There's this ice cream shop in San Francisco called Humphry Slocombe. I've never been there, but I'm definitely intrigued. “There’s a whole world beyond chocolate, strawberry, vanilla," the owner says. "Why can’t you make peanut butter–curry ice cream?” Indeed, take a look at the flavor list -- OK, they do have chocolate and vanilla, but foie gras? Pistachio-bacon? Strawberry.... candied jalapeno? But even if the flavors sound odd, they seem to be doing excellent business...
Duplex is not for people who, to coin a phrase, are looking for vanilla kids music. It's for the families who'd like to try salt and pepper ice cream. The band is the brainchild of Vancouver musician Veda Hille, who amidst her many other musical projects put together the delightfully askew album Ablum (review) in 2005 with a crew of kids and adults. Four years later, Hille and her gang are back with Worser, which is, well, quite possibly odder than its predecessor.
I don't want to suggest that Duplex makes deliberately obscure and unlistenable music. Because at its heart these are mostly pop songs that are, in fact, quite listenable. "That's How We Make a Sandwich" features horns, sha-la-las, and sings about, well, the various ways people make sandwiches. "Orange Popsicle" (listen here is a sweet cut of Beach Boys-esque pop about friendship.
But much of the album sounds like nothing else you will hear in the kids music genre this year. Worser features not one, but two, science-related songs (take that!, They Might Be Giants) -- the over-the-top rocker "Noble Gases" (about, yes, the seven noble gases) and the gorgeous "Alive," about evolution (listen here). Heck, throw in "September Is My Favourite" and the British-Invasion-aping "Hibernation," and that's four science-related songs. There's also an ode to laziness (or possibly subtle criticism) in the zippy "That Sounds Like Work To Me." And the opening track "Salvador" features one of my favorite lines in kids music for a long time -- "Some people come to the party early / Some people never show up at all / Some stay late and they help clean up the dishes / Salvador stayed all night long" -- I could spend days unpacking all the meaning in those lines.
Not all of it works, of course. Songs about divorce are rare in kids music and songs about divorce between couples who just happen to be the same sex are rarer still. While I appreciate the sentiment in the heartfelt "Daddy and I," the song doesn't have quite the verve of most of the rest of the tracks. And "Dog With A Sweater On" moves from funny to odd to annoying to very annoying to so bad it's good to something approaching head-shaking amazement.
The 30-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. For the moment it's available here. You can listen to additional tracks at the band's Myspace page. (The physical copy is silk-screened by band member Annie Wilkinson and is lovely to boot.)
Since it doesn't sound like a lot of kids music, Worser probably isn't for everyone. But just like there are enough people who like pistachio-bacon ice cream, there are enough people who like their kids music a bit off-kilter. And even those folks like me who for whom the more chocolate associated with their ice cream, the better, want to try really good salt and pepper ice cream every once in a while. Definitely recommended.