A few weeks ago we had The Doubleclicks on the show (you can see a video here) in support of their kids’ record Worst Superpower Ever. Prior to their visit, I’d listened to that a few times, along with their non-kids’ stuff, and enjoyed it all plenty. And the in-studio was super fun — the songs were of course witty and a nice change of pace in the kids’ world, as were the band members (sisters Aubrey and Angela), but what was maybe the best was watching them talk with Ella off-air. Grownups who spoke her language.
A week or so later, the band was kind enough to send an advance download of their new (not-for-kids) record, Lasers and Feelings. And it is, well, pretty great, and it made me pay closer attention.
Easy stuff to talk about first: They’ve added way more instrumentation to their guitar-and-cello core setup, and it sounds great. (As usual, I think many sax solos would be improved with trombone, but the sax solos on here largely work, and clarinets are great.) That’s not to say I don’t like the usual setup — it highlights their voices and lyrics nicely, and is certainly a nice change of pace from your standard band lineup — but it’s fun to hear some other instruments in the mix too.
Like I said, that’s the obvious stuff, and that — along with their usual witty lyrics and a growing nerd fanbase — is presumably why they just announced that they hit the Billboard Top Ten for comedy albums.
Here’s the thing though: Lasers and Feelings is not just a comedy album. I think it’s a (very funny) feminist album. (And putting it in the “comedy” category tends to distract from the fact that they’re excellent songwriters, both lyrically and melodically. This is not a novelty act.)
Sure, the album is funny — very funny at times — and there are certainly songs that are primarily for laughs (“The Guy Who Yelled Freebird,” “Rock Star Life,” etc.). And every song has humor at its creamy nougat center.
But I like to think of Lasers and Feelings as the sequel to Science Fair. (Granted, Angela and Aubrey didn’t have Science Fair until I handed it to them, and I’ve no idea if they’ve listened to it. Presumably they didn’t listen to it, travel back in time, and make Lasers and Feelings intending it to be a sequel. But stay with me here.)
Science Fair was (for me, and for I think all of the producers and artists) about giving girls power, to emphasize that there is no part of society where they don’t belong — about being themselves without being mocked, about feeling not just okay but awesome with being smart. That basic idea — everybody gets to be in every room — is what a lot of Lasers and Feelings is about too, albeit at a slight angle.
Consider the core song representing that idea, “Nothing to Prove.” (The video for it, featuring clips from fans all over, is supposed to be up soon.) In it, the band sings about finding their way into the nerd community — on much the same path that Ella is on right now — only to run into the notion of “fake geek girl tests”:
I know it feels good to have a contest you win; it would feel better if I wanted in. So women aren’t geeks, is that your conclusion? That this is some secret club based on exclusion? Twelve-year-old dorks would say that you’re being selfish, and then go and write in their journals in Elvish. * * * I’ve got cred but honestly I shouldn’t need it; this world needs all kinds of folks to complete it. You’ve got gamers and aritsts and comic subscribers, cosplayers, crafters, and fan fiction writers. You can stop – never say ‘fake geek’ again. Our club needs no bouncers; all who want can get in. But go ahead, if you want to own that role fully – I’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.
That is, I submit, the next step from Science Fair, especially the Nields’ song “Butterfly” and Rachel Loshak’s lovely “Oh Girl.” The former acknowledges how much it can suck out loud to be a smart (nerdy?) girl:
I know metamorphosis means you have to go to pieces first; things will not get better, ’til they get a whole lot worse. They are laughing in the girls’ room — they think they’re tearing down the sky. When I come out, finally find me, you’ll see a gold flight as we fly by, as I fly by…
And it’s not just The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove.” “Oh, Mr. Darcy” provides a nice reminder not to get distracted by a British accent (“If a boy treats you with tasteful indifference, if he is handsome but bristly and cold, don’t be intrigued just because he’s ignoring you — not every asshole has a heart of gold.”). “The Mystery’s Gone” points out how much one’s online presence can differ from their reality.
My point? Here, I’ve got one: If you’ve been listening to the show since we started (eight years in a couple of weeks!), you may well have a kid (boy or girl) who could use some of what’s on this album. (You’d probably like it too.)
It would be easy to get distracted by the plentiful laughs on Lasers and Feelings, and then you’d miss what is a really strong record with a resonant message. I cannot wait for Ella to get back from camp to hear it. I am positive it’s going to hit the spot for her. It is not a kids’ record — as you can see above, it has some language you might not love and some themes that aren’t aimed at the younger kids.
But it absolutely reflects much of how I want my kids to grow up: smart, funny, and — most importantly — being who they are.
(Also: writing in Elvish.)
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my brother and sister-in-law Mike & Jenn for introducing me to the band. They saw (if I remember right) their first public gig!