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Fiver and the Atlantic School Take Country to Art School

By Annie Parnell, Staff Writer

Fiver and the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition’s self-titled debut album, out May 7, begins with an invocation.

“Speak, golden tongue/ Let my rag be nearly wrung” croons Simone Schmidt (Fiver). The song is “Yeah But Uhh Hey”, a critique of capitalism that they describe as “a gig worker’s work song”. Over improvised rhythms and lyrical skewers of a society that turns people into “Carrion, cold, only doing what it’s told ‘cause it’s for money”, Fiver and the Atlantic School are both astute and playful, blending their disenchantment with a serene chorus that promises “Yeah but uhh, hey…we’ll find a way to make it right.”

This isn’t the first collaboration between Fiver and the Atlantic School, as their cohesion across this album might suggest. The two Canada-based acts previously teamed up for “You Wanted Country? Volume 1”, an EP featuring the original track “It Is What It Is” alongside covers of Willie Nelson, Gene Clark, and Johnny Paycheck. Since then, their attunement to each other seems to have only deepened.

To craft this album, they retreated from Toronto to a little house in Nova Scotia, producing a final product that reflects their keen ability to listen and be present with each other. The Atlantic School’s penchant improvisation blends beautifully with Schmidt’s steady singing, creating a dreamlike, psychedelic sound that’s rich with sliding guitars and vocal harmonies.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Fiver’s experimental lyricism, meanwhile, suggests both Sturgill Simpson’s metamodern country and the avant-garde ambiguity of David Lynch. Across the album, they show a prescient awareness of the crises that face our current moment, delving into imperialism, marginalization, and environmental issues in spades.

The title of “Leaning Hard (On My Peripheral Vision)” might refer to the people its narrator can see in their corner, who provide support and solidarity in the face of a society that rejects them. It also might be a sly reference to a side eye, directed against those who propose “the high road” and string along people who speak out for progress and change “On a wire that’s the length of the river of Jordan.”

Intricate and whimsical language like this is a recurring presence on “Fiver with The Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition”, often generating some of its most interesting moments. “Jr. Wreck” explores the sting of rejection with the metaphor “I’ve known you for a while now to piss in the fountain as if you’re brewing me tea.”

“For Your Sake”, a poetic closer featuring the complementary vocals of Jeremy Costello, offers a more optimistic view of romance: “Your sake in mine is doubled / Yours and mine in tandem quake”. Fiver’s accompanying tongue-in-cheek documentary series “Atop of a Song” explores this figurative language in further detail, with a characteristic flair. In one episode that focuses on “Leaning Hard”, an elaborate bit features the group using a 156-mile audio cable during the recording process — the exact same length as the Jordan River.

All this experimentation is grounded by Fiver and the Atlantic School’s consistent lyrical and sonic references to country music tradition. “Sick Gladiola,” for instance, builds off of the classic country-kid-in-the-big-city trope to explore modern-day disillusionment with the gig economy.

“Death is Only a Dream” flips the script on the Ralph Stanley song of the same name, arguing in lieu of the original’s sentiments of salvation that “paradise is a moment alive together on earth.” As the track builds, Nick Dourado’s piano echoes the tune of the classic folk song “John Henry”, furthering the album’s commentary on labor and disenfranchisement. 

By grounding themselves so firmly in country’s history while also pushing hard on its boundaries, Fiver and the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition expand the definitions of the genre and make room for new ideas within the country umbrella. “Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition” is an innovative full-length debut, a compelling start from a collective whose meeting minds are sure to make waves.

Take a listen to “Jr. Wreck”, available exclusively on Country Queer.

Annie Parnell is a writer, student, and cohost of the radio show Cowboy Church. Currently, she’s based in Charlottesville, Virginia.