T he Seaton Place household has been listening to a ton of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – specifically, their self-titled album from 2005 – over the last week or two. (Not in part because I’ll probably write up a quick post about Alec Ounsworth’s songwriting on that record sometime soon.) I first got turned on to that album back in 2007 when a boyfriend put “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” onto a mix CD, and over the years I’ve come to love it track by track – next it was “Is It Love?”, then “Blue Turning Grey,” then “In This Home on Ice,” and so on.
That said, “Details of the War” might be my favorite song on the album. There’s clearly a devastating backstory here, but Ounsworth mostly skirts around the edges with scattered three-syllable snatches of detail.1 The only real hints come by way of his outbursts at the ends of the latter two verses, when he 1) recounts a dramatic moment at high school football game, involving what I take to be a boxer’s fracture, and 2) his closing thoughts, including a warning to “be careful with the details of the war.” How’s that for bitter?
This demo surfaced on a Philly entertainment blog near the album’s release. I only recently heard it for the first time, and it’s interesting to hear an earlier take on a song I’ve come to know well. Take a listen (and don’t be fooled, the track’s only three minutes long – for some reason there’s two minutes of silence tacked to the end of this video):
First things first: the sound quality isn’t great, and Ounsworth’s voice is surely as polarizing as ever – maybe even more so since it’s so exposed in the opening lines. (I’ve come to love it.) The orchestration is significantly different, as well, as there’s brass, for one, along with a few different counterpoint voices. Maybe most noticeable is the different melody for the V-IV portions at the end of each verse (the “I’m a wounded bird / I will take your word” section in the first two verses, and the longer “Emerging from the football stands” bit from the latter verses). Somehow, the ending sounds significantly cheerier than the album version – maybe it’s the busier harmonica, or the lack of a weird feedbacky outro, but either way, this demo is a fun listen.
– Becky Sullivan
1 Like “bloody sheets,” “leather pants,” “crucifix,” “tattered dress,” “sunburned chest,” and the most evocative of them all, “camel dick.” ↑
Songs cited: Alec Ounsworth/Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Details of the War,” demo recording, © 2005. Recording details unknown.