Review: Animal Tales - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

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I think Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke are pretty awesome.  From the very first time Wilde e-mailed me a link to some music that would eventually become their 2010 debut Rise and Shine, I've shouted their praises.

Of course, the New York-area duo have been slow, almost agonizingly so, in releasing music into the world.  That 2010 album appeared three years after Wilde first posted his music, and since then they've just released one other full-length, the outstanding Pleased To Meet You, and a Christmas-themed EP.

High expectations plus long waiting period equals for me a recipe for potential disappointment with Animal Tales, the fall 2014 album from the duo.  So if I say this is my least favorite KWMC album, you shouldn't interpret that as "it's a bad album."  On the contrary - Animal Tales is very good.  As you might expect from the album title and cover art, it's a themed album, a baker's dozen of songs about animals with varying amounts of lyrical similitude.  "Bear Song" is a straightforward recitation of the different kinds of bears, while "Armando Armadillo" is a little more fanciful, a song that echoes traditional Mexican music and which gives the title character a wife, a dozen kids (all named), and a job (gardener at a nursery).  The record's most abstract and least "factual" songs, which close out the album -- the instrumental "Hippo Dance" and the parable "Animal Island" -- are my favorites. 

When I try to pinpoint why I didn't react quite as strongly to this album as I have their other work, the best explanation I can come up with is that it's definitely less raucous than their previous albums, with no rave-up song like "Favorite Names," "The Rattling Can," or "Bigga Bagga" in the mix.  It's unfair, I know, to complain that this album is more Johnny Cash than Johnny Rotten just because our family (not just me) has found the punk side of KWMC the side that's stuck in our brains most often.

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9.  You can listen to the 39-minute album here.  And while the album packaging isn't as elaborate on their debut, that cover art from Wilde himself is again another argument for physical copies of music (or, perhaps, a vinyl-sized mp3 player/smartphone for listeners to explore the illustration).

Would I recommend Animal Tales as the entry point to Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke to a family unfamiliar with them?  No, but that's only because the other two albums have wiggled their way into our families' consciousness so much and because this album gives the punk side of the duo short shrift.  But would I recommend Animal Tales?  Heck yeah.  Definitely recommended.

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

Review: Super Audio Sunshine - Todd McHatton

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If Dan Zanes coined the phrase "age-desegregated music" for his folk-rock take on traditional songs from across the country (and globe), Southern California's Todd McHatton has taken that attitude and applied it to psychedelic power-pop.  While some of his music has occasionally tapped into a more childlike part of the brain as in his massive kindie hit "I Think I'm a Bunny," which featured the winsomely squeaky monster Marvy Monstone, mostly he's recorded music accessible to all ages.

This doesn't change on his latest album, Super Audio Sunshine.  Sure, Marvy makes his now traditional album appearance, this time on the (happily) existential album closer "Every Little Monster."  But for the most part, the occasional song like "A Slice of Pie" -- yes, it's about eating pie -- which resides squarely in what we might think of as kindie is usually followed immediately by a song like "What Makes Me Smile," which with only the most minor of changes would be a pure pop-rock love song.  (It is a pure pop rock love song, though, to be sure.)

McHatton doesn't alter his sonic approach from past work, either -- "Wonderbuzz" could be a long-lost track from XTC's long-lost kid-friendly album, and songs like "Refreshments on Neptune" and "Giraffe On a Flaming Unicycle" are every bit as far-out as those song titles imply.  As a result, McHatton's music can be an acquired taste and families who prefer their kindie more conventional might not groove to the whole thing.

The album is best suited for kids ages 4 and up, with no real upper age limit (see discussion above); you can stream the entire 41-minute album here.  As McHatton himself noted, he finds it "much more interesting and exciting to write about fantastical, dynamic, bizarre things than to rehash any common, tired, depressing, dark subject matter."  Super Audio Sunshine is another example of that artistic principle at work, and most families will find at least a few songs exercising their bliss muscles.  Recommended.

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

Review: Full Moon, Full Moon - Papa Crow

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Michigan-based musician Papa Crow zigs and zags.  His hushed, heartfelt debut Things That Roar was earnest, while the follow-up EP What Was That Sound? was… well, maybe it was heartfelt, too, but it was a heartfelt and fun album about flatulence, so I think you see my point about the zigging and zagging.

Having gotten toots out of his system -- so to speak -- Papa Crow (aka Jeff Krebs) returns to the warmth of his debut with his recent release Full Moon, Full Moon.  If the first album sounded a little bit like it was recorded in the middle of a Michigan winter, this new album has a sunnier, more expansive feeling, like it was recorded over the course of some long Michigan summer days with many friends.

"Moving to the Beat" is a gentle ska-tinged tune featuring organ and saxophone, while "Great White Pine" is straight-ahead bluegrass tune about camping.  If "I Wanna Rock & Roll" starts out softer than I'd expect a song titled that to begin, it ends with a suitably loud riff.  Krebs says the album loosely follows a day in the life of a child from sunup to sunup, so as you'd expect, a lot of the album's second half is mellower -- "Give Some, Get Some," featuring Frances England, is a highlight, as is the title track and "The Michigan Waltz," the latter written by Krebs' grandfather.

You can listen to 3 full songs from the 42-minute album (most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8) here.  The album is made with evident care and craft, and will again appeal to families who are fans of Frances England, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Dan Zanes, artists who originally inspired Papa Crow.  This album which celebrates the outside world is a worthy successor to both of its predecessors -- more so the debut than the cheekier EP -- and worth checking out regardless of how well you know his music.  Definitely recommended.

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

Radio Playlist: New Music January 2015

A new year, but the same reliance on Spotify for some of the highlights that have crossed my desk recently.  I skipped December (at least for non-holiday music, but if you missed November's list, 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 or go right here if you're in Spotify.

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

Big World Audio Theatre – This Island Life (from The Peculiar Adventures of the S.S. Bungalow)
Michael O'Halloran – The Little Blue Bus
Kira Willey – Jazzy
Mo Phillips – Time Machine
Spiral Up Kids – Dreams
Billy Jonas – Monkeys Driving Cars
Nathalia – Norah's World
Brendan Parker – Dance!
Bunny Clogs – My Identity

Itty-Bitty Review: Year-Round Sounds - The Hipwaders

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For a reviewer, the beauty of releasing an album loosely themed around different seasonal activities is that regardless of when one gets around to reviewing it, it's still timely.

So let's give it up for the Hipwaders' Year-Round Sounds and its opening track "Mic Check."  Yes, it's literally a song about a mic check -- a short, sharp power-pop song that at 61 seconds packs more hooks in than most songs three times its length -- and not about the new year.  But of course it's a perfect way to start out the year, er, album.  (Perhaps they can conclude their next album with a song called "Mic Drop.")  And if you're looking for another alternative take on the New Year, that's followed up by "Kings & Queens," all about babies and again a perfectly appropriate "start of the year" song.  Onward through the year, covering spring (a cover of "Peter Cottontail" and the swirly "Gaia She Knows"), school ("The Books I Like To Read" and "Smile About"), plus Halloween and Christmas (including an appropriately Bakersfield-y cover of Buck Owens' lost Christmas classic "A Very Merry Christmas").  

The album is most appropriate for kids 4 through 9.  At 14 tracks and 30 minutes in length, the album flies by and if your family doesn't dig one of the songs (or if it's July and and you have no interest in their appropriately Bakersfield-y cover of any Christmas song), another one's coming up shortly.  (Listen to samples via the player at the bottom of this page.)  While it's not quite the classic that the Hipwaders' last album, The Golden State, is, Year-Round Sounds still satisfies.  Fans of the Hipwaders, power-pop, or of noting celebrations big and small will find a lot to like here.  Definitely recommended.

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

Itty-Bitty Review: How To Be a Cloud - Kira Willey

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On her third kids music album How To Be a Cloud, Kira Willey continues, to my ears, to take tiny but graceful steps from the yoga-focused music that was the basis for her first album Dance for the Sun and second album Kings & Queens of the Forest.

All three albums feature a set of songs leading off the album, with a second series of tracks featuring most if not all of the tracks from the "front half," as it were, as the basis for a series of 2-to-3-minute pose cycles.  Whereas on the first album the yoga versions of the songs were obvious, on the new album, the songs are used more often as soft backgrounds for a series of yoga poses whose relationship to the song and the lyrics than obvious.

The thing is, the poppy songs stand perfectly well on their own.  Leadoff track "My Favorite Day" is a lighter-than-air confection with a surfeit of good feelings, with other tracks like "Gotta Lotta Happy" hitting the same beats.  My favorite track on the album might be "Jazzy," a celebration of a girl who loves to sing and dance through her day, which sprightly moves along.  Slower tracks like the title track and "When You Sleep" serve up nice counterpoints to the faster tracks.  Willey also reworks her big hit "Colors" with a 75-student kindergarten choir and it's every bit as charming (albeit in a different way) as the original, solo effort.

The album will be of most interest to kids ages 3 through 7.  You can listen to songs from the album here.  I don't mean to put down the yoga part of the CD -- after all, my first hook into Willey's music was, as occasional yoga practitioner, that yoga part.  But How To Be a Cloud shows that her music stands perfectly well on its own, no pose required.  Come for the yoga, perhaps, but stay for the music.  Recommended. 

Note: I was given a copy of this album for possible review.