Best New Children's Music 2012 / OWTK Kindie Album Reviews

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – Make Believers CD Review


You know the story of that Neil Young album? The one he made on his way out of a record contract, after an already tense album release; ’twas an LP meant to satisfy a requirement.  Turns out, it wasn’t quite Neil Young-ish enough to please the record label and, well, they sued him for failure to make a Neil Young record. It’s a hilarious footnote in rock-n-roll history.

Why do I bring that up now? Not because Secret Agent 23 Skidoo pulled a fast one on, um, himself (Skidoo self-releases his music, save for a brief relationship with Happiness Records). Instead, in Make Believers, Cactus aka Joel Sullivan aka Secret Agent 23 Skidoo has made the album he always wanted to make, an ambitious one with a noticeably harder edge.  I should pause here to qualify that previous remark: this batch of tunes is not machete sharp; no one will get sliced in a street fight listening to this album, unless you are actually in a heinous street fight while listening to this album (which would be crazy strange), but there are times when Make Believers sounds like a more dangerous hip-hop disc than anything that has come before it.

I don’t think this is an accident.

Now listen up longtime Skidoo fans, there is nothing to fear. Really. Your Asheville boy hasn’t sold out, he hasn’t gone gangsta in vibe or content, nor is he going for bling-bling. No, what I mean to say is that Make Believers is a 200 level class in kid-hop, with his previous two, highly decorated albums as the prereq.  As on Easy and Underground Playground, there’s some patented 23 Skidoo embellishments that are present: that Asheville, NC bluegrassy flair and those TRL-worthy adult female hooks, most notably.  And then there’s Skidoo’s daughter Saki aka MC Fireworks.  She is ten-years-old now and can be heard all over the new album, showing off a growing confidence and maturity behind the mic.  If you hate kids singing, this isn’t good news for you, but man is she rad. Her appearances soften and enlighten.

The intensity of Make Believers is evident from the jump, with a pounding version of the familiar Jack & the Beanstalk tale that plays up one of Skidoo’s favorite memes: magic or magical thinking or the mysticism of childhood dreams and whimsy.  The superstar track “Little Space Cadet”, a daydreamer joint that has my girls going gaga, follows. Bear & Mouse spin this one roughly 4,520,178 times each day — yet they still can’t memorize all of MC Fireworks explosive, adorable inquiries!  The stone-cold killer hook in the chorus though?  My girls got that down pat, oh yeah, with proper cadence, et al.

The gauntlet is then thrown down in the form of “Braincloud”, a demonstrative rap about the run up to a child’s tantrum. It’s a blistering, head-banging thing; the antonym to timid.  Let’s just say that a kid-hop act in a bear suit wouldn’t dare record a song like this and while I don’t even personally care for the heartbeat accelerator, I applaud the inclusion of such an aggressive number. I’m all for envelope-pushing.

The rear of the disc, usually referred to as an album’s ass because it’s where artists bury their most craptastic tracks needed to fill out a 30+minute record, shines brightly.  Secret Agent 23 Skidoo revs his storytelling engine at the close with “Gotta Be You”, the other side of the same coin to his breakout hit “Gotta Be Me”, and “Get Back Home” where he spits a clever first day of school yarn in a charmingly youthful voice. “Gotta Be You” (video below) includes a heavy contribution from MC Fireworks including the best lyric on the entire disc: “I shine and I’m beautiful / and I got a mind that’s unusual”.

On this one, Skidoo ruminates on his other favorite topic – friendship true and friendship pure.  As a father, role model, and artist he makes no secret of his distaste for all things fake, and fake friends who bully, mock, coerce, and conspire to dent self-esteem feel his lyrical wrath most often.  I contend that children who listen to Secret Agent 23 Skidoo are 83% more likely to be awesome, and I define awesome this way: unique, confident, mentally and physically strong, and most importantly of all, happy.  So very happy.

In between the bookends, we get a soulful, finger-snapping take on a child’s middle of the night journey into mom and dad’s bed (“Nightmares Disappear”), a saucy Latin zinger (“Hot Sauce”), a wistful duet with Molly Ledford (of Lunch Money) on “Snowforts and Sandcastles” which features the 2nd best lyric on the disc:

“if someone put songs to the movie of my life / yeah that album would sound groovy all right / but there would have to be a few / at least one or two / that were blue / for days that I don’t know what to do / for days that my smile has an unexcused absence…”

and also the alternately named title track “Make the Future” in which we imagine a world were the dreamers, idealist thinkers, and make believers reign supreme. Think: “We Are The World”, with a sick beat, and updated for the 21st century.

In its entirety, the album bobs and weaves through the many confusions, fears, joys, and tribulations that make up the childhood experience.  There is, as there must be, anger, melancholy, unbridled passion, and copious amounts happiness in these songs — and because life here is presented with the ideal blend of whimsy and realism, children are able to connect to and also disconnect from all that surrounds them on a daily basis.  Make Believers overflows with spirit and heart, with imagination and great skill.  It is a triumph.

Make Believers is available as a download from Amazon for just $5.99 at the time of this review being published.  I don’t know how long that great price will last, so you shouldn’t hesitate.

*OWTK received a copy of Make Believe for review consideration.  The opinions express above are honest & unbiased, as always.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial