The longtime reader of this site will deduce that I have not been the biggest fan of music for kids written or performed by kids. There are exceptions, more on the performing than songwriting side, but they tend to be the accent on music from adults, not the other way around.
Enter Rainbow Beast, the San Francisco trio of Brian Gorman, Marcus Stoesz, and Jen Aldrich. Brian Gorman and Marcus Stoesz run “Rock Band Land.” Over six weeks they take a class of 4-to-8-year-olds, help them craft a story, and turn it into a song they perform together on stage. And earlier this year Rainbow Beast, along with the "Rock Band Land Rockers" (AKA some of their prepubescent collaborators) released Tales from the Monstrosity Scrolls, an album of what's essentially a "best of" those songs.
This collaboration between adult musicians and some very young songwriters is the kind of thing that I approve of, but in theory have little interest in listening to. But these songs are far afield from the musical styles and subjects of many kids' music songs. Have folks in your family who like The Flaming Lips, the Kinks, Built to Spill, or Metallica? They'll hear echoes of those bands here.
And once you add the surreal imagery to the often tripped-out arrangements, you can hear just how... tame kids music can sometimes be. You'll hear songs about poisonous snakes ("Remblin Race"), a girl who shoots ice -- and ice cream -- from her fingers ("Ice Girl"), and a pool that traps people who dive within it as a jewel forever ("Pool of Light"). A character's flesh falls off in "Fish Wife," while the title character in "Oliver in the Wrong Cast" loses his skin and is known as the "polka dot skeleton boy."
Puts those songs about learning to brush one's teeth into perspective. The songs really aren't violent -- they're just epic adventures starring the kids at the center. In fact, probably the biggest problem with the album as a whole is that it's one epic song after another, and after 71 minutes, it can feel exhausting.
Done well, a lot of kids music speaks to kids’ everyday experiences in language they understand. But kids ages 4 through 8 -- the same ages as the songwriters -- will also respond to these flights of fancy and stories of worlds far, far away. This album speaks to that need in kids, and, just maybe, might inspire a few new tales. In the end, the album's mere existence should be considered a victory because it was the result of dozens of kids creating their own songs. The fact that it's often eminently listenable to the outsider is just a bonus. Definitely recommended.