In case you haven’t got kids or you have a day job, Yo Gabba Gabba! is a Nick Jr. show that features DJ Lance Rock and an assortment of characters, including Plex the yellow robot and a cat-dragon hybrid named Toodee. They teach life lessons to kids in the form of bright retro cartoons and dance and musical numbers. Rather than the overly saccharine junk most kids shows get, Yo Gabba Gabba! enlists some of the best and brightest in the musical world. The 21-track disc features the likes of Of Montreal, Chromeo, The Shins, Money Mark, The Roots and The Little Ones. If any other album collected original songs from artists like this, it’d be the greatest modern album of the next decade or so. But because they’re telling kids to use good hygiene and love everyone, most people will A) Never give this a shot and B) Let forth a mighty rage of inspired discontent toward our editorial decision. While this is no Grizzly Bear or Jay-Z record, you can learn to like this record, especially if you’ve got your rose-colored glasses on.
A lot of the tracks are done by the regular cast of the show and are worth little note (except “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, which sounds like awesomely bad ’80s pop hair metal). If they did have any value, it’s to understand what dance music sounds like if it were made by a child (same tribal repeating of lyrics and a lot of squeaky accordion-esque beats and chirpy drums). The only meat on this album are the guest spots. You will, quite obviously, find nothing of any real emotional value here. And yes, I know it’s a kid’s album, but still there’s nothing of substance to grab a hold of, no moments of glimmering hope that demonstrate to us that music can bridge the generational gap and unite children and adults into some higher understanding of the simplicities of life. There’s way too much jangly guitars for that anyway. But more so, the album does away with the true complexities of many of the artists. Take, for instance, the Of Montreal tune “Brush, Brush, Brush”. What we’re left with is this vaguely electro song that sounds like Of Montreal but without the primal sexuality, sarcasm and general showmanship. Or there’s the default kind of drum machinery of Money Mark’s “Robo Dancing”. It’s as if each of the artists have been lobotomized and much of their soul, and not technique, has been removed.
Despite the aforementioned massive hurdles, the songs are infectious. The songs are on autopilot but get into your brain stem and eat away at the pretentious cells, despite how valiantly you may fight. Chromeo’s song “Nice ‘N’ Clean” sounds like Rick James and Marvin Gaye doing an afterschool special on hand washing. It’s not them, but it feels like their smooth funktacular guitar and their synth heavy hip-hop. The Shins’ “It’s OK, Try Again” may be the catchiest tune on the album; the banjo part moves along with less of the band’s normal musical sensibility and does without their alternative braininess. I’m From Barcelona with “Just Because It’s Different Doesn’t Mean It’s Scary” is like an MGMT cover band that is really into things like xylophone and mandolin and a big old bass part. And on “Lovely, Love My Family”, you’ll find it hard to recognize it’s The Roots behind this reggae jam by Bloc Party with a fuller, lusher arena rock quality sound.
Now the question begs, what’s the point of getting bands like these and stripping away so much of what makes them real? Why would we want an album replaced with body snatcher versions of many of our favorite acts? Listening to this album will refresh your view of many of these bands. It’s a chance to hear some of them in this completely new way without a lot of the particulars that they’ve built for themselves. As well, they’ve got the time and material constraints and a specific outlook to generate. So, as a fan in general, it’s a break from something we’ve loved about these bands and built up about them. These notions about their sound are so important for fans and for a band to drop them like that and turn such a smiley face to it all makes you think. For most people, it’ll surely give them a new appreciation of what the band’s sound is while hearing a richer diversity in their skillset and thought processes.
This album also stands as a reminder to us of an often forgettable universal truth: It’s just music. Despite the crowds and genres formed like ghetto walls and the bickering and the sheer emotional universe that’s been created by bands for decades, it’s all this highly subjective construct of sounds. No, this album isn’t great and most of you won’t listen to it. But it grabs you by the ears with its simplicity and offers to you music. No pretense, no need for understanding. Just offerings of pure sunshine that range from the hip-hop beats of Biz Markie to dreary psychedelic-lite guitar of Mark Kozelek’s “Bedtime Lullaby”. They’re fast enough and quick enough to dance to and you’re left with nothing but you and the tunes. It’s a way to get back to music the way you did as a child: If you like it, move to it. If not, dance because you can. That’s a life lesson if there ever was one.