I have been a fan of CYHSY! since their self-titled debut album back in 2005. They burst onto the scene like a whirlwind; incredible melodies, insanely catchy and sing along songs delivered in such a way as to make you dance and holler, this was a feel-good album. The type of album you put on whilst getting ready for a night out. The follow up… only two years later Some Loud Thunder demonstrated their versatility and really progressed the sound. This is a big expansive album, full of psych rock and on songs like “Yankee Go Home” it was touching on moments of The Doors in its statement and intent.
The band itself is really the mastermind of one multi-instrumentalist, Alec Ounsworth, and as is often the case when it’s a one-person vehicle the sound and ideas of CYHSY! changed on the next two albums. They were full of big songs and sounds but went in a much more electronic direction, particularly 2014’s Only Run which was pure ambient electronica.
Fans of the band will tell you that the distinctive sound of CYHSY! Is Ounsworth’s voice. Go and listen and you will know what I mean. It does not seem to fit the music, the man or even the world, but the way he can carry a melody is in itself unique and very special. It is as almost as if he could make a moment of highs and lows from the accompaniment of someone hitting a tin can. With The Tourist, Ounsworth has taken this talent for words and melody and used them as the main vehicles for the songs.
It was a time of self-reflection (and this is really apparent throughout the whole album), it was one way to purge those thoughts and that moment of his life. More importantly for me, it instantly has a more organic feel. The keyboards and synths are still present but in the background, it’s simple rock and roll with the strong use of bass and guitar that leads on this album. Indeed, album opener “The Pilot” starts with a simple guitar, almost folky in style before the vocals take over, louder, prominent. The use of bass on this first track, though, is what stands out. Once it kicks in, it carries the melody – what self-respecting bass player doesn’t enjoy a lead bass. It adds a dimension to the song which could otherwise easily drift by. The melody of the lyrics and the style has much more in common with Some Loud Thunder, especially in the way the song is built up in layers.
The Tourist is a raw album, vulnerable yet also strong. If you were not drawn in by the album opener then “A Chance to Cure” shows all the aspects of Ounsworth’s songwriting, a stripped bare emotional opening verse makes way for some experimental rock before that emotional verse comes back in again. The second time around, again the layers are back, guitars and that great bass join in, keyboards in such a way as to enrapture you into his world. This is the first CYHSY! album, for me, that is a sit and reflect affair and it’s an interesting change.
This overwhelming feeling of melancholy has always been present in CYHSY! work but moreso than ever on The Tourist. The first of the more upbeat songs, “Better Off”, demonstrates this well. Lyrically and melodically it’s dripping self-reflection, sadness and disappointment yet somehow manages to avoid completely wallowing in it.
My favourite type of CYHSY! songs have always been the ones where the lyrical wordplay is fast and at the forefront of the song. It is the song. If Ounsworth can add in a building and escalating bridge and pretty good chorus then I am smitten. “The Vanity of Trying” is that song. There’s great use of keyboards to carry the song but it is the intensity and at times the distractful, I am lost in the moment, of Ounsworth’s lyrics that make this one of the best songs of the album.
So, with The Tourist we may be back on familiar ground with the approach to how the album is made but I would suggest that this is entirely new territory for Ounsworth. So often his writings are joyful, intense, catchy and want to make you shout out… but on The Tourist he has presented another side and another use to those great melodies and lyrics.
Here he is reflective, mournful, looking back in regret but fighting through. This may not be a “Saturday night going out” album but you will be lost in its lush landscapes and just as equally we all enjoy an album to get lost in and wallow in. Sit, listen, enjoy. It’s another chapter for CYHSY!
The Tourist is out February 24th