Thursday 30 May 2024

Do Children Deserve Better?

Back in May last year, Canadian musician Grimes had this to say about children's music: 'People who don't have kids don't realise the insidious artistic scourge that is "children's music". How can we heal as a society when everyone's earliest artistic experience is completely devoid of humanity or beauty? Half joking but kinda not.' Yes, pretty provocative I agree, and such a controversial assertion that clearly brought her a modicum of notoriety as a result. I can't imagine it concerned her much though, as she temporarily basked in the sunshine of transient outrage. As Oscar Wilde once famously declared: 'The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about'.

Nonetheless, the question still remains, is she right or is she wrong? Surprisingly, I would argue that she is both right and wrong; although such ambivalence may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with this blog. Grimes is clearly wrong, when you consider the delicate beauty of Claudia Robin Gunn, the imaginative zest of Poco Drom, or the enlightening energy of Joanie Leeds. These artists are amongst a growing number of emerging musicians across the globe, who have clearly succeeded in elevating children's music to new heights. 

However, I largely agree with Grimes in the sense that family music seems to contain more than its fair share of vacuous repetition. I'm sure most people will have come across the song 'Baby Shark'; currently the most popular video on YouTube of all time, with over fourteen billion views to date. There is undoubtedly an addictive ingredient to these types of tunes, which are often cynically targeted, rehashed and presented to children across the internet. Surely this begs the question, does the genre really need another version of "Baby Shark"? If your answer is yes, then clearly Grimes had a point. 

Having said that, there is plenty of evidence that children enjoy singing simple tunes and tend to respond to catchy ditties. There are also undoubtedly many language development opportunities contained in this type of music, particularly for younger children, that assist with cognitive development. However, shouldn't musicians at least try to expose the public at large to something different? Remember how JK Rowling transcended children's literature through the Harry Potter series. Or how Queen managed to disrupt the snobbery of the classical music establishment with their prog rock anthem Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Furthermore, it's not just children's music which is vulnerable to such criticism, and derided as a homogenous entity. Mick Jagger once famously sang, 'it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it', well, so did their fans, it was a superb song written by a legendary band that stood the test of time. Nonetheless, as with every genre there is always a polar opposite lurking in the shadows. For every Beatles there's a Monkees, for every Marc Bolan there's an Alvin Stardust, and for every Abba there's a Brotherhood of Man.

Now this is only an opinion so no emails please, but it begs the question, are we doing children and their parents a disservice, continually dishing out this ubiquitous repetition, or do they deserve better?  I appreciate we all have to make a living somehow, and accept that there are sometimes certain financial imperatives at stake. If you are in the business of simply making a profit through music and this is how you want to go about it, then who am I to argue, burn me in hell as long as it pays. Just don't expect artists such as Grimes or anyone else for that matter to respect it.  

Baby Shark - money for nothing and your clicks for free.

Saturday 27 April 2024

Album Review: Levity Beet and the Aotearoa All Stars

Well, the relatively small but highly influential island nation of New Zealand is really setting the pace in the world of music at the moment, with the imminent release of this truly exceptional album. Levity Beet and the Aotearoa All Stars contains a unique collaboration of the finest children's music writers, performers and producers from across the country. Here, a rich diversity of the cream of the NZ music scene have combined their respective talents, and in doing so have succeeded in creating a musical masterpiece. 

The album opens with the delightful ditty "Let's Build This Home", where a jaunty vibe sets the tone, led by the the warm exuberance of Suzy Cato on lead vocals. The music glistens and shines throughout, providing an opening metaphor of what lies in store for the attentive listener. Here the lyrics briefly explore how this collection of artists built the album, working together in this productive collaboration, represented here as something of a home from home. Whether this involves building a house, a song or an album, we are encouraged to 'build with ideas', ultimately represented through song and dance.

I remember when I first heard the song 'Band Aid' way back in 1985, I was particularly struck by the unique input and individual style of each artist. Who could forget Bono's famous harmonic duet alongside Sting? Similarly here, you can instantly recognise the distinctive sound of Claudia Robin Gunn on the wonderful "Stick", the infectious energy of Craig Smith on the hilarious "Silly Sausage", and the delightful contribution of fleaBITE on the captivating "Sing". 

Furthermore, there's plenty of variety on this ambitious album. If you're looking for action songs to liven up your home or the classroom, there's plenty to choose from. Such as the charmingly melodic "Funny Little Bunny" featuring the very talented Judi Cranston.  Here, the lyrical invitation conjures up images of happy kids dancing in line with jaunty steps and open hearts.  Likewise, the hypnotic"Jump" featuring the fabulous Loopy Tunes, continues in similar fashion with its cool rap vibe and sweeping soundscapes, providing copious opportunities for movement and dance.

The irrepressible Chris Sanders takes centre stage on "Monsters in the Room" and succeeds in adding a certain jollification to the proceedings. The song somewhat unsuprisingly reminded me a little of the Cookie Monster with its raspy vocal and percussive vibe. There clearly is something for everyone here, and no stone remains unturned, such is the diversity and imagination available. The album succeeds because it never rests on its laurels, constantly searching for new heights, where every possible idea is seemingly plucked from the air and transported into a compelling and ambitious musical arrangement. 

"Riding Up The Hill" harnesses shades of Simon and Garfunkel's classic "Cecilia" particularly during the intro, where the rhythm both introduces and then propels the sound forward. The lead vocal from MLO provides something of a country vibe, as the lyrics paint a picture of a series of intrepid journeys from the hilltop to the moon and everywhere in between. The song also contains additional surprises, including an explosive rap towards the end, where we are reminded in no uncertain terms that this trip is truly 'amazing'.

"Witches Brew" takes the listener on an extraordinary dive into esoteric mayhem, where the brilliant Itty Bitty Beats add their own unique brand of amazing vocal histrionics to the sound. Here the Munsters meet the B52s to create the most extraordinary musical arrangement you are ever likely to hear. "Sing" has a slight Americana feel, where Gene Kelly is seemingly resurrected for a cameo appearance, encouraging the listener to 'sing in the long grass', when there's nothing to do. The album also finds the space to fit in a musical nursery rhyme for the twenty first century with the masterful "One Baby Burger", where the illustrious contribution of Kath Bee provides a truly compelling vocal delivery.

My absolute favourite track on the album is the delightful "Monster Fish", which includes another superb vocal performance from the award-winning duo Mr Roberelli, laying down a cool, detached almost Caribbean vibe, where we get to 'head down to the river and catch that monster fish'. The bridge is saturated in melody, and the harmonies are truly superb. A real feel-good track, which is guaranteed to lighten your mood on even the darkest of days. 

"When We Say Goodbye", finally brings down the curtain, providing the perfect way to conclude the album. A very catchy singalong, featuring the ingenious Music with Michal who adds her own particular brand of crystal clear vocals to the proceedings. The magnificent vocal blend throughout the song adds a tremendous sense of vitality to this jaunty yet slightly melancholy farewell. 

Perhaps a little early to claim album of the year, but this has to be a serious contender, such is the depth of talent and strength of content contained here. Each song exudes its own unique charm and succeeds in providing something slightly different. On some occasions the magical adventures of youth are beautifully captured, where distant memories are revisited with a glimmer of nostalgic reverence. The mastermind behind this ambitious musical project is Levity Beet himself, who describes the album as 'a celebration of the power of music to bring people together'.  I couldn't have put it better myself. The album will be released on 1st May.

Levity Beet and the Aotearoa All Stars - a timeless classic.

Thursday 11 April 2024

Single Review: D is for Dancing - Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Well if you haven't heard of Brady Rymer, and are as yet unaware of his significant contribution to family music then you must have been living under a rock! Brady is one of the longest lasting and most prolific artists of his generation, emerging on to the family music scene way back in 2000. A rebel without a pause, he is still creating some of the finest music around to this day.

His new single "D is For Dancing" portrays the artist in fine form, with its melodic retro vibe, and exuberant energy. Here, the song takes the listener on an extraordinary journey across the alphabet, with the letter D coming out on top because "D is for Dancing" and we 'want more and more'. For me, the music conjures up images of American nostalgia, where we are seemingly treated to a cameo performance from the Crystals on the set of Happy Days. 

The music also exudes a slight Beach Boys influence, largely due to the delightful harmonies which add an additional layer of sonic texture to the track. Despite the delicate intricacy of the music, the rhythm section really packs a punch, sparring with some inspired keyboards in fine style. The guitar is generally used sparingly until the break, where it really lets rip adding an electrifying alternative to the vocal melody. 

Brady Rymer is a star in his own right, a man on a mission who along with his superb band, manage to create electrifying pop seemingly at will. His new single further cements his growing reputation as a true master of his craft, with his unique ability to create inspired lyrics, magical melody and imaginative harmonies. Perhaps most importantly, his music succeeds in celebrating how learning can be fun, and dancing is truly the best. The song will be released worldwide on April 12th. Happy listening!

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could - alphabet rock.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Flash Single Review: Funky Dance - Mr Super Dude and Kinderchartin'

"Funky Dance" is the latest release from Mr Super Dude and Kinderchartin'. Guaranteed to have everyone up and moving, the song provides an interesting blend of pop, hip-hop and funk with an explosion of sound that immediately grabs your attention.

The overall vibe reminded me a little of Talking Heads, with perhaps a modicum of assistance from Run DMC on the way.  The lyrics are largely descriptive, where a series of actions are described and 'a hop and a skip and a roll' are seemingly the order of the day.

The rhythm section is highly percussive, creating the required space for a penetrating brass section to swoop in and out of the track adding additional texture. The dynamics are highly effective with the music gradually building in intensity, as we are all invited to 'do the funky dance'.  

A highly innovative piece of music, that will have you up and on your feet dancing in no time at all. If you put Talking Heads, Run DMC and perhaps the Wiggles in a studio, you could possibly come up with something like this. Original, uplifting and inspirational, these guys clearly have their fingers on the pulse and their eyes on the prize. 

Mr Super Dude and Kinderchartin' - a musical explosion.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Artist Spotlight - Lucas Proudfoot

I first met Lucas Proudfoot when my band shared a bill with him at the Playgroup Children's Festival back in 2012. Lucas was the opening act, arriving on stage before the event had really got going, so needless to say the audience was pretty small. It didn't bother Lucas though, he was simply delighted to be there, and performed like he was in a sold-out stadium.

As a result of his seminal performance, we now have a saying in our band when things aren't quite going to plan. We loudly exclaim "Lucas Proudfoot" to try and harness the energy and enthusiasm of what we saw that day. We then stand up tall, smile and give it our absolute all.

I later met up with him again when he kindly agreed to play the didgeridoo on our song "It's Our World". He was the consummate professional, adding a certain mystique and depth to the track, in no time at all. His enthusiasm and conviviality on the day provided a real boost to the entire recording process.

Since then, I've observed Lucas' rise to the top with increasing admiration, from the intimate library event I reviewed at Mt Ommaney library back in 2015, to his headline performance at QPAC - Brisbane's premiere theatre venue. What I wouldn't give to play on that stage!

His original stage show incorporated a unique blend of live music; stand-up comedy, and a historical dive into Indigenous culture. Although I haven't yet seen Lucas' new stage show, I am reliably informed it contains all the previous elements plus a whole lot more. Including a full-colour animated cast of characters adding further potency to the overall mix. There really is something for everyone here, and on this form, I'm convinced Lucas will continue to go from strength to strength.  

If you are not yet familiar with Lucas' work, I suggest you check him out on Spotify or his YouTube channel at your earliest convenience.

Lucas Proudfoot - a man on a mission.

Wednesday 17 January 2024

The Rights and Wrongs of the New Music Industry

The digital revolution has undoubtedly made it easier for musicians to make music than ever before. It could even be argued as Harold Macmillan once famously declared, 'you've never had it so good'. Recording costs have plummeted, and these days a song or album can be distributed around the world with the simple click of a button. Furthermore, gone are the days when musicians had to go down on bended knee to gain the approval of a record company. According to John Lennon,  this was one of the main reasons why the Beatles launched Apple records back in the sixties; somewhat ironic I know.

If you were ever actually fortunate enough to sign a record deal; which was some achievement back then, the wheels of the music industry moved relatively slowly. Records were generally packed into copious boxes on their release date, before been driven around the country and distributed to retailers by hand. I was somewhat familiar with this arduous process, as I used to pack and distribute records for both Virgin and Rough Trade Records back in the day. I remember whenever the Smiths released a new album, we had to work the whole weekend to get it out on time such was the unprecedented demand. Clearly a lot more physical work was involved in those days, and that's without even considering international distribution.

Nonetheless, this new found freedom has undoubtedly come at a considerable price. Yes, artists can record, release and distribute their music at minimal expense and incredible speed, but they no longer have the weight of a publishing company to protect their intellectual property. Consequently, they are now more vulnerable than ever to exploitation, because any guard rails that previously existed have been unceremoniously blown off. 

Bearing this in mind, I recently came across the disturbing case of children's musician Ronnie Boy, who discovered that his song "Burger" had been used by a restaurant chain on an Instagram video, without recognising him as the originator of the music. To add fuel to the fire, over one thousand reels were created from the original upload which has now received a staggering eighteen million views. Regrettably, the view tally has been credited to the uploader of the video and not Ronnie Boy himself.

I'm not sure if this issue has been resolved at the point of writing, but I would imagine it is somewhat unlikely, given the state of the new music industry, where piracy is ubiquitous. Without the backing of a publishing company to represent you, anyone, seemingly anywhere in the world, can exploit your music for their own illicit purposes, and it seems there's not much you can do about it.The music industry is now more competitive than ever, and situations like this certainly don't help new artists. I imagine that eighteen million views on social media would be a considerable game changer for any aspiring musician. I'm sure many like-minded artists would be furious if they had experienced something similar. This is particularly significant today, where just a small fraction of major artists dominate the airwaves like never before. 

If you are looking for justice, you won't find it in the music industry. Promotional opportunities are often restricted for lesser known artists, where creative output is often overlooked in favour of numerology and over-hyped social media accounts. Or as Depeche Mode so eloquently put it, 'everything counts in large amounts'. Haven't these digital monoliths ever heard of career development or artistic growth? It surely begs the question, how many years did the Beatles or David Bowie have to slog away at their craft before they finally broke through? Clearly increasingly inequality, and the inherent injustice of the one percent, is not restricted to the boardrooms of Wall Street or Goldman Sachs.

In my experience, musicians are somewhat naive when it comes to business matters, and have long been exploited by nefarious operators who are clearly not in the game for the love of music. Nonetheless, can you imagine shamelessly advertising someone else's song to serve your own interests without prior permission, before the arrival of social media? Such audacious operators would have been sued into oblivion, and deservedly so. In light of all this, it is crucial that artists are recognised and fully compensated for their work, because in terms of making an impact, it has never been harder, such is the intense competition of the new music industry.

To digress slightly, I have just finished reading Naomi Klein's latest book "Doppleganger", where she explains in considerable detail how her name became confused with the conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolfe. As a result, she was targeted on social media by both the left and the right for her so-called extreme views, many of which have nothing to do with her. This confusion has been further exacerbated by complex and aggressive algorithms, which have conflated the two writers, and created more confusion and pain than you or I could ever imagine.Whether it is Ronnie Boy, Naomi Klein, or whoever may be experiencing the Orwellian impact of the online world, we are clearly living in an increasingly vulnerable age. Where the considerable benefits of this new found artistic freedom for an emerging musician, or an acclaimed author, are consumed by sharks ready to pounce in either direction.

In the meantime, I would like to give a quick shout-out to Ronnie Boy the aforementioned artist, and his innovative song "Burger", a track which succeeds through combining haunting harmonies with an infectious rap. On first listen, you can see why it has gained traction, such is the raw simplicity of the lyric and its relentless hypnotic groove. Surely the way forward in such cases, is for the uninformed retailer to take responsibility, and commission a song from Ronnie Boy directly, rather than plundering his creativity to serve their own purposes.

I hope that at some point this issue will be resolved and the artist will be fully compensated, or at least recognised for his innovative work. For now, we'll have to wait and see.

Credit where credit is due.

Monday 1 January 2024

Single Review: Fairy Fiesta - Em and Me and Rainbow Rosalind

"Fairy Fiesta" is a musical collaboration between Em and Me and Rainbow Rosalind.  The former a mother-daughter duo from Dunedin in New Zealand, and the latter a real-life singing and dancing fairy also from New Zealand. The song also features on Em and Me's debut album: 1, 2, 3 Dis-Go! 

The music is quite funky, largely due to its innovative bass line, which weaves its magic spell throughout. The electric guitar is equally impressive; dominating the sound with the type of rhythmic intensity that Chic made famous in the seventies. A sparse keyboard further lifts the intensity on the chorus adding additional dynamics to the overall vibe. The bridge features an inspired rap using a truly minimalist approach, where bass, drums and hand claps create the space for the vocals to instruct the audience in true instructive fashion. 

The lyrics describe a series of unfortunate incidents in some detail; whether this involves 'slamming your finger in the door' or 'dropping your ice cream on the floor', it's all revealed here. Nonetheless, there is an upside to these calamities in that, if 'you're feeling down', then don't worry join in the Fairy Fiesta and allow us to 'sprinkle our magic everywhere'. 

The overall vibe reminded me a bit of Dee-Lite's famous "Groove is in the heart", where the music presents itself as if there is a party going on, where everyone's invited, and having heaps of fun in the process.

This is a fabulous song, which is easy to dance to and ultimately succeeds in leaving the listener feeling 'Fairytastic'.  Here, melodic inspiration and musical dexterity merges with the type of innocent charm that can only make you smile.The lyrics are both imaginative and effective, where we are encouraged to forget the doom and gloom, 'turn off your frown' and dance along to the "Fairy Fiesta".  I'm sure this song would be a huge hit both in the classroom and at children's parties. I highly recommend it.

Em and Me and Rainbow Rosalind - the perfect match.