Mike Park’s been releasing indie albums out of a Northern California garage for almost twenty-five years now. Having established his street cred in The Chinkees and Skankin’ Pickle, the singer-songwriter widened his focus from cutting just his own music to releasing CDs and vinyl by punk / acoustic stalwarts like Joyce Manor, Atom Age, Voodoo Glow Skulls, and Andrew Jackson Jihad.
By the mid-1990s Park’s modest, peace-loving, diversity-embracing mail-order shop in Monte Sereno had a name: Asian Man Records.
But becoming a father rekindled Park’s creativity. Inspired by his musically curious kids in 2011, the guitarist cooked up the irresistible ska-folk children’s album, Smile, then established a subsidiary—Fun Fun Records—to distribute similar titles-for-tots by other bands. Like its Asian Man parent imprint, Fun Fun is a small-scale, DIY operation that promulgates quality original music by talented artists at bargain prices.
It’s just that these records cater to younger crowds—and the kid in all of us.
If Park’s own Smile wasn’t enough, two new Fun Fun releases by a pair of familiar names will surely garner the label some attention. Minneapolis comedy / dance duo Koo Koo Kangaroo further their legacy of lunacy with Whoopty Whoop, and Jesse Wagner’s new kid-centric project Happy Wags go preschool on their eponymous debut.
Koo Koo Kangaroo’s Bryan Atchison and Neil Olstad have appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba, toured with Reel Big Fish and The Dillinger Four, and brought their own little musical party to audiences in both cavernous theatres and grade school cafeterias. Since their initial titanic team-up, Koo Koo have cultivated a robust reputation for spinning goofy songs about childhood concerns (unicorns, friendship bracelets, ninjas, gummy bears) for youngsters and parents, who often end up digging the tunes (and their built-in lessons) as much as their progeny. Consider EP and album titles like Koo Koo’s Everlasting Slumber Party, Critters, Midnight Slushie, and Space Bots & Tater Tots and you’ll get a sense where Bryan and Neil are coming from.
And where they’re going: Any release by Koo Koo Kangaroo is a potential portable musical confetti canon. The food and superhero-centric Whoopty Whoop is no exception. Powered by Bryan and Neil’s signature elementary electronica, the disc will get kids singing about their favorite things while bustin’ moves to drum-machine rhythms, whirling synths, and quirky computer samples. It’s Erasure and Capital Cities meet Ween, by way of Barenaked Ladies.
Scrumptious Whoopty opener “All I Eat is Pizza” tells the story of a guy who ditches a diet of hot dogs and tacos for nothing but pizza. As the cartoonish cadence unfurls and delirious keyboard pitch-wheels spiral through the measures, our hero buys up his own pizzeria and goes into business. When’s a good time for pepperoni pie? According to Koo Koo, anytime: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, Christmas…even Ohio. Deliberately cheesy and unabashedly up-tempo, the track barely braces listeners for the sonic sugar rush to follow.
Stylish single “Fanny Pack” celebrates the maligned fashion accessory—and will get junior dancin’ to the infectious hip-hop beat. “Coolest Person” pays homage to best buds. “POGO” chronicles the band’s pogo-stick stunts (while wearing Chuck Taylor tennies). “Get Yo Body Moving” and “Left 2 Right” borrow from rap for a couple hypnotic, disco-flavored excursions in cardiovascular exercise.
Watch Koo Koo Kangaroo’s “Fanny Pack” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFR_U42pOFA
“Shake It Well” is a kinetic ode to O.J. whose citrusy strains put nutrition-adverse audiences “in the Vitamin C zone.” Bolstered by a bridge-section rap (by P.O.S.), the carton-chugging canto will transform your pups into “pulp fairies” in a three-minute splash of orange. Conversely, “I Like Cake” finds the frosting-addicted Koo Koo trolling the neighborhood in a cake mobile and crashing weddings for a little extra snack-time mayhem, a la mode.
Watch Koo Koo Kangaroo’s “The Coolest Person:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wzbvUtQvnJg
Laced with the kitschy electronic bloops and bleeps that provided the soundtrack to countless ‘80s low-bit video games, “Unibrow” calls on kids to find the awesome in outward appearances rather than belittle the physical attributes of others. Propelled by a throbbing bass line and sweet keyboards chords, closing anthem “Superheroes Unite” encourages youngsters to tap the greatness within (cooperation, optimism, etc.). Sure, Bryan and Neil may be singing about zapping giant mutant spiders with laser eyes and fighting rapid monkeys with their super strength, but moms and dads know the Koo Koo cats are really pining over the power of positive thinking: Confidence and self-esteem help kids feel secure enough to grow and learn in a complicated, hustle-bustle world.
Aggrolites singer Jesse Wagner taps his rhythmic skills (and a bit of paternal instinct) on his new Happy Wags project. Using his “dirty reggae” sounds to inspire toddlers to toilet training and basic arithmetic, Wagner’s guitar ‘n’ drum skiffle is at once more organic than the Koo Koo’s romper room electronica—and every bit as fun. Families who’ve enjoyed motoring around town listening to Jack Johnson’s Curious George soundtrack will lap up Happy Wags, too.
Copping a Caribbean vibe on “The Lion, The Snake & The Monkey,” Wagner escorts kids into the forest primeval with Jimmy Buffett’s straw hat ‘n’ sandals nonchalance. Relaxed acoustic guitar strumming, lush harmony vocals, and sundry animal noises lure intimidated tots into the wild kingdom even as a radio announcer welcomes them to the jungle. Wagner’s moral? People can get along as well as all creatures great and small.
Campy Wurlitzer keyboard charges the skating rhythms of “Use Your Words,” whereon The Wags encourage tantrum-prone two-year olds to give their frustration proper voice, lest they annoy the ‘rents. After all, “No one knows what ‘gnaaaah’ means!” The funky, horn-laden Hall & Oates-influenced “Don’t Touch the Buttons” cautions kiddies against depressing every enticing button (big, small, circle, square, red, and green) in the house, while the Bob Marley & The Wailers-esque “Pee Pee in the Potty” uses reverse psychology (and vibra-slap) to instill timely toilet training.
Watch The Happy Wags’ “Use Your Words” here: http://vimeo.com/90880632
Wagner pays tribute to The Ramones—utilizing their first names as well as their sound—on the recess-ready “They Wanna Play.” Brimming with child-safe proto-punk, the song surges over dirty guitars and muscular drums as Wagner ticks off the virtues of sharing and having fun together in groups and on teams: “Four playing ball is better than one!” Bouncy bass and handclaps establish the one, two tempo of “Adding Numbers,” which uses ‘70s soul to demystify math (and tying shoes).
Street Dogs singer Mike McColgan helps Wagner and friends salute the men and women protecting us on the flower powered, flute-adorned “Firefighters.” Aggrolites bassist Jeff Roffredo checks in on “Hearing Like the Animals,” a chicken pickin’ country rocker that prompts kids to move (and make noise) like barnyard animals—and then take a bath (oink, oink) without complaint.
Crooning like a ‘60s heartthrob, Wagner signs off with bedtime lullaby “Baby Dean,” whereon he tries to soothe his infant to sleep with soft guitar strums and silky doo-bah-doo smoothness. New parents will identify with Wagner’s mild frustration at baby’s lack of object permanence; seemingly settled, the cries start anew once baby sees mom or dad leave the room.
Watch The Happy Wags’ “They Wanna Play” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=c2sqn1-g4UM
With solid new entries from Wagner and Koo Koo Kangaroo, Fun Fun Records shores up its status as the go-to place for fresh tunes for the Pampers, Pull-Ups, and Preschool contingent. This music is a boon for babysitters, a godsend for grandparents, salvation for story hour instructions, and a treasure trove for teachers eager to occupy little cubs—and perhaps instill some values and virtues. Cool thing is, the kids will be too distracted singing and dancing to know they’re being educated.