I think Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke are pretty awesome. From the very first time Wilde e-mailed me a link to some music that would eventually become their 2010 debut Rise and Shine, I've shouted their praises.
Of course, the New York-area duo have been slow, almost agonizingly so, in releasing music into the world. That 2010 album appeared three years after Wilde first posted his music, and since then they've just released one other full-length, the outstanding Pleased To Meet You, and a Christmas-themed EP.
High expectations plus long waiting period equals for me a recipe for potential disappointment with Animal Tales, the fall 2014 album from the duo. So if I say this is my least favorite KWMC album, you shouldn't interpret that as "it's a bad album." On the contrary - Animal Tales is very good. As you might expect from the album title and cover art, it's a themed album, a baker's dozen of songs about animals with varying amounts of lyrical similitude. "Bear Song" is a straightforward recitation of the different kinds of bears, while "Armando Armadillo" is a little more fanciful, a song that echoes traditional Mexican music and which gives the title character a wife, a dozen kids (all named), and a job (gardener at a nursery). The record's most abstract and least "factual" songs, which close out the album -- the instrumental "Hippo Dance" and the parable "Animal Island" -- are my favorites.
When I try to pinpoint why I didn't react quite as strongly to this album as I have their other work, the best explanation I can come up with is that it's definitely less raucous than their previous albums, with no rave-up song like "Favorite Names," "The Rattling Can," or "Bigga Bagga" in the mix. It's unfair, I know, to complain that this album is more Johnny Cash than Johnny Rotten just because our family (not just me) has found the punk side of KWMC the side that's stuck in our brains most often.
The album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 9. You can listen to the 39-minute album here. And while the album packaging isn't as elaborate on their debut, that cover art from Wilde himself is again another argument for physical copies of music (or, perhaps, a vinyl-sized mp3 player/smartphone for listeners to explore the illustration).
Would I recommend Animal Tales as the entry point to Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke to a family unfamiliar with them? No, but that's only because the other two albums have wiggled their way into our families' consciousness so much and because this album gives the punk side of the duo short shrift. But would I recommend Animal Tales? Heck yeah. Definitely recommended.
Note: I received a copy of this album for possible review.