- Audio CD (Oct. 1 2008)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Bar/None Records
- ASIN: B00005Q6NP
- Other Editions: Audio CD
- Average Customer Review: 57 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14,206 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
Innocence & Despair
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Ever since NPR aired an excerpt of this 1976-77 school project, it's been selling like, well, cookies at a bake sale! Imagine a gym in western Ontario full of 60 children aged 9-12, singing the pop hits of the day and discovering inside themselves for the first time a love of pop music the joy and wonder of these kids is palpable! Then add in some Carl Orff-like percussion, and rudimentary bass and guitar, and the whole thing even takes on some avant-garde dimensions. Trust us, you've never heard God Only Knows; Space Oddity; Rhiannon; Wildfire or The Long and Winding Road sound like this!
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. Fenger's arrangements are spacious but elaborate, with prominent Orff percussion instruments that coat everything with a glimmering otherworldliness. The Langley students must've been proud just to hear themselves on tape, but for those of us encountering these artifacts for the first time, it's impossible to come away unmoved. (The photographs are precious, too.) --Mike Appelstein
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I find it hard to listen to all the way through because of the sound quality ( a lot of children singing in a gym for the most part) but it's super fun in bite sized pieces.
But the real centerpiece are the kids themselves. Hans Fenger was wise enough to folow their lead and dropped all ideas of conventional and "children's" music and let the kids' innate grasp of emotion and drama take over. Their enthusiasm and innocence is infectious. Until I heard the version recorded here, I had always hated the song "Wildfire". "In my Room", originally rcorded by Brian Wilson sounds reborn when sung by children and there isn't a better version of "Desperado" out there.
Worth the price for these two alone: Bowie's great "Space Oddity," made still greater here, and the hapless Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft," a goofy and otherwise forgettable pap fragment wrought into a shimmering masterpiece by a young girl named Tina van de Weteringe Buys.
While I own, promote and enjoy large quantities of ethnic, folk and so-called "fringe" music, I despise the term "outsider art," and have even less patience for "cute kids" marketing. I doubt these vocalists would have described themselves as simple farm kids. I also find nothing remarkable about recordings of grade-school children as such: I've heard many, and usually it's just yammering, mewling waifs tripping over themselves and each other. This disc is different. To sum Irwin Chusid: "these are gorgeous, heavenly artifacts. Period."
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