Sunday, 30 March 2014

Album Review: Tiny, Magical People - Chibi Kodama

Calling all you little rockers out there, you better fasten your seatbelts because the new album by Chibi Kodama is set to burn your ears off.  Here grunge meets electronic, with a hint of Weezer, Metallica, The Cars and even Juliana Hatfield on display.  There is an interesting flirtation with darkness throughout, particularly through the use of a heavily distorted guitar.  Yet the album Tiny, Magical People is essentially optimistic, even informative, providing a narrative to the complex dilemmas children face each day.

The album kicks off with the track “Shorter Than Everyone”, a real indie classic, slightly funky in tone, highlighting the need to be listened to, and the frustrations of being at the beck and call of others.  “Me Time” explores the craving to be alone, and is delivered with a memorable melody, and an exploding guitar, which further cement the frustration.

“It’s Time To Make Some Noise” encourages the urge in children to get loud, and is assisted by a hypnotic rhythm and an interesting sprinkle of keyboard effects throughout.  “Mama, I’m a Warrior” begins with a slow menacing Metallica style intro, and then unravels like a cry for freedom, where the bicycle precedes the motorbike in a yearning for adventure.  

"Just Because” is also defiant in tone, but has a lighter feel on the verse, somewhat reminiscent of The Cars. The chorus urges the listener to be assertive and not follow blindly; with accompanying power chords to further emphasise the point.  “The Roach Waved Hello” is as bizarre a topic as you are ever likely to hear, describing a families’ encounter with a giant roach, and benefits from some really uplifting harmonies on the chorus.  “This Dance is Mine,” has a more esoteric feel, with its wistful melody and accompanying grunge guitar, a combination of sounds unlike anything I have ever heard before.

“Different Like Me” has more of an electronic feel, with lyrics emphasizing the importance of diversity.  “Smile” continues this electric mood, and is a great song although somewhat compromised by power chords that cut through the track like a chainsaw.  “Mama’s Bossy Friend” is actually a mobile phone that constantly interrupts; stealing precious moments from the child ‘who really hopes his battery dies’.  “Hard Times are Good Times” introduces a lovely female vocal, that reminded me a little of Juliana Hatfield.  The salient message here is don’t give up, and remember that problems are merely a prerequisite to growth.  The album closes with the gentler acoustic ballad “The Night is the Time”, a song written to help children deal with their nighttime fears.

This album takes the listener on a journey through frustration and uncertainty to redemption and understanding.  Many of the songs explore the challenges and dilemmas facing the growing child in an uncertain world, and do so at times with a ferocity that resembles such angst.  However, there is also a hint of irony in the lyrics, suggesting that kids shouldn’t take life or themselves too seriously.  The music is dark and brooding at times, but the lyrical flair and high melodic content, place it very much on the brighter side of blackness.  This album is menacing, didactic and uncompromising, but ultimately inspiring.  It pierces the darkness, and in doing so, attempts to create resilience, knowledge and the realisation for kids that they can prevail, and music can help.  So come on kids turn it up to eleven, and have a rip roarin' time!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Album Review: Happy Fun, Too - Fred Clark

What do you get when you combine the Pixies, the Byrds and Talking Heads?  Well, interestingly enough, the answer is Fred Clark’s latest album Happy Fun, Too.  Although lacking some of the sophistication of its competitors, the album makes up for it, with its instantly hummable melodies and compelling delivery.  The lead vocals remind me at times of David Byrne, and whether it is intentional or not, the effect is a kind of experimental garage album for kids.

Fred Clark clearly understands that kids love rock and roll, and I’m not talking about Bill Haley here.  He is part of a growing trend of bands, particularly from the USA that are introducing a more grungy style of family music to the masses.  The album also benefits, from a high melodic content and sweetness of delivery, perhaps a result of the songwriting contribution of his wife and the enthusiastic performances of his children.

The party really gets started with the title track “Happy Fun, Too”, which combines the rawness of the Ramones with some cute almost Kim Deal type harmonies. “Alien Robot Party,” is definitely a track for the cool kids, and is officially my favourite ever title for a kids' song.  Here powerful drums and driving bass lines sit alongside sweet harmonies, singing about aliens in search of chocolate cake.

There is a superb guitar hook on “Kids Rock” and lyrics which pretty much sum up the ethos on display here. “Monkeys in the Kitchen” has an intriguing spoken vocal accompanied by some grungy guitar, leaving the listener dazed and confused but keen to hear more.  “Funky Pizza Dance” is great to dance to, and “Pirate Pickle Party” is the strangest pirate song you will ever hear, with its percussive drumming, deadpan vocal and bizarre sound effects.

The spoken vocal technique is again used on “I’m Doing My Homework” venting the frustrations of homework overload, which we can perhaps all relate to.  “Redbird” has a great bass line, and describes the observations of a child witnessing the graceful movements of a beautiful bird.  Perhaps the most unusual track on the album is “ABC Twinkle Sheep”, which merges the alphabet with a selection of famous nursery rhymes, with a drum intro reminiscent of the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”.

This album is truly one of a kind.  The music peers into the darkness, and yet the lyrics are joyful, light and even humorous at times.  The songs are consistently strong; with memorable melodies that are easy to dance to.  There is a no nonsense approach here, what you hear is what you get, and I love it for its raw simplicity and you will certainly hear it blasting out of my car.  Fred Clark is possibly the Black Francis of kids’ music, and if he ever plays in Australia count me in!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Album Review: Keepin' It Green - Splash'N Boots

Splash‘N Boots are a musical duo currently based in Toronto, Canada.  They formed in 2003 while still at University, and have been entertaining family audiences ever since.  Their success to date has enabled them to perform around the world in countries including Australia, the US, Bermuda and even the UAE. Their latest CD Keepin’ it Green is truly outstanding, with a collection of songs designed to get everyone up and moving, in celebration of “our amazing Planet Earth”.

The album is inspired by the simple notion that we can all make a difference to the planet, even “in our own backyard”.  Although there is a serious message here, the album is more of a celebration than a statement of discontent, and is brimming with memorable tunes that should inspire everyone to take action, celebrate our beautiful planet, and have fun.

There is no time for introspection here, the music is in your face from the start.  The opening track “Backyard Conservation Celebration”, really is a celebration, and the high energy groove adds further potency to the message “it all starts with you”.  “Hey Little Tree” has a more gentle feel, as it traces the journey of a tree’s growth.  It is a song of gratitude for the air we breathe, and the food and shelter provided to animals.

“Little Brown Bat” is another upbeat song, which eloquently describes the numerous talents of the brown bat, who can sing, fly, spin and squeak when he is not “sleeping away the day”.  The descriptive lyrical verse gives the song a nice punchy feel adding further impact.  
In fact, melody is splashed all over this album.  “Spotted Turtle” has a beautiful acoustic introduction, revealing a turtle that smiles and “has a story to tell”.  The acoustic guitar carries the melody of the song throughout, as the vocals describe the turtle’s adventures capturing the essence of this wonderful creature.

And finally to “Recycle (Everybody Wins)”, which is pretty self-explanatory.  Here the listener is provided with various examples of what and how to recycle.  Newspapers are not just for the news; we can make a hat, or put them to another use.  We are asked to think about what bins to use, and the repetitive refrain of the chorus enables the message to really sink in.

You can also hear some interesting musical references on this album.  The opening track “Backyard Conservation Celebration” owes its rhythm to Chuck Berry.  “Water Water” pays homage to Elvis.  “Tiger Beetlemania” with its retro turntable intro has a lovely sixties feel.  “Arctic Song” with its mix of eighties keyboards, and sprightly harmonies reminded me of “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

Although it could be argued that the environment as a theme has been somewhat overdone of late.  I’m sure there are plenty of educators out there who would appreciate a coherent environmental album to help them develop suitable themes in the classroom, particularly, one that is well written and arranged.  The production of this album is also first rate, with excellent musicianship throughout.  Another plus is the group can boast two lead singers, giving them another unique selling point.

Splash’N Boots are certainly one of the most colourful, innovative and exciting groups around, and this album fully justifies their multi award winning status.  The songs inform, inspire, and celebrate with a refreshingly upbeat sound.  An absolute must on your playlist, Splash’N Boots clearly have set the bar very high, and in doing so have entertained families throughout the world.  I salute them.