Review: "Central Services Presents... The Board of Education!"

CentralServicesBoardOfEducation.jpgLike many people, I first became interested in kids music when I first had kids. Which meant that my first exposure to the genre (as a parent) was to lullaby CDs, or to rendition of classics sung by families for years and years. It was not to songs about the produce aisle's remarkable similarity to junior high, the inventor of concrete, or elbows. So I guess what I'm saying is that the first kids album from Central Services and their not-so-mild-mannered alter ego The Board of Education isn't for those parents whose kids are just learning to walk. Heck, it's really not even for those parents whose kids are just learning to read. But if your family's got one of those kids who've blown past those learning-to-read barrier with flying colors a long time ago, Central Services Presents... The Board of Education might be their new favorite CD. From the pop bliss of the opening track, "Rise and Shine," the album is pitched right at that 9- to 12-year-old kid who's probably the smartest kid in class. School is the central part of their life, learning something so freakin' cool, even if the rest of the day doesn't quite measure up. (Unsurprisingly, one of the band's main songwriters, Kevin Emerson, used to teach elementary school science, and now has a book series, Oliver Nocturne, for kids ages 9-12.) The second track, "Beverly the Village Misfit," about a young girl who looks up at the skies and realizes the planet is in grave danger even though nobody believes her, includes the lines "Maybe you've had occasion to feel like this / When something you're so sure of / Is dismissed by all your friends / Despite the overwhelming facts you have to prove that / You are very right." I mean, if that isn't a description of a brainy but perhaps socially awkward tween, I'm not sure what is. And that's not the only song that captures that feeling. "It's awkward in the produce aisle / The salad bags they don't smile / Anymore / The mushroom looks the other way / The cucumber bristles," goes one of the lines in "The Lonely Tomato," which has been one of my favorite songs period for the 18 months I've been listening to it. In telling the story of a tomato, which is unsure of his position in the grocery store -- "Oh, where do I fit in?," as the chorus goes -- the song not only captures perfectly life as a tween, it loads every bit of production into it, with horns, pop hooks, and silly voices (yes, the cucumber has a speaking part). On it goes, combining great pop hooks (or pop pastiches) with obscure subjects like the invention of pavement ("Know Your Inventors"), punctuation ("The Many Uses, and Dangers, of Commas"), and volcanoes ("Volcanoes and You"). If this all sounds like a modern Schoolhouse Rock, you'd be right. There's even a song called "8 Is A Number." If there's any difference between that classic series and the songs here it's that Schoolhouse Rock would often take a more minimalist approach, while the band piles everything on here. It's unlikely the dripping-with-sarcasm-but-totally-peppy "Ice Ages Are Fun!" would ever make the cut on Schoolhouse Rock. Humor is common in kids entertainment; sarcasm, however, isn't, but if you're 12 years old, yeah, you're OK with it. Sometimes it's too much, actually, "Volcanoes and You," for example, mixes funk with a faux educational film, and while it sounds kinda cool, it's too baroque to actually to be more than a trifle. And lest you think the band can't show some restraint, the last track (save for the hidden track) is a gorgeous lullaby "August Lullaby" that's lovely and sweet. Another simpler track or two like that interspersed among the wilder, goofier parts would have served it well. While younger kids might bop along to the hooks, kids are really going to have to be at minimum 7 years old to get into the lyrics. You can hear songs at the band's Myspace page or samples at its CDBaby page. For the moment, it's only available as a digital download (at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes, but will be released in physical format later this year. Update: Those of you living in the physical world can now enjoy the album... Long-time readers of this website won't find my enthusiasm for this album too surprising, because I've been talking about a number of these songs for a long time. After settling down with Central Services Presents... The Board of Education for many listens, I can hear why it's not an absolutely perfect album -- there are going to be some families it doesn't move. But for some families, this is gonna be one of those albums they listen to over and over, and, like Beverly the Village Misfit, they'll tell everyone who'll listen about it. That this album rocks. And they'd be right. Definitely recommended.

Listen To This: "Heading Home" - Central Services Board of Education

I gave you a chance before to download a track from the upcoming Central Services kids' project. If you missed it, well, too late, because I've taken it down. But the band's let me put another track up, and I thought it'd be appropriate to post the companion track, the slower "Heading Home," which captures how my daughter feels when she comes home on the bus after a long day at school. Though in a good way, musically. Anyway, Central Services Presents The Board of Education (I think I've got that name right) will be available for the whole world to hear in just a week or two. Until then, you can enjoy this track for a limited time. Central Services Board of Education - "Heading Home" (Too late!)

Listen To This: "Rise and Shine" - Central Services Board of Education

It's no secret I've been a big fan of Central Services Board of Education ever since I caught wind of them many, many months ago. Their self-titled debut will be formally released late this summer, but I've been spinning the album for awhile now, and I've got to tell you, the opening prologue, "Rise and Shine," is my favorite album-opener in quite some time. It's a rip-roarin' song with sparkling keyboards, horns, and vocal gymnastics -- if you're not awake after hearing this, well, you may have some medical problems of some sort. What's that, you say? You want to hear this fine track? OK, courtesy of the band, here you go (for a limited time only): Central Services Board of Education - "Prologue - Rise and Shine" (too late!) If you're from Seattle, you probably recognize the DJ's voice at the beginning of the track -- it's John Richards, host of KEXP's Morning Show, known locally as "John in the Morning." A canny move by the band, but, hey, Richards' a daddy, too.

This Sounds Like Nothing Else

Remember when I told you about about the new album from Seattle band Central Services Board of Education? Well, I've been spinning a pre-release version for the past few days. I can't tell you what my final verdict on the album (I need to figure that out myself) but I can tell you this, the new album sounds like nothing else you'll hear in the kids music genre all year. I can't think of another album that will generate the chatter this one will. "Audacious" is a pretty good adjective here. One they'd probably use.

School's Out... And In. Simultaneously.

I have written multiple times (OK, twice thus far) about the band Central Services Board of Education, the kids' music offshoot of Seattle indie-pop band Central Services. Count myself as a CSBOE fan, though one of just a few because, you know, they haven't actually released an album. Well, soon enough that group will expand, because this afternoon the band said that they've finished the album and will have pre-release copies at their first-ever full-band performance Sunday along with Recess Monkey at Northwest Folklife. The band says they're targeting a release right around "back to school" time. Can't make it to Seattle to pick up a pre-release copy to tide your family over this long summer? Well, then get yourself over to their Myspace page, where they've posted a zippy new track, "8 Is A Number" ('cause everyone's doing number songs this spring, dontcha know?). It's available for download in handy mp3 format, along with a "director's cut" version of the totally awesome "The Lonely Tomato." Both now with added horns!

OK, This Is A Top 10 Most Anticipated Album For Me

I've written before about the awesomeness that is Seattle's Central Services Board of Education, the kids' side project of the band Central Services (which, in itself, is pretty darn enjoyable). Well, after many, many months of wondering when they were going to get into the studio and record more than just the four great songs on their Myspace page, my (OK, unvoiced) wonderings have been answered. According to this post, recording on a full-length album has begun and "will probably be done by spring." Sounds like they're bringing in a bunch of guests including members of the awesome band Awesome on "horns, appliances, and harmonies." So this automatically moves to my Top 10 list of most anticipated albums for 2008 (how could it not, not with titles like "know your inventors, part V"), but it begs the question... What are you looking forward to?