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Album review: Prinzhorn Dance School's 'Clay Class'

January 30, 2012 |  3:31 pm

Album review: Prinzhorn Dance School's 'Clay Class'

Prinzhorn Dance School excels at discomfort. Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn may sing these 11 songs together, but the effect isn't one of voices in unison. Their vocals move in two separate but parallel lines, eschewing harmony for the aural equivalent of a march. 

The focus here is on the rhythm, and the lyrics are cyptically sharp, with images of bread lines and vague orders to “scratch that scar.” So when Prinz and Horn declare they're “Happy in Bits” over a spaciously struck bass on the album opener, it's unclear whether they're moderately happy or making a statement on war — with references to “bits” and “pieces” meaning blown to. This is, after all, a pair that want to “suffocate your soul,” as they sing in the album's love song “I Want You.” 

Championed and signed by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy to his DFA Records, Prinzhorn Dance School is no doubt an acquired taste. The abstract guitars and moderately paced mix of drums and bass aren't exactly danceable or excitable, and vocals hover just above spoken-word status. More forceful songs such as “Usurper” and “Shake the Jar” bring to mind the acidic funk and minimalist punk of Gang of Four, whereas the chain-link guitars of “Seed, Crop, Harvest” approach songwriting as sloganeering.

“Clay Class,” the band's second album, is an exercise in tension. When Prinz asks “Is there anything else we can do for you today?” amid the call-and-response pounding of “Your Fire Has Gone Out,” the band offers its services the same way it delivers its sound: through gritted teeth. 

Prinzhorn Dance School
"Clay Class"
DFA Records
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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-- Todd Martens 

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