John Linnell: State Songs

Pulse!, December 1999
by A.D. Amorosi

You have to have a favorite somebody, find the "John" amongst the Beatles, or, um, "whoever" from N'Sync. My favorite They Might Be Giant is John Linnell. The accordion pumping, saxophone blowing one. The nasal singing one who has the ability to wrap pathos and sincerity around bouncy, silly sinister studies like "Birdhouse In Your Soul" and "The Statue Got Me High." On State Songs, his oft-promised love song to the Americas, he turns U.S. provinces into characters, espousing their virtues, romancing their stones. In a bare-bones sounds akin to earlier TMBG works, Linnell and his multitude of richly weird interpretive voices shapes tinny synths, spy organs and bass clarinets to fit fun facts and dadaist observances. For "South Carolina" -- the state that proudly calls "the shag" its official dance -- Linnell tells the tom-tom pounding tale of crashing his bicycle and hurting his hand, rivaling Woody Allen for too-delicate whining. He makes "West Virginia" a coy femme fatale with an absolutely frugg-able soundtrack behind her. "Idaho" becomes a sexy, sleepy stretch of land, a lounge bossa nova kind of place. "Pennsylvania," the shortest piece here, is worthy of music akin to Kronos Quartet meets Astor Piazzolla. And though he's wrestling with hobby horse organs and whirring carnival horns, he swears he forgets "Utah." Oompah-loompah polkas, half-hearted tangos and dust buster solos ensue as Linnell sweves from county to county. Pray he comes to your town. (Four stars)