It's been a dozen years since the release of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut album, and its anxious, pert, astringent songs such as "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" and "Is This Love?"
Back then, Philly's Alec Ounsworth built his band with a bunch of Brooklynites, although the recordings were mostly his own work. That version of Clap Your Hands gradually shed members so that by the time of 2014's Only Run, the fourth CYHSY album, Ounsworth was working nearly alone both in the studio and sometimes on the road, doing solo living room tours.
But the touring band he assembled for Only Run — bassist Matt Wong, drummer Pat Berkery (Bigger Lovers), guitarist Nick Krill (Spinto Band) — stayed together to travel the world for 10th anniversary shows for the beloved debut album, and they form the core of the excellent The Tourist, out Friday. Ounsworth relishes flux, though, and band personnel will shift throughout The Tourist tour, which begins March 3 with two record-release shows at Johnny Brenda's.
The Tourist is more guitar-centric than the synth-heavy Only Run, with sharp, focused songs that sometimes stretch out with rave-up codas.
"I wanted to put an exclamation point on a lot of the songs," Ounsworth says. After he and Krill produced the record, he worked with Dave Fridmann to mix it, and Fridmann brings some of his Flaming Lips-style grandiosity to tracks such as "Fireproof" and "The Vanity of Trying."
"That's Dave over-the-top, which I like," Ounsworth says. "Dave can make anything really poke out. To me, he's one of the best of the business."
Ounsworth's goals have changed since he first worked with Fridmann on 2007's Some Loud Thunder, the second CYHSY album. "Some Loud Thunder was more of, let's tinker and see if we can make it stand up. This one is more, let's build from solid material and make it work. It almost reminds me more of the [solo] New Orleans album I made, Mo Beauty, with Steve Berlin," Ounsworth says.
"As I keep doing this, I'm more interested in songs and good songwriting than in anything else, really, than in weird noises and sounds on an album. That, to me, is the trick; that's what is interesting to me about any of this stuff."
While the lyrics on The Tourist can be typically elliptical or cryptic, they hint at relationship troubles and personal conflicts. "Turns out you were a little vicious / Hey, you hit me with a flower / But for everyone a second chance for what they done," he sings in "Better Off," embedding a line from Lou Reed.
"It had to do with a particularly tumultuous time in my life, and sometimes the best things come out of it, and sometimes it just destroys you," Ounsworth says.
And sometimes it results in a good album.