Review Summary: An unexpectedly fun album from some private school kids who state that "...in our world, it's always Halloween".
With a band name like Schoolyard Heroes, one may envision an offering of non-descript pop-punk from this quartet of private-schooled Washingtonians. One would also be dead wrong. What we have here is some female fronted “horror-punk” with equal parts sweet and sinful. The Heroes’ certainly seem to capture a B-movie horror vibe on this release, and it is impressive that this is done almost exclusively through manipulation of their instruments. There are a few synths to be found, but nothing that draws focus away from the vocals or music. Abominations employs its fair share of speedy palm-muted riffs and double bass, but offers some variety as well. There are occasional musical passages that experiment with clean sounds and minimalist instrumentation, creating some interesting atmospherics. Guitarist Steve Bonnell really shines here, creating interesting textures and reverting to punk power chords as necessary. This effect is enhanced by the rhythm section of Jonah Bergman (bass) and Brian Turner (drums) who seem to be in sync at all times. This unit is definitely tight and has some obvious talents, but struggle to bring it all together throughout the length of the album.
Vocals are often a polarizing aspect in music, and the work of Ryann Donnelly on Abominations is certainly no exception. With the stylings of this budding diva running the gamete from soft and sultry siren’s songs to full on banshee shrieks and wails, Donnelly can seduce in one breath and instill dread with the next. It is unfortunate that her powerful voice is generally booming and unfocused, as this can be seriously grating to the ear. Thankfully, there are moments of reprieve when bassist Jonah Bergman joins the fray. His sometimes shouted, sometimes spoken delivery is nothing special, but provides a nice contrast and helps to temper Donnely’s occasionally over the top high-pitched warbling.
Lyrically, Schoolyard Heroes are fairly twisted. “Take off your skin and dance with me. Cut out your tongue and sing for me” coos Donnelly on album opener “Dude, Where’s My Skin?”. This sets the tone for the remainder of the album, and it’s not hard to imagine the type of content you’ll find with song titles such as “Cemetery Girls” and “All The Pretty Corpses”. On occasion, the lyrics come across as overwrought or just plain silly, but there are still some gems to be found. For example, there is a particularly visceral moment on the closing track “Screaming “Theater” In A Crowded Fire”. Donnelly matter-of-factly states “If I’m not mistaken, I murdered you twice before my dear” to which Bergman replies “It’s true my dear, you smeared my blood like a whore’s mascera” in the album’s lone display traded vocals during a verse. Considering the general subject matter, it may surprise the listener that Abominations contains some very tenable pop moments. Notably, during the chorus of “Violence Is All The Rage” our young songstress exhibits some rare restraint, and seems to channel No Doubt era Gwen Stefani.
The individual members of Schoolyard Heroes can call their own shots as they as they experiment with their sound and hone their chops in this yet-to-be-defined genre. Let us hope they learn to play to their strengths, as Abominations is a fun, albeit uneven listen which offers the promise of some interesting material in the future.