Let's be honest. What some people may love about this arch, deliberately enigmatic little trio and their angular debut album are the same things that will irritate others in no small way. It's one of those.
Those of you seeking a new Kills to love, however, then here is something even more sparse, skeletal and pouty to fill that void, albeit admittedly less mature. The Prinzhorn Dance School, for those of you as yet unaware, consists of a half-speaking half-singing man (Tobin Prinz) and a woman who occasionally shouts things (such as 'hobgoblins'. And why not?). That's Suzi Horn. And, dare we say it, it's largely rather pretentious.
From the off we learn pretty quickly what the Prinzhorn schtick is: repeated motoriks of thunking guitar and naive thudding drums reminiscent of the infinitely more adorable and melodic Glas Vegas. And of course, some jerky shouty vocals from Suzi Horn and Tobin Prinz. It's a very long album - considering most of the 16 tracks are, to be fair, the same song slightly rearranged, or with a different random word being shouted. 'Beeswax!' for instance.
'Up! Up! Up!', was a novelty for some when it appeared in May, with repeated shoutings of, you guessed it, 'Up! Up! Up!', guitar lurching luxuriantly off key, all mingling under a veil of vague intrigue. But "Hamworthy Sports And Leisure Centre" is smirkingly posy, and could well provoke a rolling of eyes from the not so easily impressed.
Latest single 'You Are The Space Invader' fares better, the same posiness hovers but there is more to interest the listener and it's almost danceable. 'Spaceman In Your Garden' is probably the best track on the whole album, displaying a mysterious melodic softness clashing gently against the insensitive, relentless strumming.
There's something interesting about the Prinzhorn Dance School, certainly, but there are layers of chilly self-consciousness to be chipped at first before we can see more than a glimpse of it. --Zoe Street Howe
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YOU ARE THE SPACE INVADER: Prinzhorn Dance School are Tobin Prinz (guitar/ vocals, drums) and Suzi Horn (bass/ vocals, drums). Although they met in Brighton, it isn't easy to say where they are based. They are nomadic, Suzi has moved seven times since Prinzhorn Dance School began, and 23 times in her life so far.
However, all of the band's music has been written in one location: a room in a disused chapel, beside a motorway, overlooking Portsmouth's dockyard. Suzi: "We started hanging out there and making funny noises with a cheap bass and a crappy drumkit. I'd never played bass before and T had never drummed. The simplicity pleased and excited us."
I DO NOT LIKE CHANGE: Simplicity is key to Prinzhorn Dance School. They value a raw, natural sound - "kick drums that sound like kick drums, a snare that sounds like a snare" - and quickly evolved a minimalist aesthetic. "We didn't say, 'let's be a band', or anything, we just enjoyed the sound of hitting things. However, we quickly worked out that every time we added a layer of sound on top, something got lost. We wanted to keep everything sounding real and special and we knew the only way was to put less in." The 16 track debut album (as yet untitled) does not have a single strummed guitar chord on it. Instead, drums, bass and wiry guitar are enjoined in a delicate balancing act where what isn't happening, the space and silence, is just as important as what is. WORKER: Writing and recording in their own way, with their own peculiar methodologies (relying on charts and novel mathematical systems), the Horn have more in common with artists, "in a non-bullshit way", than musicians. Their motivation and driving force is repetition and routine, and, although they perform live with a drummer, they write and record on their own, in splendid isolation. "We go into our room and we feel free from all the crap outside, and in our heads. We just feel better," says Tobin. "It gives us a rare chance to do things properly, to take our time and breathe and get things perfect. Everything seems slap-dash these days. We have a rule that we do everything ourselves. The music, the artwork, the decisions. It keeps everything coherent. If you delegate something I guarantee somebody will mess it up. We really like doing things ourselves. It's like a therapy thing. We always leave the chapel buzzing."
After a few months of experimenting late into the night ("We like it when it's dark, when there's vodka and no light."), songs began to emerge from the noise. Torn between wanting "to share them with people but also keep it secret", Prinzhorn Dance School only ever sent out five demo CDs. Each was stapled into a pocket of carpet underlay, screen-printed with their name and included a short note: "We made some songs. They felt special. These are the songs we made." "We don't like waste," stresses Suzi. "We used underlay from the recycle-bank. We fought for recycling clauses in our contract. There is no excuse for not using recycled paper for record sleeves and promotional stuff. Yeah, it costs a bit more, but most of the wastage comes down to laziness."
LAWYER'S WATER JUG: After seeing the name on a flier (for Manchester disco-punk night, Club Suicide) one such demo was dispatched to DFA in New York, which the Horn presumed was a tiny, DIY operation. "We didn't know they were part of EMI," smiles Tobin. "We didn't realize there would be a 70-page recording contract. We agonized over it for a long time. We wouldn't have considered any other label, it's the perfect match-up, but it was still the most difficult decision I have ever made."
BLACK BUNKER: The album, which includes the debut single 'You Are The Space Invader' and follow up 'Up! Up! Up!', was recorded in a National Trust cottage in Devon, a barn in Sussex and then mixed with "incredibly respectful" help from James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy and Eric Broucek in NYC. "In Devon," reports Suzi, "all we did was shout, scream, cry and fight. We came away with nothing. We had two days off and then we found the barn in Sussex. That's when it felt special again and the recording started. We are very hard on ourselves and each other, abusive even, but I suppose that's part of it." Tobin is equally philosophical: "Honesty is good. If Sooz says, 'these lyrics are shit', I can accept that because we respect each other. It works both ways." If it sounds like an arduous process, it is, but that painful self-criticism also gives Prinzhorn Dance School a perverse steely resilience. "It doesn't matter if people come up and say 'you're crap'," says Suzi, "because I'm proud of this, and I've never been able to say that about anything else."
HAMWORTHY SPORTS & LEISURE CENTRE: The songs that emerge are remarkable, not least in the language they use. "I'm uncomfortable with music's `dictionary of cool'," says Tobin, referring to the tired phrases that denote "rock 'n' roll" attitude, or the hollow clichés of radio love songs. In stark contrast, his words (scratched in notebooks, then endlessly edited until they're as lean and effective as the music) deliberately reference a very real provincial England: the England of Travelodge's, the NHS, egg 'n' cress sandwiches, Deep Heat ointment, obscure towns like Mansfield. Like Ray Davies or Morrissey at their parochial best, the specific sense of place, of England, is thrilling. Tobin evokes the everyday - middle-aged couples dancing to a "five-piece soul band" at Hamworthy Sports & Leisure centre - with a novelist's eye.
NO BOOKS: In Britain today, anyone questioning the orthodoxy that this is now a modern, dynamic, progressive country is shouted down as a leftie, a moaner, a defeatist. Prinzhorn Dance School dispute this. Their passion manifests itself in beautiful, enigmatic forms at times, but it is real and genuine. 'No Books' (a "ballad" that uses a one-note guitar line and clever drum manipulation) could refer to those mining communities still suffering the after-shocks of Thatcherism, or, simply, the lack of library provision in suburban communities. Tobin is noncommittal: "There is no political agenda. I just write about what I see. I write about people and places and objects."
DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS: Probably the only new band in Britain not to have a "murdoch-space" (myspace) site, Prinzhorn Dance School have already been accused of diffidence and secrecy. In reality, they're not Luddites (they have a website), but they do refuse to open up their private lives to "sticky-beaks and flappy-mouths" online or behave in what is perceived to be a sensible, careerist way. "The internet is to blame," says Tobin. "Everything is easy access. It's too convenient. People expect to know everything. But excitement is about not knowing everything."
UP! UP! UP!: What is success for Prinzhorn Dance School? Certainly not the obvious. All of this, the sonic and emotional honesty of the songs, and the routines they impose on themselves, feels like a cleansing ritual for two people who are more interested in confronting big (personal) issues with their music, rather than wooing mainstream radio. "I'd like our music to make some people feel more normal," says Suzi. "I'd like people to say `I'm not mad, I can say out loud that I feel vulnerable or scared'. If it affects one person like that, like the way it helps me, I'll feel like we've done our job properly. That is success."