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Seattle: Ground Zero for Cool Kids’ Music?

By Martha Brockenbrough
MSN Cinemama


Learn more about kids' entertainment on MSN's Mom & Pop Culture

I really don't want to knock kids' music, which must be created by some of the sweetest, best-intentioned people on Earth. And who knows how I would have survived the toddler years without the Wiggles. But one of my worst parenting moments also was brought on by an overdose of typical children's music.

I was sweating in the car with my girls, stuck in endless traffic, when one of them asked me to turn up the children's CD that happened to be in the player. It was one of those irritating, high-pitched songs about rainbows and birdies and it was giving me a lobotomy through my ears.

Not only did I not turn it up, but I also took the CD out of the player and flung it into the back of my station wagon. My children wept. And I felt bad. I really did. But there's only so much of this sound a mom can take.

I had a bit of a déjà vu recently when listening to "Multiplication Mountain," a CD by Hap Palmer meant to help kids with their multiplication. I salute his intentions. My 8-year-old needs all the help she can get in that department (and the CD really is helping, in case you have kids who don't love math). What's more, my 5-year-old was really glad to be introduced to the calypso sound; she asked for it often enough that my husband made a Harry Belafonte playlist for her to rock out to.

But it's not ever going to be a CD that I reach for to create the soundtrack of our family life. I don't get why more mainstream kids' musicians don't make their songs sound like music for grown-ups. Write lyrics that kids can relate to, but spare us the typical kid-music sound: the edge-free folksy guitar, the out-of-context calypso, the high-pitched children's choruses singing about bugs. Aaaaa! Just writing about it is sending my blood pressure through the roof.

Just because we've given birth to children doesn't mean we're ready for the musical equivalent of mom jeans. We still want the rock, pop and other music we've grown to love since we put aside our Raffi. Just as we can read a book like "Harry Potter" with our kids and love it, or watch a movie like "WALL-E" with our kids and love it, we should be able to listen to music with our kids without wanting to hurl.

This is why the Seattle kids' music scene is so interesting these days. Today's parents, who grew up listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Presidents of the United States of America and other local wonders, might just be the unwitting witnesses to another Seattle music renaissance, this one in children's music.

Four local bands are producing and performing smart, fun and completely listenable albums that pop-culture-savvy parents will be glad to share with their kids, including one by the front man of the Presidents.

The Board of Education: Color me biased, but any band that writes a song called "The Many Uses, and Dangers, of Commas" has my attention. Sample lyric: "I think we can all agree, movie previews are much better, thanks to commas." Other songs have an educational component, like "Know Your Inventors."

The Board of Education started out, unsurprisingly, as a band for grown-ups. Called Central Services, they became a local favorite that spent a month on CMJ's national charts. Their front man, Kevin Emerson, is a former elementary school science teacher turned children's novelist. He wrote a few songs for kids. His band mates loved them -- and so do I.

If you liked the Kinks in the '80s, you'll definitely like the Board of Education. You can listen to their album here.

Recess Monkey: How many bands can say they've opened for the Dalai Lama? We know of one: Recess Monkey, a trio of Seattle teachers that sounds a bit like a mix of Donovan and the Beatles, and they have a wacky audacity that's hard not to love. One album, "Wonderstuff," is a rock opera with an environmental message, sort of what would happen if you put the Who in a blender with "The Lorax," only much less gruesome. Another is called "Aminal House." Comedy gold!

They have four albums out with a fifth, "Field Trip," due in June. You can order their music here or read a review of "Wonderstuff" here.

Caspar Babypants: This band will remind you a LOT of the Presidents, and for good reason. Caspar Babypants is Chris Ballew, the Presidents' lead vocalist. Honestly, the Presidents were a kids' band even before. Anyone who's ever played "Volcano" to a carful of children will hear "happy campers poop in their Pampers" over and over for the duration of your kids' childhood. Same goes for "Puffy Little Shoes," and I apologize in advance for getting that stuck in your head.

"Here I Am" is Babypants' 22-track album, which mixes traditional tunes with zippy originals. Listen to them here.

The Not-Its: The lead singer of this adorable five-piece band, Sarah Shannon, got her start on the Sub Pop label doing vocals for a band called Velocity Girl. They have a really appealing '90s indie-pop sound, vaguely reminiscent of the Cardigans.

What kids will especially like is the subject matter of their songs. They're grounded in kid life: bath time, going to school, even the mysteries of helicopters (my favorite of their songs). You can listen here.

With all this good music cropping up at ground zero for grunge, it almost makes you wonder if Kurt Cobain would have found his way to children's music had he lived. Would it have been such a leap? I can see it now: "Smells Like a Midlife Crisis." Even if kids didn't like it, you know their parents would.

Read more: Cinemama articles on Mom & Pop Culture

What music do you enjoy with your kids? Tell us at heymsn@microsoft.com.

Martha Brockenbrough is author of "Things That Make Us [Sic]," a guide to funny bad grammar, published by St. Martin's press. She also blogs about family life for Cozi.com and writes an educational humor column for Encarta.

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