The Pop Ups – Radio Jungle

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Let’s start off with the full disclosure that I work with musician/composer/educator Jared Stein, the brother of Jacob Stein, who, with Jason Rabinowitz, comprises The Pop Ups. As is his low-key way, Jared did no more than mention there would be a follow-up to the shining debut disc, Outside Voices (#2 on the Family Man Recommends best of 2010 list). Instead, Jared’s pride in his brother’s work was reflected in the way he let the album speak for itself.

I’d like to do the same here by just encouraging you to scoop up this recording right away, but I have a habit of writing about music I like, so indulge me as I introduce one of the more adventurous bunches of family songs to come along this or any year.

Because Stein and Rabinowitz have developed a show (premiering in their home city of Brooklyn later this month) that features the songs of Radio Jungle, the whole album has a theatrical quality that engages young listeners to learn and laugh as they listen. An Outkast meets Earth, Wind & Fire influence shimmers through “Connect the Stars,” which will make kids boogie while they sing along about seeing animals in the night sky. The song benefits from the addition of Shine and the Moonbeams’ Shawana Kemp vocalizing with the guys. “Math Rock” veers to a more contemporary indie-rock sound as it inspires kids to count with the music. “Box of Crayons” continues the rocking out as it extols the benefits of coloring your own pictures of the world. The duo flies to Eastern Europe for a musical departure highlighted by strings and a clarinet on “Feelings Change.”

Rhythms from the real jungles of Latin America breeze throughout a number of the pieces, as shown on “The Bat,” which stirs up mystery and light about the winged mammal. Two of the liveliest tracks are about stuff you pick and eat. “Best Fruit” layers in character voices with its Ozomatli-like mix for an interactive salad of a tune and “Banana” gets all Caribbean on us in its lesson on one of the world’s most
popular fruits.

Radio Jungle has a little bit of Sesame Street and a lot of musical ingenuity that pushes well beyond the usual boundaries of family music. With it, the Pop Ups have quickly secured their place as one of the genres leading lights. – $10 (CD)/$9 (Digital) – Ages 2 to 9

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