I knew that there was something familiar about THE POP UPS when I gave their new album RADIO JUNGLE a first-listen last month. That familiarity might be that 50% of The Pop Ups is Jason Rabinowitz, who also fronts THE BLOODSUGARS – a band I’d previously landed upon via their Daytrotter session awhile back. The other 50% of the duo comes through Jacob Stein, founder of an acclaimed early childhood music program in NYC. Together they make some fine, pop-infused kid’s music that holds the power to compel the little ones into a booty-shaking frenzy. This, I tell you from witnessing it first-hand. Indeed, my daughter has been enjoying RADIO JUNGLE, and as of this week – your kids can enjoy it as well.
It often seems as if Brooklyn is at the center of the indie rock universe, and if anything, The Pop Ups reflect a lot of what’s going on in that world. There’s a distinct “New York” feel to the songs on RADIO JUNGLE, many of which manifest themselves in my mind as sort of a hipper version of the SESAME STREET of the 1970’s. Come to think of it, that door that The Pop Ups enter through at the beginning of their recent video for “Box of Crayons” looks a little familiar…
As if I’ve seen it somewhere before…
Since music is a subjective art form, it’s possible that I’m connecting imaginary dots. Then again, it could all be very calculated.
Regardless, there’s plenty of fun to be had on this album, particularly on the first half – the A-Side if this were on wax. “Connect the Stars” gets things started by bringing in Shawana Kemp (aka “Shine”) of SHINE & THE MOONBEAMS for some guest vocals in an ode to the shining elements of the night sky. The reggae-tinged vibe of “The Bat” firmly establishes the ‘Jungle’ vibe of the record, while the aforementioned “Box of Crayons” is a true standout, and it’s obvious why the duo chose it for their first single and video from the album.
“Pop Up City” is another gem, the soundtrack to a vibrant world built on a foundation of 1980’s PRINCE-inspired synth and guitar licks, with narration that sometimes borrows inflection from the B-52’s Fred Schneider. You could easily create a children’s show based solely upon this song.
On “Math Rock,” the subject matter turns numeric, while subtly including a time signature that could be applied to bands that fall within the genre from which the song takes its name. The back half of the album, or B-side, is a little more cinematic – like Moulin Rouge in a grass hut. Bananas and other fruits get their sonic due, as does an “Elephant” in keeping with the “Jungle” theme. It’s the stylistic shift in these later songs that could be viewed as jarring by some listeners, my toddler included as they didn’t hold her attention like the first batch. At the same time, these latter songs are some of the most creative, and I appreciate them a great deal, particularly the foot-stomping number called “Feelings Change.“
The Rock Father™ Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
FTC Disclosure: A copy of The Pop Ups’ RADIO JUNGLE was provided to The Rock Father for the purpose of this review. All opinions presented on this page are that of James Zahn, who will gladly tell you if something is good or bad.