The kids music genre these days does a great job with music for the under-8 set, but for the most part abandons the tweens to the vagaries of older siblings and Radio Disney. Where are the albums for kids too old for Laurie Berkner but not ready for Lady Gaga?
This year's best album for that age group is the latest record from the Bay Area band The Hipwaders. It's called The Golden State, and as you might guess from the title, it's a big, sunny power-pop embrace of their homestate, from the Beach Boys-like melodies on several tracks to paeans to life in California (see: "Come To California," "Slow Children at Play"). There are enough hooks here to outfit a pirate convention -- the driving "Hey, Josie!" might just be even more catchy than "Educated Kid" (and my fealty to that song is long-established), while "My Dog Steve" features an insanely catchy chorus that gets even catchier once the "na-na-nas" are thrown in. The trio sounds as good as they ever have.
As for the part about the album being for tweens, that's more of a lyrical thing (though the power chords may also have something to do with it). On the angular "The Wrong Thing," the song's narrator is trying to make better choices: "They say you can’t grow without mistakes / Do they have to count every one I make? / I want to fly I want to soar / I don’t want to keep messing up anymore." "The Ramble," although it's about Central Park's Ramble, celebrates exploring the outdoors and could easily be about the California coast. The band also reworks one of their older tunes, "Stand Up to the Bully" with a ska beat. And while I've always thought the band focused more on boy protagonists (heck, there's a song called "So, You're a Boy") on here, "Go Go Girl" gives a "single-digit" aged girl just as much enthusiasm as any of guitarist/songwriter Tito Uquillas' other protagonists.
The album is most appropriate for kids ages 6 through 11. You can listen to samples from the album here. A special shout-out to the album art from Brian Clarke -- simple packaging, but elegantly done.
The back cover of The Golden State features a boy in profile, skateboard in hand, overlooking a verdant valley and lake. It's the portrait of a kid on the verge of exploring the outside world, just like some of the characters in and many of the listeners to the album. It's the same kid who might just be inspired to pick up a guitar after listening to the album. The Hipwaders' best album to date, Golden State isn't just a great album for the tweens in your life, it's a great album, period. Highly recommended.
[Disclosure: I received a copy of the album for possible review.]