The last time I got out the list format was when I pitched 5 Reasons Gustafer Yellowgold is the Coolest (or Hottest) Kids Concept. With my introduction to Clementown, I feel the need to passionately get on the soapbox once again and drive the point home about this amazingly talented and unabashedly hip music group.
Like many kids’ music projects, Clementown was brought to life when founding members and real-life couple Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty decided to stop complaining about kids’ music and make their own. Kate Lynch already had experience as a commercial vocalist, musician, dancer and creative movement teacher and Chris Beaty was an Academy Award winning composer. They had fallen in love with Calef Brown’s colorful and wholly offbeat book of poems and illustrations called Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, so they took their band name from his poem “Clementown.”
The Calef Brown tie-in was taken a step further when the band decided their first kid-centric project would be Polkabats and Octopus Slacks − The Music!. This 2009 release is comprised of 28 musical interpretations of the marvelously nonsensical poems and folk-art in Calef Brown’s ‘Polkabats’ book and its follow-up “Dutch Sneakers and Fleakeepers.”
Clementown’s first album has since gone on to find critical acclaim and a loyal following in their Minneapolis hometown and the kindie music market. And, Calef Brown himself is quite impressed. “I was just blown away,” said Brown in the Minneapolis’ Southwest Journal. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect that: having every song like a gem, so different from the next.”
You need to take a day trip to this weird and wonderful little town. Here are my Top 5 Reasons To Visit Clementown:
1. Genre-hopping madness
I have never heard a band, regardless of the target age demographic, skip around genres so much and do it so well. Clementown seamlessly switches its musical sound for each of the 28 songs on Polkabats and Octopus Slacks − The Music! to best represent each of Brown’s poems. Just a few examples include Blaxploitation-style soul, low-fi rock, call-and-response blues, buzzy-garage rock, sunny Brit-pop, beat-driven electro, cool jazz, carnival instrumentation and surf music. Their vocal styles and instrumentations faultlessly adapt to each genre making it a fun musical journey for adults and children alike.
2. A fitting homage to its source material
Calef Brown’s poetry books are truly one-of-kind experiences: a little bit Dr. Seuss, a little bit Shel Silverstien, but mostly his own original folk-art accompanied tales. In the hands of a lesser band, I can see his work being turned into cloying ditties with no appeal to anyone outside of a toddler demographic. But Clementown seem to truly understand Brown’s visions, and the music style they choose for each song perfectly aligns with the illustrations and words and feels spot-on. Like his actual poems, each song paints a little picture. Listen and you will hear stories of an octopus and his new bell-bottoms, a snowman who loves to dance, snails with a penchant for pudding, a surfer with a fear of water, a pirate who uses a carrot as a sword, a grandmother traveling the world with her magic guitar, and many more.
3. Produced for sophisticated tastes of adults and blossoming tastes of kids
As I hinted at above, this album’s production is not meant to appeal solely to the kiddies. Clementown’s production is of such high quality that adults are sure to get on board as well. The adult listener will recognize sounds from modern indie music, their college radio years, pop culture new and old, and some of their favorite current artists. Artists like Clementown may also help fine tune the musical ear of their young listeners, potentially creating a generation of kids who are less interested in factory-created pop.
4. A forwarding-thinking project
Clementown is already talking about another collaboration with Brown, and they are also hoping to take the general concept further. After noticing her younger daughter following along to the album while reading Brown’s book, Kate Lynch started to consider how the book/album combination could be used as a literacy project. Plans are in the works for a non-profit organization where the band can start an initiative using “the thriving medium of music to promote the dying medium of books.” Already, Maia has many of the poems/songs memorized, and is now following along with the words in the book as she listens to the CD. She’s definitely starting to do some word recognition, all because of this book/CD. If we can throw in our 2 cents, we see an iPad app here!
5. Insanely fun live shows!
If you check out the videos below, it is clear these guys put on a great show. Between guitar-rocking costumed grandmothers to a dancing funky snowman to backing screens featuring Brown’s images, Clementown puts on a multimedia experience that matches the fun of their album. And the album doesn’t lose anything live, despite the complex production of each song. Best of all, Clementown knows how to get the kids up and dancing.
I am quite surprised Clementown did not come across my radar earlier. I chanced upon them when hearing the Ladytron-esque adaptation of “Moon Reunion” on a kids’ music podcast and immediately sought out their album. I hope audiences and the press also continue to discover this progressive and exceptional project. And while I strongly recommend the Brown books, it is important to note that Clementown’s album does not have to be purchased with the book to enjoy it. These songs can exist alone as charming, unusual tunes kids will delight in.
Animated Video for “Ed”
Live Performance of “Funky Snowman”
Live Performance of “Bathtub Driver “