They Might Be Giants

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Glean Review

by Heather Phares

Some of They Might Be Giants' biggest successes in the 2010s have roots in their past. Nanobots riffed on the "Fingerprints" suite from 1992's Apollo 18, splicing mini-songs between its longer tracks. Glean reaches even further back in John Flansburgh and John Linnell's history for its inspiration, collecting songs from their revitalized Dial-A-Song hotline, which served up new tracks from late 2014 through 2015 (the service's first run lasted a mind-boggling 23 years, offering songs on a regular basis until 2006). Glean also arrived in time for Flood's 25th anniversary, so it's fitting -- and fortunate -- that it rivals They Might Be Giants' classic period in its creativity and enthusiasm. Possibly because of their Dial-A-Song origins, these songs are even more direct than those on Nanobots and Join Us; they're also surprisingly cohesive thematically, focusing on the band's winning combination of sinister and cheery. "Erase" is an instant classic in the vein of Apollo 18's "I Palindrome I," full of brightly morbid humor from Linnell that's far too colorful to be called black; "Aaa" explores physical and existential horrors with cartoonish glee; and Flansburgh's "Let Me Tell You About My Operation" bounces along on perky brass and piano befitting an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style procedure. Despite its nod to heartache so bad it requires surgery, Glean also boasts a surprising streak of sweetness. Flansburgh adds another page to his book of happy songs that don't sound smug with "Good to Be Alive" (and also fleshes out his tales of no-good significant others with "All the Lazy Boyfriends"), while Linnell's "Answer" is a pretzel of droll romance and paranoia. Perhaps another reflection of the album's beginnings, the band also finds inspiration in limitations, self-imposed and otherwise. The "Istanbul"-esque "Music Jail, Pts. 1-2," which could be the result of a jam session between Carl Stalling and the Beach Boys, reaffirms that their flair for big band-inspired arrangements is unparalleled, while "Hate the Villanelle" rails against structure in a highly theatrical fashion that evokes their self-titled debut. Even here, They Might Be Giants sound more like they're refreshing that tradition than rehashing it -- outside of their brilliant children's albums, this is some of their most inspired and delightful music since the '90s.

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