I've come to think that the biggest risk Recess Monkey takes is the opposite of most bands' risk: rather than waiting too long between albums, the Seattle trio's insane level of productivity offers its own perils. Producing an album a year (if not more) like clockwork might almost make listeners think of the albums as interchangeable cogs rather than unique creative expressions.
With their new album Hot Air, the band has released one of their more stylistically varied albums. With song subjects -- or at least titles -- loosely grouped around an airborne topic ("Lighter Than Air," "Paper Airplane," "Head in the Clouds," to name just a few song titles), the band covers broad distances (see what I did there?) musically. From the soft-rock of "Lighter Than Air" to the Beatlesque tunes of "Paper Airplane" (White Album) and "Head in the Clouds" and "Morning Sun" (Sgt. Pepper's) to the XTC ripoff (lovingly, I'm sure) "Thunder & Lightning," there are many approaches, and in a more sophisticated way than the "buffet" style kids albums sometimes employ. "Oh Lando" might be viewed as a shameless (and spoiler-filled!) courting of the Star Wars fanboys and fangirls in their retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, but there have been much worse attempts. There isn't a single song that's the can't-miss hit of the summer (and "First Things First," though it may be popular in concert, wears out its welcome quickly to the adult listener), but on the whole it's yet another solid collection of tracks that will appeal to varying degrees to a wide sector of the kids' music world.
The 39-minute album is most appropriate for kids 4 through 8. The album comes packaged -- for those of you who still buy albums -- with a DVD that ties the songs on the album together into a movie -- a series of music videos, really -- about a boy who grows up to enter an air race with a homemade balloon and encounters a penguin... OK, does the story really matter? (Not really.) It adds value and so your preschoolers might enjoy it, but it's not essential to enjoyment of the album.
To go back to the opening question, yes, I think there's a chance that Recess Monkey's rock-solid consistency and productivity has led to folks -- including me -- to take their music for granted. As much as it feels weird to me to say this, I kind of wish they'd take a year off just to see how it affects their musical output -- and their fans' reactions to a longer-than-normal recorded absence. Regardless, Hot Air is definitely recommended.
Note: I was given a copy of the album for possible review.