Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Which I Express a Great Admiration for a Band With a Long, Odd Name

I've been listening to the new They Might Be Giants album, Join Us, for a couple of months now -- in fact, through the magic of iTunes, I can say that I've been listening to it since 10:42 AM on July 23rd -- and I have to admit that my initial opinion of it has undergone a 180-degree change.

(This isn't uncommon with TMBG, but I seem to have forgotten about it during the last half-decade, when they mostly made pleasant but more surface-y music for young people. When they're officially working for adults, they make the kind of music that often takes some listening to get used to, and I generally end up liking that better than material that's catchy on the first listen. Come to think of it, the new Okkervil River record this year, I Am Very Far, had almost exactly the same pattern.)

At first, I thought Join Us was a bit of a mess, with songs all over the place that didn't quite click, and very little of the really punchy stuff. Of course, I can also remember when "the really punchy stuff" -- the full-band rock TMBG that started with 1994's John Henry -- was the new TMBG music that I wasn't sure that I liked. (I've been a fan since they showed up on late-night MTV in the mid-80s; I'm pretty sure I bought an EP or two even before They Might Be Giants came out, so I've had a long history with not being quite sure if I liked the new record until I decided I loved it.)

There are still songs on Join Us I don't entirely love, of course -- that's always the case -- and I do wish there were more real barn-burners like "Stomp Box" or "AKA Driver" or "Till My Head Falls Off" or the live version of "Why Does The Sun Shine?" or "Cyclops Rock" or "Am I Awake?" or "Vancouver" or "Vestibule" or "The Shadow Government" (or even "See the Constellation" or "Ana Ng"). Only "You Probably Get That a Lot" really goes in that direction.

But there are some really fun, quirky songs on Join Us, like "Cloisone" and "When Will You Die" -- which is nearly as good, and along the same lines, as "Turn Around" and "Older" -- and "2082." I think it's mostly that TMBG has been in an aggressively quirky period -- at least for their adult records -- for most of the last decade, after finishing out their "rock" period with Mink Car in 2001. (And I am much too old, because I can remember listening to that record a lot walking to and from work that year.)

So, to celebrate a band that's been making fun, goofy, weird, unique music for nearly thirty years, without ever becoming a parody of themselves -- and because I like making widgets, and haven't done one in a while -- here's a widget with (almost) all of the TMBG songs I just mentioned.

And, just because, here's a random TMBG video as well -- "I'm Impressed," from their 2007 record The Else:

1 comment:

Rose Fox said...

Don't miss the video version of "Cloisonné". It's an uncut studio recording in more or less the arrangement they use when performing live, and it's brilliant. Also massively earwormy.

I had the same initial reaction to Join Us, but I've listened a few more times and I'm coming around on pretty much all the songs you mentioned. I can also intellectually appreciate songs like "Protagonist". I'd like some more rocking the hell out, but I can certainly get behind quirky (or I wouldn't be a TMBG fan), and I suspect the live versions will be more rock-ish. Compare the studio and live versions of "Withered Hope", for example.

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