For a band that have been around for over 30 years, Lincoln Massachusetts’ They Might Be Giants still have a remarkable amount to offer. Back in 1985 John Flansburgh and John Linnell did something incredible: they started recording and sharing music using an old answering machine. Essentially they put 500 new and unreleased songs onto tapes, allowing people to call a number and hear new music. Genius. Some might even say revolutionary in terms of music sharing! Based out of Brooklyn the band kept releasing new and unheard music this way, alongside their studio albums, for 15 years. Alas, after a busy 30 years the band have put out their extraordinary new album Glean.
All the way from punky opener ‘Erase’ through to the rather abstract final track (which shares the records’ title) you can’t help but engage with this record. It feels like a journey and, true to form, whilst drawing influences from a diverse musical culture TMBG have triumphed again. The lyrical content is abstract and intriguing: it will draw you into a surreal world that can only be described as melancholic yet we are still reminded at times that it’s ‘Good To Be Alive’. Each and every song has something different to offer and even though essentially this is a collection of songs which have already been released through the bands’ DIAL-A-SONG-DIRECT (internet somewhat killed the answering machine back in 2000) project earlier this year, there is a simple factor that makes this record work. It flows flawlessly from style to style, swinging it’s hips all the way and, most importantly, it keeps the listener guessing where it’s going to take them next.
Stand out tracks include ‘Underwater Woman’, ‘End Of The Rope’, ‘Unpronounceable’ and ‘I’m A Coward’. Each as simply extravagant and accomplished as the last in their own right. Picking four songs from 15 was difficult. If anything, some might say that this is the downfall of this record and that 15 songs and 39 minutes is too long. However fans of the band will not be phased by this and newcomers shouldn’t be either. If you have ever tinkered with Garageband or Logic and given being a ‘home producer’ a go then this album may just be something for you. Even though the production at times feels a little midi-laden, it is endearing and lends itself well to the carefully crafted accompaniments.
With some serious musicianship and honest vocal performances from both Johns throughout there is truly something for everyone. This is a band that have never been afraid to try new things and do it, shall we say, differently. Consequently, trying to explain what Glean sounds like seems like a pointless task. Comparisons are difficult although from a modern perspective, fans of Weezer, Fischerspooner, The Postal Service, Metronomy and Datarock would probably hear something in there. But truly I would imagine all of them would admit to taking influence from TMBG at some point over the years. And that should tell you something. Go and grab this record, put your headphones in and go for a stroll in the sunshine and see things from a different angle.