The Legendary and prolific off kilter duo They Might Be Giants are released their 19th album Phone Power on June 10, 2016. The eclectic pair are eternally engaged in innovative and original works that produce pleasingly idiosyncratic alt rock renderings. “Phone Power” is the end of the trilogy that TMBG began last year with the albums “Glean” and “Why?”.
To create the trilogy the duo utilized 52 songs they had originally posted as snippets on their storied Dial-A-Song service. TMBG have announced that Phone Power will be the last album the duo will release in the immediate future as they are planning to take a well earned break. They will commence on the announced hiatus after extensive touring this year.
Phone Power was recorded in a secret location in NYC with Pat Dillett who has worked with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, The National and David Byrne. The album utilized a lo-fi approach with minimal production elements. “Phone Power” reaches back to the pair’s beginnings but is informed by the present. They have made the album available as a “pay what you” want digital download prior to the official release.
Childhood friends, John Flansburgh and John Linnell formed TMBG in 1982 and have amassed numerous and varied accolades including two Grammy Awards and the hit singles Birdhouse in Your Soul, and Istanbul off of their album, Flood. They have established a solid career in the children’s music genre which they almost singlehandedly reinvigorating and reinterpreting; spawning various other excellent performers who revolutionized what was once considered a musical ghetto. The lingering impression of TMBG’s career is a special unconventionality and experimental stylings all channeled through a definite tongue and cheek attitude. Ever lyrically playful and sonically eclectic, they are the godfathers of groups such as The Barenaked Ladies, The Dead Milkmen and such.
“Phone Power” begins with Apophenia a wonky schizophrenic song that is inspired by the definition of the song title, which means finding ominous patterns where there are none. The song is a send up of conspiracy theorists everywhere. The track examines in a droll manner superstitions and reliance on intuition, “its only tea leaves stop being so dramatic.” The beauty of the selection is that TMBG presents it all with a winsome smile on their face which is conveyed through the accompaniment.
I Love you for Psychological Reasons is a winning song with an upbeat catchy flair. It is charming and quintessential TMBG. The Johns deliver the song effortlessly showcasing their skilled lyrical craftsmanship. This craftsmanship is threaded through songs such as; To a Forest, It Said Something, Impossibly New and What Did I Do To You, all of which are characterized by off kilter themes and musical approaches that are the lasting trademarks of the duo. There are numerous standout songs throughout the 18 track release. I am Alone has an eccentric spy/crime story theme at its center. Say Some Nice Things about Detroit is a stomp beat filled tune that at its core is about not piling on a failure of epic proportions like the City of Detroit. Trouble Awful Devil Evil is another “don’t miss track” that attempts to trace how we change up what we label misfortune through the ages. The song title ECNALUBMA is the word ambulance backwards. The track cleverly points out how we still give respect to ambulances in a day where there seems to be a lack of respect for anything. The reason given for this respect is explained as it being the one instance left where people can put themselves in the place of an another.
Of the many enjoyable songs on the album one of the songs that I really loved is the brief Daylight this song looks to take a strip off of Goth songs. It is a sludgy tune with lots of vocal reverb that uses dour lyrics to convey the predictability of songs in the genre. But the send up is not done in a mean spirited fashion and is quite endearing. Another of my favorites is Sold My Mind to the Kremlin which is a blast of a song, mixing the legendary approach of TMBG with a Devo flare, the track is filled with digital and synth goodness straight from the 80’s. Simply put it is a fun, goofy and clever track. Another winning selection is Got Getting Up So Down, which speaks to how robotic and routine our daily rituals become. “I’ve got getting up so down I can do it in my sleep.”
which is both a great and unsettling realization. The lyrical theme is backed by a funky throbbing bass with recognizable early Beck vocal stylings. Bills, Bills, Bills is a disarming cover of the Destiny’s Child’s song. The cover has been a concert fave for years with fans yearning after a studio version. It is outrageously better than the original version, and leads me to wonder which John is Beyonce? The album draws to a close with I Wasn’t Listening a splendid folk country tune. The song irreverently pokes fun at the Dial-A-Song concept they created, as they make the unlikely suggest they were not listening or paying attention at any time during its existence.
They Might Be Giants are the longstanding brilliantly gifted pranksters of alt rock. They have always evinced a Catholic taste in their subjects and musical approach, delivering pleasing and intelligent songs along the way that are catchy and ebullient. Phone Power provides another healthy heap of their musical stylings. With the announcement of their intent to take a lengthy hiatus; this album holds a lot of emotional impact as fans may have to be satisfied with this release being their last for a while. I for one suspect that neither John will be able to ignore their creative itch for too long, and sooner rather than later they will be back in the studio cooking up another batch of memorable songs. But for now we have an extensive amount of material to enjoy and absorb. These two unlikely Alternative music icons have done it again creating a singular and absorbing release.