In “Songs From the Science Frontier,” Stillwater’s Harper takes cutting-edge science research and explains it to kids in song format: phototactic bacteria, wheat genomics and luminescence dating, among other things. It’s a testament to his lyrical ability that it’s not only explained well, but rhymes. Talk about challenging yourself.
With a project like that, the music is the easy part. (Have you tried rhyming with “hydrothermal vent,” or decided that “super-heated effluent” was the answer?) Harper excels at that as well, pulling liberally from mid-to-late-era Beatles for inspiration. “Microbe Hunter,” which holds the previous rhyme, calls the Fab Four to mind in the best way via instrumental and vocal rhythms — it’s one of the highlights.
“It’s Not Fair” sings from the point of view of a developmental psychologist’s child (“We never have a normal argument, ’cause she’ll just run an experiment”), and features Sugar Free Allstars on organ and drums for another high point. The bouncy, acoustic guitar-laden track is fun in a totally non-smarmy way. “Wind Energy” jacks Fountains of Wayne’s pseudo-psychedelic pop sound for a song that could totally fit on any hipster’s mix CD. As with They Might Be Giants’ work, it’s impossible to tell what’s designed for kids and what’s made for adults. Solution: Both should enjoy it.
“Songs from the Science Frontier” is grin-inducing fun for any adult, parents or no.
Oh, and kids, too. —Stephen Carradini