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Prinzhorn Dance School returns with stripped-down, post-punk album

Prinzhorn Dance School
Clay Class

What’s the difference between being a mysterious cult favorite and just an excellent band? In the case of Prinzhorn Dance School, a very good second album. The U.K. duo seemed plucked out of an alternate, black-and-white universe when it released its self-titled debut in 2007. That bleak batch of songs — sinister, minimalist, not much more than piercing guitar lines, shouted slogans, and rudimentary rhythmic thumps — was tense and thrilling. A striking and fully formed statement, it also seemed like a complete one, based on the silence that followed.

But four and a half years later, Tobi Prinz and Suzi Horn have resurfaced with “Clay Class.” The album’s mere existence kills the notion of a band that delivers a singular musical message then disappears into the abyss, the subject of romantic conjecture and what-ifs. “Clay Class” is more of the same and that’s more than all right — Prinzhorn’s music remains singularly jarring and efficient.

The arrangements are both stark and simple, post-punk stripped to its bare essentials. Strummed chords aren’t part of the band’s musical vocabulary. Prinz attacks single strings, and the notes slice through the empty spaces that populate these songs. Tempos regularly keep listeners off balance; “Seed, Crop, Harvest” and “Your Fire Has Gone Out” crawl and lurch forward. There are no grooves, just stops and starts. Most lyrics could double as lines from a post-apocalyptic manifesto (“Skinny trees naked in winter/ Britain in bloom”) and are sung as if they are.

Even while continuing to work with the same self-imposed aesthetic limitations, “Clay Class” finds Prinzhorn Dance sounding less like a musical art project and more like a band. Now to make sure they keep acting like one.

David Malitz

Prinzhorn Dance School's “Clay Class” (Courtesy of DFA Records)

Recommended Tracks

“Your Fire Has Gone Out,” “Seed, Crop, Harvest,” “The Flora and the Fauna of Britain in Bloom”

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