There’s a song on Mo Beauty, the debut solo album from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth, called “South Philadelphia (Drug Days).” In it, Ounsworth sings of “cheap thrills” and running away, and like many of the tracks on the record, it’s coated, enamel-like, with symphonic bombast. A churning song about the streets of Philadelphia? A veritable army of session musicians? Indeed: Mo Beauty owes a great debt to Bruce Springsteen at his most baroque.
CYHSY’s last album, Some Loud Thunder, dropped hints at this kitchen-sink creative direction, but Mo Beauty is something else entirely. There’s hardly any restraint, and the overload alternately thrills and frustrates. Sometimes it’s mesmerizing and profound: Album-opener “Modern Girl (With Scissors)” summons an orchestral fury that’d make Van Dyke Parks blush; “Obscene Queen Bee No. 2,” the album’s finest track, finds room for pedal steel, organ, and a string section, while maintaining the direction and focus of CYHSY’s better numbers. But sometimes it’s a bit too much. On “When You’ve No Eyes,” Ounsworth sings about lonely waitresses while a saxophone farts mournfully in the background. Just listening to it requires rinsing one’s ears out with Born To Run.