and sound, as well as a budget epic enough to cover forty members of the New York Choral Society, whom you can hear opening the ten plus minute song. It is perhaps The Sisters of Mercy’s best known song, recently appearing in the Simon Pegg comedy, “The World’s End”, and his character sports a Sisters shirt throughout. Given the post-apocalyptic imagery of the video, I used to think there was deep, anti-war message/meaning to the song but I’ve since learned that the song and its “over the top” lyrics are really just a shot ex-band member and The Mission frontman, Wayne Hussey. “I got nothing to say I ain’t said before. I bled all I can, I won’t bleed no more. I don’t need no one to understand.” Learning this hasn’t changed anything for me, it’s still a great song in my books.


#1: Temple of love (1992) (from “A slight case of overbombing”, 1992)

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For other top five lists in this series, click here.