Schooltree shines on beautifully strange album Rise

Schooltree’s latest album Rise is a lively, festive blend of pop-rock styles, alternative, and maybe a touch of show tune sprightliness. Lead by the singer-keyboardist Lainey Schooltree, this four piece band rocks, bops, and traipses its way through nine pieces of ear candy. Schooltree’s vast musical imagination allows her to compose some of the most strikingly original music in the greater-Boston scene. There isn’t ever any obvious signs of who her influences are. This makes for a refreshingly original batch of songs.
Opening track “Six Feet Up” is a successful blend of menacing guitar and sweet tinkling piano. The tension between the two instruments provides a dark startling backdrop for Schooltree to emote an otherworldly charm. There are so many colors, tones, and emotions going on this whirlwind of sound that a listener cannot help but get caught up in it.
“Foreverish” has a lively Broadway musical feel in its effervescent liveliness. It’s impossible to not picture stage motion to this number. Schooltree’s eccentric plea to a man to love her forever is expressed in various tempos, timbres, and instrumentation. Schooltree has an exceptionally strong and fetching voice. Placing it in this weirdly arranged song is a winner. Her frenetic cooing over her rollicking piano lines is like a mad dance of sound that you cannot stop listening to because it’s too unusual to ignore.
Huge sweeping vocal harmonies pull the listener into “After Your Gone,” a song spearheaded by Brendan Burns’s wide, rangy guitar phrase and buttressed by more of Schooltree’s odd piano rhythm patterns. Her vocal approach is over the top, crooning with a mighty force while her band plays like an orchestra during the climactic section in a classical piece.
“Heavenside” quietly glides into the listener’s consciousness with its brief gentle piano interludes and atmospheric guitar sweeps. Schooltree’s clear resonating lead vocal easefully builds tension in the song. She slowly climbs to a louder dynamic as the band moves into a more aggressive mode.
“Today” is a sweet blend of piano and jaunty rhythm section. Schooltree sings in an amicable, chirpy timbre that belies her list of serious gripes about the way things are today. Her sustains and coos are beautiful when her song starts to long for a better today. The complex piece can be taken as humor, piano ballad, or even possibly for a scene in a comedic off-Broadway musical.
“Let’s Dance” is a pleasant but hard to define work. Pop like piano tinkling, a light mellow groove rhythm section, and mild guitar excursions in the backdrop make this a cross between a pop song and something that might function as a film score. Schooltree’s voice is beautiful, silky smooth, and she finesses her notes with personality and skill. Her music, especially in this song, make it easy to picture her in an artist’s loft coming up with something quirky and brilliant. It’s all in the way that her songs are good without being pigeonholed into any one already known category.
Title track “Rise”  engages the listener with an electronically altered Schooltree vocal that remains beautiful despite sounding simultaneously bionic. She infuses her vocal with warmth, richness, and expression while skillfully controlling the phrases with dynamics, harmonies, coos, and sustains. Schooltree is a woman who dominates her electronic devices rather than being enslaved by them.
“Everyman” is a lushly sung eccentric piece with a larger than life presence.  Schooltree offers lots of sweet, silky vocal notes. Her voice arcs over the soundscape like a rainbow on a bright sunny afternoon as the rain is clearing up. Atmospheric guitar phrasing from Brendan Burns blends perfectly with the color and tone coming from Schooltree’s piano, creating a layered, tasteful structure.
Schooltree closes out her disc with “Reprise,” snippets of what came before, sprightly piano tinkling and backdrop cooing that haunts the back of the listener’s mind like a pleasant dream. Fuzzy guitar emerges, seemingly whenever it feels like it, and you are left with a sense of different personalities in one engaging conversation. Schooltree also does some interesting things with her voice during the ride out, and it makes you wish her song and her full length CD were even longer.
Schooltree is a beautifully unique and experimental artist. Possessing a world of talent as vocalist, pianist, and composer, she is unafraid to let her creativity and imagination unfold and take her in whichever direction she feels like going. There’s a lot of impressive things going on here and each is a joy to listen to. It certainly helps that guitarist Brendan Burns has a great feel and a supply of talent to fill in the right spaces in the right way here. It will be fascinating to see where Schooltree goes with her next recording.

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