Review: Flight of the Blue Whale - Pointed Man Band

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

Flight of the Blue Whale album cover

When you look at the Amazon page for Flight of the Blue Whale, the second album from Portland, Oregon's Pointed Man Band, here are the three genres in which Dan Elliott (who in the great indie rock tradition has taken on a band nom de plume for his music) has slotted the album:

- Children's Music

- Avant Garde & Free Jazz

- Miscellaneous

That, readers, is a review -- and an accurate one -- in seven words.  Oh, were we all able to be so concise!  But citations of Amazon genre categorizations are not why you visit this site, so onward I press.

In my review of the debut Pointed Man Band album Swordfish Tango from 2013, I wrote that the album was a "combination of Tom Waits and Shel Silverstein, the Beatles and Parisian cafes, the music [smelling] of hardwood floors and flannel and wood construction blocks."  The follow-up is both slightly more mainstream and weirder, if that's possible.

Flight of the Blue Whale tells a story in song of a red fox who operates a small clock and watch repair shop, comes home to find moles invading his garden and the town, and goes off on an adventure to... well, it ends with a flight of a blue whale.  What happens in that ellipsis is, frankly, a little confusing and I don't even really think that's the point.  Bottom line, the more conventional narrative drive of the story -- whose moral is about taking time to dream and not just work -- is just a structure on which to hang these songs.

And the songs are just as odd as their predecessors.  The album kicks off with perhaps the most straightforward track, "Red Fox," an indie-pop tune featuring an infectiously catching organ motif, but from that track, we move on to the stomping sound of "Moles on Parade" and the accordion-drenched near-instrumental "Valse de Taupier," one of a couple waltzes on the album.  Sometimes Elliott sounds like Tom Waits (as on "Moles" and "Baleen Curse"), but more often his voice will remind listeners of a certain age and sensibility of David Byrne, as on careening "The Plan" and the modern big band sound of "Tunneling to Paradise."  The title track (another instrumental) sounds like a Parisian cafe dragged begrudingly out to the seaside.

The 33-minute album will be most appreciated by kids ages 5 through 9.  You can listen to the album here.  (I also think the album artwork from Brooke Weeber is lovely and complements the album and story itself.)

Flight of the Blue Whale is most definitely not an album that will please all listeners.  It is, as I've noted, a little confusing in places, esoteric in its musical choices -- it's not eager to please.  It is, however, joyful and all those things I just mentioned are also its strengths.  Some kids and families will adore this album -- they are the families who probably really liked Wes Anderson's take on The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  (Note: We were one of those families.  This album is in some sense a spiritual sequel to it.)  So, not for everyone, but maybe for you.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.

Video: "Spring Day" - Karen K and the Jitterbugs

I know, I already featured the stream of "Spring Day" from Karen K and the Jitterbugs, but since the Boston area is in the low 50s today, it's clear that they need all the spring-affirming good vibes in the song and video.

But clearly, any time you take out your frustrations on a homemade reproduction of Olaf from Frozen, as one kid does in the video, it's time for winter to end.

Karen K and the Jitterbugs - "Spring Day" [YouTube]

Review: The Start of Things - Alison Faith Levy

The Start of Things cover

The Start of Things cover

Kids' music in the 1960s -- that is to say, kids' music before there was even a name for it -- basically took the folk music path that was one of the dominant musical strains of the era.  For Pete Seeger and Ella Jenkins, there was some distinction between folk music for adults and that for kids, but it was a distinction more of presentation than of subject matter.  And that folk music orientation was basically the default kids' music option through the '80s if not the '90s until the kindie wave swept through at the start of the 21st century.

Imagine, however, if other musical strains of the decade -- psychedelic pop, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production -- also found themselves working their way into kids'  music with songs for the youngest listener.  Were that to have been the case, Alison Faith Levy's brand-new album The Start of Things would be a stellar example of that alternate reality rather than sounding so unique in today's kindie landscape.

Levy first came to the attention of the kids' music world as a member of the Bay Area band The Sippy Cups, which started out as a kid-friendly cover band for the music of the '60s and '70s before gradually becoming a band which wrote its own psychedelic-inspired kindie pop.  The band had been on hiatus for several years before Levy released her first solo album, World of Wonder, in 2012.  While there were echoes of the Sippy Cups' psychedelic and Wall of Sound production on that first solo album, it's much more pronounced on The Start of Things.  The opening title track features a groovy organ, horns, and the theme of how it's OK to be nervous when tackling a new project (first day of school, opening night of a play, etc.).  It's my favorite track on the album, just a great pop song for kids that a lot of adults might sneak into their own playlists.

The track "Pull Your Weeds" envisions a friendship between Cinderella and Snow White and the empowering lyric (printed on the inside of the CD package, so clearly resonant with Levy) "Do your thing / Love what you do / Appreciate your beauty / Pull your weeds and / Stand your ground / And the world will come around."  While "The Start of Things," Pull Your Weeds," and songs like "Rainbow Tunnel" and "Little Dreamer" sound like they could easily be part of a musical Levy is working on based on World of Wonder.

Other songs, however, are rooted more in interactivity -- the raucous "Are You Happy?" runs through a series of emotions that the kid-listeners are encouraged to mimic.  The "Ballad of Boo Ghosty" is a silly little story about a ghostly friend, while "The Froggy Dance" is a nonsense poem.  Given these tracks, the 32-minute album will be most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 6, though some of the songs mentioned earlier in the review have a slightly older age range.

The Start of Things has a '60s-inspired sound, but it still sounds fresh.  That colorful and rainbow-adorned album cover nails the vibe of Levy's bright and empowered songs.  Definitely recommended.

Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.

Video: "Penguinese" - Recess Monkey

Hot Air album cover

Hot Air album cover

Spring: like clockwork, the arrival of spring means that regular season baseball, cherry blossoms in DC, and new Recess Monkey music are all on their way.

Yes, in the kindie world's least surprising (albeit very pleasant) news, the Seattle trio have announced a release date for their forthcoming album Hot Air.  It'll take flight (see what I did there?) June 16, and on top of the music (produced once again by band muse John Vanderslice), it'll also include a DVD with accompanying videos that tell their own story, including, to be sure, the video below for "Penguinese."  Yep, there's a new kid in town and he's a fancy dresser...

Recess Monkey - "Penguinese" [YouTube]

Upcoming: All Kinds of You and Me - Alastair Moock

All Kinds of You and Me cover

All Kinds of You and Me cover

I don't do "album announcements" much these days, but I decided to make an exception for Alastair Moock's upcoming album All Kinds of You and Me for a few reasons:

1) Just 'cause.  No need for strict adherence to somewhat arbitrary rules.

2) That album cover, featuring a drawing from fellow kindie musician and illustrator Key Wilde which captures Moock's attitude and music quite well, I think.

3) This sounds like a really cool project.

Now, Moock's last project was pretty darn cool.  Moock recorded Singing Our Way Through as a response to his daughter Clio's experience fighting leukemia, looking for a musical way to help families in similar situations respond to life with cancer.  It was an excellent album which garnered a number of accolades, including a Grammy nomination, not to mention being distributed to nearly 3,000 patient families.  How do you follow that?

Well, Moock chose to follow that by recording All Kinds of You and Me as a follow-up of sorts to the Marlo Thomas classic Free To Be... You and Me, engaging with themes of gender, ethnicity, identity, and family in the 21st century.  Given how well loved Free To Be... is by many of Moock's (and, well, my) generation, he's set himself a high bar to reach, but I'm hopeful he's up to the task.  (Also helpful: getting folks like Rani Arbo, Anand Nayak, Jennifer Kimball of The Story, Mark Erelli, and more to join in.)

All Kinds of You and Me will be released June 19.  Definitely one to look forward to.

Radio Playlist: New Music April 2015

Spring is here (and, depending where you live, has been for awhile)!  That means the number of new releases is starting to pick up -- this list is on the short side, but lots of new releases here in the next few weeks.  If you want to catch my list from March you can see that playlist here.

As always, it's limited in that if an artist hasn't chosen to post a song on Spotify, I can't put it on the list, nor can I feature songs from as-yet-unreleased albums.  But I'm always keeping stuff in reserve for the next Spotify playlist.

Check out the list here.

**** New Music April 2015 (April 2015 Kindie Playlist) ****

Rock 'n' Rainbow - "I Like to Ride My Bike"

Lloyd H. Miller - "Trapped in the Attic" 

Lucky Doug and the Stinkbugs - "Pop-a-Wheelie"

Earthworm Ensemble - "Mole vs. Coyote"

Turkey Andersen - "If a Sandwich Was a Sandwich"

Vered - "All I Want"

Caspar Babypants - "Sad Baby"