The formula that makes Prinzhorn Dance School work is one of utter simplicity; they’re the reason the word “minimal” is used in music discussion. England’s Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn may have a similar setup to The White Stripes, but the bass and drums compositions these two put out make even the early Jack White work seem flamboyant. Their 2007 self-titled debut album received amazingly mixed reviews (heck, the The Guardian gave it either one or four stars; the reviewer couldn’t decide) despite some superb, weirdo dance-punk hits. While they may be taking baby steps in altering that formula (most notably by adding a healthy smudge of guitar), the little change that does show makes their new disc, Clay Class, a deeper experience.
That sameness is something that gives their tightly wound, little post-punk tunes such a mesmerizing quality. When Prinz blithely barks that “It’s cyclical/it’s circular/it’s human nature” on “Usurper”, the single bass note and bass drum rhythm that pound out behind him reinforce it the same way that the 11 songs on the album reinforce each other. When they do alter their sound, it’s for a stark effect. The twanging guitar and deliberately sweet harmonies on “I Want You” keep the same insistent simplicity but soften the whole palette severely. Where their debut felt powerful in its saturation of a single tone, Clay Class shines in its subtle changes to that tone.
On “The Flora and Fauna”, Prinz’s voice is echoed at various times by the interlocking bass, guitar, and Horn harmonies, and the simplicity is suddenly a multitude. Their messages may still be repeated ad nauseam (turning simple social commentaries into absurd slogans), but the shading that surrounds them is enhanced tenfold. The straightforward dance-y quality of much of their last album is replaced instead by a lithe slinkiness here, a sweet tottering there. But rather than losing any consistency, the fluidity of form builds a richer world.
Essential Tracks: “Usurper” and “I Want You”