When you think of children’s music, the thought of a well-dressed man with a million-dollar smile and an acoustic guitar quickly come to mind.
Yes, the market for kid-friendly music more-or-less begins and ends with pure and energetic acts like The Wiggles, but Chicago musician Nicholas Markos saw an opportunity for something more.
Markos, who plays under the moniker “The Hitmaker” had been toying with the idea of writing a children’s record for 20 years, but two years ago he began working on Dream Machine (accredited to band The Space Shuttles, made up of The Hitmaker, his bandmate “B.A. Rosenblum” and his five-year-old son “Atticus Rocket”). Dream Machine quickly sets itself apart from its rainbow-ridden counterparts. It appeals with a bright, 80s-synth pop feel and catches your ear whether you’re jamming through a car ride alone or if you have kids in the backseat.
“I didn’t want it to sound like most other kids records, and I didn’t want it to talk down to kids,” Markos said. “It can be funny and simple and goofy in places, but it’s not there to treat kids like they’re dumb, and it’s not meant to be a school lesson. It’s supposed to be something they can relate to, and maybe absorb some inspiration or wisdom or idea from, just the way people do with ‘grown-up’ songs.”
Markos’ lyricism doesn’t explain the world, but instead relates it. On “Make Your Bed,” the point of the song isn’t to teach a child how to make their bed, but instead says, “Doesn’t it suck when you have to do things you don’t want to?” It’s this human emotion that for some reason becomes isolated from being applied to a child’s mind, despite the lifelong understanding of feelings, thoughts, and relations.
But Dream Machine doesn’t just differ in its equal rights, anti-ageism message – the record’s songwriting and genre-hopping style add another layer of uniqueness to The Space Shuttles’ efforts. The dancing beats of “Jump in Circles” set the pace for the album’s anti-folk children’s crusade children’s but continues to transcend its own boundaries and expand into different styles throughout the record. Dream Machine hits its stride with the back-to-back combo of “You Brush It” and “Scrub It Up,” two very different sounding tracks that work together to push Dream Machine past a “great children’s record” to a “great record” in its own right.
Dream Machine is goofy, catchy, relatable, and flexible for its wide-range of listeners. But most of all, it’s a redefining work in a field of music that is both stagnant and unexplored for the depth it has to offer, and hopefully The Space Shuttles are hopefully just scratching the surface.