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Innocence and Despair

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Album Review

These 19 tracks are taken from the two albums Langley Elementary School students recorded and released in small quantities for themselves and their friends in British Columbia in the mid-'70s. Innocence & Despair is a subtitle etched onto the sleeve, to which could rejoin, is it the innocence of ineptitude, or the ineptitude of innocence? On its own merits, it's not great listening. The kids are engaged and having fun, certainly; there's not much despair here. But they sound close to what you would expect 50-strong vocal ensembles of nine- to 12-year-olds singing in a school gymnasium to sound like. What does probably lift this above most other vanity school music class pressings (and you know there must be plenty more where this came from) is the spooky, minimal strangeness of most of the arrangements. It does indeed sound refreshing and interesting to hear the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Neil Diamond songs with weird off-kilter xylophones, off-the-wall cymbal crashes, and teacher Hans Fenger's basic singalong acoustic guitar and piano. It's more valuable as a cultural curiosity and something to get the guffaws going at parties than it is a deep listening experience. There's something undeniably otherworldly about much of it, though, particularly the cover of "Space Oddity," with its scrape-slides and ridiculously over-tremoloed guitar. The strangest cover choice is undoubtedly Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" (well, Klaatu was Canadian). And there's an interesting comment about nine-year-old Sheila Behman's solo vocal showcase by Fenger in the liner notes: "I always felt [her version of] 'Desperado' was better than versions by the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt." If you're not a fan of those artists, which probably could be said of the majority of consumers purchasing this disc, you might well agree.


Formed: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s

The Langley Schools Music Project is not so much a group as the name that served as an umbrella for a couple of super-obscure, privately pressed LPs by Canadian elementary school students in the mid-'70s. The recordings were supervised and arranged by Hans Fenger, a Vancouver musician who had taken a post teaching music in elementary schools in the rural area of Langley, British Columbia. Fenger took a then-radical (and still-radical) approach to music instruction that emphasized participation and...
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Innocence and Despair, Langley Schools Music Project
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