Video: "Bird and Rhino" - The Pop Ups

Let's wrap up this (unofficial) Day of The Pop Ups -- sort of a pop-up Pop Ups site -- here at Zooglobble on a visual note.  We've had a review of Great Pretenders Club, the first kids music album to be released exclusively on Amazon Music.  And we've interviewed Jason Rabinowitz how the album came about and what we can expect in the future.

One of those things we can expect is a video for each of the album's 11 tracks.  The first video, for the track "Bird and Rhino," is already here.  It's purposefully slightly lo-fi animation nicely captures the track's occasional zaniness.  If you're going to stomp that fire out with a funnily voiced Rhino, that's not exactly something that cries out for verisimilitude.

You can watch the video directly on Amazon's website, but seeing as Amazon Music also has its own (embeddable) YouTube channel, let's go with that.

The Pop Ups - "Bird and Rhino" [YouTube]

Itty-Bitty Interview: Jason Rabinowitz (The Pop Ups)

Jason Rabinowitz with puppet

Jason Rabinowitz with puppet

Usually I like my interviews a little bit longer, but the speed of the release of Great Pretenders Club, the excellent album from Brooklyn duo The Pop Ups demanded something shorter.  Also, given its relative secrecy -- announced and released within a week -- I couldn't do something more extensive.  (I tip my hat to the band, though, for keeping such a tremendous work under wraps.)

But Jason Rabinowitz, one half of the duo, did answer a few questions last week about the process of creating the album, his influences, and what we can expect in the weeks and months to come.

Zooglobble: “Great Pretenders Club” is the first kindie “instant album” (meaning, released almost as soon as it’s announced) -- how long have you been working on it?

Jason Rabinowitz: From the moment we started writing until the moment it came back from mastering was about 3 months. It was hard to keep it under our hats that whole time. 

How did the association with Amazon Music come about?

Our manager (at mTheory LLC)  was at Amazon for a meeting (not about us) and threw our hat in the ring. (I'm going to try and mention the word "hat" in every answer here.)

The album has a definite ‘80s vibe, even more so than your other albums -- do you have any favorite albums from that era?

Purple RainThriller, Graceland: the big three. 

Remain In Light. Doolittle. She's So Unusual. Voices. Freedom Of Choice. Tom Tom Club. Even Worse. Spike

Anything by Men Without Hats. 

Also a lot of 70's albums. Too long to list but some highlights: Tusk. #1 Album. Fulfillingness First Finale

More more more!!!

What else will you be doing with the album and the music from it?

We're making a video for all 11 songs on the album that will stream as a Pop Ups block on Amazon Prime! Very excited about that! So... Hats off to that idea!

Review: Great Pretenders Club - The Pop Ups

The Pop Ups - Great Pretenders Club album cover

The Pop Ups - Great Pretenders Club album cover

It's a brave new world in kids music.  I thought that the genre would have a few more years where CDs would be the primary mode of transmitting music (and funding musicians' careers), but if I had a dollar for every kids musician I've heard in the past year or so describing the collapse of their CD sales, I'd have enough money to go down to my favorite local record shop (literally) down the street and buy a couple albums.

As a keen observer of the music industry -- and someone for whom the CD is still my most preferred listening medium -- I, too, am nervous by what appears to be a shift to streaming services, which could lead to viewing music as a commodity.  What happens to commodities?  They're viewed as raw materials, often easily substituted for and by other items, with price being the main victim.  In this scenario, if you're a producer of said "raw materials," that doesn't end well if you take your time with your craft.

Luckily -- maybe -- kids entertainment is one of the battlefields upon which the new streaming entertainment wars are being fought.  Netflix, Amazon, and other SVOD (streaming video on demand) players both major and niche are touting their own independent series and collection of entertainment.  Video isn't the only battlefield -- players like Rhapsody are developing their own special kids' area, it can't be long until Spotify joins in, and folks like batteryPOP are developing a video-channel hybrid focusing on kid-friendly music and entertainment.

You might be wondering, what in the world does this have to do with Great Pretenders Club, the fourth album from the Brooklyn duo The Pop Ups?


You see, Great Pretenders Club is the very first kids' album from Amazon Music (a second kids' album, from Lisa Loeb, will be released in October) and as such it's a trailblazing release.  It's available exclusively from Amazon Music, downloadable as well as in physical format (print-on-demand CD-R).  More intriguingly, it's being marketed primarily as being exclusively available for streaming on their Amazon Prime service.  In other words, selling the album seems to be a minor point -- what's more important is that you can stream it on Amazon... and not on Spotify, Rhapsody, Bandcamp, and so on.  Amazon has entered the kids audio entertainment fray, and they're using kindie to do it.

So often trailblazing releases are notable more for their context than their content, but in the case of Great Pretenders Club, the album's music is every bit as notable as the way it's been introduced to the world.  This is, simply put, one of the year's best albums.  From the minimalist bleeps and and zaps of album opener "Pretend We Forgot" to the trip-hop sound of title track at the very end (featuring HAERTS), Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz give us eleven tracks of '80s drenched pre-K solid gold celebrating imagination and playfulness.  "We Live in an Orchestra" notices and turns into a song the sounds of everyday objects and adds a nifty guitar line and stringed accompaniment.  "On Air" wonders what it would be like to have one's own radio show (with a foam baseball bat), throwing in Duran Duran and Toto references.  "Googly Eyes" has for me a bit of Joe Jackson feel, while the groove of "Indoor Picnic" features in one part a descending melodic part that must be an homage to Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels."  (I also can't believe that the part in "Make a Rainbow" that apes the Fifth Dimension's "Let the Sunshine In" wasn't intentional.)  I particularly dug the crunchy guitars of "Treasure Hunter," about playing hide-and-seek with different objects.  While there isn't a song that is as sublime as "Box of Crayons" or "All These Shapes," there isn't anything remotely close to a weak or even so-so track.

The 38-minute album will be most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.  You can preview or purchase (and stream if you're an Amazon Prime member) the album here.

A few years from now, the fact that Great Pretenders Club was introduced to the world, Beyonce-style fully-completed, as the first kids music Amazon Music release will have been forgotten.  While Amazon has the market power to significantly change the trajectory of kids music and kindie's relationship to kids music, its ability to do will also determine whether this particular album itself will be forgotten.  Great Pretenders Club is a great album, so don't screw this up, Amazon.  Highly recommended.

Video: "Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees and Hares" - They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants - Why? album cover

They Might Be Giants - Why? album cover

Every couple weeks or so, They Might Be Giants release another video that might be on their upcoming kids' album Why?.  Three weeks ago saw the release of the emoji-filled video for "Definition of Good" (confirmed to be on the album) and last night saw the release of "Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees and Hares."

The song and video isn't quite the polar opposite of the bouncy "Definition," but its whimsical animation (which I believe is by Alison Cowles and her father, long-time TMBG collaborator David Cowles from Sandpiper Animation) is a perfect visual companion to the subdued stroll through select components of the animal kingdom.

"Some call them bunnies / Who cares?" - ha!

They Might Be Giants - "Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees and Hares" [YouTube]

Review: !Come Bien! Eat Right! - José-Luis Orozco

José-Luis Orozco ¡Come Bien! Eat Right! album cover

José-Luis Orozco ¡Come Bien! Eat Right! album cover

It is easy to think of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings as the record label of Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, and many more who joined the label more than a half-century ago.  But they've also signed up to release recordings from artists not even born when Ella and Pete first started recording -- hi, Elizabeth Mitchell, welcome, Sarah Lee Guthrie!

From that perspective, the fact that Los Angeles-based musician and educator José-Luis Orozco has joined the Folkways fold is both entirely fitting and novel.  If you're not familiar with Orozco's work, then there's a good chance that you haven't been in a classroom with young kids, particularly a classroom with bilingual kids.  Since 1971, Orozco has released 15 albums; his website's biography page says those albums (along with a DVD and 3 songbooks) have sold more than two million copies, and I believe it -- if you look at the iTunes and Amazon best-selling children's music lists, his albums, particularly De Colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs, are often found there.  (That album is one of the very few kids' music albums that my wife, who's taught young kids and in classrooms with lots of bilingual speakers, introduced to me.)

Which brings us to !Come Bien! Eat Right!, Orozco's 16th album and his first distributed through Smithsonian Folkways.  In one sense, it feels completely natural that a musician and educator of Orozco's standing should be part of a record label so committed to celebrating and spreading the folk music of the world here in the United States (and around the world).  And in another sense, you're surprised that this grandfather isn't already part of that family and that it's taken all this time for the two to finally partner.

The album's theme, in case you haven't already guessed it from the title and album cover, is healthy eating.  It features 38 songs, the first 19 in Spanish, followed by the same 19 songs in English translation.  So, for example, the album leads off with "Damos gracias," a simple blessing sung in Spanish and accompanied only by percussion from producer and well-known Latin musician Quetzal Flores -- and then you can fast-forward nineteen tracks to track #20, "Thanksgiving," and listen to the same song (and arrangement) sung in English.

On Orozco moves through the meal -- fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains.  Musically, the accompaniment is generally simple, but I think it shines best when it features other Los Angeles musicians, such as Gabriel Tenorio on the quinto sonero on "La comida en mi plato/The Food on My Plate" or Tylana Enomoto on violin on "Verduras/Veggies," one of my favorite tracks.  There's some call and response on the album featuring a couple of kids, and, of course, "De Colores" makes an appearance, nimbly reworked into a song called "Sabroses colors/Tasty Colors," all about eating fruits and vegetables with healthy colors.  And -- yay! -- "Chocolate," a classic traditional song that's always fun to sing along with.

You might think that this album is "educational," and... it totally is.  I don't speak much Spanish, and so I could listen to the Spanish language tracks and enjoy them, but when I switched to the English-language versions, some of them seemed very... educational and lacking some of the vibrancy I felt on the Spanish-language track.  Now that's OK, but if you -- or your kid -- are expecting something freewheeling, this album isn't that.  There are definitely songs you could pull out and place onto a broader playlist, but as something to listen to 62 minutes straight without an explicit expectation that your family will learn more about healthy eating or learning a different language, it's not designed for that.

The album will be most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.  I feel almost contractually obligated (note: I'm not) to mention that the album packaging and liner notes are lovely -- in this particular case all the notes are produced in Spanish on one side, and English on the other.    The lovely illustrations are by Elisa Kleven.

Orozco's music has been heard by literally millions of kids, and his new association with Folkways is not the culmination of a career, but just another feather in the cap of a much-beloved and well-respected musician and educator.  It wouldn't be the first choice of mine for an introduction to Spanish-language music, but for educators seeking to broaden their Spanish-language collections or looking for something bilingual to address issues of eating and nutrition, there's a bounty here.  And the rest of us can certainly find a number of tracks to nibble on.  Recommended.

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

Listen To This: "City Don't Sleep" - Frances England

Frances England - City Don't Sleep single cover

Frances England - City Don't Sleep single cover

Yay for new music from Frances England!  It's called "City Don't Sleep," and it's a sneak peek (aurally, anyway) at her forthcoming fifth family music album Explorer of the World.  You'll probably notice immediately the unique percussion and sounds of the city.  The latter comes from England's approach for many of the songs on the new album -- rather than starting with chord progressions, she used field recordings she'd made over the past couple years as the foundation for many of these songs, and those sounds are woven through the songs.

Between this recording and the fact that the album is co-produced by Dean Jones and Dave Winer from Justin Roberts' Not Ready for Naptime Players, Explorer of the World is definitely right near the top of my most-anticipated 2016 kindie albums.  The single officially is out September 29th, but you can grab a copy now on iTunes and CD Baby (with Amazon coming shortly).  Or stream it below!

Frances England - "City Don't Sleep" [Soundcloud]