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Phenomenal Handclap Band

Form & Control

[Tummy Touch; 2012]

By ; March 19, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

I first became acquainted with The Phenomenal Handclap Band the day I saw them perform in Hyde Park during the summer of 2010. They were a group of eight women and men adorned in colourful garb, sauntering around the stage enthusiastically, jamming out in kinetic disco-tinged dance music. It made for an entertaining 45 minutes, but my first thought the moment they left the stage was: how good could they make all of that sound in the studio?

The question plagued me for the rest of the afternoon, but after getting my hands on a copy of their self-titled debut a couple of days later, I was let down by how diluted everything sounded. It was cheerful and catchy, but without the stacks of speakers that accompanied them on Hyde Park’s main stage (which I’m now convinced was probably the best possible place I could have seen them perform), there was surprisingly little to grab onto. It was invigorating in spurts, but it felt maddeningly flat coming from my own sound system.

Form & Control, their sophomore record, follows a similar blueprint of 70’s style grooves and funky mélanges. While there are some thoroughly enjoyable moments, the band’s initial problems have been weighed down ever further by an absence of hooks, overproduction and weak vocals. On “The Right One,” Quinn Luke and Laura Marin cram way too many syllables into each line. They utter “We torn down statues just to see the roots/Overstate the welcome of youthful pursuits,” in an unpleasantly mechanical fashion. The performance sounds calculatingly detached; the only perceptible human element is its clumsiness.

While the players are all good at what they do, the production is so perfect, each instrument so polished and shiny, every sound layered with the utmost care that the feeling and friendliness has been buffed out of the music. Based on what I’ve seen of them, they probably had fun jamming out like this, but you wouldn’t know it based on the finished product. “The Unknown Faces at Father James Park” and “The Attempt” work to sound upbeat, but end up being sleepy and forgettable. “Form & Control” strikes a more somber mood, with catchy barroom piano and interlocking guitar parts. Unfortunately, the vocals are once again passive, content with letting the above-average instrumentation take centre stage instead. “Give” is a bright spot, with an earworm melody soaked in reverb and supple drumming keeping it all together, as is “Afterglow,” which is perhaps the most accessible track of the bunch.

The aspirations of Form & Control come across as strangely utilitarian. It’s a polite album, full of immaculately produced tracks and a handful of solid numbers amidst a lot of 120bpm dance floor filler. While music like this can serve a purpose, it’s probably not the one The Phenomenal Handclap Band had in mind. At the end of the day, it’s just too laid back for an album that’s meant to get your feet going.


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