When you receive as many kids music albums -- and press releases -- as I do, you tend to discount claims from newcomers to the kindie world that some album brings something new to the kids music. (The guaranteed surefire best way to get an experienced kids music reviewer to listen to a kids music album with an unpromising attitude? Have them introduce it to the reviewer with the phrase "Finally, a kids music album the whole family can enjoy.")
So given that I was introduced to Canadian band The Short Films via this April article which suggested that there wasn't a lot of complex kids music out there, this could all have gone very poorly. But before I dismissed them out of hand, I listened to one of the tracks, "Mr. Wolf," and realized that, whatever the band's familiarity with current kindie music notwithstanding, their album Kingdom Animalia (released a couple weeks ago) could very well offer a distinctive sound.
Calling that song a reworking of the Three Little Pigs story only scratches the surface of its oddity -- Tessa Jennison's powerful and distinctive voice struttingly gives a different perspective on the pig-wolf interaction while husband Russell Jennison and drummer Ryan Dugal create an atmospheric background that perfectly matches the slight sense of unease of the lyrics ("So don't misunderstand them / When they ask you in for tea, / 'Cause they always have a crazing / For a wolf between the teeth").
The entire album has a dream-like effect -- "Pegafox" is about a make-believe animal, for example, the body of a red fox with the wings of a red-tailed hawk. "The Mysterious Okapi" is the kids song we never knew Portishead had written about an animal almost none of us know. Even songs about relatively common animals like "Cat," which features a vigorous piano accompaniment from Jennison herself, outlines the (accurately) complex feelings we often have with our pets ("I'm a cumbersome burden who sits at your door / Like a cat who won't stay away, / "Who is eating her way through your shoes and into your heart."). These are Studied Songs for the Very Young, Raffi as interpreted by Fiona Apple.
The 34-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9. (It's an album not so much for dancing as for listening, so it might not work for every audience.) Besides the single track linked above, you can listen via Spotify. For the moment, it's a digital-only release, though plans are in the works to have an accompanying book featuring the distinctive artwork made in conjunction with the album.
I can't say that Kingdom Animalia is completely unique-- heck, there's already one excellent album about animals that doesn't employ pop-rock as its musical foundation -- but it is lovely and, at times, mesmerizing. If you've read this far, then I think you have a pretty good idea if your family will love love love this album. There's room for all sorts in the kindie world -- Raffi and more -- and I'd like to welcome The Short Films to this world. Please make 'em feel at home. Highly recommended.