A mark of a great rock record is how badly it makes the listener want to see the band live. I can recall countless conversations with my friends throughout the years lamenting the fact that they will never get to see Zeppelin or Floyd in action. This is a quality that The Not-Its! newest record, Are You Listening?, absolutely has — and honestly, that kind of weirds me out. I am 24 years of age, and their music, described as “kindie rock,” is targeted towards 7–12-year-olds. But hey, that classic John Goodmanson production, mixed with the band’s inherent penchant for epic pop-rock chord progressions, is a powerful thing. (Also, let’s face it — the record’s opening lyrics, “1, 2, 3, come and dance with me,” aren’t really that different from most radio pop songs, anyway.)
I don’t have a kid, but if I did, this is the record I think I would be least annoyed by if my kid got totally obsessed with it. The vocals (courtesy of indie rock legend Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl) fall somewhere between riot grrrl and the B-52s, and the guitars just rip. The lyrics are also kind of punk: “Done with the Science Fair” is all about a child who just can’t take it anymore, and decides to just throw some tape on cardboard and call it good. However, this surrender doesn’t come from a place of apathy. “Don’t get me wrong, I love science, I really do,” she assures the listener; she is just against the academic bureaucracy that bogs it down. As someone who has seen friends lose interest in their fields due to the tedium of writing countless grants for access to ever-diminishing funds and pushing against the patriarchal barriers held in place by academia, this is a moral I can get behind.
Engagement is a thread that actually runs solidly through the Not-Its!’ work. “Traffic Jam” is a track about turning the most mundane and boring moments of life into catalysts for creativity, which I think is a really wonderful message.
In a genre that is intentionally gimmicky, the Not-Its! have found a really great niche. They are the party rockers, the Kiss stage show-havers, they are the first real rock n’ roll show a kid is going to see. They aren’t just going to teach lessons about the alphabet or basic congressional procedure; they’re here to instill a sense of creativity and a love of loud guitars in a child, and that’s really cool.
I will say I totally disagree with “Don’t Fear the Dentist,” though. Dentists are terrifying, and that’s just a fact.
(Are You Listening? is available for purchase through The Not-Its!’ Bandcamp page, thenot-its.bandcamp.com. Watch the official music video for “Dance With Me” below via YouTube.)