Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Recess Monkey: Wired, Plugged Into Your Kids

Can you get too much of a good thing? Absolutely. Ice cream gives you brain freeze. TV gives you a headache. But what do you call it when your child's favorite recording artist(s) are responsible for an overwhelmingly creative outpouring? Such is the dilemma with Seattle's Recess Monkey and their new CD, WIRED.

Remarkably consistent and remarkably enjoyable for a decade, the Monkey Men (Jack Forman, Drew Holloway, and Korum Bischoff) return this time with another themed collection, loosely based around "science and technology stuff." There are some clear stretches with this batch o'tunes, such as "Skee Ball." Yes, it was among the first arcade games – which have been supplanted by video games. And "Duct Tape World" takes a clever concept – an inadvertently huge order of duct tape – and discussses how you can make virtually anything with the sticky stuff.

My 3 1/2 year old's favorite CD is the band's 2013 release, DEEP SEA DIVER. I have downgraded his passion from "obsession," when he would perform a track-for-track live concert of the disc nightly, before bedtime, complete with singing into his doorknob as a microphone. That CD ranked high on my FIDS & KAMILY poll last year and repeated listenings have not deterred my preference. On the other hand, WIRED may take awhile to grow on me. And with the physical disc within his reach on the CD rack, the kid has not taken to it with a similar vengeance. Oh well. Maybe later this month when we see the band live in Philly at Longwood Gardens.

For their 11th (!!) album, Recess Monkey turned to esteemed analog recording producer John Vanderslice. Known for his experimental recording techniques, Vanderslice is not known for his work with children's recording artists, so the Monkey trio were jazzed to work with him. Full disclosure: Drew excitedly commented about working with Vanderslice when we saw them at Symphony Space this past January. Speaking about technology, I could have used Google Glass to immediately wipe the look of bafflement from my face (due to my unfamiliarity with his work). The Vanderslice influence is minimal on WIRED, which is ironically the least gimmicky of the band's albums. Having to physically cut tape during the recording process can do that.

But what of the music? Yes of course, that's what got us here in the first place. There is some real rocking out on WIRED. "Brick By Brick," an ode to Lego, includes some crunching electric guitar chords over the chorus. "Take Your Kid to Work Day" has an almost Southern Rock feel. The aforementioned "Skee Ball" sounds like a callback to last year's "Beach Ball." For pure nostalgia, try "My Grandpa Is a Time Machine":

When he was my age he had his own paper route
and TV was in black and white
He and his brothers slept three in a bunk
and the money was always tight

It's not readily apparent if the guys are singing about THEIR grandpa or a KID'S grandpa. The intervening 20 years make a difference, especially when the song mentions stickball, which hasn't been playing much in close to 40-50 years.

I'm willing to be the bigger man and overlook such outlandish and shocking discrepancies. What makes Recess Monkey work is the fun. Who else can tackle a touchy tween issue like "Braces" and knock out an upbeat tune? You didn't see Peter Seeger doing it! Certainly not Raffi! Heck, it even took more than 100 original songs before Recess Monkey got around to it!

But in some seriousness, if it takes a central theme to motivate these guys to produce such straight-on, enduring kid pop, then I have no objections. While I did not find WIRED to be as timeless as a few of their past collections, it's still [INSERT YOUR OWN BAD CHIMP JOKE] and as much fun as a barrel of you-know-whats.

WIRED is available Tuesday, June 17 from the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, iTunes, and many other retailers.

Here is the video for the band's song, "Shrimp":

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