Attendance Records helps high schoolers find their voices


When I was in 9th grade, I was in a band that released a five-song EP of all original material. My songwriting at the time was decent for my age (I like to think), but I still fell back on tired cliches in order to simulate emotion. Here’s an example of a line I wrote for a song about being dumped:

“We made love every night
Rarely did we ever have a big fight”

I was 13. I had never “made love” once, let alone every night. I was just regurgitating what I thought rock singers were supposed to write about. Tired cliches simulating emotion.

Tired cliches are the last thing you’ll find on the new EP out from local non-profit Attendance Records. Caught in the Food Chain is a six-song EP being officially released on August 8th at the Mohawk. It contains three songs performed by Marmalakes, and three songs performed by Belaire, but all of the songs were written by 9th and 10th graders from Anderson High School.

The quality of these songs is really, really high, especially given that they were written by high schoolers, presumably in their earliest attempts at songwriting. I mean, check out the opening verse to the whole album, from the song “Love Hurts”:

“It hurts because we’re not old enough
They say it has no age
They say it has no boundaries
But why are there walls between us?”

Holy crap! I mean, where do you begin? Syntactically, the lack of a rhyming scheme, and the varied syllable count is pretty sophisticated. The junk you hear on the radio has a far more basic structure than this, and also far more basic emotional content. To move so effortlessly from the universal to personal is a rare quality in a song. And this kind of mature, high-level songwriting continues across the record.

The songs fit the musicians perfectly, as well. On previous Marmalakes releases, we’ve seen Chase Weinacht flex his literary muscles with intricate phrases and tough vocabulary; here it’s refreshing to hear that his fragile voice can add layers of emotional resonance to a track like “Kids in the Snow.” The lyrics are simple, but intensely powerful because of it, and Weinacht expertly delivers the aching longing that the lyrics require. Musically, I don’t think the group has ever rocked harder than on “Not the Sun,” and it sounds like a perfectly natural fit, while “Love Hurts” sounds like it could be a Waxahatchee cover.

When the record flips to its Belaire-performed half on “Savor the Moment,” my first thought was, “It has been too long since I listened to this fantastic band.” This retro number disguises the fact that it’s a philosophical rumination on the transience of existence by delivering a catchy, bouncy hook that will stay in your head for days. The verses’ up-and-down, driving bass line and drum track are a great musical representation of the repetition theme in the lyrics. The overlapping vocals in “Up to the Cloud” are super cool, and the synths on “Dance Baby, Dance” belie a striking vulnerability. All of these tracks share the same airy beauty as anything from Belaire’s great 2012 album, Resonating Symphony.

Caught in the Food Chain is a surprisingly mature album that deals with a lot of the turbulent themes of adolescence without trivializing them. This isn’t how some nostalgic adult remembers their youth; this is the stark reality of love lost – whether that’s the love of your secret crush or your absent father. It’s the sound of realizing for the first time in your life that you’re going to keep getting older, and that life will keep going right along with you. And the understanding that solitude and loneliness don’t have to coexist.

Kudos to Attendance Records for the great work they’ve done with the students at Anderson High, and congratulations to Marmalakes and Belaire for so seamlessly integrating others’ songwriting into their own sounds. Both bands sound energized on this recording, and will hopefully continue that inspiration into each of their next official releases.

Be sure to support the EP and Attendance Records’ work at their benefit show/record release at the Mohawk on Thursday, August 8th.

– Carter Delloro