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Prinzhorn Dance School - Clay Class

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Artist: Prinzhorn Dance School

Album: Clay Class

Label: DFA

Review date: Jan. 30, 2012

Prinzhorn Dance School’s debut was so unique, it risked making follow-ups superfluous. More than minimal, the average Nick Drake acolyte kicks up more dust than Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn. Awkward silences made the duo’s debut nearly like a Harold Pinter drama set to bass guitar. It could be as absurdist as Pinter (sample chorus: “Hamworthy Sports & Leisure Center is a sports and leisure center”), and had the same sublimated outrage. For stretches, words became the only instrument, so stark that the return of naked snare actually filled out the sound.

So, did the world need another Prinzhorn Dance School record? Or, like Colossal Youth and Suicide before it, was the album a fully realized statement by a band with nothing else to say?

Clay Class changes things up just slightly. Prinz and Horn’s rant and response vocals line up into harmonies more than before, and the songs are longer and somewhat fuller, if still skeptical meditations more than tunes. The vocal plan works in a way that’s similar to The Fall; Prinz leads with inkblots of language, Horn interjects with girlish shouts. This Fall formula has proven infinitely extensible, and Prinz has a similar gift for spoken imagery.

“Sing Orderly” is six minutes of the same drums, bass and guitar lines, bone dry yet undeniable in its determination. The standout phrase, “You can have any color! / You can have black!,” sounds like a stand against consumerism and conformity, but PDS are loath to address anything directly. “We’re sweeping up the patio. / We’re waiting for the clay class. / We’re hoping that it doesn’t pour.” -- there’s a double meaning in there somewhere amid the imagery of some hobbist’s pottery slumping under the weight of rain.

As brittle as these songs sound, they’re dense. At their brightest, PDS give us “I Want You,” something of a love song, longing for the trouble of relationship. They’re anti-romantic, yet domestic.

Even with bursts of ill-tuned twang, Prinz and Horn’s harshness is centered and tame. They’re the darkroom negative to the rest of the DFA stable. If their lablemates don’t want the party to end, Prinzhorn Dance School never felt like leaving the house. Home economics rock.

By Ben Donnelly

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