"When our first album came out," Tobin Prinz (guitar, voice) remembers, "we were awkward, miserable..." "Nervous, uncooperative" chips in Suzi Horn (bass, voice, drums), pausing just long enough for Tobin to supply the punchline - "and now look at us!" Prinzhorn Dance School are still recognisably the same spiky Brighton-based duo whose ultra-rigorous debut cut through the excess of 2008 like a scimitar through bacon fat. But with their trademark stripped-down intensity now winningly off-set by moments of unabashed tenderness, their third album Home Economics continues and even accelerates the move away from austerity and into human warmth begun by its acclaimed 2011 predecessor Clay Class. "We've really enjoyed letting a bit more colour into the music,", Tobin enthuses, "We're not even 100% dressed in black any more; I've got some chocolate-brown shoes on..." "and I'm dressed all in white" Suzi adds.
The starting point for the new record was the band’s “amazing” first US shows - two of their own and a triumphant showing at DFA’s 12th anniversary - in May 2013. Crossing the Atlantic to be welcomed by euphoric responses from sell-out crowds gave Prinzhorn Dance School the momentum to find a new way of making music. The rigour which so marks this band out from less committed peers has always come at a price, and by this time the claustrophobic fervour of their working methods was really starting to take its toll.
Clay Class had been recorded inside ‘The Red Shed’ - which, as its name suggests, was a small wooden structure just about big enough to store a couple of lawnmowers in, painstakingly reassembled inside the band’s Portsmouth studio. Sometimes when Tobin and Suzi disappeared into this garden-furnishing-inspired 3D manifestation of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound for weeks on end, friends and family doubted if they would ever come out. “We always had this feeling that unless we worked in complete isolation we couldn’t make something that was 100% true” Tobin explains. “I would clean my brain by not listening to music for months before making a record”, Suzi adds. “The idea of shutting ourselves up in the shed was that if you trap yourself inside those four walls, the confined space would contain the narrative”. As logical as this plan might look on paper the end result was, Tobin grimaces, “cabin fever in the extreme - you turn into some kind of weird, fucked-up cult”.
Inspired by their American adventure, Prinzhorn Dance School brought the recording process in from the cold of the red shed to the heart of their everyday lives. Played and recorded on the move between different flats in Brighton and Hove, then wheeled around town on a hard-drive wrapped in a sleeping bag in a specially-adapted suitcase, Home Economics gave them an escape route from “that frustration you feel when you spend days trying to recapture the intimacy of a particular moment”, Tobin remembers. “This time we could just use the original take, so sometimes these songs are almost like field recordings”.
All the best six-track albums - The Fall’s Slates, Orange Juice’s Texas Fever - know exactly what they want to say and how they intend to say it. Home Economics shares that infectious sense of urgency. There’s not an inch of spare meat on it - from Reign’s snatched moment of optimism, through Battlefield’s restorative meeting of minds with an urban fox on a drunken walk home in the early hours, to Let Me Go’s concluding tribute to “a love that won’t rewind and will not be deleted”. Spindly yet sensuous, together and alone, exquisitely sad but somehow full of hope, Prinzhorn Dance School knit together disparate and even opposite fragments into an utterly satisfying whole.
As to where the band might be heading next, the blasted beauty of Clean seems to provide the clearest pointer. “Put your head out the door and smell the rain/Put your head out into the storm and start again”.
- PHANTOM GHOST
- SHINY DARKLY