Music Review: Small – KiNDERGARTEN

Hi there…

Some bands defy categorization. KiNDERGARTEN falls into that camp for me. The four members’ diverse array of experience and musical talent mixes styles and influences with minimal effort and presents a unique sound that definitely leaves an impression.

My first exposure to the band was through their “The Man on the Stairs” video, which evokes a vibe that’s part “Thriller”, part Thomas Dolby. The creepy dancers in black and the entertaining video cuts and transitions that match perfectly with the bizarre, yet catchy tune. Who knew a song about being freaked out by a “dead man doin’ the moonwalk” upstairs would leave such a lasting impression?

But KiNDERGARTEN doesn’t stop there. “The Man On The Stairs” is joined by eleven other unique tracks on the album Small, which was released in early February 2010. The whole album is awesome, but I have a few favorites…

“Elementally Challenged” reminds me somehow of Rocky Horror Picture Show in the way it grooves along almost conversationally. In it, the band manages to mix rock sensibilities with the seasons. At first, we have a summer hotter than usual, then we have a winter “like a slow death in a meat locker,” which finally signals the end to the battle between the heat and cold in springtime. And like many of us in areas that suffer Mother Nature’s wrath at times in the passing of seasons, the singer is “elementally challenged” from time to time.

Then you have “C15-78Y” which hits me as a hard rock version of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” combining a very disparate, futuristic set of sounds with the story of a man with no name – just a number. He wants a name. He wants to know his family. Serious commentary on the harsh realities of the modern world set to a rockin’ tune. “Take your number, I’m tired of living a lie” he says – “just don’t gimme no number.” A sentiment I think many of us can identify with from time to time in the computerized age of rank and file.

The four members of Kindergarten have some serious music chops to their credit. Lead singer Ariel Levine started his music career in the 5th grade with saxophone and guitar, moved on to voice and theater in high school, and skipped college all together to learn audio engineering. From there, he worked as a professional music producer with such talents as Wynton Marsalis, Carmine Appice, Eric Lewis, and Collective Soul. In 2005, he decided to form his own band and connected with the other three artists.

Sakura Toyama is the group’s keyboardist. She started playing at age 3 and later earned a Bachelors in Musical Arts from the University of Michigan and an Artists Diploma from the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland. In 2001, she moved to New York City and had to give up playing piano for a while when she couldn’t fit one in her apartment. Later she heard Levine was looking for a keyboardist and became part of the band that became KiNDERGARTEN.

A year after Toyama joined the band, Levine needed a new bassist and met Zach Abramson while working on the soundtrack for an indie film called The Changeling. Abramson had just completed his Masters in Composition at the Manhattan School of Music and though he’d grown up playing classical piano, he’d picked up the bass guitar at age 12 because it was “cooler.” He performed in funk, jazz, and rock bands throughout middle and high school and through kismet, KiNDERGARTEN gained a new bassist.

The eldest of the group, Yancy Lambert, grew up playing horns and played in the drum and bugle corps as a teen. But he didn’t pick up the drums until age 20 after watching his older brother play for years. Self-taught on percussion, he sat in on local cover bands in Massachusetts and eventually moved to New York City in the late 1980s in several funk and soul groups. That work eventually led him to a regular spot with the music collective Brooklyn Funk Essentials, who played on several movie and television soundtracks. With his experience and range of influences, he seemed a natural fit for KiNDERGARTEN when Levine heard him working as a drummer in the studio where Levine worked.

KiNDERGARTEN’s first album, River of Slime was recorded, produced, and mixed by Levine in 2007. The band has played throughout NYC, including at CBGB’s, Knitting Factory, Mercury Lounge, and many others. And though Small was evidently more of a collaboration of the foursome, you honestly can’t tell this is a sophomore album. It blows my mind to think of the amount of musical talent and experience in this group. But if you listen to the music of KiNDERGARTEN, you can hear all that experience and all the influences come through in spades. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been together since 2005!

If you’re looking for something new, different, and funky, look no further than KiNDERGARTEN’s album Small. It’ll knock your socks off with intriguing lyrics and awesome rock. Be sure to check out their website at KiNDERGARTENNYC.COM for more details!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up KiNDERGARTEN MP3s at Amazon:

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Book Review: Maneater II: Prey by Thomas Emson

Hi all…

Creatures of the night have been returning in a big way to bookshelves in recent years. And though Twilight may currently have the market cornered on teenage vampires and werewolves, that doesn’t mean that they are the only game in town. Thomas Emson‘s first novel for Snowbooks was Maneater, published back in 2008, which focused on the intertwined stories of two werewolf bloodlines extending back thousands of years and a policeman who gets drawn into a murderous plot.

In Maneater, Laura Greenacre comes to terms with her wild side as she tries to discover who murdered her family as a child. That honor went to the Templetons, who try to finish the job and resurrect their family to reclaim former glories. John Thorn, a policeman assigned to protect Sir Adam Templeton, finds himself between the families as cascading revenge plots collide. Along the way, Laura and John become romantically entangled as well, but find themselves separated after a battle royale between werewolves in Trafalgar Square.

Now, with Prey, Emson reveals the ragged trail of blood, betrayal, and revenge plotted by Ruth Templeton, now lone matriarch of the Templeton legacy. Ruth desires not only the deaths of Greenacre and Thorn, but for them to suffer the deaths of those they love. Once her two adversaries are gone, she can begin to rebuild the Templeton family and claim her rightful place among the rich and powerful.

As with most revenge plots, things don’t go quite according to plan. Greenacre and Thorn have allies from all over the globe coming to their aid when they are most needed. And when it comes to protecting their own, the two separated lovers will fight to their last breath.

Where Maneater provided more context to the Greenacre/Templeton family feud, Prey focuses on picking up the pieces from the end of the book and following them to their logical conclusion. But don’t worry, the body count, violence, and madness doesn’t let up from where the first book left off. Greenacre, Thorn, and their many enemies manage to consistenly shoot, stab, bash, and sometimes tear people limb from limb.

The book was a bit slow to get going for me, but about a quarter of the way through I discovered that I really liked Major Lev Dasaev, the policeman from Russia. Stuck in a marriage he believed in, but his wife did not, he was a decent man who did the best with what he was given. By the end of the book, Dasaev becomes more of a hero for Greenacre than Thorn does, who spends most of the book trying to stay under the radar or simply survive to protect his daughter.

The battle in New York City‘s Times Square was amazing as it bounced from character to character finally bringing everything to a head. Greenacre fights the good fight and tries to save as many innocents as she can while the men trying to kill her indiscriminately tear through crowds of people left and right. Ultimately she’s saved by those people she saved in Trafalgar Square years before and those who shared her story on the Internet. Everything came full circle again without feeling rushed or engineered.

My only complaint comes with the last two chapters, which were a bit too much like “And they lived happily ever after…” Even though I wanted to be happy for Greenacre, Thorn, and Thorn’s daughter, it seemed rather abrupt to go from Russia to Wales with very little description of how both Greenacre and Ruth manage to suddenly appear. If you read between the lines, the reasoning is there as to how it came to be, but it wasn’t the most satisfying end.

Maneater II: Prey picks right up where Maneater leaves off and wraps everything up for Greenacre and Thorn. I’d still like to know more about the history between the Templetons and the Greenacres, but I’m not left wondering what comes next – just about what came before. Be sure to check out Prey when it’s released in paperback in February 2010!

You can also learn more about Thomas Emson and his books at his website: ThomasEmson.net.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books at Amazon!

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Book Review: Dog & Butterfly by Ann & Nancy Wilson

Heart. If you’re like me, the word evokes images of Ann and Nancy Wilson on stage, rocking guitars, and vocals in such classic songs as “Barracuda,” “Love Alive,” “Little Queen,” “Alone,” and on and on… For 30 years they’ve been entertaining us with their music, so we know they’re talented.

Now I know they have other talents, such as writing and illustrating childrens’ books! Dog & Butterfly expands on the classic song from Heart and shares the story of a puppy learning the secret of going after a dream. Perseverance. Now if only more books could tell the heart of a story quite as simply as the Wilson sisters.

The story begins with a puppy playing in outside among the trees, the flowers, and the butterflies. But no matter what the puppy does, it can’t quite seem to reach the fluttering beauties flying above their heads. Mama dog and Old Man cat watch from the sidelines, waiting to see which of the puppies finds the secret first.

When the puppy finally tires itself out and falls asleep in the grass, it awakes to find a butterfly resting on its nose. It stays very still until a sneeze scares it off, but that isn’t enough to dampen the excitement that it caught one! Perseverance, patience, and a little luck paid off!

This short book is beautifully illustrated with water colors to further add texture to this wonderful story. I think it’s impossible to go wrong with pictures of puppies, cats, and butterflies when creating art for children. My two daughters, both aspiring artists, loved the detail that made each picture unique to complement the story.

If you’re looking for a good “bedtime” book, Dog & Butterfly should be right up your alley. It’s a wonderful book filled with sunshine, optimism, puppies, and butterflies… what more could you ask for? Check it out at Amazon.com and support the Wilson sisters so they can create more inspired works for the next generation!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the book and other CDs below!

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