Schoolyard Heroes – The Funeral Sciences (2004)

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When I saw titles like “All-You-Can-Eat Cancer” and “Bury the Tooth of the Hydra and a Skeleton Army Will Arise,” I knew I was in for something at least interesting. Of course, it can go two directions after that — a nosedive into smarmy crap, which is most often the case; or it will surprise the hell out of me and not only be good but be great.

The Funeral Sciences was, I’m happy to say, great.

The Heroes manage to roll a whole lot of seemingly disparate influences together and make it all flow: There’s bits of old Iron Maiden-y progressive touches here and there and lots of punk attitude (but this is not trying to be punk, thank God), with each member turning in thoughtful — and tasteful — solo moments here and there. The most impressive element, however, is singer Ryann Donnelly. Only 18 at the time of the recording, Ryann is blessed with one hell of a set of pipes and she shows off an incredible range, capable of near death-metal growls and some stunning operatic moments.

Most of the time, however, she sings with a refreshingly enunciated meow in her voice that is most similar to the tuneful howling of PJ Harvey. I’m afraid to say this because I think it’s far too easy to take the wrong way, but, on occasion, the songs and Donnelly’s vocals bring to mind comedienne Julie Brown’s 1980s parody hits like “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun” — but take that in the best way possible. The Heroes are 100 percent serious, and any negative connotations that might be associated with “funny music” like Brown’s is unintentional.

The only downfall the album has: “Blood-spattered Sundress” is a seriously misleading. It’s the most simplistic track on the album, sounding more like the very commonplace, and boring, throwaway pop-punk that’s still, for whatever reason, all the rage. It’s all sneering, but hollow, bad attitude, and it sounds glaringly out of place among the rest of the very fun, very intriguing arrangements. Aimed at short-attention span teens, it likely pushed the album temporarily, until word likely got out that the rest of the music didn’t sound like it. This album was not for the kids who give things one listen and give up if it doesn’t fit their very narrow idea of what it should be.

And what a shame, because they missed out on the highlight of the album, “Boyfriend,” a throwback to “My Boyfriend’s Back” style songs — were it not for the swearing and general attitude. Donnelly really shines here, her voice full of raw emotion that puts to shame any of the turgid crap that American Idol churns out.

The girl can sing, and the band can flat out play.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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