Review: Play - Various Artists (DeSoto Records)

PlayDesotoRecords.jpgMy general rule on albums is that one awesome song usually makes an acceptable album; two, pretty good; and three awesome songs makes for an excellent album worth getting excited about.

Play, my friends, has three awesome songs. At least.

The album is the first kids' compilation from DeSoto Records, best known for releasing albums from bands such as Jawbox and the Dismemberment Plan. Five years ago -- two years ago, even -- the idea that an indie/punk record label would release a kids' album would have gotten you laughed out of yor co-op preschool. But it's no longer a joke.

In one sense, the songs collected here from both DC-area and Seattle-area bands meet the typical requirements of a kids' music compilation. Not one, but two movement songs, for example -- Anna Oxygen's slightly down-tempo "Born to Shake" and Mary Timony's "Clap Your Hands" (which is fine, but still no match for They Might Be Giants' song of the same name). Food plays an important role, too (see Mock Orange's "Holiday Dinner Song" and the Young Fresh Fellows' "Picnic"), as do animals (Georgie James' "Grizzly Jive," Sgt. Major's romping "Nellie the Elephant," who also gets hipster eyewear on the front cover).

But it also differs from many kids comps. For example, rather than sticking the slow songs at the end of the album, it puts the two slowest songs right at the front. At the end instead is Visqueen's revved-up remake of John Fogerty's "Centerfield." It's not really a kids' song, but as a baseball fan and the parent of a daughter who whacks the snot out of an oversized plastic baseball, it warms my heart to hear a woman sing those lyrics.

More importantly, there's a sense of energy and fun that sometimes is lacking from other kids' compilations -- rather than making kids' songs, the bands simply recorded songs that are totally kid-accessible. Georgie James' "Grizzly Jive" and the Young Fresh Fellows' "Picnic" are two of the best indie pop songs you'll hear all year anywhere. Soccer Team's "I'll Never Fear Ghosts Again" is an advice song whose sheer defiance and exuberance encourages kids to identify with the narrator and totally overcomes the resistance kids might normally have to that type of song. There are handclaps all over the place -- you can never have too many handclaps. Even the songs that are probably more enjoyable for the adults (Ben Davis & the Jetts' "Bouncin' Party" sounds like a cut from Daydream Nation if that album was actually Sonic Youth's kids' album) don't seem pitched at the adults -- they're adult songs that kids might actually groove to. There's a Mudhoney track here called "I Like to Make Noise and Break Things" whose title (and song) will appeal to the knowing adults, but many 4-year-olds will jump around to it, too.

The tracks here will appeal primarily to kids ages 3 through 8. The 39-minute album will be released next week (April 17) via mailorder and iTunes. (The iTunes release will include a bonus track, "Snacktime," by ex-Dismemberment Plan co-founder Travis Morrison.) The in-store (and Amazon, etc.) release date is May 22. You can hear a couple tracks (including the awesome "Grizzly Jive") here. And if you're in the DC area, go check out Rock-N-Romp for more details on an April 22 record release party featuring Georgie James and the Cassettes.

You can tell the artists collected here had fun recording their tracks, and that comes through clearly in the end result. It's early, but in all likelihood Play is the kids' music compilation of the year. Highly recommended.