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Music Review: KiNDERGARTEN – Small

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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 three 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.

It blows my mind to think of the amount of musical talent and experience in this foursome. But if you listen to the music of KiNDERGARTEN, you can hear all that experience and all the influences come through in spades.

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.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!
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    By the way, for more information about the band, check out their website – KiNDERGARTENNYC.COM!