They Might Be Giants


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Book Review

by Heather Phares

After the 2018 Dial-A-Song project that spawned I Like Fun, My Murdered Remains, and Escape Team, They Might Be Giants' next project was nearly as ambitious. Comprising an album and a 144-page collection of photos by Brian Karlsson and lyrics expressively rendered by a 1970s IBM Selectric typewriter, Book is an audiovisual celebration of the band's enduring strengths. Aptly enough for such a literary-minded album, John Flansburgh and John Linnell's lyrics remain a highlight. Whether rhyming "amphibian" and "oblivion" on the trippy funk-rock of "I Lost Thursday'' or offering up head-scratchers like "I bought half of a timeshare/half of me will be staying there" on "Less Than One," it's all in a day's work for them. They and the rest of the band take the duality of bright melodies and pointedly dark words that has always defined their music (for adults, anyway) to new levels on Book. As they do, they pepper its moody, structurally complex tracks with images of obsolescence and failure. Even the album's title hints at quaintness, and the shard of vinyl on its cover could be an ancient artifact. Many of Book's songs seem to occur in the aftermath of disaster, a place befitting the fraught early-2020s as well as They Might Be Giants' decades-long body of work. The musical equivalent of doomscrolling, the brassy, hard-driving "Synopsis for Latecomers'' is about learning to live with fear, confusion, and unresolved mysteries (the most pressing of which in the song is "who ate the babies?"). The bouncy stride and plinking melody of "I Broke My Own Rule" barely sugarcoat the question that lies at the heart of the song: "What happens when the freedom you want comes at a cost you can't afford?" The undercurrent of melancholy in the band's music feels more prominent on Book than it has in some time, and makes for some of the album's standout moments. "I Can't Remember the Dream" is another of Linnell's clever, poignant examinations of how our brains play tricks on us, while Flansburgh's "Darling, the Dose" sets a bitterly close relationship of historic proportions to grooving '70s TV show theme song pop. Circus imagery heightens Book's tragi-comic absurdity, most winningly on "Brontosaurus," which uncovers the sensitivity of someone seemingly impervious in a tale that resembles Dumbo as a depressed dinosaur (it's also one of the most creatively depicted sets of lyrics in Book's actual book). There are also plenty of musical hijinks, ranging from the dapper lounge-pop of "Lord Snowden" to "If Day for Winnipeg," which fuses prickly and rubbery sounds into catchy surrealism that harks back to the band's debut album. Consistently entertaining with a few flashes of brilliance, Book kicks off the band's fifth decade of music-making with substance and style.

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