Back in April, I devoted a column to a couple artists that fell, more or less, into the genre of “kindie” music—essentially, indie pop for children. It was a fun thing to cover; I was able, however briefly, to engage in what is unquestionably the coolest part about listening to this music—eschewing my grown-up sensibilities toward lyrics and letting the rug rat within me be entertained (when he’s not setting fire to ants or teaching the dog to pee on the sofa).
Since the initial piece ran, I’ve amassed a pretty decent amount of the stuff, both directly from artists, as well as from their representatives. Since the holidays are upon us, I thought it would be useful to present the best of the bunch, in case any of you out there in Readerville might need an idea for a music-loving kid in your life. You could do far worse than updating your shopping list with any one (or more) of these fine kindie titles.
Laurie Berkner, The Best of The Laurie Berkner Band (Razor & Tie)
Thirteen years and five albums into her recording career, the Manhattan-based Berkner makes fun, acoustic guitar-driven, child-friendly music that has earned her much acclaim and a sizable following. This compilation pulls a number of gems from those records, and would seem to be geared more for the younger end of the kindie spectrum.
Check out the chugging “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz)” to gauge the appropriate age for this music. You would also be wise to check out “We Are the Dinosaurs,” in which a plodding march (“We make the earth flat!”) gives way to slow interludes as the titular prehistoric creatures pause to eat and sleep. You won’t be able to get the chorus out of your head—I guarantee it.
The Irish lilt to “Fast and Slow (The Rabbit and the Turtle)” provides a useful take on the “Tortoise and the Hare” parable that’s a lot of fun, to boot. There are also some real lyrical gems: “You don’t want to go slow / You go fast / And you may find you’re missing / The world you go past.” Gorgeous harmonies highlight “Five Days Old,” a look into the inner thoughts of a baby as she gets used to her hands and legs and propensity to nap.
The album is understandably varied, and a winner from start to finish.
Keller Williams, Kids (Sci Fidelity)
I’m only somewhat aware of Williams’ vast oeuvre (Kids is his sixteenth record); his album Home got spins at my place back in 2003, and he’s done some stuff with Umphrey’s McGee, a band I quite enjoy. Most of the songs on this—his first record for kids—take the perspective of children as they encounter and engage with the impossibly large world around them
“Car Seat” is a great example—the coolest tyke in the world shares his thoughts about riding and sleeping in his car seat, as his parents listen to the news and his bladder fills (“You better get me home before I go in my car seat”). The “laid back” line will elicit a chuckle from adults, who remember Snoop Dogg in similarly relaxed repose while sipping on a certain elixir.
The laughs elsewhere are tuned perfectly to the kid’s perspective. “Mama Tooted” sets the funniest thing in the kid universe—passing gas—to a Jimmy Buffet guitar-and-bongo groove. “It can sound like a duck,” Williams explains, “It can sound like a frog / It can sound like an elephant or a sigh.” Of course, once the fart is out of the bag, there is blame to be cast: “She may say that she did not / And she’s probably right / But I am going to blame it on mama / All night.”
Likewise, “Good Advice” offers this bit of useful instruction: “Never pick your toes and then pick your nose / Because then your nose will smell like your toes / And that’s not good / That’s bad.” Amen, brother. That particular contemplation might be useful after listening to “Soakie von Soakerman,” a bit of babble that resembles what Bobby McFerrin might sound like if he dropped acid, complete with barnyard and jungle animal sounds. “Soakie” stands in stark contrast to “Lucy Lawcy,” a cool song about flying turkeys encountered on a hike, whose cool folk-rock harmonies and acoustic strumming make it the most straightforward song on an album chock full of odd (and oddly fun) moments.
The Not-Its, Time Out to Rock (Little Loopy)
Ex-Velocity Girl singer Sarah Shannon fronts this rather awesome kindie band, whose crunchy guitars, layered harmonies, and overall alt-lite vibe will both please the kids and let their parents party like it’s 1994. The friendly opener “Welcome to Our School” kicks things off with a pick slide, of all things. This welcoming blast of rock would not sound out of place on a power pop compilation or Underground Garage.
A harried tyke with bad attitude turns tables on authority figures turns the tables in the title track, putting the adults in time out—to dance “with everything you’ve got.” That level of energy is amplified on the faster sections of “Green Light, Go!”—imagine a mosh pit full of eight year olds or, lacking that, a playground during a particularly rowdy recess period.
It’s not all Green Day for bib-wearers. “Accidentally” has a sweet melody and quasi-Beach Boys background vocals, wrapped around lyrics about those unintentional moments when someone gets hurt or embarrassed by someone else—falling out of a tree, dumping glue on themselves—and the forgiveness that ensues. The defiant “Say It Loudly” takes on bullying—” You can’t make me feel bad / Because I see / All the other kids to play with / If you’re not nice I know what to say.”
Caspar Babypants, This Is Fun! (Babypants Music)
A cursory glance at the track listing for This Is Fun! might make you do a double-take—is that really Nirvana’s “Sliver” halfway down? And does it really say “Krist Novaselic Plays Bass?” On a children’s record?
Turns out, Caspar Babypants is the nom de kindie of Chris Ballew, singer and “basitarist” of Presidents of the United States of America (those “Peaches” guys from the mid-Nineties) and, like Sarah Shannon, he has created a hip, rockin’ record for the chilluns to hop around to and sing along with.
The 20 songs on This is Fun! are all short and quirky (kinda like the Presidents’ material). “All You Pretty Babies” kicks things off with a jaunty little ditty about babies jumping and dancing, and a funky electric piano complements acoustic guitar and percussion. The baby theme extends to “Baby’s Getting Up,” a cute portrait of stretching one’s way to wakefulness.
The instrumental approach to “Speedy Centipede” is reminiscent of classic Fifties-era rock and roll, only it’s hard to hear someone like Elvis or Carl Perkins singing about a hundred-footed insect. Charlie Hope harmonizes with Ballew on his take on “Mister Rabbit,” and Elizabeth Mitchell joins him on the album-closing “Dark of the Night.” Both duets provide a necessary respite from Ballew’s solo voice, though his inherent whimsy remains intact throughout.
And that version of “Sliver?” Goddamn, but I never realized Kurt Cobain had written the perfect children’s song. Makes me want to listen to “Negative Creep” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” with fresh ears.
Frances England, Mind of My Own (no label)
Frances England should be making music for adults, and, with her new record, she probably has, though they are cast in the mold of kindie singer-songwriter fare. Take “Place in Your Heart,” the extraordinary song that comes in about half way through Mind of My Own. The track could as easily be about a lover as it is a teddy bear or blanket—its playful production will win over the kids, but it works at their parents’ level, as well. Same goes for “Big Heart,” which closes the record. The universality of love—whether felt by adult or child—feeds the song, making it akin to something like Paul McCartney’s “Junk.”
The title track is the internal monologue of a child in full fanciful flight, only the child’s inner voice sounds a lot like Ani DiFranco’s. A modified “Bo Diddley” beat highlights “Vacation Delights,” a paean to the only things kids really care about on road trips (“Just give us a hotel swimming pool / A bed we can jump on until ten o’clock at night”). At least, that’s all my kid cares about.
England turns back home with “Pieces of Me,” a paean to the things in a kid’s bedroom that speak more about his/her personality than anything else—toys and costumes and “all the things that make me feel happy.” My attention was also piqued by “Jacques Cousteau,” a cool bit of biography about the famous “man of the sea [and] friend of the ocean.” Kids could do worse than learn more about the Calypso‘s captain from a singer/songwriter with this much whimsy, and this much of a gift.
Recess Monkey, The Final Funktier (no label)
Recess Monkey has created the first kindie sci-fi concept album (or at least the first I’ve ever heard)—sorta like a 2112 for the kindergarten set. Come to think of it, Geddy Lee woulda sounded pretty cool singing “Moon Boots,” the first proper song on The Final Funktier. Not that frontMonkey Drew Holloway is in any way lacking in the singin’ department. He makes the most of the band’s power pop tendencies and kid-friendly sentiments and complaints, even as he’s singing about robots and aliens.
Wish I’d heard “Science Fair” years ago, when I was compelled to enter such things (though I have a son, which means I’ll have to deal with it all again). My favorite part of the song is when Holloway sings, “I made a comet / With a little help from Mom and Dad.” Because, you know, “My father made me a comet because I’m only nine and neither of us can believe we have to do this shit” didn’t scan correctly.
Elsewhere, the sci-fi concept is employed to fine effect on tracks like “My Brother is a Satellite” (in which the kid brother imitates big brother), “The Galax Sea” (a sweet “sailing across space” piece about wonderment and curiosity), and “How Do You Build a Robot” (which sounds like a Fountains of Wayne outtake). My favorite might be “Constellation Conga,” which imagines the stars moving in one long dance across the sky. The track marries a Dave Matthews-like guitar figure with mariachi horns and cha-cha rhythm. It’s quite effective, and affecting stuff.
Hipwaders, A Kindie Christmas (Hip Kid)
Swear to God, at some point early next year, I’m going to devote one of these columns to Hipwaders, who are just about the best kindie band I’ve encountered. I know I’ve promised that before, and if none of you believe me, I understand. I want to include their 2009 holiday album, A Kindie Christmas, here, because I love it, even though I hate most Christmas music. It’s a record that, like the best of the stuff above, works for both kids and grown-ups alike.
“There’s Too Much Good” is a short (sub-two-minute) burst of goodness that exudes more hope for humanity than humanity really deserves. “There’s too much good to let the bad get me down,” Tito Uquillas sings, and I actually suspend my disbelief to sing along with him. “Santa’s Train” is a boom-chicka-boom Johnny Cash-ish country thang that gets ye olde toes tapping. “Goodnight” languidly puts the kids to bed on Christmas Eve, as Brian Wilson might have if “In My Room” had been a Christmas song. “Yes It’s Christmas” is the payoff, when all wishes are granted and gift requests fulfilled.
My favorite, though, is “Tinsel & Lights,” a sentimental stroll through Christmases past in the best power pop fashion, with killer guitars, solid harmonies, and an insistent beat. It’s the first thing I heard from the band last year, and it provided a fine gateway to their discography, which I will discuss soon. I promise. No, really.
So how’s that for a roundup? If you have kids and those kids like music, seek out these records and give the tykes a gift that they’ll enjoy, one that won’t drive you crazy in the process. And if you’re interested in more kindie reviews, check out our sister site, Dadnabbit, where everyone’s favorite exasperated ringleader, Jeff Giles (y’all), covers the genre about as well as (if not better than) anyone who writes about kid-centric entertainment.
See yuhs next time. You won’t believe what I have to cover next—it hurts my achy-breaky heart just to think about it.