6.5
Music  |  Reviews

Phenomenal Handclap Band: Form & Control

January 24, 2012  |  3:35pm
Phenomenal Handclap Band: <i>Form & Control</i>

Judging by their most recent press pics, I’m going to assume this New York City psych-disco collective is currently composed of six members. But Phenomenal Handclap Band sound like a whole massive army of retro warriors. Let’s get it out of the way early: These guys live and breathe groove. Their collective instrumental prowess is dizzying—each instrument occupying its own sonic space, each drum fill, synth pad and bass run perfectly layered into a throbbing mass that reaches nearly symphonic levels.

Every note on Form & Control, the band’s sophomore album, is exactly in tune. Every sound is polished, every instrument immaculately layered. Which is actually their biggest problem—for a groove-based unit with this much skill, Phenomenal Handclap Band sound wound up, rather than free-spirited. Two female voices, nearly robotic in their harmonic counterbalance, lead the pulsating “The Right One.” With its sparkling synths, flanged drums, head-bobbing bass, it’s certainly a groove worth revisiting, and there’s no denying their compositional know-how. But something about the song (like much of the album as a whole) feels anonymous, professional to the point of politeness. There’s absolutely zero tension (sexual or otherwise) in the zombified vocals, and the music is spit-shined to sonic sterility. Too often, it’s elevator-funk, waiting room disco.

In fact, Phenomenal Handclap Band sound, yes, phenomenal, when you can tell they’re human beings playing live instruments: The spacey, liquidy title track offers a rare vocal performance with some actual emotion, and the music is even better—deft piano runs, swirling guitars that rise in effects-pedal flames. The nearly kraut-rock “Winter Falls” builds an organic, tough-as-nails groove and pounds it straight into your skull. Meanwhile, the hard-charging, Spanish-tinged “Afterglow,” with its Santana-like distortion, congas and dexterous drums, is the album’s most immediate track.

Something tells me PHB would be even better live—with their psychedelic Summer of Love imagery and, better yet, a chance to maybe not sound so freaking perfect.

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