An opinion-dividing debut if ever there was one, Prinzhorn Dance School’s self-titled album was released via James Murphy’s DFA Records in 2007, perplexing as many people as it excited. Its skeletal, posturing, meticulously arranged, raggedly played art-rock was derided by some, lauded by others but mainly it was something to appreciate rather than fall head over heels for. And even though we find ourselves five years on, their sophomore effort will produce the same split.
A tightly wound record, Clay Class has all the distinct markers of their first – cerebral lyrics, punk inspired baselines, awkward silences, a rhythmic tedium and the odd yelping voice – but it is warmer somehow, more lived in. Its jittery, dis-jointed, sparse base/drum/guitar instrumentals have been wrapped in fragile melodic layers courtesy of Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn’s boy/girl vocals. The Brighton pair’s duality still twists and turns like two personalities trapped inside the same paranoid dream, but their bittersweet, half-spoken/half-sung voices no longer find themselves in stringent competition with arhythmic beats; rather they ebb and flow together, softening the abrasive edges. Nowhere is this more evident than in album highlight I Want You, with propulsive, swelling guitars that give way to besotted, saccharine though sinister wails of “I want you/ Stab your sweet smile/ Drown your laughter.”
Their bleak, dry and frayed avant-garde experiments remain in the stop-start instrumentals and yelping vocals of previously released album track Usurper and the simple stream of consciousness aesthetics of Your Fire Has Gone Out. The socio-political commentary is still here too, not least in the muted, wry, rasping statements of The Flora And Fauna Of Britain In Bloom but the album works best when all elements combine in an almost harmonious cacophony. Seed Crop Harvest seems to express Prinzhorn’s vision must succinctly, its fractured ranting vocals exposing the bare rhythmic bones before a wonderfully understated, fuzzy guitar solo gives the song some real flesh.
An unfettered sonic experiment from a commercially unconcerned duo, Clay Class, whilst often pushing itself successfully into unexplored melodic territory, feels unfinished, difficult and hesitant. Ultimately, it seems unlikely to provoke adoration or outright hatred but rather, like its predecessor, will find its nuances appreciated by those that have the patience.