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"5 Convincing Reasons to Visit Clementown"

The last time I got out the list format was when I pitched 5 Reasons Gustafer Yellowgold is the Coolest (or Hottest) Kids Concept. With my introduction to Clementown, I feel the need to passionately get on the soapbox once again and drive the point home about this amazingly talented and unabashedly hip music group.
Like many kids’ music projects, Clementown was brought to life when founding members and real-life couple Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty decided to stop complaining about kids’ music and make their own. Kate Lynch already had experience as a commercial vocalist, musician, dancer and creative movement teacher and Chris Beaty was an Academy Award winning composer. They had fallen in love with Calef Brown’s colorful and wholly offbeat book of poems and illustrations called Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, so they took their band name from his poem “Clementown.”

The crazy kids of Clementown
The Calef Brown tie-in was taken a step further when the band decided their first kid-centric project would be Polkabats and Octopus Slacks - The Music!. This 2009 release is comprised of 28 musical interpretations of the marvelously nonsensical poems and folk-art in Calef Brown’s ‘Polkabats’ book and its follow-up “Dutch Sneakers and Fleakeepers.”
Clementown’s first album has since gone on to find critical acclaim and a loyal following in their Minneapolis hometown and the kindie music market. And, Calef Brown himself is quite impressed. “I was just blown away,” said Brown in the Minneapolis’ Southwest Journal. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect that: having every song like a gem, so different from the next.”
You need to take a day trip to this weird and wonderful little town. Here are my Top 5 Reasons To Visit Clementown:
1. Genre-hopping madness
I have never heard a band, regardless of the target age demographic, skip around genres so much and do it so well. Clementown seamlessly switches its musical sound for each of the 28 songs on Polkabats and Octopus Slacks - The Music! to best represent each of Brown’s poems. Just a few examples include Blaxploitation-style soul, low-fi rock, call-and-response blues, buzzy-garage rock, sunny Brit-pop, beat-driven electro, cool jazz, carnival instrumentation and surf music. Their vocal styles and instrumentations faultlessly adapt to each genre making it a fun musical journey for adults and children alike.

Source material
2. A fitting homage to its source material
Calef Brown’s poetry books are truly one-of-kind experiences: a little bit Dr. Seuss, a little bit Shel Silverstien, but mostly his own original folk-art accompanied tales. In the hands of a lesser band, I can see his work being turned into cloying ditties with no appeal to anyone outside of a toddler demographic. But Clementown seem to truly understand Brown’s visions, and the music style they choose for each song perfectly aligns with the illustrations and words and feels spot-on. Like his actual poems, each song paints a little picture. Listen and you will hear stories of an octopus and his new bell-bottoms, a snowman who loves to dance, snails with a penchant for pudding, a surfer with a fear of water, a pirate who uses a carrot as a sword, a grandmother traveling the world with her magic guitar, and many more.
3. Produced for sophisticated tastes of adults and blossoming tastes of kids
As I hinted at above, this album’s production is not meant to appeal solely to the kiddies. Clementown’s production is of such high quality that adults are sure to get on board as well. The adult listener will recognize sounds from modern indie music, their college radio years, pop culture new and old, and some of their favorite current artists. Artists like Clementown may also help fine tune the musical ear of their young listeners, potentially creating a generation of kids who are less interested in factory-created pop.
4. A forwarding-thinking project

Brown brought to life
Clementown is already talking about another collaboration with Brown, and they are also hoping to take the general concept further. After noticing her younger daughter following along to the album while reading Brown’s book, Kate Lynch started to consider how the book/album combination could be used as a literacy project. Plans are in the works for a non-profit organization where the band can start an initiative using “the thriving medium of music to promote the dying medium of books.” Already, Maia has many of the poems/songs memorized, and is now following along with the words in the book as she listens to the CD. She’s definitely starting to do some word recognition, all because of this book/CD. If we can throw in our 2 cents, we see an iPad app here!
5. Insanely fun live shows!
If you check out the videos below, it is clear these guys put on a great show. Between guitar-rocking costumed grandmothers to a dancing funky snowman to backing screens featuring Brown’s images, Clementown puts on a multimedia experience that matches the fun of their album. And the album doesn’t lose anything live, despite the complex production of each song. Best of all, Clementown knows how to get the kids up and dancing.
In review
I am quite surprised Clementown did not come across my radar earlier. I chanced upon them when hearing the Ladytron-esque adaptation of “Moon Reunion” on a kids’ music podcast and immediately sought out their album. I hope audiences and the press also continue to discover this progressive and exceptional project. And while I strongly recommend the Brown books, it is important to note that Clementown’s album does not have to be purchased with the book to enjoy it. These songs can exist alone as charming, unusual tunes kids will delight in. - Nugget Island

"Welcome to Clementown"

Southwest Journal Cover Story. December 28, 2009

Welcome to Clementown
Dylan Thomas

Making music for kids — and their parents

EAST HARRIET — There wasn’t much in the way of children’s music in the home of Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty, even when their daughters — now 13 and almost 5 — were younger.

Their kids grew up on The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix,
Al Green — the acts Lynch and Beaty covered with their band, Clementown. But most music made specifically for kids, which was too often didactic, repetitive and cloyingly sweet, they kept out of the house for fear their children might get hooked.

“As soon as you open the door, you have to continue to live with it because if they like it at all, you brought it up — you can’t make it go away at that point,” Beaty said.

Just a few years later, the East Harriet couple find themse lves in an interesting spot. In December, “Kansas City Octopus,” a funky track from their new album, was in heavy rotation locally on 89.3 The Current’s kids’ music spin-off, Wonderground Radio.

What’s changed? Nothing, really.

“Polkabats and Octopus Slacks — The Music!” is an audio tour through the off-kilter world of poet and illustrator Calef Brown, the author of five books for children. In setting 28 of Brown’s poems to music, Lynch and Beaty walked a fine line: writing hip kids’ music that engages adults with sharp, genre-hopping songwriting.

Getting started

It was local musician Ken Chastain who first introduced his long-time friend to Brown’s books, which combine deadpan rhymes with folk-art illustration style. Friends since high school, Chastain and Beaty attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music together, played in a bunch of loc al bands and now both work as composers.

“Polkabats and Octopus Slacks” quickly became a favorite in the Lynch-Beaty household, so much so that they swiped the title of one poem, “Clementown,” for a band name before they ever thought of setting Brown’s poetry to music.

That day came in early 2006, not long after Lynch and Beaty’s younger daughter, Josephine, was born. Lynch, a former professional dancer who also played in several local bands, was itching for a musical project.

“I wanted to keep playing music but, you know, [I was] a stay at home mom: kind of stuck,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to play out for a while.”

Her first stab at adaptation was a quick sketch for an opera based on the children’s classic “Madeline.” But when she showed it to Beaty, they decided to change course.

“He said, ‘Cool idea, but I hate that book,’” she recalled. “So we just kind of ran through the house and got one of our favorite books.”

That, of course, was “Polkabats and Octopus Slacks,” one of two Brown books set to music for the album. Six months later, they mailed a batch of early recordings to Brown.

“I was just blown away,” recalled Brown, who will fly to Minneapolis from his home in Maine for a January performance with Clementown at the Walker Art Center. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect that: having every song like a gem, so different from the next.”

A mature sound

Brown said he grew up loving Dr. Seuss and John Tenniel’s illustrations for “Alice in Wonderland.” His own illustrations manage to look both naïve and sophisticated, with slightly wacky characters painted in a wide-ranging color palette.

They were inspiring for Lynch and Beaty, who often developed the sound of certain songs based as much on Brown’s images as his words. They hopscotch from pop to folk to reggae to country, creating a unique sonic landscape for each of Brown’s quirky poems.

Beaty, whose composer credits include the 2001 film “Monster’s Ball” and other movies, as well as dozens of television and radio ads, said the experience was similar to scoring a film.

Chastain, who plays on the Clementown album and will join the band on stage at the Walker, said the release of “Polkabats” earlier this year came at a time when the entire genre of children’s music was changing. For the past three or four years, more and more bands have been making albums that appeal to kids without ignoring the parents who may have to hear those songs over and over again, he said.

“It may just be that our demographic, people our age, is starting to make music for children now,” suggested Chastain, a former rocker who now says he gets more pleasure out of playing for young audiences. He also tours with Gustafer Yellowgold, another band that manages to be kid-friendly without driving parents up the wall.

Plans for more

With Beaty, Lynch and Brown all talking about further collaboration, another Clementown recording of Brown’s poetry may be on the horizon. But Lynch and Beaty are interested in expanding the concept even further.

On “Polkabats,” Brown’s poems are translated almost word-for-word into song.Watching her younger daughter follow along in Brown’s book while the Clementown CD played convinced Lynch their recording was more than just an album; it could also be a literacy tool for the iPod generation.

They hope to establish a nonprofit to support the work of, as Lynch put it: “using the thriving medium of music to promote t he dying medium of books.”

Navigating the unfamiliar world of children’s book publishing and working out the sticky issues of copyright won’t be easy, they acknowledged. For now, they’re just enjoying playing for adventurous listeners, young and old.

“Every kid — like every adult — they’re going to be into something different,” Lynch said. “So if the content, if the lyrics are kid friendly, [then] let the music rip.”

FYI ...

Live performances of “Polkabats and Octopus Slacks — The Music!” featuring Calef Brown and Clementown are 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Jan. 2 at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S. 375-7600.

The event is part of the museum’s Free First Saturday family event, Hooked on Books, which runs from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Dylan Thomas - Southwest Journal (Dec 28, 2009) - Minnesota Premier Publication


Out With The Kids - Jeff Bogle's reveiw of Polkabats and Octopus Slacks - The Music!

The Sound: Everything, plus the kitchen sink, washing machine and Cuisinart. There are no fewer than 5 genres of music explored over the course of the 28 tracks included here. A sprawling, glorious and beautiful mess of an album.

In the Cafeteria, They Sit With: Recess Monkey, Gustafer Yellowgold, They Might Be Giants

Best Moments: "Kansas City Octopus" may go down as my all-time favorite song under 100-seconds long. And while I contend that Calef Brown's image of the funky octopus will add greatly to the enjoyment of this incredible, funkdafied track, it's still a gem of a song without the pictorial aid. The Muddy Waters-inspired "Seven Bad Teeth" is a riot. The bubble-gum pop of "Gumbubble Monday" could be a top-40 hit in an alternate, better universe, while "Mulligan Poker" is as good a country song as there is if, you know, there were country songs about two dogs playing a silly game where "the only rule is to act like a fool and pretend the cards are the same".

Bonus Thoughts: The Clementown CD has just one Calef Brown book in it's title ("Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks"), but the album's 28 tracks cover all the stories in this book and "Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers".

Okay, Time to Wrap it Up with a Nice Little Bow: One word - Obsessed. My two girls have embedded the Clementown CD and both Calef Brown books into their brains. At random, they will shout the following absurdities: "Sleeping Fruit", "Polka Turds", "Go Snowman, Go Snowman" and many more lyrics/song titles from this CD. The Bear and Mouse have fallen head over heels for the music and the books, and the Mrs. and I have as well. I strongly advise you pick up the affordable, paperback books to accompany the disc. If you're reading OWTK and you've made it down here to the last sentence, I feel pretty strongly in stating that you too are going to fall in love with the absurdity that is Clementown.

Jeff Bogle - Out With The Kids (Dec 16, 2009)
- Jeff Bogle's Out With The Kids


The debut album from Twin Cities band Clementown, Polkabats and Octopus Slacks - The Music, takes a slightly different approach to poetry. They used a couple books of poetry from the author/illustrator Calef Brown (the book giving the album its title and its sequel Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers) and crafted 28 distinct songs for its 28 distinct poems. (The somewhat askew viewpoints of the poems' subjects owe a small debt in some way to Silverstein.) These aren't long poems and the band doesn't attempt to craft choruses or extend the text in anyway, so the songs are rarely more than 2 minutes long. As a result, you're forced to move onto the next song -- like "Kansas City Octopus" 1 minute and 39 seconds into the funky groove or the indie-pop-tastic "Gum Bubble Monday" just 83 seconds into the song -- no matter how much you're enjoying it. It's like listening to a poetry-centric version of TMBG's Dial-A-Song service. I also dug the southern rock of "The Bathtub Driver" and the slow, off-kilter sound of "Ed," among other tracks.
What's most impressive about the set of songs is how much attention is paid to painting a picture with the songs. Clementown's Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty work to create distinct worlds for each of the songs -- the funkiness of "Funky Snowman," the slightly seedy sound of "Fleakeepers," the Chris-Isaak-on-kids-music sound of "Desert Surfer" -- and for the most part they succeed in creating those worlds.
The songs will be of most interest to kids ages 4 through 9. You can listen to several tracks from the 46-minute album at the band's Myspace page or watch some videos at its main page (be sure to check out the video page as well). You can also purchase the disk (in mp3 format and listen to more clips at the album's CDBaby page.) I'd also note that while you can enjoy the album without the two books which inspired the band, the books are worth reading both for the text and Brown's vivid drawings. (So, hey, Houghton Mifflin, get a 2-book/CD combo out pronto, OK?) In any case, these, too, are a fun set of poems and a unique set of songs that will entertain quite a few families regardless of their poetry proficiency. Recommended.
Stefan - (Nov 19, 2009) - Stefan Sheperd


"The recent Clementown/Polkabats presentation at the Walker was simply amazing/sensational/jaw-dropping/mind-bending (choose several). I have not seen as fine a spectacle, encompassing all the arts and then some, since the hey-day of the Jeune Lune. I was actually moved to tears (which was a little embarrassing since all the other parents and children were applauding, dancing and laughing their butts off). If you haven't seen Clementown, and even more so if you have, keep your eyes open for their next gig."
-Grandpa of four

"Your disk Polkabats... has been on in my house 24/7. THANK YOU!"
-happy parent

"When there is a gaggle of girls at my house I know just what to do to get some fun going. I Put the Clementown CD in and they come up
with all sorts of crazy dances and imaginary games. Sometimes it is a circus song that plays over and over and if I try to change it to
save my sanity the protests begin. Other times they turn on a disco ball and dance around it. I am lucky enough to have three girls and
lots of friends over often and I wish I had been taking pictures! I have only had the CD for two weeks and have used it to entertain the masses at my house several times since. It is now # 1 on our play list over World Playground. Thank you for making kids music that keeps parents happy too!!! "
-minneapolis mom of three - Self


PolkaBats and Octopus Slacks-The MUSIC!
Rubber Ducky: Bathtime songs for Youngsters, available only at Target.
Kate and Chris have released other recordings with other bands previous to the formation of Clementown.



Kate and Chris have laid best selling children's book author Calef Brown's books to music. In this project Clementown set out to test the limits of what is and what is not 'kids music'. Can music just be 'good music', appropriate for human consumption at whatever age you happen to be this year? Can the music kid's dig be a little spooky, kooky or just plain funky...?

Kate rocks the bass, Chris the guitar and much more. We are both singers, songwriters, parents, life partners and happy to be alive and well in Minneapolis!

A massively attended show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis proved that this band is beyond entertaining. We give the word 'show' new meaning with live dance and live drawing on stage during our kid's-rock-show-dance-party.

This project is part of our Books-to-Music organization whose mission is:Through the thriving medium of pop-music we will bring the dying medium of the book back into children's hands!