You know what's refreshing about See You on the Moon!: Songs for Kids of All Ages, the 2006 compilation from Canada's Paper Bag Records label? It's a compilation album of kids' music from adult rock artists that isn't for charity. Bless 'em -- every other compilation of this type seems to be a fundraiser for one worthy group or another, but this one? Pure commerce!
Why should you care? Well, for one thing, rather than wondering whether or not the cause behind an album is worth your $15, you can just wonder whether or not the music itself is worth your $15. In this case, it's a mixed bag. The best track by far is Great Lake Swimmers' title track, a winning mid-tempo indie-rocker all about different careers kids can aspire to -- carpenter or singer, for example. It combines a fabulous hook with clear, direct lyrics and occasional fun stuff for the kids to latch on to (the tap-tap-tap of a hammer during the sung phrase "tap-tap-tap"). It's sunny, but not overwhelming, a song for kids of all ages (truth in advertising in this regard, anyway).
Unfortunately no other song hits the heights of the title track, though there are a few worth listening to -- I particularly liked the Apostle of Hustle featuring The Husky's' "24 Robbers," which marries kids' playground chanting to drum and sound loops (think a kids' track from Beck). And Detective Kalita's "Baby Brother," is, unlike most of the tracks, very clear vocally and sweet (almost too much so). Sufjan Stevens' Christmas carol "The Friendly Beasts," off one of his homemade Christmas EPs (which'll be released in late 2006), has a pleasant basement recording studio feel, but sounds somewhat out of place amidst the other tracks.
The tracks that don't work are the ones that don't provide things kids can latch onto -- clear lyrics, accessible subject matter, or catchy melodies. Alan Sparhawk's "Be Nice to People with Lice" comes off more mean than a plea for tolerance, while Hot Chip's "I Can't Wake Up" will put most listeners to sleep. And the other big artist, Broken Social Scene, turns in a very hazy and very dull "Puff the Magic Dragon." Whether or not the artists thought about how to communicate their songs to a younger audience than they normally play for, the results don't always reflect it.
For the most part, this is an album that kids ages 4 to 7 might enjoy. You can hear samples wherever the album's sold online OR you can go to Paper Bag's newly redesigned website and stream every one of their albums (I don't like to deep-link too much, so just go here and pick out this album. Or another one. Magneta Lane, maybe. Be adventurous.)
See You on the Moon! is an uneven album, filled with some great tracks and some considerably less-than-great. While you may enjoy the diversity of indie-rock tracks and bands on the disk, your kids are likely to pick out just a few tracks and ask you to skip the rest.