TMBG Countdown #16: Cloisonne

April 15, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 115

First release: Join Us, 2011

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Four words: John Linnell, bass clarinet.

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TMBG Countdown #17: Hotel Detective Suite

April 14, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 94

Releases:
They Might Be Giants (The Pink Album), 1986
Back to Skull (EP), 1994
Podcast 5A, 2006

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

OK, I’m definitely cheating a bit on this one, but I am firm in my conviction that these three songs are best taken as a single, duodecennially-revisited, work. The three are dramatically different in style and approach, but together form a sort of tryptic, representing the band’s career thus far.

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TMBG Countdown #19: I Should Be Allowed to Think

April 12, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 114

First release: John Henry, 1994

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

As we move into the teens in our countdown, we reach the first entry from my favorite TMBG album, John Henry. The album was the band’s first with a full band in place of a drum machine [Get it? John Henry??] and some fans hate it the way Bob Dylan fans sneer at his electric guitar. While I don’t have strong feelings about Dylan, however, I will fight to the death over John Henry–while the band may later have struggled to find their sound with a band, on this record they were exploring new possibilities with wildly creative arrangements.

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TMBG Countdown #20: Older

April 11, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 125

First Release: Long Tall Weekend (1999)

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Older is anthemic. I can’t think of another TMBG song with as many studio variations. There’s the original, from the ambitious experiment in e-music Long Tall Weekend; the live version, played at nearly every show with an agonizing long pause (see the video below, in which the band brought that version to Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2001); the slightly slower and odder-sounding version (my personal favorite) released on  Mink Car in 2001; and the acoustic puppet version in the video atop this post, released as a Friday Night Family Podcast in 2008.

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TMBG Countdown #21: Robot Parade

April 10, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 139

First Release: TMBG Unlimited (2000)

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Originally written for graphic design group The Chopping Block, and featuring lyrics (according to the band) that were “inappropriately anti-unicorn,” this song is really best appreciated in both of its two forms. There’s the softer version, found on the band’s first kids’ album, No!, and sometimes performed live; and then there’s metal-influenced the “adult version,” which one might call superior except that it relies, like an adorable set of salt and pepper shakers, on its counterpart.

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TMBG Countdown #23: Spoiler Alert

April 8, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 136

First Release: Join Us, 2011

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

It’s exceptionally rare for a band that’s been recording for more than 30 years, but I think They Might Be Giants has released some of their very best music in the last few years. The band has hit a renaissance, inspired perhaps by their online fan base, their successful kids records with Disney, a new label (Idlewild), the emergence of digital music distribution, or just a fit of creativity (most likely a combination of all of the above), and Join Us is one of the band’s best records.

This song, sometimes performed live by the (literal) sock puppet “Avatars of They,” is unusual for being a rare true duet. Often one John sings backup vocals for the other, but in this case they share lead, portraying two drivers destined for a collision brought about by distracted driving–one is writing a book while driving, the other laying back and falling asleep. If you listen in stereo, each John gets one channel.

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TMBG Countdown #24: Spiraling Shape

April 7, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 122

First Release: Factory Showroom, 1996

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Factory Showroom arrived during a difficult time for They Might Be Giants and their fans, as the band was struggling to work with a label (Elektra) with which they frequently disagreed, and which didn’t seem to know how to market them. The first studio follow-up to John Henry, the band’s first with a full band and my personal favorite record, some see Factory Showroom as a return to the band’s earlier sound–but while John Flansburgh has said this is his favorite of the band’s many records, personally it is my least favorite.

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Chris’s Top 26 They Might Be Giants Songs, 1982-2014

April 4, 2015 Personal, Reviews Comments (0) 391

They Might Be Giants at Terminal Five2015 will be the Year of Way Too Much They Might Be Giants*, as the band has announced no fewer than three new records, beginning with Glean on April 21, plus a nationwide tour, monthly shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and a new Dial-A-Song ditty each month through the end of the year! For those of us who can remember the dark, quiet days of the late 1990’s, this is a bonanza.

In honor of what might be the biggest year [see what I did there?] in the band’s recent history, I have decided to post a countdown of my favorite TMBG tracks, spanning the band’s long history. At first this was to be a top-20, but when that cut felt too difficult I decided on a top 26, which will take us through the end of April. Everything the band has recorded is fair game, excluding the new Dial-A-Song entries, which I haven’t absorbed enough yet to include in my rankings. Continue Reading

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This is one of those “How did my life lead me here?” moments.

February 17, 2015 New York City, Reviews Comments (0) 216

2015-02-16-13

I’ve been meaning to check out the Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue for quite a while–it’s only a couple blocks south from my office, and I’ve walked past it on many a lunch break. I always suspected the “museum” was an ad-on to exploit some loophole and locate a sex shop in such a prime location, but it turns out I was wrong: It appears the sex shop is the afterthought, a means to help fund the museum. Continue Reading

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The Babadook: Monster-as-Metaphor, Mostly to the Good

January 28, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 480

Babadook-shadow

As a kid, I read books about movie monsters. Literal encyclopedias, printed on cheap paper with black and white photos of everything from Ridley Scott’s Alien to the Ymir of 20 Million Miles to Earth, those books and my imagination stood in for the actual movies. This was the mid-80s, remember, before Netflix and on-demand. When I finally watched the movies, they were inevitably inferior to what I’d imagined, the movies far too dull for the fascinating creatures they’d starred.

Each time a new movie monster arrives on the scene, this is the question for me: Will it be cool enough to gain admission to the pantheon that includes Brundlefly and John Carpenter’s anonymous shape-shifting Thing, or will it belong instead on the forgotten ash-heap with Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and the creature from The Relic?

The Babadook (alternately, “Mister Babadook”) creeps easily into the list of unique and memorable movie monsters, and while I have a few quibbles with the movie that brought him to us, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, it is unquestionably the best and most original horror film I’ve seen since Let the Right One In. Continue Reading

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