Artist: Phenomenal Handclap Band
Title: Form & Control
Tummy Touch Records
The Phenomenal Handclap Band is a name that should be donated to a group of musicians who are far less talented than the ones who made “Form & Control.” “Phenomenal Handclap” provokes nightmare visions of a band with 10 members too many, 4 of whom are holding tambourines, and none of whom can write a good song to save their lives. “Form & Control,” however, is an album that contains quite a few songs good enough to save lives. That thing about the book / cover / judging applies here—this band is full of pop and rock veterans who are less interested in “rescuing” the genre of good pop music than they are interested in contributing to it.
Most of us agree that good pop exists, but unless you are willing to swallow a heavy dose of autotune and try to accept the supremacy of the Swedish producers who write most of what we are forced to hear in public places, it can seem as though all of the good stuff exists in the past. ELO, Abba, 10CC—none of their careers are stainless, but their best moments were the immediately catchy, deceptively complex tunes that seem to have inspired the shape of “Form & Control.”
The stranger moments on the album are reminiscent of Stereolab, but the Jeff Lynne-like production flairs always anchor the songs to a listenability that doesn’t fit bands like Stereolab: the Handclaps have not set out to challenge their audience, only themselves. That challenge? Making music this intricate sound simple, tuneful and sweet. The harmonies and precise electronic touches that overlay the undeniably danceable bassline in “Give,” which follows the grand-piano richness of the title track, emphasize the mode of writing on “Form & Control”: add as much as possible, but never add too much.