I've had the occasional thought over the past few years about what kids music might sound like a few years from now. What happens when the kids who grew up connected online and encouraged in a DIY world become parents themselves? What happens when mass-market TV gives way to a million tiny screens (or at least a thousand different programmers)? When parents have no idea who Pete Seeger is (but have memories of that Lumineers concert they went to once)?
I don't think Frances England's fourth album Blink of an Eye is the answer to any or all of those questions, but it is an answer that presages it.
If on her previous album Mind of My Own , England cranked up the volume and the energy, on this new recording, the San Francisco artist dials it all back a bit. It's not that England has abandoned melody -- the title track which leads off the album, for example, has a lovely wordless ending to the chorus (helped no doubt by the presence of Elizabeth Mitchell and Caspar Babypants on the track). But it's all very jangly -- producer Dean Jones and England employ a ton of different percussive instruments throughout the album (I'm pretty sure "Move Like Saturday Night" uses even more different items for percussion, if that's possible).
Although the production values are much higher than those on England's debut Fascinating Creatures, famously recorded as a preschool fundraiser and the first time she'd made an album, the impulse is the same. It's a very-DIY sound equal parts folk and indie rock, put together with craft and care. "Little Wings," even though it moves forward propulsively on Morgan Taylor's guitar work, is a quiet piece. On a number of the songs, England chooses to deemphasize her vocals -- the result on those tracks is impressionistic in effect, the aural equivalent of that collage of an album cover.
And that's really what England is aiming for (and succeeding) lyrically. Many of the songs are fleeting glimpses -- memories -- of family life and parenthood. "Blink of an Eye" is the most obvious, but it's the dreamy "Salt Water Spin" and "Look How the Light Dances with Trees" that feel like England telling herself -- and by extension her family and us, the listeners -- "Don't. Forget. This."
This album will be most appreciated by kids ages 5 through 9, though its mellow nature will have a broader appeal for quiet-time spins. You can listen to the whole thing at England's music page.
Frances England has carved out a career making very personal music for families -- more so than many artists, I believe she thinks specifically about her own family as the audience. This approach -- challenging oneself to learn new skills and then reflecting their life outward using those newfound skills -- is one area where I think kids music will evolve. Maybe even one day a couple decades from now a 28-year-old new parent will remember those albums they listened to on "CD" or an "iPhone," pick up an instrument (or a computer), and try to convey those same dreamy feelings to their own child. One can hope, anyway. Highly recommended.
Note: I received a copy of the album for possible review.