January 9, 2013

Good Mews, Everyone

"We're Like Totally!, and it's party time!"

With this raucous cry begins Good Mews, the Kickstarter-funded debut album from the long-running local "kindie rock" outfit. What follows is 25 minutes of pathologically catchy, criminally ridiculous music, a straight-up silly set of songs ostensibly geared towards children but, also, as that somewhat awkward genre tag suggests, hip, discerning parent-approved.

And even if you're not a parent, chances are you'll find something to like here; this stuff is, by and large, irresistible. A lot of that has to do with the fact that, unlike most contemporary "adult" music, there is no irony involved in Like Totally!'s artistic approach. To listen to Good Mews is to realize how cynical you have become—you crabby old coot—but it is also to rediscover a certain youthful joy.

"I've always really loved animals, and happy things, and positive outlooks," says frontwoman and "Lady Scientist" Jenny Woodward. "Children's music is [about] being yourself, and finding happiness with your friends and your pets. I guess I'm just a kid at heart, too, so it comes naturally to me to write that kind of music."

Like Totally! was initially designed, way back in 2006, as a grown-up band, sort of. "I came up with the band name first," Woodward recalls, "and I was like, 'That's an awesome band name; so there we go.'"

Soon enough, she realized her true calling. "I wrote the song 'Dolphins, Unicorns and Bananas'—after I wrote it, I was reading [the lyrics], and I was like, 'I should probably stick to writing kids' music.'"

The cast of characters supporting Lady Scientist has changed since then (the band now includes Friendly Pirate, Unruly Cowboy, Magic Mac, Mrs. Berry Bear and Farmer Jones, along with a rotating cast of costumed backup dancers), but "Dolphins, Unicorns and Bananas" shows up on Good Mews, as do other literally titled tunes: "Millions of Things" (there are a lot of things in the world); "Things That Fly" (like rocketships, planes and birds); "Cookies" (which is, like many great works of art, both an ode to love and a cautionary tale).

For engineer Joel Hatstat, who recorded Good Mews while also working on a couple albums from heavy local rock bands, this unabashed earnestness was a welcome respite.

"Every person in that band has such absurd enthusiasm for what they [are] doing," he says. "They are [so] into what they're doing, and they're into being a band for kids. And the songs themselves—just the sheer jubilation and the sheer positive energy they're trying to put forth is something I can respect and relate to."

Indeed, what elevates Like Totally!'s tunes above most kiddie jams is the sense that Woodward and company really believe in what they're doing, like, totally.

"I love doing [kids' music]." Woodward says. "I definitely want to do it for the rest of my life."

And when they're not singing about unicorns, the music often exudes an adult-level depth. (See "Sail Baby Sail," a gorgeously ambiguous lullaby.) As a bonus, the band boasts an uncanny ability to maintain a super-straight face throughout, so that lyrics like "From these cookies/ A child cannot grow," delivered as they are with a dramatic, slow-mo flourish, feel far more deep and revelatory than is actually the case.

Then again, to a kid, everything is revelatory, and much of the album's charm comes from the vocal contributions of a lucky group of young Like Totally! fans, who pop up throughout, in choruses, inter-song skits and randomized explosions of cheering. (Hatstat recalls working with children in the studio, a first: "They just did two takes, and then it was snack time.")

With countless birthday parties and library performances under its belt, and now the album, the band's local presence continues to grow. Not only has it earned a cult-like following among a certain swath of Athens youth, but it's also converted quite a few parents in the process. It's not uncommon, at a Like Totally! gig, to see moms and dads joining their kids in joyous, impromptu dance sessions; you get the sense that they're losing themselves in the music more than they might care to admit.

The group celebrates the release of Good Mews with an afternoon show at the 40 Watt this Saturday—the theme for the performance is "Time Travel," and yes, costumes are encouraged. Then, Woodward says, the band dreams of landing a coveted slot at Brooklyn's Kindiefest. After that, the sky is the limit. Tour? Check. A public television show? Already in the works—at least in Woodward's mind.
"We have a couple things to figure out," she says. "Like, most of the band doesn't even have a car. We have to figure out transportation. But I'm sure that will come in time."

Kids of all ages, take note: positive thinking. After all, it's brought Like Totally! this far.

WHO: Like Totally!
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Saturday, January 12
HOW MUCH: $5 ($20 max for families with 4 or more)