[DFA Records; 2012]

Somewhere between the stylish garage rock of the White Stripes, the post-post-punk of the XX, and the rambunctious energy of Art Vs. Science is Prinzhorn Dance School, a duo consisting of Tobin Prinz on drums and Suzi Horn on bass (they share vocal duties, often in unison). Their style favors sing-shouted lyrics, clipped guitar lines, staccato bass lines, and bass-drum-heavy percussion. Their sophomore effort is titled Clay Class. It’s not terrible.

“We’re going half-speed, half-speed,” Prinz sings to open “Seed, Crop, Harvest.” His drums do just that, but more interesting is Horn’s bass, which goes into double-time as though making up for the midtempo rhythm. “Skies are granite-grey, granite-grey / We’re getting older, older / Got off the treadmill, treadmill / Got on the breadline, breadline,” he continues, Horn joining him for the last repeated word of each line, perhaps the simmering frustration of the global proletariat in this, the decade of downturns and recession. But then they throw us a lyrical curve: “It’s a new dawn, new dawn / It’s harvest time.” Is this supposed to be a rallying cry to some kind of class war, or is it more of an optimistic observation?

A crunchy, overdriven guitar solo (speaking of little touches) fails to answer this question, but hey, it sounds pretty cool. And it’s the second guitar solo of the record, despite appearing on just the third track; “Usurper” ends with a smoother yet equally unexpected riff. Indeed, this expanded use of the guitar — Prinz’s own, I assume — over the first half of the album signals a willingness to explore (if not transgress) the boundaries of the shabby-chic ennui of DFA Records, the Brooklyn-based label that’s released Clay Class.

Sadly, such exploration doesn’t extend to lyrical content. It’s not like I was expecting a veritable Blood on the Tracks or anything, but frankly, it’s boring to hear them intone “I want you” for the umpteenth time on a song called, you guessed it, “I Want You.” And that’s the biggest problem I have with this release; there’s an ambiguity of mood here, which I guess is supposed to come across as nonchalance but really just strikes me as ambiguity. And not the good kind of ambiguity, either, but rather a lazy manifestation there of. For instance: the chorus of “Your Fire Has Gone Out” is a repetition of the song’s title, each word enunciated like Dora the Explorer teaching elementary Spanish to toddlers. This goes on for five minutes.

You know what else goes on for five minutes? “Turn Up The Light,” which with its steady bass-drum kick and looping instrumentation could have gotten the job done in half the time. Then we get “Sing Orderly,” a six-minute tracks that finds Prinz and Horn sharing pearls of wisdom like, “We’re shouting out the windows / We’re calling fake numbers / We’re riding on our bicycles in Copenhagen and in France.” Occasionally, Prinz’s guitar will step out and make its presence felt like it did on the album’s earliest tracks. Alas, it’s not enough to keep things from getting tedious.

It seems that Prinzhorn Dance School is intent on trying listeners’ patience, seeing as how they follow these two “epic jams” with the most insufferable track on Clay Class, “Right Not Kay West.” This one’s entirely instrumental, with a glacial bassline and sporadic percussion that annoyingly mimics the sound of a jackhammer more than once. After two tolerable (just) long tracks, why they’d throw in a bit of experimentation like this is anyone’s guess. It’s not nearly as clever as I suspect they think it is, though.

So what we have here is an album that’s pretty good during its first half and pretty insufferable during its second. I will sum up my critique the way that Prinz and Horn might put it:

Clay! Class! Is! Just! Oh! Kay! *bum bum bum bum bum da-dum* But it gets repetitive after a while. (But it gets repetitive after a while!) Clay Class is just okay! Listen to the music. *ba ba dum* Maybe wearing headphones (bum bum da-dum). Clay Class is okay, okay, okay!!