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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
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Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Prinzhorn Dance School
Prinzhorn Dance School

Rating: 8/10 ?

September 4, 2007
Imagine, if you will, Damon Albarn being transported back to Berlin, circa 1984, and choosing to form a solo side project to Blur (yet-to-be-formed, of course). He runs into Spoon's Britt Daniel and, inspired by the Texan's minimalist approach to melody and rhythm, decides to forego the rave-laced atmosphere of Gorillaz for something simpler, say a bass guitar and drum (that's singular). Later Albarn meets up with the DFA crew, who decide to mix his side project, bringing to the barely-set table their precise, dance-worthy pulse. Oh, and before recording begins, Albarn of course meets a girl, who loves to shriek and chant, so he dutifuly plugs her in the mix. Naturally, such an endeavour would need to be called Prinzhorn Dance School.

Now that we've established some idea of this delightfully unique get-up, here's the real story. Prinzhorn Dance School is the creation of media-shy Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn, and I suppose the name is infinitely cooler than Tobinsuzi, so good first move. Their self-titled debut was privately written and recorded in an abandoned, broken down chapel in Portsmouth, England, in their own austere and peculiar way. As the pair explains it, "We wrote some songs, and we liked the way they felt - sparse, stripped back and honest. We like to hear everything clearly. We don't fuss over equipment." Clearly this tag-team doesn't believe in embellishing their words either, as this evaluation is dead accurate, in that mathematical sort of way.

Not that there exists a need to state the obvious, but Prinzhorn Dance School is straight away one of the more unique releases of the year. From the opening sounds of "Black Bunker," listening to this 42 minute romp is at times both exhilarating and exasperating; there is so little going on here, yet so much, and at times the swelling potential is palpable. Almost every one of the album's sixteen tracks is based around a marching bassline, hits of angular guitar, infrequent drumbeats and intoxicating vocals spewing bleak and blackly humorous lyrics. Prinzhorn Dance School make Jack and Meg White seem like the Polyphonic Spree.

"Worker" is a prime example of the many "songs" here that could be the soundtrack to the Cold War version of Office Space. "You/ you are the worker/ can I have/ a lollipop please/ can you help me/ with my oranges and greens." Then there are the James Murphy/Tim Goldsworthy gems that sparkle with their grooviness, like the danceable "Don't Talk to Strangers," with it's "wah wah wah" chorus. Prinz and Horn have a few other stops to pull out along the way, including a great sense of vocal phrasing, which is key when the lyrics are this front and center. In "Do you Know Your Butcher" (seriously), there is a three second pause of total silence in between the line "do you" and "know your baker," the result of which is splendidly disorienting. The highlights of this droning work are when the pace picks up, like on the excellent "Crackerjack Docker." Punctuating the bass and beats as good as anything since Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," the song muscles on to the mantra "It's a five o'clock shocker/ knock-knock."

It is difficult to pigeonhole Prinzhorn Dance School (hence the kaleidoscope of name-checking in the opening paragraph), and that is certainly part of the album's appeal. A bit more diversity may have made it more listenable as a whole, to a wider audience, but then its modus operandi would have been sacrificed. I've spun it many times before putting fingers to keypad, and Prinzhorn Dance School is a creeper, a grower, like a weed that becomes more attractive the taller and more familiar it grows. The record certainly gets an "A" for ambition; and though sometimes that precept makes bands go over-the-top, Prinzhorn Dance School are safely "under-the-top." Like in a Cold War black bunker.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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