The Golden State by the Hipwaders
REM may be gone, but at least we still have the Hipwaders. Yes, they’re technically a children’s band, but close your eyes, listen to the track, “Hey, Josie” off of their new album, The Golden State, and tell me you can’t picture Michael Stipe swinging around a microphone stand. And then the song will suddenly surprise you by veering into a Beach Boys-esque ba-ba-ba-ba bridge. It's those sort of style-morphing musical moments that make listening to the CD so exciting. While I stick by the REM comparison — and songs like “Welcome to California” feel like they could have been bonus tracks on Green — the Hipwaders are not mere sound-alikes. Could these guys be an awesome REM tribute band if they wanted to be? I'm sure. But their original music is far from derivative.
For one thing, there’s a West Coast surf sound underlying a lot of what the Hipwaders do (appropriate for an album titled Golden State). And bouncy ska beats weave their way in often, tying the ‘80s college-radio vibe to a ‘00s college-radio vibe. Add funky guitar licks and ‘60s-style harmonic vocal riffs, and you’ve got an fantastically distinctive sound.
I’ve been listening to the album on repeat for the past couple of days. And that’s even when the kids haven't been home. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that I’m singing along with songs about pet dogs, standing up to bullies, and playing with toy trains. It’s certainly no worse than belting out, “Stand in the place where you live/ Now face north.”
For a second opinion on Golden State, check out this thoughtful assessment from my friend and colleague, Myles McDonnell, on his blog, You Know… For Kids.
Best for: Parents who think they hate all children’s music; children who think they hate all children's music; fans of REM who would have liked to see the group bitten by Vampire Weekend