Prinzhorn Dance School Prinzhorn Dance School

[DFA/Astralwerks; 2007]

Styles: minimal post-punk
Others: Joy Division, Gang of Four, Jandek

The DFA crowd has been credited since the early part of this decade with reviving post-punk from the late ’70s and early ’90s by charging it with a sweating, glittering disco motor. Releases from The Rapture and their labelmates and followers succeeded on their excesses: of energy, of hooks, of cowbell, of attitude. Prinzhorn Dance School turn that model on its head and champion the minimalist, melancholic tendencies of post-punk (but they, thankfully, could never be described as “angular” or “jangly.”) Their self-titled release consists of 16 songs stripped naked and exposed to the Brighton cold. The template is relentlessly basic: a stupid-simple bass hook gargles underneath drum lines slowed to half speed while the two vocalists speak their late capitalist dis-ease into the mic. Bare refrains that could be howled are simply repeated in an almost naïve sing-song that lends them an air of shadowy authority.

With so little to focus on musically, the lyrics command the most attention. Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn keep themselves listenable by being clever, self-conscious, and satirical. The lyrics for “I Do Not Like Change” read like a more reserved version of Stephen Colbert’s skewering of President Bush at the Correspondent’s Dinner a few years ago: “I do not like change/ I’ve always walked this way/ I liked memorized facts.” Elsewhere they play it straight (I think…) to lament the ubiquity of CCTV cameras in Britain, air pollution, and a host of other things (space exploration? See track 6). The sardonic observations are somewhat reminiscent of James Murphy’s, although Prinzhorn Dance School prefer to be arch rather than acerbic. Theirs is a slower poison (both in tempo and effect) that can give even a relatively fun song like “Up! Up! Up!” a gloomy, rotten bent: the central image is “cockroaches in my ice cream.

This record could be perfect for a certain twilit, first-beer-after-work mood. That is, if you’re looking to make yourself feel uncomfortable about the fact that you have a job and a home to come to and a stereo on which to listen to it. Like that beer, the repetitive, grayscale songs on this record will work as a depressant. The room will seem too large and too small at once. Prinzhorn Dance School are beyond the anger that has fueled so many punk groups over the years; they’re immune to the libido and élan of their current labelmates; what I hear on this stingy debut is something more perturbing than either: resignation.

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