June 23, 2005

Duplex "Ablum by Duplex!"

I have a funny feeling that this is not going to be a hit album. Not even an underground hit. Why? Because, even though it's not a twee album, this is probably one of the most twee albums ever. This is more twee than twee.

This record is a children's album. Not an overly schmaltzy piece of tripe that you'll never admit you had after reaching the age of 12 (or for other people, it's not one of those records that you'll discover in the attic when you're 18 and figuring out what to bring to your dorm room and end up playing on your college radio show as a demonstration of your sheer ironic hipster genius). No, this is one of those weird, different children's albums, like No! by They Might Be Giants or any of the Ren and Stimpy albums. When you open up the case and look at the picture of the entire band, it'll be obvious that this isn't a normal children's album when you see that one of the members is wearing a Misfits fiend club t-shirt. The best comparison is that they strike me of a Moldy Peaches for kids. Of course, His Highness, The Wise And Awesome Editor Joseph Kyle does not like the Moldy Peaches and thinks the Moldy Peaches sound juvenile already. But just to be clear, Duplex is what you might get if the Moldy Peaches were actually meant to sound juvenile.

A little bit of background before I describe the music any further: Duplex is named "Duplex" because the band is made up of a group of musicians and kids who live together in the same duplex in Vancouver. The band was formed when musician Veda Hille was asked to make a song for a children's book. She asked everyone in her duplex to be on the song, and eventually, they went into a studio to make the full-length Ablum. The ages of the members range from 3 to 35. Members include 3-year-old Abe Caruso and 11-year-old girls Saoirse Soley and Sierra Terhoch. And please note, these kids are not just bit players, relegated to background vocal duties like kids are on other children's albums. They actually wrote, sang leads, and played instruments on much of the songs. Having the kids take such large, active roles in making the music definitely provides a level of credibilty lacking on other children's records.

The music itself sounds simply like indie and punk rock made for children. What really makes the album are the lyrics and the singing. Especially when the kids sing. I feel weird saying this, but they just sound so cute! Especially on the Saoirse/Sierra duet number, "Camels in the Desert", perhaps the catchiest song on the record. Sure, lyrics like "Camels and elephants like in the desert, live in the desert, live in the desert. Wait, what about me?" don't look like much when you read them, and may even seem grating, but it actually sounds very cute and the song's ending ("Camels and elephants live in the desert... Wait! That's not true!") injects the type of irony that separates this stuff from Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

Oh! And you'll love the punk rock references, too! In the opening song, the anthemic "Yr Mama" (a rousing number about how, despite what the grownups say, kids just want to do things like live in their underwear, never go to bed, and just rock), they manage to sneak in a little bit of "Gabba, gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us." "NĂ¼cat", a song about a big, rambunctious housecat (and the fastest, punkiest song on the album), features the kids in the band yelling "Oi! Oi! Oi!" in the chorus. Now, I don't know what you think about people screaming "Oi!', but when the kids of Duplex do it, it's so cute! Words couldn't do justice to how cute it is.
Besides that, you have to check out "Salad Song", a funky call-and-response number about the need to hastily eat one's salad so that one can get dessert. If you're raising your kids to be vegetarian in any way, watch out, because this song is disparaging to vegetables ("Iceberg, romaine, it causes me pain!"). Another potential hit single is "Bethlehem", about the Israeli city of the same name. However, this is a fun, upbeat song, sounding almost straight out of a musical, mentioning nothing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, the song portrays Bethlehem as a holy, morally correct utopia ("Where the food is fantastic. We recycle our plastic. Everybody sleeps in linen, and the cherubs won't let the sin in."). However, I'm not sure how sincere the song is because of the tone in which they sing lines such as, "If you lived here, you'd be holy by now." I just can't figure out if that's meant to be ironic or not. I thought that children's albums weren't supposed to confuse your sarcasm detector like that!

In case you're wondering, Ablum does get educational, but only on the supercute "Multiplication Treehouse" and the Schoolhouse Rock! cover, "Figure Eight". Still, this album is almost all dedicated to pure fun. If you're a sourpuss or are raising your kid to be a sourpuss, don't get this CD!

There is one controversial track, though, the final song, "Pooing and Peeing". It's not very graphic, it's sort of nonsense song in which they sing strangely catchy lines like "He was a-pooing and a-peeing, pooing and a-peeing at the same time." That's as graphic as it gets. Still, I'm sure that not all parents would be happy with that. Personally, I'd rather be able to laugh at these everyday bodily functions than be scared of them and pretend they don't exist. Most people "poo" and "pee" every day. What's the point in suppressing that? Why do we have to pathologize normal bodily behaviors in this fashion? I'd say that Duplex is being revolutionary by including this song on their album and I admire them for this courageous act of defiance. Go Duplex!

So, if you're not scared of poo, pee, and extreme levels of cuteness (but you are scared of salad), I highly recommend this album, even if you don't have kids. I'm definitely not interested in having children, and I've been listening to this album over and over again since I got it a couple of weeks ago. Then again, maybe I have the intellectual sophistication and/or emotional development equivalent to that of a little kid. But if that was true, I wouldn't have been able to write this whole review all by myself, you stupid poopyhead!

--Eric Wolf

Label website: http://www.mintrecs.com

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