[16 June 2009]
Way back in 2007, Tiny Masters of Today, comprised of siblings Ivan (12 years old) and Ada (10 years old), released their debut album Bang Bang Boom Cake. The album featured contributions from the likes of Gibby Haynes, Karen O, and Liars. David Bowie called the band’s first single “genius” and then they toured the world. Two years older and more confident in their abilities, the Brooklyn band releases Skeletons, primarily recorded at home using Garageband sans famous guest musicians. What was I doing when I was 12? Getting beat up and listening to Huey Lewis and the News. Damn, these kids are cool.
Criticizing the creative endeavors of 12- and 14-year-olds leaves a 32-year-old writer with a feeling best described as “icky”. After listening to the fearless mix of styles and smart songwriting employed on Skeletons, my ickiness subsided. Youth is often a time of second-guessing and trying to conform to whatever group one chooses. The fact that these young musicians have the bravery to write and record everything themselves while incorporating elements of hip-hop, disco, and even industrial textures is refreshing. So much current music inspired by the punk movement falls prey to easy formulas and predictable tropes. Tiny Masters of Today separate themselves from the pack due to their willingness to experiment, and not simply due to their age.
The novelty factor of age will understandably follow the group, as it has become a key facet of their identity in the public eye. However, since this is their second album, the band deserves to move beyond novelty status. After all, they’re participating in the marketplace of selling records and ideas just as other people making music for the masses. There seems to be simultaneous, contradictory impulses at work on Skeletons: the desire to move beyond kiddie novelty status and the desire to confront the challenges of youth. The filters on many of the tracks mask Ada’s vocals in such a way that one might think she’s a twenty-something woman. However, song titles like “Abercrombie Zombie” and lyrics about bullies find the band simply trying to find their place in a grown-up world.
Each song on Skeletons is an exercise in brevity that suits the spartan lyrical approach and punk spirit. The bubblegum hook of “Real Good” is as strong as anything they’ve done to date and is a highlight of the album. On “Real Good”, as on the rest of the album, the band exhibits a deft ability to avoid driving a hook into the ground. Songs are over before they have a chance to grate. This attribute is most fortunate, especially since the siblings are prone to adding as many effects and layers onto the slight frames of these songs as they can. Nevertheless, the level of taste on display throughout Skeletons remains high.
Skeletons is more developed and more assured than their debut, but the band predictably has room for growth. Perhaps future releases will find the band willing to stretch out their ideas beyond the three-minute mark. And here’s hoping the world will learn to look more at their music rather than their age. But for now, these talented, road-tested industry veterans look forward to continued artistic growth. And high school.