Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A disco at the edge of the world - The Phenomenal Handclap Band

The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s self-titled debut album featured as one of 3 PBS FM’s albums of the week a few months ago, and I’ve been meaning to give it a bit of attention for some time. With its quirky and boppy upbeat sounds, like some sort of indie dance music, it seemed just the perfect thing for me to pick today to round off a particularly great long weekend.

The band itself has been brought together by underground DJs New York DJs Daniel Collás and Sean Marquand, and comprises a mix of New York dissidents from the pop, indie and soul music scenes.

It results in something that sounds a bit like a dance album but, when you listen to it a bit more closely, you hear so many strange snatches of styles and influences that you begin to see what it’s like to be fun and original at the same time.

‘Journey to Serra da Estrala’, which opens the album, has a kind of spacey dance electronica feel to it, but one that really does make you feel it is taking you on a fantastic journey somewhere, with smooth floating synthesisers, full of exotic excitement.

It’s a pretty good indicator of what’s to come on this album. You feel you’re not just journeying through space, but through time, too – dabbling into the pop of the sixties, the disco of the seventies, the prog rock of the eighties, shamelessly stealing bits from everywhere, with neither apology nor permission, but putting all of it to great use, mixing all these elements of other people’s pasts, and making you feel that you are listening to someone else’s future.

And with the bringing together of different time worlds, other unlikely partnerships are made, too, like the way soft, cool vocals are underlined by hard rock beats and electric guitars in ‘Testimony’, or the way a barren, relentless beat are mixed with smooth 60s vocals, and little snippets of Philip Glass-like keyboard passages, in ‘You’ll Disappear’, or the way things seem so fresh and full of air in ‘Dim the Lights’, even with its coarse and grainy guitar work. Wild guitar riffs, straight from the 60s, are sandwiched between passages of epic metalesque doom and bright, boppy 70s pop, in ‘The Martyr’. Twirling psychedelic electornics dance around 60s soul in 'Baby'.

And yet none of this really sounds like a pastiche of things thrown willy-nilly together – but rather like a tapestry that has always been waiting to be made.

If it doesn’t exactly leave you feeling that you have been put into the middle of a cosmic, timeless dance-floor, it does make you feel you are a part of an electronic multiculturalism – the music of African jungles and Cuban streets played on the duke boxes of ritzy Western night clubs.

If The Phenomenal Handclap Band didn’t do such a masterly and clever job of bringing so many disparate things together, you might well think this album is made for the treadmill. But, as it happens, it’s so much more than that. It has shown us that you can take the passé and turn it into something pretty phenomenal.

Thanks once again, and as always, to 3PBS FM!!

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