Is it cool to be retro now? I dunno. I've not been paying attention , not that I ever really have , and I am really at a lost as to whether a band playing a sultry amalgamation of funk, rock , psychedelia soul , pop and probably other stuff as well could be considered hip and with it.....errr dude. The reason I mention this is because well the Phenomenal Handclap Band play a vibrant stew of funk , rock , soul and ...well I sort of give it away on that previous sentence didn't I ?
The eight piece New York collective were formed around DJs Daniel Collás and Sean Marquand. Collás and Marquand apparently got bored of playing other people's records and decided they could do it better themselves. And there is a lot to like about this album , though like I alluded earlier it is very retro. I also get the impression it is nowhere near as revolutionary or clever as the band think it is. Or maybe that's my deeply ingrained cynicism .And I am not basing my judgement( call it gut instinct if you want to be hokey ) on their band name.
Putting aside my critical sixth sense ( I see deluded people ) like I say there is much to enjoy here. The band's loose, languid style, which embellishes its disco funk beats with twists of George Clinton's psychedelic funk and Curtis Mayfield's superfly grooves embraces postivity and tripped out bonhomie with fat peels of Hammond organ , rolling gobbets of tumbling percussion , unashamedly funk guitars and perambulating bass lines. Allied to the close harmonies are some delicious David Axlerod style grooves but given a superficial production gloss of the LCD Soundsystem, CSS and Beck variety.
Though sometimes the album weaves it flouncing way up a musical cul-de-sac( "Tears " is like Nuyorican Soul trying to be The Black Eyed Peas and consequently doesn't work ) at other times it's great. "The Martyr " is like The Polyphonic Spree backed by Spinal Tap ...well for the middle eight at least. Singles "Dim The Lights " and "15 To 20 " give the music a lambent pop sheen as well as some sassy vibes ."Testimony " is positively laviscous and You'll Disappear " gives it's down and dirty funkiness a spritzy electronic tweak while "Give It A Rest " prowls like a neighbourhood tom with a PHD in prowling .
"I've been born again " the band celebrate on uh..."I've Been Born Again" not too surprisingly but the thing is ...this does sound like a band re-discovering just how joyous and carefree music can make you feel. Its infectious but not in a contrived or overly zany way. It for the most part feels natural ,sincere and unpretentious does the music on The Phenomenal Handclap Band.Retro or not. As Cheryl Cole constantly says on the X Factor - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Give the band a hand.
on 22 July 2009
It's considered bad form by some people to make comparisons to other bands in these reviews. If I was a clever music journalist maybe I'd be able to come up with fancy metaphors to give an impression of the sound of a band, but I'm not. With The Phenomenal Handclap Band (PHB) it's all too easy to say that at times they sound like David Axelrod doing Camel, or The Scissor Sisters doing Hawkwind, or Steely Dan and The B52s teaming up with The Tom Tom Club to do a bit of Brazilian soul, with vocals by a good mate of Marc Bolan. The trouble with these comparisons it makes PHB sound derivative, which they are not. In fact, they don't really sound like any of these artists, but they sort of do as well. I guess I'll never be a music journalist.
PHB has done a belting debut album which is full of surprises. For example, what first sounds like a straightforward disco-funk song suddenly docks with a mothership of intergalactic guitar wig-out and soars into hyperspace. The lyrics are smart and knowing in a very New York way. The songs don't quite segue into one another (that would be a bit TOO retro), but you get nice interludes between the songs like weird cinema organ, quiet guitar or a crackling ceremonial bonfire, which is probably being tended by a caveman just as the Space Odyssey monolith descends. It's funky, spacey, disco-ey, intelligent, atmospheric, catchy, danceable, chilloutable, singalongable, and incredibly musical.
When I first heard PHB doing a brilliant live session on the Radcliffe and Maconie radio programme, I felt sure that they were using samples from old funk records - but no! These are real musicians playing real instruments, and they're damn good as well, with guitar and organ riffs to (tie) dye (your loon pants) for. The drumming and percussion is red hot too.
The whole album has a very natural sound, like it was recorded more-or-less live. The only criticism I have of the album is that the recording doesn't sound as crisp as I would like: a shame given the quality of the musicians. Sometimes it sounds like the bass drum clips a bit like it was recorded too loud, and everything sounds like it's got a matt finish. It won't spoil your enjoyment, and you might even prefer the warm, fuzzy `vintage' sound, but personally I would have preferred a super-clean sound like some of the bands of the 70s like Steely Dan or Earth Wind and Fire, just to show off the fine playing.
Either way, I this deserves to becomes a summer hit. I would love to see PHB tour the UK, and I look forward to their future releases.