The Phenomenal Handclap Band – Form and Control

February 14th, 2012
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Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)

Despite audiences slowly being weened off four-on-the-flour dance acts from the late 2000s, New York’s nu-disco crowd keeps pumping out Studio 54 worthy jams faster than blow went out of style in, well, Studio 54. These days, The Rapture is clinging to Barry Gibb-like sentimentality, while The Phenomenal Handclap Band, with Form and Control, maintain a funky, soulful sound reminiscent of Quincey Jones-era post-disco. Some tracks also flirt with baroque pop and other ’60s staples.

“The Following” is a bass-driven stomper with just enough vocoder to keep listeners from mistaking it for an early Moving Units track. All the late-’70s disco elements are there: light Latin percussion, simple vocal melodies and psychedelic overtones nodding to the era’s funk roots. It’s almost as if The Phenomenal Handclap Band have the disco formula down, but not in a cut-and-paste, uber-emulated way. It’s definitely period music with modern influences worn on the performers’ sleeves. Tracks like “Shake,” “Form & Control” and “Afterglow” definitely rely heavily on the progressive-funk and sunshine pop sound of The 5th Dimension. They’re not exactly selections from the rock opera Hair, but the freakout mentality is definitely something that could’ve been on MGMT’s Congratulations.

Form & Control, as a whole, shouldn’t just be passed off as retro homage. The sounds, melodies and instrumentation are unquestionably authentic, but there’s something uniquely powerful and modern creeping between the the record’s dry spots. Maybe it’s the presence of fun and excitement in the four-minute tracks that make them sound less-contrived – more aware of what the band wants to play now.

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By Terence Calacsan Posted in High Fidelity, Reviews

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Photos: Friendly Fires/The Phenomenal Handclap Band (El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, Calif., August 24, 2009)

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