They Might Be Giants Return with Dial-a-Song

The New Yorker, March 30, 2015
by Ben Greenman

Back in the mid-eighties, They Might Be Giants was not yet a beloved indie-pop institution but newcomers whose budding career was temporarily derailed by twin misfortunes, a burgled apartment (victim: John Flansburgh; consequence: lost equipment) and a bicycling accident (victim: John Linnell; consequence: busted wrist). Unable to perform publicly, they channelled their creative energies into a project called Dial-a-Song, recording new material and releasing it through Flansburgh’s answering machine.

Dial-a-Song waxed and waned over the years, depending on the band’s own creative course and various technological advances, and was eventually mothballed, in 2006. Then, late last year, the two Johns decided to revive the project for 2015. "We had done a really long tour in 2013," Linnell said. "It was great, but lots of shows. We were away from home for most of the year. We were both thinking that there had to be more than one way to promote our scene, to be home a little more." They set up a new phone number--the original, with its true-Brooklyn 718 area code, has been replaced by a newfangled 844 number--and a reupholstered Web site, where they released a new song each week.

New digs are nice, but any iteration of Dial-a-Song lives or dies by its music. This one lives. "Hate the Villanelle" (which appeared in early February, during Week 5) is both an analysis of the notoriously rigorous verse form and a shining example of it.

Even better are the lightly funky "I Can Help the Next in Line" (Week 9), inspired by customer-service patter, and "No Cops" (Week 3), a winsome ransom note that doubles as a band jingle.

As you can see, every song comes with a video--the exultant "Good to Be Alive" (Week 10) is accompanied by a short film starring the actor Joey Slotnick as the victim of a Yeti attack, and "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" (Week 8) includes a doll-size night club fashioned from an old hardback edition of Alan Harrington’s "Life in the Crystal Palace." They are, like everything else in the band’s world, reliably--and often brilliantly--off-kilter.

The first sixteen Dial-a-Songs have been collected onto an album, "Glean." To celebrate its release, the band will appear at Music Hall of Williamsburg on April 26th, and promises to play as much new material as possible. "We’re desperately trying to learn as much of it as we can," Linnell said.

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