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.

Video: "Armando Armadillo" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

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A new album from the punk-Americana duo Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke is always cause for celebration.  So, let's celebrate the recent release of Animal Tales, the duo's latest album, filled with songs celebrating, well, animals.

And by "celebrate," what I mean is "watch the first video for the album."  It's for "Armando Armadillo," the ballad with an appropriately Mexican sound for the tale of the Texan/southwestern animal.  The video, of course, features illustrations from the Wilde, whose drawings are all over their music (and many other things).  And after you watch the video -- kids, ask your parents to tell you about the game "Frogger."

Plus, for a limited time download the track for free here!

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - "Armando Armadillo" [YouTube]

Video: "Bigga Bagga" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

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I do so love "Bigga Bagga" from the latest Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke album, Pleased To Meet You.  I haven't the foggiest idea what the song is about, though.

Here to clear up the matter (or not) is the latest video from the band, illustrated by Wilde himself, of course.  A video that encourages close pictoral analysis.

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - "Bigga Bagga" [YouTube

Weekly Summary (6/3/13 - 6/9/13)

How I Got Here: Key Wilde (Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets)

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As half of the country-punk (punk-country?) duo Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke, the Texas-bred Wilde has produced a couple great albums of often raucous music for families.  So Brian Eno -- whom I'm most familiar with through his work with the Talking Heads and his album Music for Airports  -- was not the first artist I expected Wilde to mention in my series featuring kindie musicians talking about albums that have influenced them as a musician.

But here he is, praising Eno for his 1974 album Here Come the Warm Jets , and he explains how that helped set him off on his musical path, and even draws a link between that nearly-40-year-old album and a track off his latest album, the excellent Pleased To Meet You .

***** 

There have been many favorite records over the years I could list as influences but one in particular stands out and seems worth mentioning here: Here Come The Warm Jets – the first solo album by Brian Eno. I must have first discovered the record while working at a record store in Houston – my summer job following my sophomore year in college. Needless to say, the majority of my wages that summer went right back to the company store. My appreciation for diverse genres of music (and my record collection) expanded quite a bit in those two months.

The record had been out for a few years and was certainly not Eno’s latest release at the time. Of course, being an obsessive music aficionado, I knew who Eno was. He had been a founding member of Roxy Music – one of my favorite bands – but had left after the second album. And there were the collaborations with Bowie and Talking Heads. And he had produced the first Devo album – was talked about as the “go-to” producer who brought elements of chance and “Oblique Strategies” into the recording studio. So I thought of him as an eccentric, yet somewhat ascetic, technical wizard who tinkered with synthesizers and created ambient records like Music For Films and Music For Airports.

So to discover this quirky singer-songwriter with compelling, absurdist lyrics and catchy melodies mining the history of rock and roll completely knocked me out. The backing band, featuring everyone in Roxy Music except Bryan Ferry, sounded to me like the Velvet Underground – probably my favorite band at the time. And I immediately fell in love with Eno’s voice. There was something so English – the accent, the colloquialisms – that really appealed to me in contrast to all the British singers who tried to sound American. (This appreciation probably later led to my collaboration with Mr. Clarke.)

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I listened to the record endlessly. I had been writing and recording odd little songs for a while but now felt like I might actually make a record of my own someday. And I imagined it would be a record like Here Come The Warm Jets. The conflation of several different styles and genres seemed completely natural to me. I overlooked the various components and influences – here was an original sound that I would thereafter label simply “Eno”.

Why not pull out all the hooks and cadences and gorgeous vocal harmonies? Why not write a song like “Baby’s On Fire” that begins with the following lines delivered with snarling sincerity:

Baby’s on fire
Better throw her in the water
Look at her laughing
Like a heifer to the slaughter.

And the song gets even more bizarre as we are introduced to a couple who collect discarded cigarette butts from ashtrays and successfully market them:

Juanita and Juan
Very clever with maracas
Making their fortunes 
Selling second hand tobaccos.

Add to the mix a searing guitar solo by Robert Fripp and you’ve got a number one hit that will probably never be played on commercial radio.

“Cindy Tells Me” (which seemed to me a wink to Lou Reed’s songs that transcribed a personal confession from a female confidante – “Candy Says”, “Stephanie Says”, Lisa Says”) is a 50’s progression with bouncy piano and falsetto harmonies.

But it was the second side of the album that really knocked me out. Side two opens with “On Some Faraway Beach” – a lovely song that instantly crept into my head and has never left. The piece begins with a simple melodic piano part repeated over and over throughout the song as more pianos (22 in all) are added along with other instruments  and lilting vocal harmonies. The song gradually builds for over 4 minutes and culminates in a haunting lyric about being swept away into eternity.

I acquired a four-track cassette recorder around that time and spent endless hours layering simple instrumental bits and multi-tracked vocal harmonies. (I now have boxes of cassette tapes gradually deteriorating in my parent’s attic)  For the final track on our album Rise and Shine – a song called “Pekepoo” – we deliberately tried to channel the spirit and structure of “On Some Faraway Beach”. The resulting track was originally nearly 8 minutes in length and cutting it down to 4:58 was painful and not entirely successful.

Transient

“Dead Finks Don’t Talk”, with its shifting tempo and background vocal chants, was unlike anything I had ever heard before and remains one of my favorite Eno creations. Though not intentional, I see a direct connection between that song and “Conversation” - one of my favorite songs on our most recent record Pleased To Meet You.

Here Come The Warm Jets ends with a predominately instrumental title track (Eno repeated this strategy on his follow up record Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy) but the penultimate tune, “Some Of Them Are Old”, is the loveliest of all. A melodic hymn with Eno multi-tracking all the vocal harmonies:

People come and go and forget to close the door,
And leave their stains and cigarette butts trampled on the floor,
And when they do, remember me, remember me.

I will always remember this record and the joy it has brought me over the years. And I hope to someday create a song that will impart a similar joy to some listener – young or old.

Video: "The Rattling Can" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

Yes, I know that Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke have just released their newest album, Pleased To Meet You (and that I'd recommend it highly to you).

But there may be no KWMC song I hold in higher esteem than "The Rattling Can," off their debut album Rise and Shine (which I'd also recommend highly to you).  From the first time I heard it, I loved its energy and the way it took the traditional and reinvigorated it.

So, yay, new video for the song!  Simply animated by Wilde himself, but lots of fun.  Make sure you stick around for the rare quark, rattling quark.

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - "The Rattling Can" [YouTube]