ALBUM REVIEW: The Phenomenal Handclap Band – Form And Control

Written for the 405

Dear Trading Standards,

I would like to complain about the false advertising perpetrated by the name of the American indie ensemble Phenomenal Handclap Band. Not about the use of the word “phenomenal”, as I know this is entirely subjective; my problem is that I was expecting at least some jaunty, fun-time hand-claps somewhere amongst the eleven tracks on their most recent album. And yet there are none. Do I have a case?

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Baker

Right, now we’ve got that unpleasant business out of the way, we can crack on. When they’re not irresponsibly shirking their titular responsibilities, the Phenomenal Handclap Band are trying on multiple musical hats at a time, and this, their second full-length, is no exception. The three faces of PHB are as follows:

  1. Another of those post-DFA New York electro-pop bands that were created from one of James Murphy’s ribs. Original-era drum machines beat simply, synths drone/yawn, and there are repetitive lyrics (with heavily-processed backing vocals) about partyin’ partyin’ YEAH. This includes lead-off single “Following” and “Given”, whose pulsating rhythm wouldn’t sound out of place amidst the retro electro of the much-vaunted soundtrack to Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive
  2. Formulaic guitar rock which showcases both the best and worst qualities of both modern indie and the MOR stadium fare of the eighties; the biggest culprit of this is the title track, which can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be Coldplay or Toto.
  3. A funkier groove they manage to slip into infrequently, which comes across as much more natural than the aforementioned two genres they tackle, and is a bit like a hipster Sly and the Family Stone, all low-slung bass lines and gospel vocals. This sound is most evident on stand-out track (and surely next single) “The Written Word”.

The high points of Form and Control really come when this trio of distinct sounds slot together, Megazord-like, creating something much more powerful than the sum of its parts. “Afterglow” and “Winter Falls” start with a bluesy Stones riffs and slowly build through synth stabs and funky percussion into climaxes that are equally spiritual and acid house. It’s not unlike Primal Scream circa Screamadelica (the unofficially-titled “Good Period” for Gillespie and co).

That said, a couple of decent tracks does not (necessarily) a good album make. While there might just be enough basic, repeating rhythms on Form and Control to invoke some mild bedroom dancing, it’s unlikely to gain a rapturous, euphoric reaction from a large crowd, or to leave much of a lasting impression.

5.5/10

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