A decade after the post-punk revival, ushered in by the likes of Interpol and The Rapture, very few related bands remain standing, and even fewer remain compelling. Of those few that still compel, Prinzhorn Dance School was one of the tardier appearances, arriving in 2007 with their self-titled debut. Yet the tardiness of that appearance, it cannot be denied, was more than made up for with their simultaneously sharp and informal style, their eccentric vision and their carefully crafted aura of mystery. Indeed, will we ever know the flesh-and-blood human beings who lurk behind the clearly fake personas of guitarist Tobin Prinz and bassist Suzi Horn? More importantly, should we care?
The 2007 album, however obscure or well known it was at the time, was doubtless one that polarized practically upon first listen. One either loved the band for their aggressive abstractness or hated them for their seemingly natural inability to sound reasonable in any way, like a conniving teen girl who can’t come out and say that she hates you, choosing instead to play logic-eating mind games. The songs were angular in the extreme with composition and delivery immediately recalling The Fall, while their lyrics ranged from the esoteric to the neurotic to the mundane. On the whole it was the most impersonal record of that year, maybe even that half of the decade, and when it was personal it was generally hostile. Could the band feel? Some might have asked. Do they have any concern for human life at all? For a band that poses so many questions, it’s a bit much to expect an answer on any one of them, yet five years later, with their follow-up, I personally am shocked that they’re kind of making the effort.
Clay Class, it should be noted outright, does not deviate too far from band’s previous blueprint. In fact many would consider it the twin of its debut album. But twins are not clones, and there are some deviations that see them softening their edge and purifying their perversion, if only slightly. The cerebral intensity of the last album carried over into this one more or less intact, and should please those few people who actually liked that about them. Songs like “Usurper,” “Your Fire Has Gone Out,” “Turn Up the Light” and “Sing Orderly” are tight compositions, rife with amelodic repetition and/or spare scratches of dissonance, and colored with cold diary-like observations, minimalist poetics and/or poorly expressed outbursts. When they change course they do so by injecting melody into their songs, and by extension framing songs in a more textured arrangement, and enlivening them with more concrete feeling. Generally speaking that melody is slight and the feeling is melancholic, fatalistic even, but still more notable than anything else on the album. The titular lyric from the opening song, “We’re happy in pieces/ Happy in bits,” is the clearest lyric in the song and sums up an overall feeling that swings from hope to despair with ease. It carries over with their dreary but nonetheless moving version of “Boys of Summer,” “Seed, Crop, Harvest,” to the unnerving melding of desire and malice in “I Want You,” to the kitchen sink realism and cynically realist escapism of “Flora and Fauna of Britain in Bloom.” Each song is beautiful in its own way-“I Want You” being the most radically melodic of the bunch-and each song bares its own scars that, while in various stages of healing, are less superficial than those bared on older songs like “Space Invader.”
With even the minor diversifications in Clay Class, it’s clear that the Fall comparisons become less plausible. If Prinzhorn ever had an ancestor there is no better one than Shellac. Like Shellac, PDS are known for their idiosyncratic, DIY-or-die process as much as they are for the equally idiosyncratic results. Those results being sparse, quirky songs that, as time goes by, become formed less and less by outside influences and more and more by the temperaments of the creators as they react to everything from rabid dogs to hostile neighbors to changing seasons while also alienating themselves from those very elements. We can’t expect them to change so much as we can expect them to keep their eyes opened, their teeth ground and their pale fists clenched, regardless as to whether it is in expectation of disaster, anticipation of relief, or simply the day after yesterday, before tomorrow and the next day, etc.
Pylon – Gyrate
Shellac – 1000 Hurts
The Kills – Keep On Your Mean Side