They Might Be Giants dispense with the pleasantries right away on their fourth full-length album for kids, Here Comes Science. "I like those stories / about angels, unicorns, and elves / Now, I like those stories / As much as anybody else / But when I'm seeking knowledge / Either simple or abstract / The facts are with science / Science is real." That's from the leadoff track "Science Is Real," and once the band has set down its marker down like that, they've clearly made the decision that the album isn't going to feature songs like those about a letter D who likes to watch the sports or a whole bunch of number sevens who crash a birthday party. Instead, the album is, well, educational in a way that mainstream kids music hasn't seen since Schoolhouse Rock. Luckily for the band, nobody remembers the Science Rock set of songs (except "Interplanet Janet"), so anything they do that's halfway tuneful will be a massive improvement. And that cup is definitely more than half full. "Meet the Elements" has an undeniably catchy chorus and mixes just enough science (all of us are mostly made of four elements) and whimsy (the song takes a detour confusing elements with elephants) that it is impossible to not like the song. "I Am A Paleontologist" is a bouncy rocker featuring Danny Weinkauf's vocals which conveys more the excitement of discovery rather than many dinosaur details, but will make your dinosaur-loving child even more interested in dinosaurs, if that's somehow possible. "My Brother the Ape" attempts to explain evolution to your 8-year-old in 3 minutes of synthesizer-tinged rock and pretty much succeeds. And what could be more scientific than the band re-recording their old cover "Why Does the Sun Shine?," finding out that some of the 50-year-old science about the sun's basic composition in that song had been disproven, and recording a new song, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?," that puts it context? If it's not obvious yet, the band has left the preschool set behind with these songs. Preschoolers may grasp a few of the concepts and bounce around a bit, but the world of "Clap Your Hands" is in the rear-view mirror here. I'll admit to missing the goofiness. The songs are good, some excellent, but I think the best songs here are the ones that still have a little goofiness to leaven the learning or don't push too much subject knowledge. "Meet the Elements," "My Brother the Ape," "Put It To The Test" -- these all meet that test quite well. (Some of the songs at the end, like "Computer Assisted Design," don't.) This album is the first TMBG kids' album that feels like they're trying to teach something and while they do it better and more tunefully than just about anyone -- imagine if you'd been able to watch these instead of those Thursday afternoon filmstrips -- you're probably less likely to steal this CD away from your kid to listen on a bright spring day than its predecessors. Of course, even if you do steal the CD away, they'll still have the DVD to watch. And the DVD is brilliant, my friends. The amount of detail elegantly packed into "Meet the Elements" is absolutely amazing -- 3 minutes and 19 seconds of knowledge wrapped with a neat little bow on top. Put It To The Test" is hands down the funniest video of the year -- even if you don't have fond memories of your Atari 2600, you'll still be amused by the 8-bit graphics. And videos for songs like "How Many Planets?" and "Solid Liquid Gas" (which already conveyed a good sense of their subjects by sound description) neatly complement the audio. The videos as a whole have top-notch video quality all-around, better than Here Come the 123s, which was already pretty darn good. The songs and videos here will be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 10. Samples of the songs are all over your favorite online retailers, with full versions of "I Am A Paleontologist" and "Electric Car" available through links in this link. Kids who've grown up with They Might Be Giants dating all the way back to 2002's No! will take a strong interest in Here Comes Science, and if they have any curiosity they'll be completely taken by the songs and videos here. I'd look to one of the band's earlier kids' albums as the entryway to the band if you've got a preschooler, but I'm sure that soon enough they'll want to hear and see these songs, too. And, yeah, the parents will happily watch, too. I realize that taste is subjective, and I can't literally prove that this is another excellent album, but I'm working on it; I'll let you know when the test is complete. Highly recommended.
I already gave you the mp3 of "I Am A Paleontologist" from They Might Be Giants' so-close-you-can-taste-it CD/DVD set Here Comes Science. But because some people are more visual in nature, here's the video for the song. It comes from their "Friday Night Family Podcast," though for whatever reason this video appeared in their regular podcast. In any case, subscribe to both, 'K? And, yes, those sketched John and Johns appear all through the DVD, the puppets having been resigned to the dustbin of TMBG history. They Might Be Giants - "I Am A Paleontologist" Oh, and in a neat little equivalency, the song I featured the video for, "Electric Car," is now available for downloading here.
I tend to write this site more with the consumers of kids music -- parents, benevolent aunts and uncles, grandparents desperately searching for something new -- in mind than the practitioners. Which isn't to say that kids musicians don't read it, just that it's not my main audience. But every now and then I'll play a little inside baseball, and so that's why I'm mentioning the latest event from an professional group called Women's In Children's Media. The Sept. 17th NYC event's called "Behind the (Children's) Music," and will feature a chat with Laurie Berkner, Liz Nealon (general manager of KidzBop), and Jeffrey Lesser (musical director, Little Airplane productions -- hi, Wonder Pets!), moderated by Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live's program director Mindy Thomas. I'm guessing that a lot of what the panelists will say won't be news for experienced kids musicians, but I do suspect that the opportunity to network with other folks who use children's music in their own work may be worth the $20 non-member entry fee...
Longtime readers know how over the moon our family is for Austin's Biscuit Brothers. So, yes, I know this is a blatant attempt at spreading the word and doesn't feature, you know, any actual music. But it does feature Tiny Scarecrow, who, in the tiny world of kids music ancillary characters, is up there neck-and-neck with Recess Monkey's Mayor Monkey for most amusing. OK, OK, fine actual news -- they're starting production on Season Five. And their new Live in Concert DVD is out now. Happy? Just watch the video.
A couple years ago, I interviewed John Flansburgh from They Might Be Giants about their Here Comes the 123s CD/DVD set. Now with the impending release of the follow-up to that Grammy-winning album, Here Comes Science, I recently had the opportunity to talk with Flansburgh's partner, John Linnell. In our chat we talked about his earliest musical influences, writing songs that aren't silly dance songs, and the role of science advisors... Zooglobble: What are your childhood musical memories? John Linnell: There were a couple specific records -- first, Songs of the Pogo, it had lyrics by Walt Kelly, who wrote the comic strip and worked with a songwriter on the record. It came out in the '50s, before I was born. It was a followup to a songbook Kelly wrote. It had some crazy, non-sensical wordplay. Sounds like you... Yeah... it was an important record in my childhood. Then there was the LP of the soundtrack to Dumbo. I remember "Pink Elephants on Parade" -- it was a march with a menacing quality. When I was 8 or 9, there was a Banana Splits record I liked. It wasn't quite as acid-touched as HR Pufnstuff, say -- it was the inferior followup. All those guys now acknowledge the influence of drugs on kids' TV... How did you pick the topics for Here Comes Science? We attempted to represent all the sciences. There was no way to cover all of them, but we tried to make it representative of the sciences -- earth, biology, physics, chemistry, paleotonology, applied sciences. We could make a couple more volumes and not run out of general topics. There was a whole series of Singing Science records, after all, that featured Tom Glazer. Was it harder to write songs where you have to convey scientific truth rather than emotional truth (or a silly dance song)? The previous recordings weren't that difficult -- there couldn't be anything simpler than alphabet. We could pour our efforts in being emotionally engaging. There already was an alphabet song... Yeah... but with Science, it was a lot harder to write factually accurate songs. We hired a guy from the New York Hall of Science to check what we did. We didn't need to hire anyone on the [Here Come the] ABCs and [Here Come the] 123s albums. Were the videos made an even earlier component of the process as a result? No, we pretty much applied the same process. We wrote the songs, then handed them over to the visual folks. We had to oversee the videos more. The science advisor looked at the visuals, which was somewhat grueling. Sometimes we re-storyboarded them to make the information more clear. But the creative animators could still express themselves. In fact, the visuals were even more packed -- the video for "Meet the Elements" crammed all this information into the video that wasn't even in the song. A major theme of the album seems to be trying to convey the idea of science as much as or more so than facts... We didn't talk much about themes when we were writing songs -- we just presented the information. But a little way through writing the songs, we realized we had some songs about science as a way of thinking, which is a topic that is both important and challenging for kids. The way I'm saying it here puts kids asleep right away. But hopefully they'll pick it up on the album. Like on "Science is Real" -- there are ways of ferreting out truth. It's the difference between science and myth. Hopefully kids are interested in that idea. What's the next kids' album going to be? I can answer that in two words: no idea. This album opens us up to a broad range of possibilities -- we've been unleashed from simpler topics. After ABCs, the Disney producers said that the obvious next step was the 123s. But here on out? We could certainly tackle subjects for older kids now -- history, or how society works. It'll be fun. What else is next? We have a book coming out called Go!, which is based on a PBS song we did. It's a nicely illustrated version. And another adult CD is still in the works... Photo credit: Autumn DeWilde
So, yeah, I know I'm on the Peter Himmelman kick a lot recently, but this live video from last night's Furious World webcast shows Himmelman's band (along with the Ruby Friedman Orchestra) at their best. Not that you don't already know this, but My Trampoline, the title song of which is featured below, is out this week. Brady Rymer totally needs to cover this song. Not sayin' he'd do it better -- because this rocks -- but he'd do it well... Peter Himmelman - "My Trampoline" (Live)