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Music Review: Phenomenal Handclap Band – Form and Control

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Phenomenal Handclap Band’s self-titled 2010 debut is one of my favorite albums of the past few years. On that album, New York DJs Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand worked with a team of musicians and guests to create dance music through the lens of hippy rock. It was grooving and groovy, an irresistible combination of aesthetics, melodies, and beats.

For their follow-up, Form and Control, they’ve abandoned the sun-drenched ’70s vibe for the decadent neon ’80s. The four-on-the-floor beats remain, but they are surrounded by metallic robot voices, Giorgio Moroder synths, and the occasional electric guitar shred. The gentle psychedelica of the first album has largely been replaced with glam cheesiness. The keyboards on the title track are so histrionic you can almost feel the wind machines whipping back your hair, and “Afterglow” has a guitar riff straight out of Billy Squire.

Form and Control is at its best when it dials back the hairspray and spandex. “Winter Falls” and “The Attempt” sound like they were recorded by an obscure British Invasion band. “Give” is a marvelous piece of late-period disco. ”The Unknown Faces at Father James Park” is a mesh of swinging beats and attitude.

Even with the ’80s cheese factor, Form and Control retains PHB’s fun and danceability. The band sounds great, and it is thrilling to hear music normally made by machines being created by real human beings. The live drums have a warmth that even the most pounding 808s can’t match, and the imperfect timing of the musicians working together is a welcome change from the calculated perfection of programmed beats. There is a sassy coldness to the way singer Laura Marin flatly delivers lines like “Come and join us!”

In the end, while Form and Control doesn’t have quite the same magic as Phenomenal Handclap Band’s debut, it is still an enjoyable record. The combination of retro sounds and live dance music make for an experience that is bound to help drive the winter blues away.

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