By: Aryeh Carni
The Phenomenal Handclap Band, fronted by DJs turned producers Daniel "The Witch Doctor" Collas and Sean "The Medicine Man" Marquand, is a Brooklyn-based collective with almost too much talent. Their self-titled debut album (released June 23 on Friendly Fire Records) features myriad talented and diverse musicians and vocalists, each boasting unique musical backgrounds.
Collas and Marquand's wide spectrum of musical influences garnered from their deejaying days is on visible display, as the album creates a fresh new sound transcending definitive genre. The album's essence, however, is a throwback to the psychedelic disco era of the seventies that incorporates progressive electronic sounds and techniques of the digital age.
The opening track, "The Journey to Serra De Estrela," begins with a sweeping synth and a light psychedelic sound reminiscent of Steve Winwood's early seventies ensemble Traffic. Moments later, Luke O'Malley's deep, soulful guitar appears, conjuring a sound similar to The Mars Volta. Drummer Patrick Wood and bassist Nick Movshon turn up the heat as the pace quickens and the fun begins. Caught somewhere between the Bee Gees, Cream and Lotus, a hybrid sound emerges, paying homage to a form often lost in contemporary music. Quick disco-inspired guitar licks come and go, perfectly complimenting a tight, funky rhythm section as the multitalented Collas switches between a multitude of synthesizers and keyboards to bring new life to an outdated sound.
While the opening track is fully instrumental, the rest of the album features a new lead singer on each track, barring Bart Davenport who sings lead twice. The next three tracks, "All the Above," "Testimony" and "Give it a Rest," each provide a different flare of funk with unique vocalists constantly providing a refreshing sound.
The next two tracks "You'll Disappear" and the catchy single "15 to 20," feature two talented female vocalists, Carol C and Lady Tigra, who continue the excitement and surprise for the listener. Despite displaying impeccable song structure and quite possibly being the best song on the album, "You'll Disappear" uncovers PHB's greatest weakness. As the track builds its layers beautifully, it slowly deconstructs, culminating with a series of masterfully crafted drum fills leaving only a synchronized drum and bass behind. As O'Malley's blood-pumping guitar swell boosts the energy, another perfect drum fill ties together the remainder of the song, reintroducing the rest of the instruments. However, just as you think he'll explode, O'Malley's sweet-sounding guitar actually disappears, leaving the listener frustrated and disappointed, despite the foreshadowing hinted in the song's title. Moments later O'Malley can be heard flexing his golden strings as the song begins to fade out, giving the listener a taste of what could have been, only furthering the anguish. Less than a minute away from perfection, a juggernaut of a song sadly ends on a low note.
The second half of the album goes on to display Collas and Marquands' versatility, starting with the indie-rock jam "Dim The Lights." In comes the funky "I Been Born Again," featuring Collas on the organ and clavinet layered over the Santana-sounding O'Malley. Next up is "The Martyr" featuring Collas singing lead, playing like a fun mix of Cream and My Morning Jacket, followed by the Jefferson Airplane-esque "Tears," which features shimmering flutes and worldly congas. Concluding the album is the soul-infused ballad "Baby," displaying the first sounds of brass, while "The Circle is Broken," a nine-minute, organ-heavy conclusion, ties together the innumerable sounds exhibited on the album.
Despite some clear holes, The Phenomenal Handclap Band has put together a unique album with tight song structure perpetuated by the diverse talent collected by the producers. The synergized songs and multitude of contemporary electronica sounds is transparent evidence that the producers are former DJs, an advantageous flare bringing a novel sound to an ever-changing musical landscape.
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