Prinzhorn Dance School: Clay Class

Somber, minimalist punk rockers from Britain serve up a solid sophomore effort, full of ominous bass lines and oblique lyrics.

Prinzhorn Dance School

Clay Class

Label: DFA
US Release Date: 2012-01-31
UK Release Date: 2012-01-30

There's an undeniable sense of dread that sinks in as you listen to "Happy in Bits", the opener to Prinzhorn Dance School's new sophomore album Clay Class. Like everything on the album, "Happy in Bits" is extremely stark and minimalist: bass and drums duel with sinister urgency underneath the insistent, half-shouted refrain of "We're happy in pieces / Happy in bits / You and me / Just happy to be", with occasional laconic bursts of angular melody from a guitar. The spare instrumentation makes the song's opening declaration, "I'm glad you're here", sound like you've just walked into a prison cell. That suffocating feeling pervades Clay Class, an album full of tight, stripped-down punk burners that hit pretty hard until they start blurring at the edges.

The duo takes its moniker from their surnames -- Tobin Prinz plays drums and Suzi Horn plays bass -- but also from the German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn, who pioneered the study of art created by the mentally ill. That second etymology seems like a key touchstone for understanding the band's modus operandi, as if their music could be the soundtrack to a dance class populated by psychopaths. What it also sounds like is a comfortable middle ground between the sneering pop-punk of Los Campesinos! and the pared-down slinkiness of the xx, with a maturity and hard edge that neither of those bands possess. Prinz's vocals stand out throughout the album, reminiscent of XTC's Colin Moulding, and the slightness of Horn's voice sitting on top adds a great sense of vertical space when the two sing in octaves, as on "The Flora and Fauna of Britain in Bloom".

Prinzhorn Dance School finds the most success when they use their distinctive sound to fuel a really distinctive song. Two of the strongest are "Usurper", which recalls "War Pigs" with its martial-sounding drums and incisive lyrics, and "I Want You", a little slice of shoegaze in which PDS allow a guitar to flesh out the sound a bit. On the former, Prinz and Horn bleat epithets like "We don't need you / We don't want you / Step aside / Get off", an improvement over some of the later songs on the album that seem content to simply stick to the blueprint. The latter, meanwhile, wraps a pretty vicious love letter -- "I want you / Suffocate your soul / Cage your freedom / In a loving prison" -- in a romantic decoy of a song.

The second half of the album doesn't live up to the rather strong first side, with less-inspired, somewhat tuneless songs like "Crisis Team" and "Sing Orderly" mostly providing more of the same. The exception is "Turn Up the Light", which features some guitar work and vocal harmony made really thrilling by the utter lack of it anywhere else. Clay Class goes out with more of a whimper than a bang, but it's hard to root against it. Prinzhorn's one-of-a-kind sound has an admirable consistency to it, even if the pony becomes a little one-trick after a while.





The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.