They Might Be Giants: Glean

In Your Speakers, April 21, 2015
by Jesse Clark

Consistently churning out material for nearly thirty years, They Might Be Giants have a career-spanning discography that's worth bragging about, and their new record, Glean, keeps that reputation up to a high standard.

Diehard fans of They Might Be Giants will appreciate Glean, especially since the songs are mostly composed of recordings from their recently revived Dial-A-Song service. The service, which had its roots in the early '80s and continued on until nearly a decade ago, allowed the group to record unreleased songs onto an answering machine, then advertise the number so fans could dial up and groove to the unheard tunes. We suppose once text messaging made phone calls a thing of the past, away went Dial-A-Song. However, now it's back and the group and their fans couldn't be more enthused about it.

"Erase" blows the doors open with syncopated rhythms created by mechanical strumming, and drumming with a powerful melody that you'll thank the band for making repetitive. The songs on Glean are a mixture of dad rock and a term we would coin as electronic-vaudeville. "Good To Be Alive" plays heavily off of synthesized harmonies and expansive accordion. The song sounds somewhat like the Beach Boys, but with a tribal rhythm to shake things up a bit.

"Underwater Woman" is an electrifying highlight of the album, with playful brass, fierce bass guitar, and a passionate melody with powerful lyrics. This and "Answer" are two of the strongest songs on the record. While "Underwater Woman" is more serious, yet surreal, and sounds reminiscent of Cake, "Answer" is more straightforward and humorous with an uplifting melody that sounds more like Barenaked Ladies. However, to be frank, there's nobody who truly sounds like They Might Be Giants because they are just so damn original.

For those looking for more of the band's bizarre charisma, "Music Jail, Pt 1 & 2," is the song for you. The song is sort of cartoonish alternative klezmer music with an eerie tone. The song is bleeding with the band's musical virtuosity and versatility. It's awe-inspiring how long these guys have been around for and haven't changed a bit. Especially upon hearing the funky "I Can Help The Next In Line," the warping synths, smashing tambourine, creeping falsetto violin, and quirky lyrics really make you realize how much fun the group has always had in the studio.

Their lyrical eloquence shines through on "Madam, I Challenge You To A Duel," a beautifully composed ballad straight from the Victorian era. That same theatrical, almost operatic sound carries straight through the ABBA-esque "End of The Rope" to the electrifying "Hate The Villanelle." The songs showcase the strange lyrical bravado and guns-blazing vocals from John Linnell. The album comes to a euphoric conclusion with the swinging big band tune, "Let Me Tell You About My Operation," that plays off of tap-dancing rhythms and howling brass straight from the 1940's.

They Might Be Giants will forever be an underground enigma, too weird to be chart-topping, but too rare to die. For just short of thirty years, the band has been giving us goosebumps with their musical ingenuity and charming sense of humor. It's no surprise that they still retain every bit of weirdness that makes them live up to their legendary reputation in alternative rock. Glean marks a new era of They Might Be Giants by bringing back an old beloved tradition while continuing to pump out song after song saturated in the wonderful strangeness we know and love.