CD Review: School For Robots / No Prancing Required
After checking out the new School for Robots release, No Prancing Required, I was shocked to learn that it was recorded in a garage. This is not just because I don’t know anybody in Boston that actually has a garage. The sound quality is extremely high and the mixing is sharp for a very DIY project – ringleader Curtis Killian, with production aid from local music dynamo Luke Sullivan (Left Hand Does, Night Fruit), has crafted one of the most progressive local albums I’ve encountered during my half-decade stint in Boston. No matter if a song is grounded in rock, country, or is a bit more experimental overall, each song on the album has been individually injected with a turkey baster-sized vial of groove, sloshing around the album and drenching it in fatty funk flavor.
The album opens with a spy-movie bassline in “Saddlebag” but brightens in the chorus before streaming back to the mysterious. “God, You Look Terrible,” recorded in a single take, could be three totally different tunes, with verses that sound like a Butthole Surfers/Kid Rock hybrid, sing-songy choruses, and a nimbly executed non-sequiter rock guitar interlude. Quick tip: you may want to warn your significant other in advance that you’re going to have the title of this song playing on repeat in your brain, so when you start chanting “God, you look terrible” around the apartment, (s)he won’t dump you on the spot.
Killian cleverly takes the next song, “Scary Things,” a Paul Simon-esque 60’s riff that speaks about socially isolating technological takeover turning “nightmares into dreams,” and follows it up with a song titled “Insomniac.” “Insomniac” begins with my favorite rhythm on the album, reminding me a bit of Jamie Lidell with the little electric snags and pulls of percussion. The song is eerie in spots with hazy vocals but holds a driving line so steady it keeps the song tight. The bridge gets a bit intergalactic, but it seems very fitting of the insomniac sleep-scape, ending with nattering voices, presumably those keeping a cloudy mind awake.
The album midpoint is the “Floppy Boot Stomp Romp,” which is precisely what it sounds like. A chord progression that’s similar to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” you’ll think it’s an instrumental unless you pick up on the muted telephonic vocals in the back. Part of the reason I love this album so much is because even with Killian’s liner notes cluttered by marathon-length lyrics, the song lyrics themselves are usually subdued on the album, saturated in the instrumentation that’s carrying it. The catchy hooks from each track still come across clearly, though, making these songs ripe for earworms after less than a handful of listens. For you lyric-focused fans there’s plenty to review, but for those of us who usually focus more on the beat than the words coasting over them, there is humor and craft in the lyrical-masking that takes place throughout the album. You barely even notice the lyrics were subtle on the first half of the album until you get to “Put It In Your Pocket,” where for the first time you can discern each lyric clearly. Surprisingly incongruous with the lyrical style of the album’s early half, the song is no less catchy than its predecessors.
“Put It In Your Pocket” is followed by “Shiny Button,” whose verses meander a bit more than other tracks. But, if people did Rockettes-style kick-lines at rock shows, this song would be perfect for it by the time the chorus rolls around. It’s followed by a really simple love song “Valentine,” whose lyrics I especially adore: “I’ll take you out/The day after Valentine’s Day/To avoid the crowds/You’re not like them anyway.” It’s a sentiment built for indie-sweeties, and will probably be a good thing to play for your partner after all those impending “God, you look terrible” comments.
The second-to-last song on the album, “3D Life,” echoes the style of the first half of the album with heavy bass, steady beat, and subtle vocals, though it’s a bit more playful in an Elvis Costello/Delta Spirit-y kind of way. The final song is probably the heaviest track on the album – a country-blues rock meld, Killian squeezes every last ounce of dusky daylight into this anthemic album finale.
The timing for this album couldn’t have been more ideal – it’s a perfect album for driving with the top down, and summer has finally arrived. If you missed their CD release party, not to worry! You can download their album on the cheap, stream their album for cheap-as-free, and check their show this coming Thursday, June 28 at Church, with Mighty Tiny, Baby Made Rebel, and Streightangular. Prancing may not be required at the show, but you’re going to have a hard time not indulging.