Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: New Fragility (milky clear translucent) LP

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What are we to make of the world? In many ways, the title New Fragility perfectly sums up our collective state of unease and anxiety, but it's particularly apt for singer-songwriter Alec Ounsworth / Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the trauma he's spent the best part of three years processing. "It's pretty personal," says Ounsworth. "It's about what I think we're all experiencing at the moment, certainly here in the United States anyway – trying to move forward amidst an almost cruel uncertainty." Taken from the David Foster Wallace short story "Forever Overheard," from the collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men – "You have grown into a new fragility," says the story's adolescent narrator – the title track documents what happens directly after a long relationship comes to an end, and what's discovered soon after. "There comes a period of making up for lost time in a changed world," says Ounsworth, "and now is a time of predictable stupidity."

New Fragility finds Ounsworth asking the questions that haunt us all. Depression, divorce, getting older, and confronting the past are all raked over, as are the early years of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the pernicious influence of fame. And with such heartfelt lyrics married to his unique, eclectic music and distinctive voice, it's another classic entry in the career of one of independent music's brightest, and most durable, artists. The first singles taken from New Fragility, the double A-side of "Hesitating Nation" and "Thousand Oaks," are deeply political, charting the decline of a nation. New Fragility is not without moments of beauty though. "Innocent Weight," the first time Ounsworth has employed a string quartet, is a fragile, plaintive ballad that frames the dissolution of a relationship in heart-breaking terms ("I don't know what I've done wrong"). Ditto the wondrously sad "Mirror Song," which combines piano and toy piano to great effect, and deconstructs the pressure of touring, the perils of self-medication, and questioning one's motives for pursuing music as a career. 

Personal yet universal, New Fragility confronts numerous modern ills. "Where They Perform Miracles," a song concerning spirituality and alternative methods of healing, harks back to Ounsworth's time as an anthropology student doing fieldwork in Mexico, while "Dee, Forgiven" is an intimate look at what harm anxiety, and the over-prescription of certain medication, has on the vitality of youth. The song contains one of Ounsworth's strongest vocals yet – a quivering beacon that shifts from a wail to a low grumble in the blink of an eye, a remarkable expressive instrument that sits perfectly amid the understated orchestration. For 15 years, it's been one of music's most distinctive voices, and it's never sounded as rich or poised.

Together with his keen ear for melody and his unique, eclectic approach to composition – witness the gentle acoustic picking of "Where They Perform Miracles," the spacious strings and woozy synths of "CYHSY, 2005," or the rambling, slowed down bar-room blues of album closer "If I Were More Like Jesus" – New Fragility is the sound of an artist completely at ease in his work, and unafraid to confront the difficult questions that haunt us all. The album was produced by Alec Ounsworth, with additional production from Will Johnson, recorded by Britton Beisenherz in Austin, TX and mixed by John Agnello in New Jersey, mastered by Greg Calbi.

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