Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Kids Singing: Pretty and Creepy or Just Pretty Creepy?

Gorilla vs. Bear, a music blog based in my former neck of the woods, recently posted about The Langley Schools Music Project, which inspired me to give it another listen. (I've owned it for several years, but it's been gathering dust for a while. And yes, on an unrelated note, I think Gorilla vs. Bear is a pretty great title for a blog.)

Anyway, describing this CD would be impossible without just paraphrasing something I've read, so instead I'll just quote directly from Amazon's review:
In the mid-1970s, Hans Fenger taught music in the Langley, British Columbia, school district, using an experimental method inspired equally by Brian Wilson and Carl Orff. Occasionally he would record his students in the school gymnasium--elaborate affairs involving more than 60 kids per session. The result is this compelling collection of semi-accidental genius. Picture the Shaggs and Danielson presiding over an elementary school assembly for shy kids, and you begin to understand how sweet, sincere, and slightly unsettling these recordings are. The Langley students perform their favorite 1960s and 1970s hits as if they never heard the originals; they turn "Mandy" into the kind of lo-fi pop song that Neutral Milk Hotel would perfect 20 years later, and sing "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" like a delegation of extraterrestrial children on a friendship mission to Earth.
The key word there is "unsettling," I think, but in a great way. Listen to the clips that Gorilla posted ("Desperado" is a solo performance, not indicative of the mostly group-singalong vibe, but it's one of my favorite tracks).

(Amendment added after more listening: "Desperado" is eerie and effective, I think, but it's not as good as the best group songs on here -- "Band on the Run" and "Help Me, Rhonda" are really fun, and "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" is like The Village of the Damned-meets-The Sound of Music in the best ways possible. The worst ways possible are chilling to contemplate, of course.)

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