Just ask Alec Ounsworth, whose band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled 2005 debut was met with critical (and commercial) acclaim that’s almost unbelievable by today’s standards. On the strength of a 9-out-of-10 Pitchfork review and blog buzz, the self-released record earned the band a cult following, soundtrack placements on The Office and more than 100,000 albums sold. AltRock’s most influential Davids — Bowie and Byrne — were famously spotted at early tour dates.
In our current cultural climate, when memes and Twitter reposts often birth of-the-minute hits, it’s hard to imagine a time when glowing reviews could inspire readers to drop money on an album they hadn’t yet heard. Anyone who fervently consumed Indie Rock (and Rock journalism) during the blog era feels a twinge of nostalgia at the opening synth melody on “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth.” It’s the faint, optimistic dial-up tone of a fledgling internet — the thrill of discovery still felt novel; communities were still tight-knit.
Though future efforts failed to penetrate the collective indie consciousness — largely due to the glut of similarly whimsical acts attempting to replicate Clap Your Hands’ success — it’s a disservice to Ounsworth’s talent to write his band off as a mere product of its time. That debut album holds up better than most of its contemporaries, marrying earnest Garage Rock instrumentals with cryptic lyrics and a striking vocal delivery that recalls Talking Heads. Sure, the calliope and tinny keyboards feel a little dated, but what era-defining record doesn’t feel a little dusty?
Don’t write off their mid-career output either. I’m particularly fond of 2014’s Only Run, an atmospheric Synth Pop detour that feels massive and minimalist at the same time. Driven by droning basslines and muscled percussion, it’s the wide, comfy stretch of a band that’s just as happy occupying a niche as they are making online waves.