Review: Hot Air - Recess Monkey

Hot Air album cover

Hot Air album cover

I've come to think that the biggest risk Recess Monkey takes is the opposite of most bands' risk: rather than waiting too long between albums, the Seattle trio's insane level of productivity offers its own perils.  Producing an album a year (if not more) like clockwork might almost make listeners think of the albums as interchangeable cogs rather than unique creative expressions.

With their new album Hot Air, the band has released one of their more stylistically varied albums.  With song subjects -- or at least titles -- loosely grouped around an airborne topic ("Lighter Than Air," "Paper Airplane," "Head in the Clouds," to name just a few song titles), the band covers broad distances (see what I did there?) musically.  From the soft-rock of "Lighter Than Air" to the Beatlesque tunes of "Paper Airplane" (White Album) and "Head in the Clouds" and "Morning Sun" (Sgt. Pepper's) to the XTC ripoff (lovingly, I'm sure) "Thunder & Lightning," there are many approaches, and in a more sophisticated way than the "buffet" style kids albums sometimes employ.  "Oh Lando" might be viewed as a shameless (and spoiler-filled!) courting of the Star Wars fanboys and fangirls in their retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, but there have been much worse attempts.  There isn't a single song that's the can't-miss hit of the summer (and "First Things First," though it may be popular in concert, wears out its welcome quickly to the adult listener), but on the whole it's yet another solid collection of tracks that will appeal to varying degrees to a wide sector of the kids' music world.

The 39-minute album is most appropriate for kids 4 through 8.  The album comes packaged -- for those of you who still buy albums -- with a DVD that ties the songs on the album together into a movie -- a series of music videos, really -- about a boy who grows up to enter an air race with a homemade balloon and encounters a penguin... OK, does the story really matter?  (Not really.)  It adds value and so your preschoolers might enjoy it, but it's not essential to enjoyment of the album.

To go back to the opening question, yes, I think there's a chance that Recess Monkey's rock-solid consistency and productivity has led to folks -- including me -- to take their music for granted.  As much as it feels weird to me to say this, I kind of wish they'd take a year off just to see how it affects their musical output -- and their fans' reactions to a longer-than-normal recorded absence.  Regardless, Hot Air is definitely recommended.

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

Radio Playlist: New Music July 2015

We are in the height of summer and as always this time of year, there's lots of new music to give a spin, virtually or otherwise.  If you want to catch my list from late May 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 July 2015 (July 2015 Kindie Playlist) ****

"Action, Friends, Action" - Funky Mama

"Minnesota" - Rocknoceros

"People (feat. Rani Arbo)" - Alastair Moock and Friends

"Monkey Brain" - Lianne Bassin

"Bubbles Don’t Pop in the Rain" - Music with Emily

"Turkey in the Straw" - Red Yarn

"Mr. Tinkly Pants" - Yellow Whale

"It’s Only Natural" - Sassafrass

"Thunder and Lightning" - Recess Monkey

"Put It in the Compost" - Michael Ryther

"Revolution #8" - Brian Vogan and his Good Buddies

"Wheels on the Bus" - Mr. Jon & Friends

"Vamanos" - Mister G

"Tomorrow Is a Chance to Start Over" - Hilary Grist

Monday Morning Smile: "The Church Usher's Dance" - Uncle Devin

Usually on "Monday Morning Smile," I try to find something that's not totally kid-focused, and so even though this is off Uncle Devin's forthcoming album Be Yourself, anything that incorporates the Soul Train Line gets an automatic "Monday Morning Smile" pass.  In about five minutes, Washington, DC-based Devin Walker (AKA Uncle Devin, natch) tells a story, gives a little insight into his church's history, and gets the whole crowd off of their feet.  Will this dance go viral?  Don't know, but we've been subject to worse viral dances, musically-speaking.

Uncle Devin - "The Church Usher's Dance" [YouTube]

Video: "Bile Them Cabbage" - Red Yarn

Deep Woods Revival album cover

Deep Woods Revival album cover

The folk music revivalist Red Yarn is back and for the first video from his new album Deep Woods Revival, he (unsurprisingly) brings a whole bunch of Portland-area folks -- and puppets -- for a singalong.  "Bile Them Cabbage" will sound an awful lot like "Shake Those Simmons Down," but that's part of the beauty of folk music, how it bends to suit musicians' will.

Also, it's good for singing along with.

Red Yarn - "Bile Them Cabbage" [YouTube]

How I Got Here: Shanti Wintergate, Play Date

Shanti Wintergate

Shanti Wintergate

Shanti Wintergate is probably best known in the kids music world as one-half of the pop-punk kindie duo Play Date, but she's also a solo musician, actor, and children's book author (I Went For a Walk).  Wintergate and her Play Date partner, husband Greg Attonito, have a new Play Date album, We All Shine, coming out later this month, and in anticipation of that, both she and Attonito have written entries for "How I Got Here," the series where kids musicians write about influential music.

Wintergate's spin on the series is a little different than most in that rather than pinpointing influential albums, she's picked out a couple specific moments -- one in utero (!) -- that indicated a life in music might be for her... 

Shanti Wintergate with mom and brother

Shanti Wintergate with mom and brother

As my mom tells it, the story begins in Hollywood, California where my mother’s family is from, where I was born, and where the beginning of my musical journey began - on stage, from inside my mom’s belly, kicking to the beat of the drums.  

I’ve been surrounded by music, since before I was born.  My parents are musicians who have performed together throughout the world since the late ‘60s, and up until the mid ‘80s the LA club circuit was their home stomping ground.  The owners of one of these LA clubs, known then as Gazzarri’s (located where the Key Club is today) wanted to throw a benefit concert featuring my parents’ band, Lightstorm, and a few other acts in support of Child’s Sunvillage Inc., a non-profit established by my parents to support arts, music and mindfulness programs to children around the world.

Although reluctant at 8 months pregnant (with me), my mom agreed to perform a set for this rock and roll event, “For the sake of the children of the world!” as she so passionately exclaims when telling the story.  As they began playing, and to my mother’s surprise and excitement, I began kicking to the beat of the drums, in utero.  This is a story that I’ve heard countless times, and as whimsical as this rock and roll fairy tale may sound, this is where it literally began for me.

Shanti's parents on a motorcycle in costume

Shanti's parents on a motorcycle in costume

Throughout my life I’ve been immersed in the creative process of music, which began by singing with my parents, listening and watching them, and eventually learning how to play a few different instruments.  I was such a shy kid that my parents never pushed performing on me at all.  Creating music was one thing but performing it was a different beast all together.  It wasn’t something I was interested in doing at all until later in my teens.  It was something my parents did, not me.  It was something I watched famous musicians do, not little ole me.  

Shanti as child, just barely taller than the guitars

Shanti as child, just barely taller than the guitars

All those silly thoughts shifted in me, the moment I saw a friend of mine pick up my dad’s guitar and perform an impromptu cover of a John Denver song in our living room.  In that moment, I was like, whoa… she just did that and it was AWESOME!  It didn’t matter how good or bad she sang or played that dang song, “Take me home, country road, to the place I belong…” but she did it!  It was so empowering to see someone who was my peer just casually pick up a guitar and accompany herself singing a song.  I was hooked!  It really took someone outside of my parents to impress this upon me even though my dad had offered to teach me guitar for years!  Ha, my damn teenager brain!  Looking back on her song choice now I almost giggle out loud because in that moment, I found my home and where I belonged… I can see that now. 

The very next morning I asked my dad to start teaching me how to compose songs and play guitar and I haven’t looked back.

In one way or another, the girl singing in my living room and the story that my mom tells me about kicking to the beat of the drum before I was born have shaped who I am today.  They’ve helped me remember how important it is to find that rhythm of life and to tune into that ever present symphony of the universe.  I believe we’re all born with this innate sense, even if we’re not the greatest dancers and even if our rhythm is so unique that it isn’t like anyone else’s on the planet.  We all just get where we are, in our own way, one step at a time. 

How I Got Here: Greg Attonito, Play Date (The Who's "I Can't Explain")

Greg Attonito

Greg Attonito

Greg Attonito wears many hats -- founding member and musician in the much-loved New Jersey-based punk band The Bouncing Souls, painter, and, with his wife Shanti Wintergate, part of the pop-punk kindie duo Play Date.  Play Date have a new Play Date album, We All Shine, coming out later this month, and in anticipation of that, both he and Wintergate have written entries for "How I Got Here," the series where kids musicians write about influential music.

Like Wintergate, Attonito writes below about a specific moment and song that played a big part in setting him down the path to becoming a musician.

“I canʼt explain” how I REALLY got here but I think if I have to choose a musical moment that played a big part in getting me to this moment... Iʼd have to go with the first time I really sang a song live with a rock band. The song was “I Canʼt Explain” by the Who.

Greg Attonito in his dad's attic, 1988

Greg Attonito in his dad's attic, 1988

I was in high school hanging out at my friend Bryanʼs house watching him, Pete, and Sean practicing in their cover band, The Switch. They asked me if I wanted to try singing a song. I had heard them play “I Canʼt Explain” a few times before and I had the cassette so I knew enough of the words to have a go at it. I nervously grabbed the microphone as I heard those guitars and drums chopping out that intro riff... "Da DaDa Da DADA... I gotta feeling inside, I CANT EXPLAIN! Itʼs a certain kind, I CANʼT EXPLAIN! I feel hot and cold, I CANʼT EXPLAIN! Yeah, down in my soul but I Canʼt Explain!”

The Who, "I Can't Explain" 45 cover

The Who, "I Can't Explain" 45 cover

WOW! What a feeling. I couldnʼt have put it into words at that moment but I had found a new form of expression that turned me upside down and inside out in the best way. Rock and Roll, baby! Not just LISTENING to rock and roll but becoming a part of the live beast that is rock and roll music. It was SO AWESOME! That was my first moment discovering an amazing language which gave me a deeper way of expressing myself. What a gift and what an opportunity! Performing and eventually writing music allowed me to access and share parts of myself that were totally incredible and I never knew existed. What a revelation!

When that first attempt at singing “I Canʼt Explain” ended, everybody was smiling. That moment was twenty-six years ago and I havenʼt stopped making music with those guys since. The feeling and positive experience we shared making music together eventually took us around the world and changed peopleʼs lives... Saved peopleʼs lives!! Including our own.

Itʼs not always easy to remember how important that “I Canʼt Explain” moment was for me. Its also not easy to remember it's really something special to have lots of opportunities to create that kind of moment for others.  Playing music for children and their families gives me those opportunities in a new and unexpected way all the time. I may lose sight of the potential magic, power and life changing possibilities of music but the sound and the feeling of hearing and performing good songs are constant reminders, and Iʼm so grateful.

Greg Attonito performing at Riot Fest.  Photo credit: DT Kindler

Greg Attonito performing at Riot Fest.  Photo credit: DT Kindler

Photo credit: DT Kindler (Attonito at Riot Fest)