Friday, September 20, 2013

Recess Monkey Beached; Desert Island Disc Buoys Spirits

Recess Monkey has grown up. I guess this simian has evolved and can stand on its own (six) feet.

It's hard to believe that the kindie power-pop trio did not even exist a decade ago. Since 2005, they have produced 10 (ten!) CDs, including a pair this year (DEEP SEA DIVER came out two seasons ago and now DESERT ISLAND DISC).

Original members Jack Forman and Drew Holloway were joined this year by new drummer Korum Bischoff. People like to talk about how a "new member" can sometimes reinvigorate an established band. But the group's IN TENTS marked a high water mark in their recordings. And DEEP SEA DIVER will rank high in my Fids and Kamily Poll for 2013.

While the Monkey men have received numerous comparisons to the Beatles over the years (spurred by the naming of a previous release TABBY ROAD), DESERT ISLAND DISC brought to mind another Hall of Fame band – the Beach Boys.

If IN TENTS was Recess Monkey's "Sgt. Peppers" moment, then DESERT ISLAND DISC could be their "Pet Sounds." It's stripped down, it's intimate, it's for children but doesn't discriminate against adults. Plus it was recorded on a genuine island (!), Bainbridge Island, Washington – home of producer Johnny Bregar's Backyard Studios. You definitely feel the vibe on tracks like "The Hermit," "The Cave," "Around the Campfire," and especially "Getting a Sunburn":

Summer is here, here again.
I'll hide in my room until the end.
I'm sun inefficient, freckled you see.
That orb in the sky's no friend to me.
'Cause I'll be getting a sunburn all over my nose.
Cover me up from my head to my toes.

It takes guts to find a concept and stick with it. Recess Monkey has now birthed multiple concept albums – circus-themed, outer space, water-focused, and now "no man is an island." Indeed, you can hear the solitude and contemplation in the orchestrations on "Desert Island," the centerpiece of the album.

DESERT ISLAND DISC features guest appearances ranging from local (Sam Bishoff on sax, to ubiquitous Dean Jones (Dog on Fleas) and Justin Lansing (Okee Dokee Brothers). But the Recess trio themselves do the heavy lifting, which includes reining in the concept to ensure it doesn't stray too far from the beach.

Many children's recording artists are predictable: Every year or so, they reliably pump out another collection of songs that mine the ground they've successfully sharecropped over the course of their career. Recess Monkey has taken the opposite direction – they've thrown away the overly familiar and are challenging their audience to come away with them on new aural adventures. This time, it's a desert island. Are you game? Trust me, it's worth the trip.

DESERT ISLAND DISC is available on October 15 from the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, iTunes, and many fine music retailers.

Here is the video from the band's song "Shrimp," from DEEP SEA DIVER.

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