Dirty Diapers Don't Scare Me Nearly as Much as the Wiggles Do

Parenthood comes with a lot of change, and a lot of decisions to be made, including this one: What’s your musical strategy?

Parenthood comes with a lot of change, and a lot of decisions to be made, including this one: What’s your musical strategy?

Seven years ago, I wrote "Family Matters", a column dedicated to my then newborn niece including the best music-related wisdom I had to offer at that point. So far, she’s taken some of my advice – mostly about the dancing – though it’s her younger brother who seems to be the most musical in the family, already strumming on a child-size guitar before he was 4.

The two may not be mistaken for Lennon and Maisy Stella, the ridiculously talented kids on the TV show, Nashville, but they can adequately reproduce the important songs from Frozen and The Lego Movie or, with their parents’ prompting, Taio Cruz’s 2010 hit, "Dynamite". Clearly, they’re on the right path, and I can only assume their youngest, now nine months old, will follow suit.

I’ll continue to mentor them in their musical development, of course, but my attention will also be divided: My wife and I welcome our first child, Lucy, into the world this month.

As any new parent will attest, the time leading up to that first birth is filled with a mix of anticipation, apprehension and indecision. You’re getting advice from multiple directions at once, from the endless blogs and advice sites to the books you get but don’t always read all the way through, from the doctors and nurses and well-meaning friends and relatives and random colleagues and acquaintances who want to tell you their birth stories or explain the real truth about parenthood, the stuff that all the books and blogs supposedly withhold.

There are decisions to be made on everything – birthing, feeding, diapering, sleeping, swaddling, strollering – which means there is an endless list of ways to feel like you’re making the wrong decision that could lead to many sleepless nights or, worse, withering looks from the progressive parents in your neighborhood.

With all that to think about, we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time considering what our musical strategy will be. Our go-to resources have been mostly, and uncharacteristically, hands-off when it comes to this all-important area of child-rearing, beyond a few generalities. A more dedicated search pulls up some other options: Scientific American covered the famed, but not exactly proven "Mozart Effect" in 2007. A Netherlands-based blog called Music Matters shares music cognition studies looking at newborns’ innate sense of rhythm and the glass-half-full question of whether crying is a sign of musical skill.

In 2012, many NPR listeners and commenters shared their picks for what song to play to welcome their babies into the world, and you can find many a forum thread with tips on what to play to help your baby sleep.

But for most advice in this area, I’ve turned to those in my life with personal experience in child-rearing – which, given that I’m in my early 30s, feels like about 95 percent of my social circle. While no one I know really did the headphones-over-the-belly thing with any regularity, at least one friend did take the step of making a birth playlist for her anticipated time in the hospital. It was as much for her own distraction and calming as for her child, though she knew that any of the tracks might be the one to actually welcome her son into the world (Elliott Smith got the honors).

That same friend is determined to avoid “kids’ music” as much as possible, replacing it instead with kid-friendly songs from artists that she could actually listen to without going crazy (I think of this as the “don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink” theory). While I admire the effort, my sense is that if you’re going to school your kids outside the home, they’re going to learn songs that might not fit with your sense of what’s “good”. One of the only things that gave us pause about our new daycare was the clichéd soundtrack we heard during our visit – though the dancing children didn’t seem to mind.

We have to be ready to compromise, and thankfully, we're in a good time for kids' music in general. In addition to the rash of kid-friendly adult artists out there (Belle and Sebastian, The Decemberists), many former adult artists have recently transitioned to focusing on younger audiences. Barenaked Ladies, They Might Be Giants, The Verve Pipe and Jewel are some whose transition won’t be terribly shocking; many other artists have contributed their own versions of classic children’s songs to compilations like the Muppet-themed Muppets: The Green Album. (I can’t wait for my daughter to discover the Muppets.)

Lollapalooza recognized this market several years ago, introducing a special Kidzapalooza section, where parents could bring their young music fans to enjoy performances from Perry Farrell, Lisa Loeb and more age-appropriate role models like Jeff Tweedy’s son, Spencer. Other music festivals, like the new Boston Calling, will let younger kids in for free, and during the latest installment many parents took them up on the offer. Probably the same “cool” parents I wrote about – a little skeptically – back in 2008, "Parents Just Don't Understand". Now that I’m in their shoes, I’m not sure how I’ll react.

But I do know that as a new parent, I won’t be able to listen to anything I want, when I want, anymore. Instead of a custom playlist in the car, I might be tuning the radio to static. Once vocabulary comes into play, I imagine I’ll be listening to most of my hip-hop on headphones. When I hear the name “Ella”, I might start to think “Jenkins” before “Fitzgerald”. These are some of the more insignificant among the many changes to my daily life, but I know my relationship to music will change over the coming years.

It’s the relationship with my daughter, though, that matters most. Looking over my list from seven years ago, I think my advice still applies – now I just have a little more control over the situation. Instead of adding to the list of things she should do, then, here are ten things I’m promising Lucy:

  • I will sing to you, though you might wish I didn’t once you hear my voice.

  • I will dance with you, which will embarrass your mother. This is a gift to me as much as to you.

  • I will spoil you with music. I can say this because I can now offer you almost any song in the world for one low monthly price.

  • I will take you to all the free musical events I can. Honestly, these are usually the best kind. Later, I will drive you to concerts with your friends and let you blast the songs all the way there.

  • I will let you learn any instrument you want, as long as we have the space and it is allowed under the noise statutes in our condo contract.

  • I will teach you the words to Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” (though we’ll probably listen to the Kermit the Frog version more). Also “Rapper’s Delight”. And a hundred other songs you don’t know yet.

  • I will make you listen to my music, but I will not tell you how much it is better than your music, even if I’m really thinking it.

  • I will listen to your music, too, but not in that annoying, trying-too-hard, cool dad kind of way.

  • I will try really, really hard not to misuse slang from pop artists in your friends’ presence. No promises at home, though.

  • I will respect your musical path, wherever it takes you. As long as it’s nowhere near R. Kelly.

As my nephew is fond of saying, “Welcome to the show.” We’ll push our way to the front together.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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