So, really, if you're pressed for time, you don't have to read this review of Alphabutt, the first kids' album from Kimya Dawson.
You can just look over at that album cover to the left and decide for yourself.
If you (or your kids) think that cutesy hand-drawn animals pretending to talk letters out of their rear ends are funny or cute or whimsical, you're going to like this album. If you think it's incredibly stupid, you're not.
For those of you needing a little more detail, or if you're not sure where your family stands on the important issue of speech and the mammalian gluteus maximus, read on.
Prior to this year, Dawson was probably best known as half of the duo the Moldy Peaches. Her kids music bona fides were pretty slim, limited to singing on the book version of They Might Be Giants' "Bed Bed Bed." (Though that's more than a lot of people who go on to release a kids album.) She sold an EP of 9 kids songs at her shows in spring 2007 (it was also called Alphabutt), but it was after the stunning popular success of the Juno soundtrack earlier this year (to which she contributed many songs) that she decided to go back into the studio and record more songs with her friends and family. The resulting album (including songs released on the EP) comes out this Tuesday.
Dawson's music at times has been called anti-folk, eschewing the polished craft of a lot of folk music, and that approach certainly is heard here. Toy pianos, choruses with many voices, the occasional indifference to pitch -- if you're looking for the smooth, everything's perfect sound of some kids music, you won't find it here. But to ask Dawson to make everything sound pretty would be like asking Madonna to play acoustic. Sure, it might be a worthwhile musical experience, but it'd be taking away everything that made the artist special to begin with.
The songs here are geared more towards a younger crowd, say, not yet in kindergarten. (It's not surprising to find out that Dawson's daughter just turned 2.) The title track is a little too precious (if you ever wanted to hear the word "butt" and "fart" a dozen times in a kids' song in the span of about a minute, here's your chance), but there are other tracks worth repeated spins. "I Like Bears" is a goofy song with a chorus that goes "I like bears / I like bears / I like bears a lot." It's a lot more catchy than you'd think from reading that chorus, and there are a lot of songs on here that very much sound like Dawson wrote them for her own daughter and purposefully kept them simple on record, sounding a lot like they probably sound in her own household. "Seven Hungry Tigers" is a somewhat more elaborate kids song with fun lyrics ("There are seven hungry tigers in my underwear drawer...") while "Happy Home (Keep On Writing)" matches a dreamy sound to a great chorus ("If you're breathing / you're still living / and if you're living / you are learning... just make sure your life's exciting." And on "Sunbeams and Some Beans," Dawson gets ever-so-slightly political, encouraging a character to "share beans" with others that don't have beans.
As I said, I think the album -- just shy of 30 minutes in length -- is targeted mostly to kids ages 5 and under. You can hear song samples at many internet locations (like here), but it's also possible that Dawson's label, K Records, will post songs for streaming soon.
As you may have surmised, Alphabutt is likely to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it albums. You'll either get it, or you'll think that it's a mess. I personally found it most enjoyable when Dawson reined in the goofiness just a tad -- at times, it's a beautiful album. More importantly, when I gave up trying to listen at a distance and instead joined in with the ears of a 2- or 3-year-old, singing along, maybe even out of tune, I enjoyed it more. I'm recommending the album, but take a look at that album cover one more time before you decide...