Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Book by They Might Be Giants, Brian Karlsson, and Paul Sahre

So this is named "Book," but, frankly, it's not really a "book" in the normal sense. It's not sold all by itself, it's not available at all through the usual book outlets, and the point of it is to be an extension of something else.

Book is the new record (album? what do we call a specific, organized collection of music by one artist in a mostly-digital world, when all of the old words are about the format?) by the band They Might Be Giants. It's available in various forms. The most baroque, complicated form is the one I have: a big red hardcover book, with the CD in a sleeve inside the front cover.

The book is the larger physical object, but it's really there to accompany the CD. It exists because of the CD.

What's in the book are the lyrics for that CD, plus other stuff. So, yes, it is a really overgrown lyrics booklet. I don't know if this is the biggest lyrics booklet - the world is wide and full of crazy people doing crazy things, and I bet some other band has had their lyrics engraved on titanium plates in an edition limited to ten and sold at ten thousand dollars a pop - but it's got to be in the top ten.

Actually, it has lyrics not just for Book but for two previous records: I Like Fun and My Murdered Remains. Does that disqualify it as a lyrics booklet for Book?

Those lyrics are not printed normally, since this is as much an art object as it is a useful thing. Actually, strike that: it's much more an art object than a useful thing; that's the point. The lyrics were typed out, on an IBM Selectric, in various design-y ways, by Paul Sahre, who is credited with book design here. And that's how he designed this book: he picked a font, popped the ball into a typewriter, lined up the paper, and typed stuff - over and over again, often overlapping and generally laid out on the page in quirky and not-exactly-designed-to-be-read-clearly ways.

Also in the book: photographs by Brian Karlsson, who is of the wandering-about-and-snapping-random-things school of photography. (As opposed to the hours-making-a-complicated-set-up-in-the-studio school, or the trying-to-get-candid-photos-of-celebrities school, or even the put-on-your-nice-clothes-and-go-to-the-mall school. Come to think of it, there are a lot of schools.) They are mostly quiet and arty, and I suspect they would work better on a gallery wall in isolation rather than juxtaposed with random lyrics in hard-to-read layouts. The photos do not seem to be chosen to illustrate specific songs, or even to comment on them: the photos seem to be a separate kind of art embedded in this one.

This is clearly a self-indulgent project: gigantic hardcover lyrics book by mid-rank rock bands can't be anything else. But it's a fun self-indulgent project, that is quirky and weird in a very Brooklyn way, and that's deeply appropriate for TMBG. I don't think I'm a huge enough fan of the band to have wanted to buy this all by itself, but as part of the huge secret package they did for this whole year, it's just swell.

Note: I wrote this on October 25, right after I read Book and almost three weeks before the album is due to be released. It will post on December 7th, and I suspect the big fancy red-book edition of Book will have sold out by then. But I really doubt anyone reading this will want to buy the thing; if you did want to buy the thing, you would have known about it already.

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