Jersey Independent Music Review - 'Plunk Class Dismissed into your computer drive, and your iTunes will file it with the children's music. This is another one of Ben Krieger's many chain-yanking jokes; he's enough of a mischief-maker to try to confuse the issue before he's sung a single note. But it's also an acknowledgment that many of the songs on his latest set are sung from a kid's perspective -- a child caught in that peculiar purgatory we each know as the big-city classroom. After years spent in the all-too-grownup world of Gotham rock, the singer-songwriter's world is suddenly crammed full of juveniles: not only has he been teaching in the public schools, but he's also been managing the youth parade at the Monday night open mic at Sidewalk. And ask anybody about Krieger these days, and they'll tell you the same thing -- he's all about his newborn daughter, a kid on whom he's hung the descriptive (middle) handle 'Thunderbolt'. Pretty hippie, sure. But then you'll have a hard time finding another musician who has been punished harder by the end of the Age of Aquarius than Krieger has. In '68, Ben Krieger would have been recognized as a brilliant crackpot worth following no matter where the swirling winds of his whimsy took him; that was the era of ideas, and Krieger is never short of those. Sadly, in modern rock, inspiration takes a backseat to execution -- especially out in Brooklyn, the borough that Krieger persists in calling home. I don't mean to mislead: Krieger's execution has often been excellent, and that is particularly true on Class Dismissed. The analog synthesizer leads here, for instance, are as dynamic as anything Todd Baechle and Jacob Thiele have waxed lately; also, thanks in part to the diligence of drummer Jarrod Ruby and co-engineer Travis Harrison, he's working with his best-ever set of basic tracks. But you just know that even if the beats and playing were sloppy and the production was unpleasantly lo-fi, Krieger would have gone ahead and tried to make the exact same album. That's because he's got something to say about schools, and community responsibility, and inner-city crime, and the whiplash experience of living in a rapidly gentrifying borough, and he's not going to let something as insignificant as sound quality interrupt his turn at the podium. Again I mislead: Krieger's become an outstanding home-recording engineer, one frequently able to capture arena-rock grandeur in his living room. When Class Dismissed isn't nodding in the direction of The Who's Seventies albums, it's mimicking the candy-coated synthpop of OMD. Krieger wouldn't have been able to approximate either if he hadn't developed some genuine skills behind the digital mixing board. So when he wants to put together a ninety-second rock extravaganza about a renovated falafel place in his Bushwick neighborhood, he's got the ability to pull it off. Better yet, he can make the heavy irony animating the gesture feel as light and tasty as a popover. Which is vital, because -- and I cannot emphasize this enough -- Ben Krieger is a really funny guy. Not just clever, and not splashy and obvious, not slapstick and never Euro-dry: just plain old smart and funny like the Muppet Show or a good Sesame Street sketch. The best track on Class Dismissed is 'Local 50 Community School Board', a school-appropriations meeting - complete with discussion of the budget for textbooks and chalk -- cast in the hot and malleable bronze of Prince-style funk. Just like Mel Blanc used to, Krieger does all the voices himself. I've listened to it about fifty times, and it still makes me laugh. Children are unlikely to pick up on the meta-humor. Similarly, there's a mid-album suite of songs and sketches that absolutely nails the harrowing feeling that accompanies standardized testing, but it would be the rare child who is sufficiently self-aware to pick up on Krieger's critique. We know where last year's teacher went, even if the kid narrator of 'Brand New Teacher' is left wondering. So call this children's music for the kids we adults used to be, and if we've survived grade school, we might stop and have a rueful laugh at the emotional gymnastics we were all expected to do there. Teachers ought to appreciate Class Dismissed the most -- that is, if they can take a joke. (Mine never could.) Yet there are no villains on this set: instead, the institutional public school system is portrayed as something as overwhelming and irresistible as a force of nature, sweeping up students, educators, parents, community organizers and elected officials, and everybody else tasked to wrestle with it's vagaries. The child psychiatrist prescribing Ritalin to the daydreaming girl means well, as does the family counselor, as does the NYPD spokesperson justifying budget cuts. They're feeding the beast with a tired smile. Ben Krieger's singing voice continues to be his biggest obstacle: all these years in NYC, and he still sounds too Midwestern for his own good. His heartland sensibility on the mic is only slightly mitigated by his recent discovery of synthesizers, and occasionally his vocal chords cannot keep pace with his ambitions. Still, he's written himself a bewildering array of characters to voice on Class Dismissed -- white and nonwhite, children and adults, rebels and government functionaries, men and women -- and his batting average here is remarkably high. It's a testament to the outsize of Krieger's compassion: for all his incisive commentary and leftfield mockery, he's got genuine sympathy for all his archetypes. 'Mom And Dad Play Rock And Roll', the last song on the set, inverts the logic of David Thomas's vicious 'Ice Cream Truck' -- here, the parents are invited to plug in and join the party. It doesn't matter if they're mid-level functionaries now, working for deadening institutions; they once had a band called Wicked Missile, and they've got that dusty Gibson calling to them from the basement. And at the bottom of the staircase is Krieger himself, arms outstretched, welcoming all squares back to the rock.' - Tris McCall.