Various Artists: DeSoto PLAY

[DeSoto; 2007]

Styles: children’s music for indie parents
Others: Kidz Bop Kids, Daniel Johnston, nursery rhymes

As indie music ages, more indie music offspring are birthed. Parents who grew up with alternative and underground music are bringing more and more babies into this world. True music education doesn’t normally occur until the teen years (due to maturity levels and general interest on the part of the youth), and it typically comes from elder siblings and cousins instead of mommies and daddies. But what about when parents want to provide their children with some tunes for their pre-school years? The options are limited. You can await the latest Kidz Bop release for that kid-chorus rendition of Dan Deacon’s smash hit.... or you can pull out a Daniel Johnston album... or maybe you could delve into your twee-pop mixtape collection. The folks at DeSoto Records took a different approach with PLAY, an album they herald as “cool music for cool kids.”

There’s no telling what a child will respond to. PLAY includes a variety of indie artists and bands, all with their own styles and approaches to get kids squirming on the carpet. Heck, I’ve seen toddlers spazz out to Black Dice. Aside from the deep-rooted joy a child will derive from utterly reckless noise, children’s music usually adheres to vague guidelines in order to succeed. Education and entertainment are the contemporary concerns of children’s music-makers. But, more importantly, children’s songs should provoke the imagination. Songs and nursery rhymes grounded in folktales have always faired well, many withstanding the test of time. Children’s songs should be a little disturbing, a smidge baffling, a tiny bit nonsensical, and slightly tragic — in a fun way. They’re not supposed to condescend toward the little ones, but they should maintain some level of simplicity in lyrics and instrumentation.

So which songs thrive, which desperately strive, which don’t survive? (I’m told kids respond to rhyming.) Certain songs, such as “Born to Shake” (Anna Oxygen), “I Like to Make Noise and Break Things” (Mudhoney), and “Bouncin’ Party” (Ben Davis & The Jetts), have too much going on. They don’t sound like children’s songs, and children might not have the patience for them. It’s essential for vocals to be clear, like they are on “The Grizzly Jive” (Georgie James), “Nellie the Elephant” (Sgt. Major), and “Picnic” (Young Fresh Mellows), without question the most appropriate children’s songs on this album. These songs have storylines; they have discernible lyrics and moderate instrumentation. “Always Check For Holes” (Channels) and “Clap Your Hands” (Mary Timony) come off as children’s song parodies — too conscious of what they are meant to function as. Children would probably adore “Truck On (Truck)” (The Cassettes) and “Centerfield” (a T. Rex remake and CCR cover by Visqueen, respectively) in the original forms; no need to dumb them down or revise them. A few songs also deliberately veer toward preaching and weak attempts at “catching the ear” of the youngsters.

There is strife involved in critiquing a product whose proceeds benefit worthy organizations (The Vera Project and The Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts, in this case). Even if some songs on this project don’t amount to good “children’s songs,” they have definite redeeming value for the more mature listener.

Most Read