It's the recently reformed band's first album since 2012
New York's Phenomenal Handclap Band return, a full 10 years on from their critically acclaimed debut album, with a third long-player that might take you by surprise. It did me, anyway… and then it took me by surprise again.
See, wind back a decade and The Phenomenal Handclap Band was on seriously heavy rotation chez yours truly – and loved most of all for its sheer eclecticism. That first album touched on all manner of musical bases, from full-on psychedelia/space rock, to lazy, hazy west coast vibes à la Magic Numbers, to shimmering disco and strutty NYC punk-funk. That was presumably a result (at least in part) of the band's large and diverse line-up: I saw them live around the same time and there were almost as many musicians onstage as people in the audience!
But that band, er, disbanded in the mid-2010s after second album Form & Control failed to ignite, with main man Daniel Collàs concentrating on session work and production for other people. Now, in 2020, Collàs has put the band back together… kinda. Phenomenal Handclap Band are now a three-piece, and as excited as I was to find comeback long-player PHB in my inbox, on the first couple of listens I was a bit underwhelmed, truth be told. The excursions into rock territory and other more esoteric musical pastures are largely gone: this is a much more single-minded album, and one that sits much more readily in the box marked 'disco/nu-disco'. Which seemed a bit of a shame.
But then I listened to PHB a few more times, and realised those wider influences are still there if you listen closely – see The Healer, for instance. More importantly, I went back to The Phenomenal Handclap Band in its entirety for the first time in a good few years – and realised that some of its more eclectic/leftfield moments do actually drag a bit, and that You'll Disappear and 15 To 20 were always the best tracks on there anyway. And that's pretty much exactly the sound that you get on PHB, so what's not to like?
So if you were a big fan of their debut too, then PHB might take a few listens, because it's a very different proposition. But it's got enough standout moments of its own – see, for instance, the insanely catchy Jail, the lightly R&B/pop-tinged Do What You Want or, indeed the languid, dreamy opener Skyline – to ensure it repays the effort. Welcome back, clappers.
Words: Russell Deeks
Release date: 15 May
Review Score: 8