When interviewed about their music, it is not uncommon for kids musicians to say that they're not recording for kids. It's a statement that for many artists puzzles me, because while I totally get what they're saying -- good stories and songs should resonate with a diverse audience -- it seems to deny what is obvious: songs about playgrounds or going to school or getting a dog are written with kids in mind. They are kids' songs, no matter how good they are or how appealing to adults they may be.
New York's Dog on Fleas are one of the few artists making kids music whose music, stripped of context such as album art or a review on a website such as this, could legitimately be not described as "kids music." Their brand-new album Invisible Friends taps into a feeling of childlike wonder and exuberance without ever sounding like somebody was tapping into memories of (anyone's) childhood.
What the songs do sound like, at times, are half-remembered childhood memories themselves. The lovely and gentle "Fortunate Mistake" tells the story of a mouse (or someone the size of a mouse) whose name is indeed "Fortunate Mistake" while echoing the textures of Paul Simon's Graceland album. (The lyrics "I bring good luck wherever I go / I bring good luck to you" sound to me like a blessing.) On the other, more-minimal hand, the sung lyrics for the song "Party" are as follows: "I like to party, party, party / I like to party, party, party / Party, party, party, party, party, party, party!" There's a little variation in that perhaps, but for the most part it's an excuse for Dog on Fleas mastermind Dean Jones to get his Memphis horns on.
Notwithstanding the occasional dance tracks, it's mostly a laid-back series of songs, with tracks like "Tell Me What You Love" or the group sing-along "Peapod" being the sonic equivalent of laying on your back in the shade of tree in a grassy field watching clouds go by. Longtime fans of the band will may hear of lot of the last Dog on Fleas album, Beautiful World, on this new disk, but with some of the more electronic elements dialed back -- this is a much more organic album. I liked Beautiful World, but I like this much more.
Given how much I've talked about the 42-minute album's all-ages sound, the idea of an ideal age range is sort of silly, but it's probably more appealing to kids ages 3 and up. You can listen to the whole album here.
Don't misunderstand me -- there's a lot of excellent kids music out there that is written with kids in mind, and I think that's great. (Really, I think people should embrace that idea.) But it's nice to have bands like Dog on Fleas blurring the distinctions between what is kids music and what isn't. Like a preschool collage, Invisible Friends mixes stuff together that adults have long stopped mixing together but in spite of that (or possibly because of it) produces art. Highly recommended.