They Might Be Giants

I Like Fun

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Following the deluge of music They Might Be Giants unleashed in 2015 and 2016 -- which included Glean, Phone Power, and the children's album Why? -- the band took nearly a year to make their 20th full-length, I Like Fun. They recorded it at a space that used to be Skyline Studios, where they made 1990's classic Flood, so it's not surprising that several of these songs, such as the brassy "All Time What," the witty power pop of "The Bright Side," and the surreally slinky "McCafferty's Bib" sound like they could've appeared on that album. However, the Giants don't focus on nostalgia so much as their enduring skill at combining darkly humorous words with vivid sounds, which they do expertly on "I Left My Body." John Flansburg, John Linnell, and crew might be even more fixated on mortality on I Like Fun than they were on Glean ("My Murdered Remains" was a working title). This is an album full of death and dismemberment; as the band sings on "Last Wave" over a sweeping piano borrowed from an '80s power ballad, "We die alone/We die afraid/We live in terror." They elaborate on these themes on the grimly funny "Mrs. Bluebeard," while "By the Time You Get This" is a memento mori complete with smiling skulls and a sing-along chorus. Best of all is "Push Back the Hands," a poignantly catchy exercise in futility that features the brilliantly loopy lyric "you'd give your right arm to go back to a time when you had your right arm." Even when the Johns' sentiments are morbid, I Like Fun's music seizes the joy of the moment. The bounce in "Let's Get This Over With" reflects that the song's title couldn't be further from their attitude to making music after all this time. Similarly, the narrator of "When the Lights Come On" remains strangely hopeful despite a dire predicament ("I taught myself to draw in the dark"), and this kind of optimism just might be the key to why They Might Be Giants haven't run out of things to say -- or funny, poignant, and surprising ways to say them.

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