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Chris CAMPBELL (b. 1977) and Grant CUTLER
Schooldays Over
Piano, Cellos, Glockenspiel [1:59]
Song 1 [4:40]
Marimba, Synths, Piano [2:46]
Pump Organ, Gongs, Balloon Bassoons [1:49]
Song 2 [3:35]
Cello Bath, Koto [3:01]
Song 3 [2:37]
Christopher Campbell; Grant Cutler; Michelle Kinney; Jacqueline Ultan; Joey Van Phillips
(Performers' roles not specified)
rec. The Hideaway Studio, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 2013
INNOVA 862 Vinyl EP [20:29]

Innova have filed this album under 'Ambient', 'Audiophile', 'Homemade instruments', 'New Age' and 'Singer-songwriter', and it is bits of all those things - but also of others.
To begin with, it is vinyl. Though available as a digital download, in physical form the album comes only in the quaint/trendy shape of a 12" 45rpm 'EP'. This presumably accounts for the next thing it is: ludicrously short. Yet its being a retro artefact does not explain the standard-high retail price that will surely diminish its appeal.
The album is also of a quasi-minimalist cut. This is evident even in the design: there are no accompanying notes as such, not even in the digital 'liner' downloadable from Innova's website - a single line, "Thanks to Joe Johnson, Claire Tiller, the innova team and all our friends", is all it yields beyond the usual credits. No hints are given as to what roles the five listed performers play, although Grant Cutler is acknowledged elsewhere as vocalist.
The bare-bones approach naturally spills over into the music: this is in fact a collection of simple, pretty minimalist melodies and short riffs laid arty-fartily over New-Age-style synthetic tones, environmental sounds and tampered-with mixer controls. The three Songs ('1', '2', '3') offer some folk-poppy overdubbed singing, in tune but not exactly tuneful, amplified but not always clear, each word having individual but not necessarily collective sense. With each track segueing into the next, this is ambient music, and the ambience is one of meditative mellowness.
The title, for what it's worth, is that of an Irish folk ballad written by Ewan MacColl about fifty years ago, and worked over by Campbell and Cutler. They have not "added to or fleshed out the original so much as zoomed in so close we're practically inside the song's heart, watching the world from inside a sepia-tinted diorama." So it goes.
Innova write that Cutler "has been a member of Lookbook [and] Grant Cutler and the Gorgeous Lords" - this will presumably mean something to someone. His "delicate, birdsong-encircled vocals" here are in any case decidedly middling, despite the complete lack of technical demands the music makes. As for Campbell, he is a self-described 'sound-artist' who can make interesting, if not compelling, music - his earlier 'Sound the All-Clear' album on Innova a good example (review). 'Schooldays Over' is not even half as good as that: at best it is a well-produced album that communicates what little it has to say in a way that will satisfy those inexplicably intrigued by New-Age-type trifle. Still, there has always been a decent-sized market for this kind of stuff - a number of reviews across the internet have already been astonishingly enthusiastic.

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