Prinzhorn Dance School are a bit of an enigma. Signed to New York’s DFA label late last year, they’ve released three singles, played a handful of gigs, and famously failed to get visas to support LCD Soundsystem in the US. Their website contains pictures of their feet and little else: while they’re not exactly camera-shy, it’s unlikely that we’ll see them staggering out of Groucho’s with a bottle of Bolly anytime soon.
This distrust of the accoutrements of celebrity is mirrored in PDS’ music. If you’ve been keeping up with their singles, the sparseness of their debut will come as no surprise; for everyone else, the first listen will be something of an experience. Many people will buy this album on the strength of the DFA association alone; many, I think, will not be happy, having equated DFA with danceable punk-funk.
Their loss: they forget that DFA has always held its arms open for the obtuse, on one hand providing a home for the pop sensibilities of The Rapture, on the other providing sanctuary for the deeply experimental Black Dice. My point? PDS are not an anomaly, no matter what various press outlets may lead you to believe.
So forget all the accusations of pretentiousness that have already been thrown at this album. Sometimes people’s lack of perspective astounds me: surely pretentious is Steve Reich swinging a microphone over a loudspeaker and claiming it as music; Karlheinz Stockhausen telling musicians to tune a shortwave radio into ‘the music beyond the stars’; even beloved indie gods Radiohead flirting with their fans via Kid A and Amnesiac. Pretension can be good , a force to wash away the simple pleasures of popularism, a way to open your eyes to the manifold possibilities of the future.
Yet, however I might choose to qualify it, there’s no getting round the fact that PDS play music that seems to redefine ‘sparse’: while the careful listener will ascertain that every bass line, every drumbeat, every shouted lyric has been planned with a militaristic precision, this is not music for the attentionally-challenged. The singles You Are The Space Invader, Up!Up!Up! and Crackerjack Docker provide the most immediate pleasures here, but there is much to enjoy on the album for the patient music lover.
Opener Black Bunker is the nearest PDS get to the back room blues of The White Stripes, and it’s a powerful manifesto of basic guitar, drums, bass and Tobin and Suzi’s spoken word paranoia.
Lyrically, PDS exist in a very 21st-century England: CCTV is everywhere, bureaucracy holds sway, and the disinterested masses rule. Whether they’re wondering Do You Know Your Butcher, exhorting you to ensure you Don’t Talk To Strangers, or focusing on the work-sleep-work inevitability of manual work in Crackerjack Docker, PDS seem to be happiest as a kind of anti-government information film: instead of encouraging blind obedience, they desire nothing less than pure anarchic revolution. In this context, PDS’ choice to work within a limited musical palette makes a lot of sense; not for everyone, maybe, but I could say the same about sushi.
So are PDS the musical equivalent of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Dogma 95′ rules? Or is this a symbiosis of work and art, a ‘steel rhythm’ for workers akin to the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s vision of the future from his dystopian novel ‘We’? It’s certain that much of PDS’ debut skirts close to the world of the undeveloped B-side, but there are enough bold, unique voices on this album to convince you that it deserves your attention.