Release Date: Jul 19, 2011
Record label: Rounder
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The last time John Linnell and John Flansburgh released an album for grown-ups, 2007's The Else, it was one of their most aggressively rock-centric to date. This time, they've gone more playfully experimental, from the sunny lead track, "Can't Keep Johnny Down," to the sly, strutty cabaret joint "Cloisonné." "Old Pine Box" seizes Simon and Garfunkelian acoustic jangle, and "Canajoharie" has one of Linnell's catchiest choruses ever. And while Join Us is lighter on lyrical surrealism than earlier TMBG, it delivers on their well-known gleeful morbidity: "You wreck everything you touch, and you're a sociopath," they sing on "When Will You Die," surely the year's most satisfying hate-on.
They Might Be Giants are, along with Matthew Sweet and a handful of others, what I remember of college radio from the early ‘90s. TMBG stand out for me not so much because of their so-singular-it-borders-on-proprietary sound, but because they were the first band I encountered that spawned superfans. I was pretty young in the early ‘90s, and at best my peers loved classic rock in that early, holistic, passed-on-like-a-hair-color way.
Success is overrated - the secret to longevity in the music industry, it seems, is to just carry on under the radar for as long as you possibly can. Over They Might Be Giants' 29 year lifespan, there may have been a few moments where the band flirted with fame (making their moniker seem particularly apt) but for the most part they've merely been a cult concern, and as a result have been free to do pretty much whatever they liked. After spending the last few years doing educational (but fun) music for kids, their fifteenth album, Join Us, sees them catering for adults again.
After nearly 30 years together, They Might Be Giants have established themselves not only as the quirky pop innovators and intrepid musical explorers, but as a bona fide pop institution. On Join Us, their 15th studio album, the Johns’ continue to build upon this solid foundation with a collection of songs that finds the band looking backwards as they move forward. Pulling elements from all of their past work, the album feels like a survey course in They Might Be Giants, touching on different points in their creative development yet still managing to feel like a cohesive collection of work.
If you look up the word “quirky” in your Oxford dictionary, you’ll find a picture of John Flansburgh and John Linnell of the long-standing alternative rock group They Might Be Giants. OK, OK, OK, so you won’t – but in a fair world that picture would be there. Since 1982 – almost a full-on 30 years – Flansburgh and Linnell have been the architects of out there skewed Grammy Award-winning rock with songs like “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – and, yes, I realize the latter was a cover, but the duo pretty much put their own stamp on it and made it their own.
The last 10 years have been a bit frustrating for the more casual fans of They Might Be Giants. With three children’s albums, another family-friendly release, and contributions to a number of Disney soundtracks, die-hard fans of the band (and their children) have seen a steady flow of all-ages material from the cult act, while the few grownup-oriented releases sprinkled through that span have been overshadowed, and a bit underwhelming. If you’re a fan who’s afraid you’ve lost the band to the kiddie crowd, fear not.
I used to watch this quiet girl who went to my high school walk around campus during breaks. She was a small, kind of nondescript girl who wore big-ass headphones and a doofy smile on her face all the time. I liked to think that, contrary to what her serene, shy exterior suggested, she was blasting NWA or Megadeth in those headphones, but eventually I found out that she listened to They Might Be Giants, the indie dork rock band led by long-time friends John Flansburgh and John Linnell.
After concentrating mostly on creating family music recently, They Might Be Giants have returned with just their second “adult” album in the last six years. While there is plenty of cartoon whimsy in everything that TMBG does, their “adult” music allows them to explore darker themes (both “Old Pine Box” and “When Will You Die” deal with death) and use more adult language (you wouldn’t find a line like “All the dicks in this dick town” in one of their children’s album). In fact, even educated adults might get lost in the Giant’s mighty vocabulary.