A blur of arpeggios, distortion and echo on the Brooklyn act’s third LP.
Brad Barrett 2011-09-09
Searing synth strings. That's the overwhelming memory after listening to Hysterical a few times. It seems to swamp the entirety of the album, a sweeping hand of majesty. Apart from that, not a lot has changed musically from the group’s 2005 self-released debut. Lauded at the time by everyone from Pitchfork to NME, the formula of jangly guitars and maudlin sentiments wasn't at all fresh, but the unpretentiousness of it delighted many. Hysterical does little to alter this. The aforementioned synths wash over the whole thing, but it's a blur made up of arpeggios, distortion and echo. It's all held together admirably by John Congleton, a producer whose own work with The Paper Chase expertly blended viciously disparate ideas.
Luckily CYHSY mainman Alec Ounsworth's way of singing a melody already has an inbuilt ambiguity; it winds around the elementary music sounding resigned, sad but putting on a brave face. When he hits an ascendant, like at a third of the way through Yesterday, Never, it's hard not to feel your heart lift in time. The title-track is a driving four-chord howl, a lament in the sunshine, and so this slalom of moods continues throughout the album. Misspent Youth and Adam's Plane are embellished with piano, while Maniac works around a burbling five-note synth burp; along with the title-track, these are the standout songs. The rest fill the album adequately, but really only serve to further embed that keyboard massage that glues everything together.
Misspent Youth is particularly poignant, the ripples of discordance and fading echo in the middle like shattering a fond flashback. Though the arrangement still sounds dense, Ounsworth's vulnerable vocal brings an intense melancholy to the song. Adam's Plane is a sobering closer – seemingly about the death of a friend or relative in a plane crash, or perhaps a rather morbid metaphor – with the drums sounding particularly bare and vicious. It all dissolves into a suitably messy conclusion.
There's that genuinely disappointing sense of having heard this before, whether it be on 2007's Some Loud Thunder, their debut, or in countless other bands. Yet there's still a spark here that holds interest for a few listens. Whether it's the Marmite quality of Ounsworth's voice or wading into these songs swimming with guitars and noises, there will be something here to enjoy; though whether it will fade fondly into your memory is doubtful.