Record Review: The Phenomenal Handclap Band (2009)

If you would have told me a few months back how much I would like a record from an all star line-up of indie rockers, I’d tell you you’re crazy. When I think of indie rock nowadays, I gotta say, images of shoegazers playing super slow and mostly boring music pops into my head. It’s inaccurate and unfair I know, but I it’s honest. Well, all that went out the door with The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s self titled record.

I actually got sent a copy of this record back when I was doing album reviews for the now defunct Performing SongwriterPerforming Songwriter. Brooke over at Big Hassle, who is awesome, sent me this record and I suck for not reviewing it sooner, especially considering how much I freaking love it.

Now, unfortunately, The PHB don’t have a Wiki page, their blog isn’t super informative and I’ve misplaced the press release I was sent along with the record, so I can’t give too much background, but I do remember it being hyped as a band made up of indie rock all-stars. And, since there’s different singers on nearly every track, I’m guessing this is almost like a Timbaland record, where the same producers/band are consistent with different singers.

Against all my expectations, this record turned out to be a conglomeration of 60s and 70s riffs and grooves laid over some amazingly catchy synth beats. It’s like Deep Purple meets Sly and the Family Stone…with a synthesizer. I’m not very familiar with synth pop, but this is the best I’ve heard it lately.

The album, which came out on June 23 from Friendly Fire, sports 12 tracks and curiously opens with a just-over-6 minute instrumental called “The Journey To Serra Da Estrela.” This again, threw up a red flag as far as I was concerned (who starts a record with an instrumental?), but it makes an awesome journey starting with some Pink Floyd-like atmosphere and gets heavily into the synth-funk. Every time I was just about to get bored, they introduced another element that drops in seamlessly and adds another layer.

And really, that’s what I love about this record, there’s so many layers. I’ve listened to it so many times and it feels like I’m picking up new elements every time. I also think I get a new favorite song each time. This time around it’s track 6 called “15 to 20” which features Lady Tigra, who I haven’t heard of, but will definitely check out. First off the groove is just sick. You can’t help but bob your head and tap your foot at the very least. Even the lyrics, which consist of counting for a good portion of the song, are awesome and delivered beautifully, especially when the counting stops and we hit rapid fire mode. Great stuff.

The whole album is like this, even though the singers switch up with each new track (I think, there might be a few repeat singers). There is one song though that I just can’t get into. It’s called “Baby,” and instead of being a a rock/synth combo, it’s a a soul/R&B throwback. It’s not a bad song, but instead of feeling inspired by other music, like the rest of the record, it just feels like a lift. Maybe it’s because soul is still around and I’ve heard lots of new songs like this and there isn’t a lot of 70s-influenced rock on the radio anymore. Or maybe that it sounded like a combination of Marvin Gaye and James Brown. It just felt TOO similar, even though the music and singing were solid.

But, “Baby” doesn’t ruin the album by any means, and maybe in a few weeks, when I listen to it again, it’ll jump to my favorites list. Another big surprise on the record was the last track called “The Circle Is Broken” which is a nearly-9 minute track. Again, I wasn’t so sure about such a long final track, but like the first one, it gets crazy and awesome, just when it might get a little boring. Plus, the first few bars of this song sound like the music from the castle levels of the first Mario game. It really is just a creepy, haunting dance tune and the repetition of the lyric “This is where the story ends,” seems really appropriate. The song never gets scary, but it is a kind of funhouse ride that I would love to see a short film set to.

I really can’t recommend this record enough for you guys. You can buy it on Amazon here .

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