Wednesday, September 13, 2006

***Ellen and Matt***

OK, let's put this CD in, give it a listen ... hmmm, "Eat My Dinner", pretty good kids' stuff ... whoa, nice harmonies ... wow, great middle eight ... holy crap! did that guy just rock a guitar solo on a kids album?!? Yes!!!

And on and on ... The surprises never end on this CD, and that's one of the things I love about it. First, it's a lot of fun to hear a kids' album and wonder if it really is a kids' album. The music is so great that, if you didn't listen to the lyrics, you would swear this was some new indie rock CD. Second, every time you think you know what's coming next, you get thrown a curve melodically or composition-wise. Los Angeles-based Ellen and Matt Kennedy recently released their debut children's CD, Best Friends, on their own 3 Suns Records, and they seem to be one of the few kids' groups who aren't retired rockers or vying for a spot on Nick Jr.

The title tune begins as a tender waltz-time piano solo, then surprise! crunchy guitars and splashy drums are pushed to the forefront. And check out the unbelieveable middle eight, right before the ... surprise! whistling solo! Then, imagine taking your kids to Preschool story time and surprise! the Pixies show up and play a song for them ... you'd probably hear "Bounce". "Go To Bed" starts out as an appropriately dreamy-sounding tune, then surprise! it morphs into THE LOUDEST bedtime song you will ever hear, a song Billy Corgan forgot to include on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Other great songs include the dryly-produced "Juice Box Rock", whose clipped vocals and chugging guitars perfectly mimic classic Ramones; "Fly Away", straight out of The Sundays' greatest hits bag-o-tunes (and wait 'till the chorus hits!); the manic "Under Construction", which, if you go by the urgent tempo and unrelenting buzz of the guitars, lets you know someone is really ready for the Los Angeles Zoo to reopen; and "Side by Side", which includes my favorite line: "It's good to know that I might fall/ But it's worth it if I try", a good philosophy for both learning to ride a bike and for life in general.

The Kennedys' empathietic lyrics about kid concerns like friendship, courage, bicycles, bedtime, dreams, zoos, and, of course, juice boxes, show a great talent for writing from and relating to a child's perspective. Musically, the songs on Best Friends are shaded with light brushstrokes of George Harrison, Sloan, the Sundays, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Smashing Pumpkins, Blondie, the Ramones, and, yes, (even their website admits it) the Carpenters.

In my opinion, here's what makes Best Friends a successful album: the songwriters wrote great songs, they didn't try to write what they thought everyone thinks a kids' song should be; they produced the album with their own ears, and didn't try to create a glossy soundtrack to a kids' tv show. These guys could fill both the Lower East Side's Bowery Ballroom with hipster post-college musicheads, and Brooklyn's Willy Bee's Family Lounge with toddlers and their grownups. Great tunes, great production (especially the drums), great debut CD.


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