Childstar (Filmtrax/ Sony) Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Until the release of Don McKellar's new flick, Childstar, no one could've guessed that the dweeby Canuck screen star had anything at all in common with Danger Mouse, Madlib, the members of Stereolab, Belle and Sebastian and Mars Volta.
But as it happens, they're all fans of the sunshine pop that Toronto-based film composer/arranger Chris Dedrick created with his legendary soft-psych family group the Free Design back in the flower power era.
It just so happens that while the versatile Dedrick was working on a 70s throwback soundtrack for McKellar's Childstar flick as a follow-up to his Genie-grabbing Saddest Music In The World score, Seattle's Light in the Attic label was working on an extensive Free Design reissue and remix program.
In fact, the release of Redesigned: Volume 2, featuring drastic reconstructions by the aforementioned Danger Mouse, Super Furry Animals and Manitoba, couldn't have been better timed to piggyback on the Childstar disc.
Somehow, the delightfully ebullient music Dedrick ingeniously built around his siblings' natural vocal harmonies more than 30 years ago - and largely forgotten since - suddenly seem very relevant. You needn't look further than the Polyphonic Spree to hear an echo of the Free Design sound.
"It's an interesting convergence," ponders the charmingly self-effacing Dedrick from his Toronto home. "The funny thing is that Don McKellar was initially only aware of my work as a film composer.
"When we first met to discuss the Childstar project, he didn't tell me he wanted some Free Design music, but instead said, 'I hear some harpsichord... and maybe some voices.' That suggested to me there might be something in the Free Design style that would fit the 70s-vintage soundtrack he envisioned. As it turned out, we wound up using the Free Design song I Found Love in the film."
In addition to the celestial I Found Love, which originally appeared on Free Design's sophomore album, 68's You Could Be Born Again, the Childstar soundtrack makes good use of the MC5's rousing Ramblin' Rose and even includes some faux 70s sweetness from Sloan's Chris Murphy, who gets all soft-rock gooey on Oh Baby, which brings up an interesting point.
Much of the 70s throwback music in Childstar is used to serve an ironic purpose that seems at odds with the whole concept of Free Design, whose kind-hearted naíveté is an essential part of their lasting charm. But the intent behind Free Design's music has always been open to speculation.
Of course, over the years there's been some discussion about a darker allegorical meaning to the bubbly songs. The title of their first regional hit single, Kites Are Fun, was thought to be a cleverly encoded entreaty to get high - à la Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - but Dedrick denies any sinister intent.
"People always ask me if Kites Are Fun was really about drugs. I have to tell them, 'No, it's not about drugs, but it's not just about flying kites either.' For me, it's about a yearning to return to a childlike innocence and be free of the burdens of real-life trials and tribulations.
"It's one of the early songs I wrote while still at music school in New York City. I remember looking at the name of my then girlfriend, Katherine Ann Fabian, and trying to make something out of her initials. I had a friend who was always coming up with these funny non sequiturs, and Kites Are Fun just sounded like something he'd say, so I went with it."
The other intriguing Dedrick contribution to the Childstar soundtrack is the relatively obscure tune You Are My Lover, which he wrote and recorded in 72 shortly after moving to Toronto. Considering the attention his music is getting, the time might be right to reactivate that dormant solo career.
"That has crossed my mind. In developing repertoire with three or four different singers lately, I've been writing more and more songs and I'm finding that some of them don't seem to work for anyone else but me.
"Although I don't consider myself much of a vocalist, there is something interesting about being a singer/songwriter doing unique music. So I might finish a solo album, even if I only put it up on my Web site for people to download."