While Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has been on hiatus, frontman Alec Ounsworth has remained busy, releasing two albums this year. The first is Skin and Bones, released under the moniker Flashy Python. The second, released under his own name, is Mo Beauty. Given small gap between release dates and the fact the track ‘Obscene Queen Bee’ makes an appearance on both albums, it’s difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other.
Flashy Python emerged out of the blue, released without publicity and distributed by email only to the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah mailing list. Performed by Ounsworth and members of Man Man, the Walkmen and Dr. Dog, Skin and Bones steers fairly close to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s aesthetic, with a slightly grander scope. Perhaps due to the spontaneity, it feels messy. Like Isaac Brock and Jeff Mangum, Ounsworth’s voice is extremely polarizing, so how much you enjoy these releases is directly proportional to how much of his voice you can take. Much of Skin and Bones features Ounsworth at his screechiest, and as such can be a bit of an ordeal to listen to. If you can bypass the voice, there are some solid tracks to be found here, particularly ‘The Lady Is a Ghost’ and the title track.
Ounsworth’s solo debut fares far better. Recorded in New Orleans, Mo Beauty has a beautiful atmosphere throughout the record, no doubt influenced by his Louisianan surroundings. Ounsworth’s voice is more precise here, lacking the outright wailing that marked most of Skin and Bones, and the album is better for it. It’s also a departure from the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound, remaining largely acoustic with blues, folk and jazz influences peppering the album. Although horns make an appearance on Skin and Bones, on Mo Beauty they feel like an organic part of the music rather than an afterthought. The variety here is a major draw. From the metronomic piano of opener ‘Modern Girl (with Scissors)’ to the rollicking guitar ‘Me and You, Watson’, more range and depth is exhibited on Mo Beauty than on any other Ounsworth recording so far. ‘Idiots in the Rain’ is a standout, feeling more like something heard in a jazz club than something coming from an indie icon. ‘Obscene Queen Bee #2’ is an alternate recording of a Flashy Python track that sounds leagues better here with the addition of slide guitar and organ. The production value really does make the difference; while Skin and Bones leans toward a lo-fi sound, the layers of Mo Beauty make for a far more enjoyable listen.