It seems every written piece on Brighton-based Prinzhorn Dance School uses the adjective “minimal.” That word has been used to describe the sound of a range of bands and genres — an entire subgenre of techno is based on it. But until Prinzhorn Dance School came along, the tag did not do any of them justice. Prinzhorn Dance School is bare bones in the most uncomfortable way possible. By using only an obtuse, driving bass, kick-drum blasts, sparse snare hits and even sparser cymbals, and angular, plucked guitar (DFA proudly says the “album does not have a single strummed guitar chord on it”), band members Suzi Horn and Tobin Prinz embrace the most basic elements of instrumentation.
Naturally, Prinz and Horn realize there are only so many variations on their sound’s blueprint. In order to give the self-titled debut album flavor and a bit of novelty, they focus on the vocal interplay and the bits of silence in between notes, chords and vocals. “Hamworthy Sports and Leisure Center” features male/female call-and-response vocals that are inviting both musically and lyrically (“Why don’t you come, come inside”). “I Do Not Like Change” features Prinz spouting non sequiturs like “I always walk this way” and “I like memorize fact,” with Horn repeating in shouts behind him. On “Do You Know Your Butcher,” even the most minimal instrumentation is an afterthought, with jerky start-stop instrumentation and eerie silences snatching all the attention, building painful anticipation into an unsettling climax.
Given their distinct take on music, it doesn’t seem fair to criticize Prinz and Horn for being so faithful to their uncompromised vision. Certainly, they have succeeded in creating their art on their own terms. But in doing so they have written themselves into a corner. This batch of songs is enjoyable because it is peerless and fresh, but the songs offer a lack of discovery beyond that. After all, there are only so many things to do with so little.