Kimya Dawson Releases Children’s Album; Adults, Children Can’t Tell the Difference
Hey musicians: not making money selling regular albums filled with tales of love, lust and societal ennui? Then how ’bout a kids record?
It ain’t no childish move. Over the past decade, making an album of music for kids has proven to be profitable ventures for artists seeking additional revenue streams. This week, Juno superstar, former Moldy Peach and newish mother Kimya Dawson releases Alphabutt, an album of sassy, offbeat, quietly wacky tunes that are only slightly different from her ‘regular’ music (before you ask, Pitchfork gave it a 7.5). Dawson gave birth to her first kid in April and immediately got on the children’s tune bandwagon, a scene that is attracting more and more “regular” artists. Other grownups making names in the kids’ world:
Inspired, in part, by her two-year old daughter Panda Delilah, Alphabutt sees Dawson (formerly one-half of New York anti-folk duo the Moldy Peaches) singing simply and without affect, her voice deep and pleasantly scruffy, like a chewed-up, over-squished teddy bear. Dawson takes a lot of hits for being precious (a good chunk of that derision is probably tied up in post-homeskillet backlash), but Alphabutt, while predictably cute, is also frank and funny and delightfully rude. It's accessible but not cloying; Dawson doesn't pander or patronize or adopt the kind of preposterous, over-annunciated, beyond-Broadway cartoon voice that plagues so many children's records. More important, her work is candid and funny and matchless: What parent wouldn't want to play his or her kid an alphabet song (the stupid-charming "Alphabutt") where 70% of the letters refer to multi-species flatulence, "V" stands for flying-V, and "C" stands for cat butt?
Still, anyone without a child in the house, a pre-adolescent sense of humor, or a massive supply of psychotropic drugs might not find too much use for Alphabutt (babies and toddlers spend a good chunk of each day mulling scatological concerns; adults, less so, yet Dawson, nodding to her audience, references the business of excreting in nearly every track). This is a children's album, and Dawson is appropriately unapologetic about all that entails (see: lyrics about animals and potties and little monster babies). But Dawson's proclivity for simple acoustic melodies and for expertly incorporating found sound (kazoos, bells, a chorus of kids) mean that these songs-- however silly or gross-- are also artfully constructed.
Predictably, some cuts are more adult-friendly than others. "Happy Home (Keep on Writing)"-- incidentally, at three and a half minutes, it's the second longest track here-- sees Dawson taking stock of the status quo, using grown-up signifiers: "There was a time in my life that I felt so all alone/ I never thought that someday I would have a happy home/ A family and a four-track/ RadioShack microphones/ A backyard and a hammock and a paid-off student loan," she sings. Likewise, "I Love You Sweet Baby," a catalogue of a day in the life of a parent-child team, is an ode to parenthood and the ways in which it alters-- irrevocably-- an adult life: "The first thing on our list of things to do/ Is to wake up right next to you/ Second thing that we have planned/ Is to kiss both of your hands," Dawson details.
Arguably the biggest challenge facing little Americans is the lack of (non-marketed, non-commercial) culture speaking directly to them-- Alphabutt is honest and funny, and manages to sidestep all tired, kid-song tropes. Any parent tired of the "SpongeBob SquarePants" theme would do well by their tots to pick this up.