Review Two-Fer: Hank Hooper & Mr. Leebot

They Might Be Giants are probably an inspiration for a number of musicians, having not only figured out how to make music for more than 25 years now, but also managing to open up new audiences for their music -- fans both 34 years old and 4 years old.

So it's not surprising that some kids musicians even sound a little bit like TMBG, or at least embrace their wide-ranging sound, and it's a couple of those musicians I'm going to talk about here.

Activate.jpgThe first, and most TMBG-like in sound, is Austin's Mr. Leebot, whose recently released debut Activate! sounds like all the tracks that were left off of TMBG's debut CD (or were heard on Dial-A-Song). Mr. Leebot (aka Lee Davila) has, as you might expect given the name, a very synthesized sound. "Good Bot" could have been part of Devo's kids' album, while "Brock Brock Chicky" is pretty much what I would expect a song about animals as created by a robot would sound like. But it's not totally synthesizer driven -- "I Want A Car" is early Green Day and "Dig Up the Roots" has an earthy, sun-tinged vibe. (Oh, and there's some Bob Wills-ian western swing in there, too.)

The 25-minute album improves as it goes along, with "Power Up!" and "Come On Along" a couple of highlights -- fun tracks that will get kids bouncing along. You can listen to samples of all the tracks here or full tracks for a few songs at his Myspace page.

PlaygroundFortuneTeller.jpgNow if Mr. Leebot sounds like TMBG from 20+ years ago, on his debut Playground Fortune Teller, the Bay Area's Hank Hooper (aka Dren McDonald) sounds a little bit like the band maybe 15 or 10 years ago, a little more adventurous. The soulful cry/yodel of the chorus "That's My Chicken," the rap-for-wordplay's sake of "Raptor Cracker Rap," the country-tinged "Fly Away Pie" -- they don't really sound alike. Sometimes it al coalesces, such as on one of the better kids' baseball songs you'll ever hear, "Hey! Batter!," with its litany of different baseball phrases. Other tracks, like "How Lucky Can You Get" or "Robot Man," have more of a synthesizer, early TMBG-pop sound. (And still other tracks, like "Look Ridiculous" sound like Dial-A-Song experimentation that could have been left off the album.)

By comparing Hooper to TMBG, I'm emphasizing his willingness to try new styles of music, not in terms of, "OK, now I'm going to craft a perfect reggae song about brushing my teeth," but simply as avoiding being pigeonholed. The 41-minute album comes packaged with a short paperback picture book whose drawings and text can be seen here, or you can hear samples here or here, along with a few full tracks here.

I don't think either album is the type of album that will appeal to every family. I've tried to give a sense, though, of who I think would appreciate these disks, both of which have a number of strong tracks and are often fun, rarely boring. (The targeted age range, by the way, is probably ages 3 through 8.) Beyond the sense of fun on both Activate! and Playground Fortune Teller, the albums are recommended to listeners who, even if they don't like They Might Be Giants, are looking for disks that don't sound much like a lot of other kids' music out right now.