Album Review: Kimya Dawson – Alphabutt

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Kimya Dawson was a relatively unknown musician years ago in the unapologetically irreverent band the Moldy Peaches, but after gaining a rabid following in the past year and a half, the Olympia, Washington native’s name is now pretty synonymous with terms such as “precious” and “juvenile.” Thanks to the 2007 film Juno and its soundtrack  largely comprised of Dawson’s (and the Peaches’) brand of jangly pop songs, her notoriety is continuing to grow. This past March during the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, her in-store performance at Waterloo Records drew a large and interesting crowd of people of all ages; I can only assume it was attributed to her exposure from the family-friendly film.

It was at this performance where I, and that crowd, were first introduced to songs off her forthcoming children’s album, Alphabutt (K Records, September 2008). Songs like the title track drew laughs and smiles from the adoring crowd who were glued in on every word. But with lyrics like “A is for apple, B is for Butt. C is for Cat-butt. D is for Doo-Doo”, she couldn’t be serious, could she? Creating an album of songs with this level of scatological weirdness? Really?

She was.

Alphabutt rounds out at a short 27 minutes on 15 songs, all minimally constructed with clever wit and a penchant for fart references. Dawson welcomed many of her musician friends and their children, including her own, to help record the nursery-school rhymes. Lyrically, there are times when her message is a little more advanced than the music suggests, such as in “Robbie-O” where the main character “did something naughty,” as well as in “Keep on Writing” where she speaks of a student’s journey of self-discovery through his own creative voice. Clearly, the album appeals to small sponge-like children, however, because with catchy rhythms and simplistic lyrics, they can sing along.

Some of the language may make parents weary though. It should be noted that some of the subject matter (fecal matter, for instance) may be deemed inappropriate, so before any parents run out to purchase this album for their children, it would be best that they know this. The album is clever and doesn’t stray too far sonically from Remember That I Love You, her 2006 release which included stand-outs “Tire Swing” and “Loose Lips”. Lyrically, that album was geared towards juveniles and teenagers, though, and not infants and kindergartners.

Dawson walked a tight-line with this ambitious project, and the end result isn’t anything other than a gimmick for children. I don’t consider her disingenuous. I really do believe she loved making this album, and as a proud new mother (her daughter, Panda Delilah, is displayed and mentioned repeatedly on her Myspace space), the album seems like a self-fulfilling personal accomplishment. But would I recommend it to anyone without children? That would be a no. Dawson’s been backed into a corner, and with the wave of success from Juno, one can only assume how much pressure she put on herself. But she should be commended for sticking to what she wanted to do, even if it theoretically is unable to have mass appeal, rather than rehash a slew of what she’s already done before. Fans from Juno, like me, admittedly, may be disappointed with this release. But those who have followed her career and have been waiting for the new tracks (she released nine of these on tour last year on an EP, with each case being individually crafted) may find some peace and some humor in the new tales of potty-training and baby-monsters.

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