Hot on the heels of last year’s sonic dream of an album, Lullaby, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, Justin Roberts, returns with Recess, his ninth release to date. Read on to find out about the goodies that await you with the purchase of the album and why you won’t find Recess on Spotify.
Roberts’ music creates what I like to call the Pixar effect. Like Pixar films, Roberts’ music consistently appeals to the hearts and minds of both adults and children, contains incredible visuals delivered through extraordinary songwriting, and makes a commitment to bringing a sense of wonder and imagination into his songs. Similar to the relationships between characters in movies like WALL·E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Monsters, Inc, Roberts understands the kinds of relationships that define us – both familial and friendship based (whether real or imaginary). And when you add in the exceptional talent of producer Liam Davis and the rest of the Not Ready for Naptime Players, everything becomes illuminated.
Recess is a joy of an album. It’s Em and I refer to as “happy time” each time we play it. Opening the album is the energetic title track, which reels listeners in with Roberts’ signature power chords, coupled with triumphant horns, essentially mimicking the excitement of a barrage of kids emptying onto the playground. It’s the perfect song to blast in the car while shuttling around town. Although, it makes for wearing a seatbelt quite a downer as Roberts’ music basically begs to be listened to with the volume turned way up and your body in constant motion. Further echoing the carefree abandon of childhood is “Check Me Out I’m at the Checkout” which depicts a kid’s rogue adventure through the supermarket (complete with an announcer calling for cleanups in various aisles). Roberts touches upon the expansiveness of a child’s imagination in “I’ll Be An Alien” which features a misunderstood kid who imagines taking off into space. And, in “My Secret Robot,” Roberts brings a special mechanical friend to life while softly encouraging us to “listen to the beat beat beat” of his heart. I love how Roberts creates a story here that connects the robot and the kid as though they are one. Awesome song.
What continues to impress me about Roberts is how authentically he can capture and convey the emotions of the subjects in his songs. Typically, Roberts’ songs are sung from the perspective of a kid. However, in Recess, he expands his repertoire by taking on multiple perspectives. For parents there is “We Got Two,” which expresses the trials and tribulations (and joy) of having twins while “Every Little Step” gives voice to a man’s/kid’s best friend with touching lyrics like “Hey there kid/ I know you so well/ when you’re scared or sad or lonely I can tell/ Before you can call/ I’ll be there by your side/ there’s no trouble half as big as my heart is wide.”
While Recess is filled with upbeat, power pop notes, there are the quieter, more emotional moments that I have a particular soft spot for. Roberts paints a picturesque landscape in the dreamlike sounds of “Looking for Trains.” “Red Bird,” one of my absolute favorites on the album, is so raw and beautiful in its moving depiction of loss and healing. And while “School’s Out (Tall Buildings)” is more upbeat, it presents a touching dedication from a graduating student to their teacher.
Roberts once again delivers a lyrical masterpiece filled with memorable melodies. Recess is more than a collection of songs, it’s a series of experiences which cover a broad range of topics that will appeal to listeners of all ages.
As part of his dedication to creating a meaningful and interactive experience, Roberts created a super cool CD package which includes a whimsical hopscotch design by artist Ned Wyss, a fold-out lyrics sheet, a colorful limited edition popup robot and links to a secret website with art projects and digital music samples. You can purchase the album through Justin’s website along with a t-shirt and coloring book.
When Recess was released I went back and forth between listening to the actual CD and streaming the album on Spotify for the times when I forgot to bring the CD with me in the car. Just 3 days later, I noticed that the album was removed from Spotify with the exception of the title track, “Recess.” When I reached out to Justin, he shared his thoughts on how streaming services like Spotify make it harder for independent artists to support themselves, ultimately making it harder for fans to experience the true value of what is put into making music today.
“I came up with the idea of a pop up robot and a secret website site with unreleased music and craft projects to help encourage people to purchase Recess and not just listen to it streaming online. I think streaming services like Spotify and Pandora are great for music discovery, however, they are quickly becoming a substitute for people actually purchasing recorded music and I find that troubling. As an independent artist with a small but devoted fan base, I rely on people purchasing recordings to pay back the expensive costs of making a professional sounding record. Beyond that, sales of recorded music has been one of my main sources of income as an independent musician.”
While Spotify is known for its expansive music catalog, it has also acquired a reputation with several independent artists for not providing a fair financial return. According to Justin, “When a song gets streamed on Spotify, I make less than 1/2 a penny. When someone buys a song on iTunes, I make about 60 cents (which is great). If someone buys an entire CD at a show, I make $15. I think streaming music is probably the future, I’m just not sure how independent artists can continue to make professional records which include months and months of songwriting time, renting studio space, paying professional musicians, engineers, producers, artists, graphic designers, manufactures, etc. if no one is going to pay real money for those recordings.”
If streaming music is the future, how can we best support artists who pour everything they have into providing the best musical experience to their audience? It seems like a good start in this case would be to get on over to the Justin Roberts’ shop and get yourself a copy of Recess.