Release Date: Feb 14, 2012
Record label: Tummy Touch Records
Push play on the oddly named N.Y.C.-based Phenomenal Handclap Band's sophomore release and be transported back to the early-'80s dance-art-pop glory days of the Human League, OMD, and Heaven 17, among many others. The bass bounces, the knowingly dated synths buzz and whirl, and the male/female vocals sing with icy yet sexy detachment. Real (not synthesized) drums, guitars, and bass slather it all with a refreshingly organic buzz that doesn't seem retro as much as honest and full-bodied, if not exactly emotional.
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.
On Form & Control, the 2012 reincarnation of The Phenomenal Handclap Band has zeroed in on a more consistent sound than what they put together on their 2009 self-titled hodgepodge debut. Granted, that debut turned some heads – but with impressive guest stars like Jon Spencer and members of TV on the Radio, and groovy tunes that each caught ears for different reasons, how could it have not? It’s a bit too obvious that the main (and perhaps only) problem with the debut was that it touched on too many sounds. Each time the long album finished spinning, we were left unknowing who exactly The Phenomenal Handclap Band was, if they’d ever appear again, or if the album was just an excuse by DJ’s-turned-producers Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand to collaborate with so many renowned musicians.
This New York hipster-disco outfit, led by producers Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand, say their second album was modelled on a long list of disparate names, including Justice, the Human League and the Steve Miller Band. That should have spawned one bizarre mish-mash, but - like many groups who claim a panoply of eclectic influences - Phenomenal Handclap Band are less adventurous than they'd like to believe. On Form & Control, they stick to a conventional disco/funk template (whorls of synth, stabbing horns) and frost it with stomping electro-pop.
Disco's resurgence over the past 10 years, in both indie and dance circles, has had everything to do with its rougher and more minimal edges. From the raw punk-funk of early DFA Records to the more recent trend of stripped-down re-edits, bands and producers of the 2000s excised disco's gaudier, more extravagant traits-- diva vocals, symphonic sweeps of strings and brass-- in favor of grooves and attitude. But NYC disco-pop collective the Phenomenal Handclap Band are swimming against the tide, indulging in disco's excesses and 70s lite-AM ambitions.
The New York funkateers’ second album has its influences stacked up just so: Labelle, LCD Soundsystem, Scissor Sisters, a touch of Funkadelic and a lick of Prince. So how come so much of ‘Form & Control’ struggles to get to its feet, let alone dance? It could be that less is more. The best disco and funk, however camp, keeps its message minimal, as did PHB’s punchy 2009 single ‘15 To 20’; here, Laura Marin and Quinn Luke cram excessive lyrics into songs such as ‘Shake’, creating stodge instead of sleekness.
In 2009, the Phenomenal Handclap Band debuted with an album of nostalgic grooves that felt like opening up the trunk of your cool uncle’s Mustang to find a bewildering array of funk and soul vinyls. The New York-based group’s self-titled album had guest spots from members of TV on the Radio, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and The Dap-Kings to back them up. After a tour with Bryan Ferry and a Diane Birch-assisted covers EP, the Phenomenal Handclap Band return with its sophomore release, Form & Control, which feels more centered, yet as retro as ever.
New York’s Phenomenal Handclap Band first gathered momentum with the European and American club hit ’15 to 20’ which also featured in the 2010 film Twelve. This initial buzz would soon wear off, however. Formed by DJ/producers Daniel Collás and Sean Marquand, the duo’s East Village recording sessions eventually led to their evolution into an eight-piece act, and their recordings at London’s RAK studios (famously used by Hot Chocolate, fact fans) is where they would produce their self-titled debut.
New York funk and disco collective the Phenomenal Handclap Band struck retro funk pop gold in 2009 with their eponymous debut album which contained the almost ubiquitous single, the Tom Tom Club aping ‘15-20’. The group strive to repeat that winning formula of disco and psychedelic rock on their second full-length album ‘Form & Control’, however their retro dance sound is not quite so effective second time round. The robotic disco rock of opening track ‘Following’ features vocalist Laura Marin exhorting to ‘Come & Join Us’ and throughout the rest of the record we join the group for a record that is steeped in authentic and, it has to be said, exceptionally crafted disco rock.
The New York group tightens its sound with mixed results. Marcus J. Moore 2012. In 2009, The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s self-titled debut album dripped with agitated ambition. Though chastised by some critics, it was a set which left the listener never knowing what to expect from the ….