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

Elska – Middle Of Nowhere Kid’s CD Review *UPDATED with Video**

ELSKA MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

I’m no rabble-rouser. I don’t incite debates nor do I intentionally cause awkward situations, but holy hell do I love to witness them and, on occasion, throw myself into the uncomfortableness of it all.

When a polarizing idea/person/project/situation comes to the forefront, I am not afraid to take a stand, assuming I come to a side honestly. This is, funnily enough and apropos of nothing, the exact opposite personality trait of my first serious lady friend who, believe it or not, had zero opinions.  None. Nada. Zilch.  A great match, we were not.

Elska, a visually stunning and musically divisive new kindie music project from NYC singer/actress Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo, split the room during, after, and in the weeks that followed their Kindiefest 2012 industry-only showcase performance. Every jaw was dropped but two camps quickly formed: those whose dropped in awe and those in ugh.  At first blush, Wollert’s campy attire, arts-n-crafts pom-pom headpiece, and obvious pre-toddler bent felt cartoonish in a condescendingly aloof kind of way — like a more-polished Barney or a less-nonsensical Teletubbies.  I understood the place where this gut emotion would originate, but couldn’t have disagreed with the stance more vehemently.  My internal BS meter, a state of the art device if ever there was one, didn’t chime once during the set.  I could sense something special was happening on stage.  To hear Wollert and Farmelo discuss the Elska project off-stage and out of costume, and to later sink deep into their debut album Middle of Nowhere, is to realize that what the pair are after, ultimately, is something pure of heart, unique, musically sophisticated, and, quite frankly, absolutely breathtaking. And they’ve accomplished all of that in spades.  Plus, it is just too odd all-around to be a blatant grab at low-hanging TV-money fruit. There is a real love here.  And that is why I’d argue until the very end about its merits artistically, and its worth in our children’s lives.

It took my girls, each of them probably technically out of Elska’s target age-range, less than 20 minutes to fall right in love with the CD advance of Middle of Nowhere I brought home from Brooklyn in early May.  From then on, Elska was playing non-stop, in its entirety, for about 6-weeks with no skipping tracks, no rushing to get to a favorite song.  We return to it now and again fondly, like visiting a dear old friend with whom you shared such memorable adventures.  The disc has a noticeable arc that softly forces your hand, like any good concept album should, to give it a go from the top and through to its conclusion (the poetic & lovely “Frozen in Time”) every single time.  Middle of Nowhere doesn’t tell a story so much as it flies you over the invented, magical land that’s home to a wise winter bear, a sleepy arctic fox, something called a Goobler, and a colony of lost socks, like one of those ‘from the air’ helicopter travel documentaries; peaceful, engrossing eye (and ear) candy that presses our pause button, allowing the relative stillness brought on by such an elegant thing to usher some bit of unexpected joy into our suddenly wide-open hearts.

**UPDATE 9/19/12**
Oh my, oh my…check out the 125% adorable video for my favorite song from the album, “Arctic Fox”, which features the stop-motion talents of animator Andy Biddle (Fantastic Mr. Fox, ParaNorman, Wallace & Gromit.) That is one crazy cute, melt-your-heart fox!

The music’s vibraphonic soundscapes and Wollert’s confident-yet-tender voice are ever bit as enchanting as Nilsson’s The Point! and as endearing as early Sesame Street absurdity, only without the decades of hipster cache of the former and the revered educational philosophy of the latter.  But, given time and an expansion into other media, Elska may one day join their ranks as beloved staples of a most brilliant and curious childhood.

I’ll make one conceit: that “Man-Made Hole” is a grating 120 seconds.  But the other 24 minutes of Middle Of Nowhere are gorgeous and magical.

This album, its fictional Icelandic back story, and the soon to be released series of videos shot on location on the remote European island, are as much a passionate modern art installation as a kid’s media endeavor.  In the end, Elska’s Middle of Nowhere is a transcendent work that your young children will adore and hold dear.

Listen to “Artic Fox”, the prettiest song of the lot, on the September episode of the OWTK Kid’s Music Monthly Podcast.  And hear “Click Click”, the very Bishop Allen-y upbeat tune in heavy rotation right now on Sirius XM Kids Place Live (Channel 78).

*OWTK received a copy of Elska’s Middle of Nowhere for review consideration.  The opinions above are honest and unbiased, as always.

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