The Prep School Tragedy: 'It's All a Show' – CD Review


My quest for hidden gems in the freaky-deaky music wilderness has turned up another curiosity: I stumbled across Chicago-based act The Prep School Tragedy by pure chance, when they toured with awesome gothic electro-pop unit The Birthday Massacre... which is also the same route I discovered horror rockers Creature Feature, another long-time FEARnet fave. I wanted to see which side of the musical fence this crazed electro-pop-rap-industrial-metal troupe falls on, and now that I've heard and seen them in action... well, I still can't answer that one. But I can tell you that they're serious fun, and much like last week's lucky find The Deadites, they jumble up genres in completely demented ways, cramming pop, techno, metal, hip-hop, industrial and a half a dozen other styles into a blender and spiking the mixture with a naughty but smart sense of humor. Their first full-length album It's All a Show makes its digital debut today and you can read about it below... and be sure to viddy their new clip "Thought I Toldja."

With the team of Benn "TranQ" Guy and Michael "Ignited" Hodes at the helm, the band has an expanded stage lineup that includes live drums, bass, multiple guitarists and gothed-out cheerleader duo Tiffany Ann & Maggie Jo – better known as "The Squad" – on backing vocals. In the studio, Guy and Hodes worked with Sean Payne of electro-metal unit Cyanotic (who also hail from Chicago), and together they assembled a nervous, glitchy framework of synth sequences, humongous electro beats and samples, often stacked with massive buzzsaw guitar riffs, with a scorching vocal battle of melodic metal and hip-hop on top. If I could hang a tag on their sound and visuals – and honestly, I really can't – I would probably file them somewhere between electro-metal icon Celldweller and notorious alterna-dance legends My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (it's no coincidence they've toured with the latter band before) whose decadent day-glo party monster approach is another quality they have in common; it's totally up there on tracks like "SeduQtion" and "Bussdown." But this band also has a strong pop sensibility, and bring with it some mad hooks.

The album is bookended by two versions of the ground-pounding track "Hate Everything I Do," which offers a little insight on how well the band's song structures stand up to aggressive deconstruction. The urgent "Glitch Mode Mix" kicks off the album, and bears Payne's eccentric touch (that's a plus, by the way), but oddly enough the original, metalized mix is saved for last. There's a wide range of sonic differences between the two, but the tight songwriting skills tie everything together, complete with sarcastic lyrics flipping off the band's critics (and troll species in general) in the ultimate "haters gonna hate" anthem. The first single "Thought I Toldja" may be another jab at the same crowd, with its teasing chorus chant of "OMG, LOL, FML and go to hell."

But don't be misled into thinking this is just an anti-pop novelty act, because they also demonstrate some serious industrial chops on tracks like the KMFDM-style grinder "What Have I Become," summoning up Rammstein dance metal for the outrageous anthem "Step into the Night," trading beefy bass lines and four-to-the-floor rhythms with machine-gun tempo mixups on the title track, and bringing big and cinematic production to bear on darker, moodier tracks like "Phoenix in the Sky" and "Tearing Me Apart." Hell, there's even a lethal dose of infectious, rump-shaking funk driving "Happy on the Outside" and bombastic hip-hop grooves on "Smoking That Genius (Sippin' That Bird)" and "The Tragedy is Born." Up-tempo or down, fun or fearsome, there's not one cut in the crop that isn't fully dance-worthy.

I went into this album with plenty of curiosity, but no clear expectations... and now that I've been through all fourteen tracks and back, I'm still surprised by the range of the group's skills; while "Thought I Toldja" is a wickedly funny and totally danceable single, it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the band's songwriting savvy. If you just want a mega-heavy beat to pogo your ass off, you'll find plenty to love here, but you might find their melodies sneaking up on you later, which is a damn good omen for the band's future success.

It's All a Show is released today by indie label Accessory Music in association with the band's own outfit Glitch Mode Recordings, and it's available in digital format from all the usual outlets... but if you want a physical CD (yes, they still make those occasionally), you can pre-order it today through the band's webstore. But now, check out their music video for "Thought I Toldja"...