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Indie Rockers Making Family-Friendly Music

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When They Might Be Giants released their first children’s album No! in 2002, it wasn’t such a surprising career move. After all, their brand of oddball indie pop had always been pretty playful, silly and sometimes even educational. The band released a more traditional album in 2004, but returned to targeting a younger (and older… parents) audience with Here Come the ABC’s in 2005.

Now, it seems, They Might Be Giants have helped inspire a trend to mix indie rock with more family-friendly music and lyrics. Little Monster Records is a brand new label that is leading the charge. Late last year, their inaugural release was a Barnes and Noble exclusive called All Together Now, which features artists like ex-Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle and Rachel Yamagata covering Beatles tunes with a bunch of kids. Later this year, they’ll put out a Medeski Martin and Wood children’s album called Let’s Go Everywhere and the exuberant and hyperactive frontman of The Apples In Stereo, Robert Schneider, will make his debut as Robert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine.

GustaferYellowgoldSpeaking of The Apples in Stereo, Little Monster’s next release has a similar quirky spunk to that band’s nerdy pop. On Tuesday, March 27th Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild Word, a CD/DVD combo that is the brainchild of illustrator/songwriter Morgan Taylor, will be available through Barnes and Noble. Both formats feature the same songs colorfully detailing the adventures of Gustafer Yellowgold, a creature from the sun who encounters an eel, dragon, pterodactyl, mint green bee and more. The DVD enhances the story by depicting the characters with Taylor’s animated illustrations and by spelling out the lyrics word for word on the screen.

Next month, DeSoto Records (a label that’s released aggressive and political music from bands like Burning Airlines and Channels) will get in on the family-friendly fun. The Play compilation will be released on April 17th and the label says it’s “the first in a series of releases aimed at adults and young people who like kid-friendly music that can be listened to over and over again.”

PlayCompThe CD features some instructional songs. Anna Oxygen encourages the listener to shake various body parts in “Born To Shake,” while Mary Timony prompts you to clap your hands, stomp your feet, and hop like a bunny in “Clap Your Hands.” Mudhoney may set a bad example with “I Like To Make Noise and Break Things,” but Mock Orange counters with “Holiday Dinner Song,” a champion of good eating habits and my favorite track on the album. There are also a few covers including Sgt. Major’s version of the 50s- cartoon-song-turned-early-80s-punk-hit “Nellie the Elephant,” Visqueen’s remake of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and The Cassettes “repurposing” of T.Rex’s “Truck on (Tyke)” as “Truck on (Truck).”

Veteran rock musicians’ sudden interest in making more family-friendly music is intriguing, but it does seem to make sense. There are fewer traditional rock stars out there today and more career, underground/indie label musicians raising families. As today’s generation of musical parents spend more time with their offspring, you can’t blame them for wanting to create an edgier alternative to traditional children’s music. I think they’re on to something. In fact, the stuff on Play and Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World is cool enough that indie-rock-loving, non-parents could really get into it.

Download/Stream – Georgie James “Grizzly Jive” MP3 from Play

Download /Stream – Channels with Damon Locks “Always Check For Holes” MP3 from Play

Track List for Play:

1. Anna Oxygen “Born to Shake”
2. Channels with Damon Locks “Always Check for Holes”
3. Georgie James “The Grizzly Jive”
4. Sgt. Major “Nellie the Elephant”
5. Mudhoney “I Like to Make Noise and Break Things”
6. Mock Orange “Holiday Dinner Song”
7. Mirah and Tara Jane O’Neill “Green Up Time”
8. Young Fresh Fellows “Picnic”

9. Mary Timony “Clap Your Hands”
10. Soccer Team “I’ll Never Fear Ghosts Again”
11. Supersuckers “Rubber Biscuit”
12. The Cassettes “Truck on (Truck)”
13. Ben Davis & The Jetts “Bouncin’ Party”
14. Visqueen “Centerfield”

Track List for Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild Word:

1. Cooler World
2. I’m From the Sun
3. Tiny Purple Moon
4. Your Eel
5. My Dragon
6. Pterodactyl Tuxedo
7. Mint Green Bee
8. I Jump On Cake
9. New Blue Star
10. Rocket Shoes (Bonus Track)

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About Dave Powers

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  • I’m of two minds about this trend.

    As a children’s book writer, I’ve recently seen loads of big-name writers/celebs (Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld) drive out the specialists in the genre — they’re much easier for the publishers to market, so who cares whether these interlopers really understand how to write for children? It’s particularly bad because they write those books off-handedly, as if “anybody can write for little kids.” In fact there IS an art to it, and I resent having it belittled. And I resent having a proposal turned down because the publisher just spent a fortune on a celebrity children’s book instead.

    However, as a parent, I know I could throw up if I had to listen to another Raffi or Kidsbop record. Fresh, edgier product is welcome. My kids loved the They Might Be Giants stuff, but then, we’d had them listening to TMBG for a couple of years already. The line between their kid music and their regular stuff is fairly thin. You can’t say the same for every band.

    I just hope this won’t be too crowded a bandwagon. The day Snoop Dogg records “Doggy Lullabies” will be a sad day for all of us.