Plenty of bands have a creative high-water mark that stands above the rest of their catalog, but few are more singularly defined by a single album than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
The Philadelphia-based collective’s 2005 self-titled, self-released debut album not only perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the burgeoning indie rock movement, its fame came strictly via fawning word-of-mouth online. That type of success story may seem old-hat now, but was revolutionary a decade ago.
“The one thing I’m really proud of is the independent model that’s kind of been adopted since that album came out,” says Alec Ounsworth, the band’s chief songwriter and lone mainstay, who brings the group to San Francisco this week. “That idea of a band doing all that work on their own to put out something that they truly believe in — that’s been embraced by a lot of other groups, and I’m happy to see that.”
Ounsworth doesn’t shy away from the legacy of the group’s masterpiece, but he’s not preoccupied by it, either.
“I have no control of what people like,” he says. “I have no interest in just remaking the same album over again. I try and put something out that’s the closest to the right sound I can get. And if people like it, that’s great.”
While the group hasn’t quite replicated the heights of its debut, Ounsworth and company have released cerebral, finely-crafted and underrated albums in its wake, including “Only Run,” which came out in June.
It’s more atmospheric and moody than its predecessors, and most songs are filled with a drum machine, a departure from previous recording processes. (Drummer Sean Greenhalgh, the only other original band member, did assist on a few tracks.)
Mixed with eerie spoken-word recordings and icy synths, “Only Run” has a reflective, almost ominous feel, although Ounsworth says its content doesn’t stray too far from the band’s earlier output.
“I think the one difference is that this album was recorded with a drum machine, so it doesn’t have that four-on-the-floor feel to it,” says Ounsworth. “Our other albums had similar themes of feeling suffocated and threatened, but they were accompanied by this disco beat, so there was a sense of euphoria, even when the lyrical content could get pretty dark.”
The title song has Ounsworth’s trademark quavering vocals and lyrics with familiar themes, insecurity and subservience: “I miss the comfort of your chains/I miss the comfort of being enslaved.”
The only original band member on tour, Ounsworth is excited to continue recording as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and, hoping to churn out an album more quickly than he has in the past, wants to get into the studio in November. He’s buoyed by the enthusiasm of his new collaborators: guitarist Nick Krill, bassist Matt Wong and drummer Robert Walbourne.
“The tour has been great, the crowds have been great,” says Ounsworth. “I think everyone’s real happy with where we’re at now.”
IF YOU GO
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Contacts: (415) 771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com