The birth of a child may affect one’s musical taste, but it doesn’t have to change its quality. For all the brand new parents out there, we offer this list of twenty albums that are perfect for infants and parents alike!
Google “nursery music” or “music for babies”, and one will encounter a deluge of bland and saccharine songs, led by Raffi, Disney and Sesame Street. While we have nothing against these traditional choices, babies don’t understand words ~ which makes the music of A Closer Listen perfect for the nursery. There will be plenty of time for singing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” once they learn to speak. But what about those early days, when parents are alternately bonding with their babies and hoping to get some sleep?
Some recurring themes appear on this list, as glockenspiels, bells and music boxes make multiple appearances. The music is often calming and occasionally upbeat, but avoids the depressive and hyperactive. We’ve concentrated on original music, although no article on this subject would be complete without a mention of the Rockabye Baby! series, which turns rock and pop music into instrumental lullabies; the latest release is an album of Iron Maiden covers. (Run to the hills!)
We hope that you enjoy this selection of Music for Nurseries: 20 Albums for New Parents, presented in alphabetical order by artist.
amiina ~ Kurr (Bláskjár Records, 2007)
Once known as the string section of Sigur Rós, amiina began to establish their own reputation with this stellar debut album, awash in warm and engaging sounds ~ no surprise as the band’s sound is informed by motherhood and all of its blessings. Everything here is safe, and oh so lovely.
Key Track: “Hilli”
Dalot ~ Mutogibito (n5MD, 2016)
An album about giving birth and being a new mom, Mutogibito offers everything from lullaby to post-rock groove. The endearing cover (chosen as one of our best of 2016) is reminiscent of a nesting doll, each generation cradling the next in a steady, loving arm.
Key Track: “Lift”
Darren Harper & Jared Smyth ~ Home (Flaming Pines, 2012)
Home is the sound of happy families at play, and was produced by two fathers collaborating across a distance. The sounds of children and their toys are lovingly integrated into a series of gentle settings. If home is where the heart is, then this is where we belong.
Key Track: “Warmth”
Detektivbyrån ~ E18 Album (Danarkia, 2007)
This is the most upbeat album on our list, so be sure to save it for when the baby’s awake. Electronic melodies and music boxes abound, as does a sense of unbridled joy. E18 is music for waltzing around the room, watching for the smile that can melt a parent’s heart. From what we can tell, the Swedish band is no longer active, but they’ve left behind a happy legacy.
Key Track: “Nattöppet”
Diamond Gloss ~ Bears (Fluttery Records, 2011)
Bears overflows with filtered light, bouncing from the surfaces of polished glockenspiels. While it often contains an air of the bittersweet, it arrives at a joyful conclusion ~ the sound of splashing in puddles. Parenting isn’t always easy, but this album whispers, you can get through it with grace.
Key track: “Filter Fat Corner”
Federico Durand ~ A Través Del Espejo (12k, 2016)
Music boxes, loops and lullabies are eventually joined by the voice of a child and the reassurance of parents. This beautiful moment invites us into a home where love is spoken. And then it’s “Time to Sleep”, a family resting in the arms of the soft, soft night.
Key Track: “Linternas junto a la laguna (Lanterns beside the lake)”
Haiku Salut ~ Tricolore (How Does It Feel to Be Loved?, 2013)
Haiku Salut has a particular weakness for circus and calliope sounds, which distinguishes them from others in this child-happy family. Their horn section provides excitement, while the other gentle instruments provide color, like unpeeled crayons just out of the box, still smelling new.
Key Track: “Los Elefantes”
Huma-Huma ~ Rainy Weekend (Self-Released, 2014)
We’re only picking this EP to stick with the concept, but what we’re really recommending is the trio’s website, which includes hundreds of short songs that can be sorted by topic or mood. Some relevant examples for new parents: childlike, playful, calming, relaxed. Whether getting the baby to sleep or waking to a new day, there’s something for everyone here.
Key Track: “My Favorite Color”
Keith Kenniff ~ Branches (Village Green, 2013)
This is the most innocent of the artist’s multiple albums and aliases: an uplifting collection of sweet pieces for piano and chimes made for TV and film. 15 tracks fly by in 36 minutes, including a healthy amount of lullabies. When the music is this good, visuals are unnecessary; it’s enough to enjoy the boost in spirit.
Key Track: “Every Morning”
Lullatone ~ Songs that Spin in Circles (Audio Dregs, 2009)
Composed for their newborn son, Songs That Spin in Circles is specifically designed for new parents. Featuring tracks about clocks, carousels, mobiles and trains, it’s a perfect accompaniment to dreams about a child’s future, while celebrating the beauty of the everyday. The duo’s entire discography is worth notice, as birth and childhood are continuing themes; a retrospective, We Will Rock You … To Sleep is our cover image above. See also The Bedtime Beat (2008) and Looping Lullabies (2010).
Key Track: “A Mobile Above Your Bed”
Masayoshi Fujita ~ Stories (flau, 2013)
The first solo vibraphone album from El Fog is a celebration of small stories, shared at bedtime in a comfortable room with soft light. The beads and aluminum foil lend a prepared sound, while the strings add a touch of additional warmth. Also recommended: Fujita’s Apologues (2015).
Key Track: “Story of Forest”
Max Richter ~ Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon, 2015)
Staying up all night with a newborn provides the perfect opportunity to check out the full version of this 8-hour composition, but we’re confident that it will do its job and prevent such a necessity. Find the tracks that work for you, segue them together, and make your own nighttime mix.
Key Tracks: “Return 2 (song)/nor earth, nor boundless sea”
Melodía ~ Saudades (Own Records, 2013)
An early morning record inhabited by music boxes and chimes, Saudades is as pastoral as its cover, a meadow of soft tones that might help baby to lie in the crib a little longer, staring at the plastic mobile as it rotates and enjoying the refracted morning light. In the last track, the siblings come out to play.
Key Track: “The spirit of rain arrives to the forest”
múm ~ Loksins Erum Við Engin (Smekkleysa, 2002)
Twee yet mysterious, this is the album that started a musical movement. When the English language version (Finally We Are No One) was released by Fatcat, the international reputation of the band was cemented. The Icelandic language version is suffused with an even greater amount of magic. It’s the stuff of fairy tales, and no nursery collection would be complete without it.
Key Track: “Don’t Be Afraid, You Have Just Got Your Eyes Closed”
Plinth ~ Collected Machine Music (Time Released Sound, 2012)
What a compliment to be writing about this music and to see my original review on the artist’s site, five years later! I stand by my words: Collected Machine Music is still the best music box album ever made. Few sounds are as fitting for nurseries and new parents; the bonus is the additional array of sounds, from wax cylinder samples to ticking clocks. Beautiful from beginning to end, an enduring classic.
Key Track: “14 Bathwick Hill”
Rhian Sheehan ~ Standing in Silence (Loop Recordings, 2008)
If one were to look at the covers, one would think Stories from Elsewhere was Rhian Sheehan’s most child-centered album; if one were to read the liner notes, one would think that the environmentally-minded Standing in Silence was the least. But listen to each, and the roles are reversed. The earlier album is stuffed with glockenspiels and music boxes, and a physical music box was even part of the first edition. Strings and electronics add notes of joy. We also recommend Seven Tales of the North Wind (which includes a song titled “Childhood”) and the aforementioned Stories from Elsewhere.
Key Track: “Part 3”
Seaworthy ~ Sleep Paths (Slaapwel, 2012) and the complete Slaapwel Discography
Slaapwel (Sleep Well) is an entire label devoted to sleep music, founded by Wim Maesschalck (Wixel). Sleep Paths is our favorite, a collection of “sleep loops” composed by the artist for his infant daughter. In other words, this one was tested in the field! The label was launched with overnight concerts, beds included; if already have a bed, all you’ll need is the music.
Key Track: “Sleep Paths”
Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir – Skýjaflétta (Bláskjár Records, 2013)
Originally conceived as the score to a children’s dance piece, Skýjaflétta soon grew into a full album written for children and parents alike. Composed by two members of amiina, the album is meant for “playing creating, dancing or napping,” and its versatility reflects the multitasking of a new parent.
Key Track: “Vögguvísa á spiladós”
Son Clair ~ Birdsong (Self-Released, 2012)
Nature sounds are a frequent trope in infant music, but if one is going for nature sounds, isn’t it better to hear real birds instead of pre-sets? Thom Carter (Son Clair) offers this brilliant set of field recorded birdsong, along with light traffic and occasional happy children in the background.
Key Track: “Morning Park”
Whizz Kid ~ There’s Conjuring to Be Done (Bearsuit Records, 2014)
“It’s never the wrong season for toys,” we wrote in our initial review; this album is like a handcrafted toybox painted with bright tones. One can imagine the plastic bus on a string, the stackable donuts, the rattle and xylophone, and in “Summer Bubbles” one can hear the baby crying, waiting for the diaper to be changed and the groove to take control.
Key Track: “Clones”