Sunday, June 01, 2008

Battle of the Bands: Backyardigans vs. Vampire Weekend

As a parent of a now 4 1/2 year old, I occasionally write about matters of interest to parents.

This week we discuss the very important matter of music for kids. Many then-new parents were driven insane by the musical stylings of Barney the purple dinosaur in the 1990s. Making music that appeals to the very young without driving parents to suicide or merely to the ill-advised actions culminating in the great American Housing Bubble and SubPrime mortgage collapse may seem like rocket science, but music is supposedly a universal thing, so why should that be so? My daughter thinks Steely Dan is OK - if, like me, she hears 'drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel', like I did many times in 70s when I was a kid and it doesn't bother her, where's the harm? Neither one of us really wants to listen to the Veggie Tales.

Like (I'm guessing) a lot of parents I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief on discovering the music of The Backyardigans (musical director Evan Lurie - brother of fellow Lounge Lizard and star of 'Fishing with John' John Lurie). While the high-pitched voices take a bit of getting used to at first, they navigate from genre to genre with ease, not embarassing themselves like your friend in college whose band did a reggae song to show how down he was with black people, but is now an executive at a Fortune 500 firm who got embarrassed on 60 Minutes a couple years ago because he made those jokes about black jelly beans getting stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

Unsurprisingly my favorite track is the samba-esque 'Castaways', although I also really like 'Into The Thick Of It', which I'm not sure what genre it's supposed to be. It features a lot of strings, but not in a little Einsteins 'open wide, kids, we're gonna cram some classical music down your throat now' way. My daughter likes (surprise, surprise) Lady Tasha's 20's-ish 'Queens Are Never Wrong' and (somewhat surprising, but not really) - the mid-80's pre-gangsta hip hop of 'Cowboys Cowgirls' with some sweet singing in the mix by (I think) Tasha. Also a worthy effort is the very James Brown influenced 'Yeti Stomp' by Pablo, who shows beanie-wearing computer-generated penguins are much more adept at doing the James Brown thing than drunk white guys who want to be funky. 'Hear my Yeti yell/smell my yeti smell' is good for some laughs, too.

Vampire Weekend also throw some strings into the mix, in fact, some of their more moronic fans have been heard comparing them to 'the Strokes with Strings' a statement so stupid it nearly gives me a stroke with or without strings. Vampire Weekend are not morons - in a recent article about bands and their SAT averages, VW had one of the top scores. VW also make an effort to mix it up musically, with the aforementioned strings, and influences ranging from reggaeton (we are told, but I don't know reggaeton well enough to spot it) to South African 'township jive' (or possibly, Paul Simon's 'Graceland', which nobody could miss hearing for a couple years in the late 80s).

Vampire Weekend has some youthful, kid friendly vocals, and the lyrics - well, 'who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma' isn't going to win them a gig scoring the next VeggieTales movie, but it's not showing an appallingly casual attitude about drunk driving ('drink driving' for my Irish readers) either. But they don't really stretch out and take the musical risks the Backyardigans do, and their popularity among very slow-witted hipsters (oh yeah - another reviewer called their album 'the 2008 version of 'Graceland'') is troubling. The Backyardigans seem to straddle the gap between parental and kid musical sensibilities much more skillfully, so in conclusion as helpful advice to other parents out there we will take the bold stand of recommending the Backyardigans over Vampire Weekend to those seeking music for the youngsters.

1 comment:

natasher said...

I did realize that the Backyardigan's music isn't as annoying as the other children shows' music. Like the one show with the baby duck, turtle, and hamster. What is it called? Anyways, I do quite enjoy Vampire Weekend, and am excited to see them at the Pitchfork Music Festival this year. And the fact that your four year old can enjoy Steely Dan... that's excellent! I have hopes for that too one day soon. If I play mine "Show Biz Kids" enough, hopefully it'll be her favorite song too, as long as I fast forward through "and we don't give a fuck about anybody else" until she's 18.