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Dan Baker

CD of The Week

Week of 11/22/21

    They Might Be Giants - BOOK (Idlewild)

    Coming up on four decades as a band, it seems like there isn’t a creative endeavor They Might Be Giants haven’t tackled. They’ve written songs for TV, movies, the theater and commercials. And while they’ve created children’s books, the book that comes with the new album BOOK isn’t the book you might expect. Rather than a look back at the band’s career, it is an art project of sorts, combining their lyrics typeset by graphic designer and TMBG collaborator Paul Sahre with photography from Brian Karlsson around their beloved New York City.

    But BOOK is an album first and foremost and certainly slots into the duo’s massive catalog, made up of hundreds of songs at this point. Cheekily kicking off with "Synopsis for Latecomers," John Linnell opens things off with an introduction of “For everyone who just arrived, a quick synopsis,” before recapping a series of unusual events.

    “I Can’t Remember the Dream” merges a timeless garage rock guitar riff (is it “Wild Thing?” “Wooly Bully?” Both at the same time?) with the band’s longtime themes of memory and the workings of the mind. In it, our narrator finds life heartbreakingly bleak but his dreams bring respite. It’s certainly the only single you’ll hear this year with the phrase “a never-ending litany of pain and ennui.” And the horn-laden “Brontosaurus” may sound like it belongs on one of their kids’ albums at first, but is actually a metaphor for the main character’s self-image.

    TMBG songs have gotten increasingly esoteric over the past decade, especially when it comes to John Flansburgh’s lyrics. You really have to do your homework to learn who “Lord Snowden” is or the backstory of “If Day For Winnipeg.” In 1942, Winnipeg held a simulated invasion from Nazi Germany to prepare for war, so Flans is suggesting we should all be ready for the fascists, since “If Day is for everyone from now on.”

    The most relatable song on BOOK is the pandemic-inspired “I Lost Thursday,” as its ping-ponging sound further back up the feeling of losing track of time as the days blend into one another lately.

    Over the past few years, TMBG have played it slightly safer musically on their albums, leaving some of the more out-there sounds for the Dial-A-Song series of one-off tracks. Many of the new songs were built from computer samples, leaving the line blurred between real instruments and digital facsimiles. But still, take a look in this BOOK for the playful keyboards, straight-ahead guitars and darker lyrical twists that the Johns have reliably rolled out for decades.

    They Might Be Giants have a very sold-out, twice-delayed show at Union Transfer scheduled for March 10th. Hear our recent interview with John Flansburgh On Demand.
    Review by Joey O.

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