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Schooltree - Heterotopia CD (album) cover



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5 stars I had the privilege of seeing the first public performance of this new rock opera at Oberon in Cambridge, MA on March 31, 2017 and it was an amazing live show. The album version is just as gripping. I can't stop listening to it.

There is so much about this album that I love, but I really want to call out the excellent piano and vocals by Lainey Schooltree and amazing keyboard work by Peter Danilchuk. This is an ambitious concept album that doesn't feel bombastic or overblown. It's extremely listenable, has a lot of variety and an interesting storyline.

I've listened to a lot of prog and seen some great shows over the years, but this was the first time I've been inspired to post a review and rating - it's that good. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1709883)
Posted Tuesday, April 11, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the best, 5 stars easy! Right from the start of my first listen I knew this was going to rock, the Overture lets you know what to expect, a ton of piano and synth and a feeling that we are hearing familiar sounds in a very modern way. I was reminded of Phideaux, Supertramp, and Kate Bush as the songs continued, but don't be mistaken, this album doesn't sound like any of them overall. There is so much here I couldn't take it all apart, but a few highlights: Edge of a Dream has 2 or 3 different refrains that are stuck in my head all day. How cool is The Leitmaiden with the synth and glitched vocals, and similarly, You and I using the two to create a creepy atmosphere before turning around in the second half. The ending of the latter and Into Tomorrow have me suddenly reminded of Marillion, those 80s synth and overdriven guitar soloing, and again, what a chorus! Power of the Ghost is single-ready but also one of the best songs on the album. This album is my most pleasant surprise of 2017 so far, 99 minutes long and I listen to the whole thing each time. You just have to hear this if you are a fan of concept albums or any of the mentioned bands. I think a talented group of musicians put a lot of effort in and have created a classic.
Report this review (#1711855)
Posted Tuesday, April 18, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's no secret many people's favorite musical works don't necessarily grip them on the first listen. Heterotopia by Schooltree is for me, further proof of this concept. It may have been that I was not completely focused, or it may have been that I didn't sit and digest the full 100 minutes of music in one continuous go, but the second through sixth(!) focused listens brought about a musical metanoia.

To say the theme of this album is lofty would be a misnomer, as that term describes height. This particular album is incredibly DEEP both musically and conceptually. Seemingly simple psychological concepts are personified as a cast of characters who interact with Suzie, a lost and depressed but otherwise normal and relatable protagonist who finds herself in a realm that is a twisted physical manifestation of her psyche. Without giving any spoilers, I would invite all who wish to dive down deep to the bottom of The River with Suzie to read along with the published libretto (synopsis and lyrics) as they listen: Once I did, the story began to really blossom and before long, I was sitting with Wikipedia tabs open to Heterotopia, Metanoia, Enantidromia, Carl Jung, Shadow, Archetype and more as I voraciously soaked up all the knowledge I could in an effort to really embrace all available nuance.

Musically, this album's production values are very live, airy and theatrical. Next to some more slickly and "cleanly" produced modern prog productions this may seem like a detriment, but the result is quite effective for this piece. Every song's tonality paints a well-envisioned sonic landscape that colorfully illustrates the chapters of the story. The band as a whole is very tight and the instrumentation incredibly deliberate. Especially noteworthy are the wide range of keyboard tones and jazz-infused chord progressions that keep the listener's mood in the proper space for each song. Just as wide-ranging is Lainey Schooltree's vocal performance. Whether straight on as Suzi, sublimely ethereal and glitched as the Leitmaiden Metanoia or disturbingly dark and gritty as Enantiodromia, her vision and performance of each character is inspired. The only production detriment of this album is that some of the more vocally effected lyrics are a touch hard to make out, but that in itself is not nearly enough to tarnish the rest of the amazingness.

All stylistic references to Kate Bush are right on the money, but with a much less angular delivery and what seems to be a more dedicated focus on performance value. Without going into too much additional detail that may mischaracterize the music, I would throw in Imogen Heap, Izz, Moth Vellum, Camel, mid-era Genesis, early-era Marillion, and perhaps a touch of No-Man. While the entire album is strong as a stright-through listen (if you can devote the uninterrupted time), the standout songs for one-off listening are are the jazz-funky "Cat Centipede", trippy-spacey "The Abyss", anthemic "Edge of a Dream", achingly haunting "The Leitmaiden", rocking "Specter Lyfe", powerfully dark "The River", and surging "Zombie Connection".

It's been a long time since I've been smitten with an album the way this one has hit me. It's a testament to the fact that some of the best music out today simply can't be found on the radio, and provides further drive in the quest to root out and support the artists who provide us with extraordinary soundtracks to otherwise ordinary lives.

Report this review (#1733658)
Posted Wednesday, June 14, 2017 | Review Permalink

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