Presented with a band that includes 3-, 11-, and 12-year-old kids as members, plus an album cover that makes it look very much like the 3-year-old was the artistic director for the album, Ablum (2005), by the Vancouver-based Duplex!, had a couple strikes going against it according to my general bias against kids in bands and bad album cover art.
Thank goodness I have no idea what I'm talking about there, because this is a very good album. Consisting of adult members from assorted north-of-the-border bands (The Beekeepers, p:ano, and more) plus a few of their kids, Duplex! is very much a side-project supergroup. And while my temptation is compare them with labelmates and Western Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers ('cuz I'll do anything to work in a reference to them), the more appropriate comparison is the Eastern Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene. While the New Pornographers work up their tunes into a polished if frenzied power pop sheen, Broken Social Scene plays things loose, sometimes sounding ragged around the edges.
It's the general ragged charm of the album, plus the willingness of the group to throw just about everything against the wall and see what sticks, that is its strength. From the Grateful Dead-noodlings of the album opener "Yr Mama" to the Cake stylings of "Heatin' Up the Milk," there are few musical stylings that it doesn't cover. Euro-cabaret of 8 1/2 Souvenirs? Try "Mr. Slim or "Bethlehem." Sleater-Kinney? Try "Nucat." Ska? "DNA."
The album is not without a strong sense of humor, amusing both youngsters and hipsters. For kids, the album's particular enjoyment in rhymes is particularly noticeable in "The Salad Song, " which takes a decidedly anti-green approach ("Spinach, cucumber / I think I'm going under / Cabbage and sprouts / I have a lot of doubts"). Adults will probably appreciate more the cabaret song "Bethlehem" and its less-than-reverent view of the city ("Bethlehem / Where the beds are fluffy and the rocks are hard / where everyday is a holiday card"). For the most part, though, the subjects (including poop, monkeys, and multiplication) are very kid-focused.
When you throw everything against the wall, some of it is bound to, uh, slide off. The spoken word "Lament of the House Rabbit" is tedious while "Lookit Me!" is as annoying as your 4-year-old who wants you to look at her every five seconds for what seems like an eternity. But those are exceptions, not the rule.
Kids age 3 through 8 (or 38) are most likely going to enjoy this album. You can buy the CD at many online stores (physical and download formats), and find samples there. (There are no samples at the Mint Records page for the band.)
If you have any sort of indie-music tendencies, you will find something to amuse and entertain you in Ablum. The giddy fun in making the record comes through loud and clear on the album, and you'll find yourself telling others, "Yeah, the album cover's kinda dorky, but wait 'til you hear it..." Definitely recommended.