They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

I feel somewhat unqualified to talk about They Might Be Giants on this site sometimes. Sure I’ve listened to all their albums, most of their non-album stuff, and have been obsessed with them more than a few times (typically whenever they come out with an album), but to this great sea of anger and frustration we call the internet, that’s simply not enough. There have been and always will be people more concerned with every little thing this band does than I will ever have the energy for.

Still, that doesn’t discourage me from plowing forward. Today we’re talking about Lincoln:

Granddad building prepares to make a speech for nobody

Any time I think of this album, I don’t really think of the colorful variety of sounds and styles present, not the mind-breaking bizarre lyrics, not even the abstract political and religious themes involved. Nope, when I think of Lincoln I think of basslines. Specifically, this strange synthesized slap-bass that is present on pretty much every track. It boggles the mind, I have never heard a synthesizer make a bass sound like that, and I’m not sure whether I like it or not, just that it’s there.  From the opening of the first track, “Ana Ng”, it’s there in the mix, distracting me from almost anything else that’s going on. It was used a few times on the previous album, and it would be used a few times later, even with real basses on the John Henry album, but for some reason I only notice it on Lincoln.

Speaking of “Ana Ng“, it’s the first song and, in TMBG tradition, is sung by John Linnell. It features the most staccato (that means sticky) distorted guitar I’ve ever heard, in fact, if you listen to the song too loudly, it might become physically painful to hear, but fortunately the fake bass will help distract you from it. The lyrics denote a long-distance friendship or maybe relationship, and how the two people in the song live on opposite sides of the globe. It also makes some reference to the 1964 World’s Fair, and uhhh who knows. The video is particularly entertaining, as it introduces a dance craze that would hold the world captive until the song ended.

We then move on to “Cowtown” which is apparently the first song the duo ever learned how to play (Linnell had written it years previous). It’s said that the title and subject of the song is based on Ft. Worth, Tx., which is the “big city” near where I grew up, and if so, that’s lovely. It still doesn’t explain what the song is actually about, though it uses the word “Arboreality” and I can’t fault it for that.

We then move on to a song about drugs. It’s “Lie Still, Little Bottle“, and the best part of it is that the band performs it live by banging a stick against a woodblock for percussion. Yep, THAT’S the best part of the song. On the actual album, however, no stick is present, so buyer beware.

The next song is “Purple Toupee“, which is the most confused politically-charged song I’ve ever heard. It, along with the next track, “Cage & Aquarium”, are plays on the lyrics of other songs: “Purple Rain” by Prince and “The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius” (traditional), respectively.

We then move on to “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go”, which is one of my favorites songs on the album. The lyrics are mostly word-play, creepy imagery, and an obscure reference to pioneer rapper Kurtis Blow. None of that matters, what matters is this line:

Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part
That wonder what the part that isn’t thinking
Isn’t thinking of

I would be lying if I said phrases like that didn’t influence me early on in my own songwriting/breakfast food selection.

The next song is a strangely straightforward depression song called “Piece Of Dirt”, which is a bit of a young disappointment, lyrically. Don’t get me wrong, the melody and instrumentation are great (and the synth bass is buried in there somewhere just inside the mix, unless that’s a saxophone), but according to legend, the “good” lyrics to this song were lost until after the song was recorded and released, so the replacement lyrics are what we have to live with. It’s really too bad, but that’s the way music goes.

Another song that makes use of wordplay is “Mr. Me”, which seems like a lame attempt to displace problems from the 1st person to an invisible 3rd person. I think we can all relate to that. It also has some incredibly low vocals, which is respectful in and of itself.

We then move on to another song called… wait a minute… “Pencil Rain”? ANOTHER ripoff of “Purple Rain”, incredible. I wonder if there’s a song called “Pencil Toupee” out there? Either way, this song is really excellent both for its arrangement (a motivational march song played in slow motion), and the use of Morse code in the bridge. How many bands do YOU know can toss out a Morse code solo?

In order to have as much variety wrapped around ugly synthesized bass as possible, the guys throw out a rarely-played-live number called “The World’s Address”, which can be better understood lyrically if you pay attention to the line “A sad pun that reflects a sadder mess”, meaning you should listen again while thinking about it like “The World’s A Dress”, then lines like “A place that’s worn” make a lot more sense. Well not a lot more, but more.

Another depressing love-lost song is “I’ve Got A Match”, and they change up the bass synth a little for this song, other than that, I have nothing to say about it.

Speaking bass synth, it’s at its most oppressive in the track “Santa’s Beard”, which is a bizarre song about a Yuletide love triangle. I think the author of this song shouldn’t worry so much about his wife cheating on Santa, his wife doesn’t even exist.

If you are particularly interested in atonal dissonance, you’d appreciate the crazed swing classic “You’ll Miss Me”, which features some great shouting by John Flansburgh. It seems to be an exercise in hitting random notes at planned intervals, but the whole thing works in a really disjointed way.

After those 3 songs, it’s probably time for a smash hit single, yes? Luckily “They’ll Need A Crane” is waiting right around the corner. This song, despite the synth bass, is really cleanly arranged and has some amazing heartbroken lyrics, particularly in the bridge:

Don’t call me at work again oh no
The boss still hates me
I’m just tired, and I don’t love you anymore
And there’s a restaurant we should check out
Where the other nightmare people like to go
I mean nice people, baby wait
I didn’t mean to say “nightmare”

It has a great video that features Linnell bouncing around like who knows, and they have a band of really old guys. Awesome!

I hesitate to use the term “dadaist” in reference to TMBG, because I fear dependence on it. However, it’s hard to call a song called “Shoehorn With Teeth” anything but. It’s a great tune though, and the band still whips it out every now and then, even if they no longer have the famous glockenspiel they used to unveil for the song’s signature 3 glockenspiel notes.

I think a song that tends to get left behind in a lot of people’s descriptions of Lincoln is the song “Stand On Your Own Head”.

The next song is possibly the first in a long line of songs that have to do with workplace despair, “Snowball In Hell”. It’s a good song, though the melody kind of makes me sad, and the synth bass isn’t even that bad in it. All is well, however, especially given that it has an excerpt from an interesting motivational tape in the bridge.

And finally, we have the religiously controversial ending, the beautiful sounding “Kiss Me, Son Of God”. The song is really just about a really bad guy with a Christ complex, and is nothing to throw a holy fit about. The band would later write a few other songs about bad guys, most notably “Reprehensible”, which would also feature old-fashioned instrumentation.

So that’s it for Lincoln. Though this album is excellent, I still feel like it’s a collection of songs designed to accommodate their stage show, but never fear! The band’s best work is yet to come…

 

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John Linnell – State Songs

Is it strange that I’m writing about one of the two Johns in the band They Might Be Giants and his solo album when I’ve only covered one album by the band itself so far? The answer is “no”, not when we’re talking about John Linnell and his sole solo album, State Songs:

It's clear that John Linnell is the one responsible for the fact that there are no pictures of the Johns on any TMBG album

The album starts off humbly enough with a loud (one might say grating) organ instrumental! I can’t remember exactly what kind of organ it is, but it basically sounds like a circus/carnival organ playing inside of a dryer… it could be a player organ, one of those ones with the big rolls of paper with the holes cut in that play the tune automatically, he uses one in a later track. Anyway, I consider “Illinois” to be more of a test, to filter out listeners who might not “get” the album, so that if they hit stop on the album there, they will not have wasted their time listening to an album they’re not going to like. The transition from “Illinois” to “The Song Of The 50 States” then becomes all the more pleasing to true followers.

When people tell me that the songs I write are “clever”, like They Might Be Giants, I always want to correct them and say, if anything, I’m specifically ripping off John Linnell. I don’t think this is because I’m a thief or anything, my sense of humor was on the same weird side years before I started listening to TMBG, but hearing the lyrics from a profoundly musically accomplished person with the same sensibilities certainly inspired me to write out my own humor in songs, in a spirit of “It CAN be done!” Having said that, it is my fondest wish that I could write something as catchy and lyrically appealing as “The Song Of The 50 States”, which acts as an “introductory” song, almost a narrative, of what’s going to take place in the album proper:

I hear the melody, the harmony, the pounding rhythm
The ideas, notes and words
Every state, a different composition
Keeping me awake, late at night
Can’t get them out of my mind
State Songs, State Songs
I can’t wait for my favorite one

Just the “I can’t wait for my favorite one” is such an endearing line, as if he’s listening to this album with you and has a favorite that is coming up, makes my old heart glad to be a part of this listening experience.

After the instrumental introduction and the proper introduction, the album proper kicks off with a groovin’ 60’s-tacular rock tune (and one of the very few instances of Linnell playing guitar) called “West Virginia”, and immediately, with the opening line “West Virginia, there’s something I’d like you to see…”, you realize that these aren’t really songs about states. The only actual references to the states are fleeting and usually there just to serve the theme of the song:

Like I told you, you are concentric in your form
When it’s cold, you have got yourself to keep you warm

The next song, “South Carolina” only mentions the state as the location for a bicycle wreck that apparently landed the rider into a hospital stay and a cushy settlement.

Accident, accident
Lift that fork, eat that snail
Garcon summoned, have a new cocktail
Crashed my bicycle, Crashed my bicycle
In a big South Carolina wreck, I crashed my bicycle

This song is for sure one of my favorites. Aside from the usual lyrical cleverness, Linnell displays a trait in his singing not often heard with pop singers, he sings in characters. The voices he uses are usually goofy, but it adds a certain narrative quality to the song that I can’t help but dig. Added to the really bouncy piano-driven beat, it’s a song I think anyone can get behind.

Apparently the next song, “Idaho”, which features Linnell singing in his lowest possible register, is a story about a drug-induced dream John Lennon had about driving his house. Of course, for the purposes of the song, the singer is driving his house to Idaho. Of note in this song’s otherwise smooth and bassy arrangement, is the inclusion of a car alarm in the song’s bridge. I have no idea why.

After that bit of an interlude, we get back to the bouncy rock with “Montana”, another song that takes place in a hospital, only the subject of this song is a dying man who has a catharsis and realizes that “Montana was a leg”. It’s quite an inspiring song for lunatics.

A leg! Now I get it
I’ll tell the person next to me
And then haul off and die

Really I should have just made this write-up a reprint of all the lyrics in this album, and that would sum up all my favorite parts.

After the semi-instrumental dissonant accordion/violin piece “Pennsylvania”, which contains roughly the lyrics “La la la la la la la Pennsylvania”, we move on to “Utah”. The story in “Utah” apparently takes place at a job interview, and has a very “oppressive polka” feel to it, if such a thing exists outside of this song.

Then the “favorite song” spoken of earlier in the album (since the song’s melody is played after that line in “Songs Of The 50 States”), “Arkansas” comes in with a smooth trombone and pounding piano chords as Linnell sings a strange story indeed.

The designers of the Arkansas were inspired to choose a form
That was the exact dimensions and the shape of the state whose name she bore
Yes the ship was shaped like Arkansas, and the hull was formed without a flaw
Every detail had been reproduced on a scale of 1 to 1

The song proceeds to tell a story about how the ship began to sink and I guess replaced the actual state. I really like this song not only for the idea, but for the fact that I have this wonderful image in my head of Linnell playing a grand piano and singing this song while floating by on a raft as the events in the song unfold.

We then move on to “Iowa”, which is a fairly straightforward song about a witch named Iowa. Of note is the line:

And if that broom don’t fly
I’m gonna buy you a Dust Buster

…and then he flips on an actual Dust Buster. That’s pretty dern cool.

Then we have another instrumental, called “Mississippi” which is mostly centered around a bassoon (I think a bassoon anyway) working through some scales around a piano. The CD of this album has “state facts” in the liner notes, and I love their entry about “Mississippi”:

The Official State Bird of the Magnolia State is the Mockingbird, which is also the state bird of Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. The mockingbird mimics the calls of other birds, so maybe those other states don’t realize they’re all dealing with the same bird.

We then move on to “Maine”, another song that I want to consider my favorite if it weren’t for all those other tracks. It’s apparently about someone who is evil that struggles with Maine and its coniferous green. I’m just mainly really into that sort of shanty-like chorus where one can’t help but shout “MAINE!” along with the singer. Good times.

Another oppressive song is the next track, “Oregon”, which plainly states that “Oregon is bad, stop it if you can” as it climbs the major scale. I have never been to Oregon myself, but I imagine it can’t be all THAT bad.

Then “Michigan” brings it up a few notches with a good ol’ fashioned high speed polka. The song could be about zombies (“We must eat Michigan’s brain”) and it could be about expansionism, as Linnell himself has stated, but no matter what your interpretation, the line “Oh Michigan, exemplar of unchecked replication” is among my favorite on the whole album.

We then get to my other favorite song on the album, “New Hampshire”. It’s a great song about an itchy man whose “brushes with success were just an accident” and nobody likes him for a number of legitimate reasons. The instrumentation of this song is definitely that carnival organ I mentioned earlier, which, according to Linnell, he thought would sound stately and grand, but instead had this homely sound to it that is appealing in its own way. Personally I love the song, it really is grand in a way that isn’t.

The album then closes out with an extremely short marching song called “Nevada” that was recorded against the sounds of a real parade that was apparently going on outside of the studio. The album fades out as the parade goes by and the horrible marching band plays their out-of-tune song. All in all, a surprising ending to an album full of surprises.

I really do love State Songs, as a solo album by one of two members of a band that are known for their unique sound, it really stands on its own apart from the “They Might Be Giants” sound. It doesn’t demand much of your attention, but definitely rewards those looking for some really clever ideas. Personally, I’d be thrilled if John Linnell wrote about the other 33 states (“Lousiana” is on the Montana single but not the album), but I think he’s hung his hat up on that particular project.

Well, until tomorrow!

 

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The Presidents Of The United States Of America – The Presidents Of The United States Of America

And the winner for longest blog post title goes to…

Ah this brings back so many memories

I figure, on our first day of having a new President of the United States of America, we should celebrate with probably the best album having to do with that particular office ever. Also we’re apparently in a time of great change what with our first-ever black President, and indeed the album we’re talking about is the very first rock album I ever liked, so we’re touching on all kinds of newness here.

I noticed that almost everyone I know has heard or owned this album at some point, so perhaps I will be saying nothing new about it. It dates back to the time when I was young and impressionable and largely unconcerned with any particular type of music (I had Classical cassette tapes and enjoyed the Blues on television occasionally and of course my Mom’s occupation bringing a constant influx of Christian music which I will get to in later entries). I wasn’t really provided with any rock music, due to my Dad largely giving up on listening to anything he hadn’t already heard a hundred times (he had a 10 year lapse in listening to any kind of music with the advent of The Dark Age of music, the 80’s), and that I didn’t like anything Mom listened to for the most part. Hence, it was up to my evil twin (my cousin who was much more fun than me and only 7 hours younger) to introduce me to an album that, probably more than other, changed my gol’dern life.

We weren’t “allowed” to listen to the first track, “Kitty“, very loudly, since it contains that most terrifying of words, the dreaded F-word. It’s really too bad that it would take me until I owned the album for myself before I could really get to listen to that song worry-free, because it’s a fucking great track.

“Kitty” and the next song, “Feather Pluckn“, introduce a lyrical element to The Presidents’ sound I have always enjoyed, the fact that they sing a LOT about animals. “Feather Pluckn” in particular really throws in a lot of critters in their song that is about who-knows-what. I will say that I recently discovered the breakdown where they are saying “Everybody’s super-nova” started out as a tribute/ripoff to the Beatles’ song “I’ve Got A Feeling” where they break it down toward the end. I didn’t know this before because Youtube hadn’t introduced me to a live version of the song where they sing the exact lines, and also I only listened to the Beatles for the first time about a year ago.

The next song is probably the best one on the album, or at least the most popular given the Weird Al parody, “Lump” is a pretty incredible song. It really has an impressive tonal quality, probably given that The Presidents didn’t even have a full guitar’s worth of strings between them. The lead singer plays a 2-string bass, and the guitarist plays a guitar with only 3 strings, yet somehow they wind up sounding as full as bands containing several guitars.

The album slows down a bit for the song “Stranger”, so it’s probably no surprise that I was unimpressed by it as a 12 year old. I have only now, in my half-way-to-old age come to realize that it’s necessary to slow these albums down a bit for Grandpa. Indeed “Stranger” is a good song about Carla the Stripper, but I am still not terribly impressed with it.

The next song, however, stands as the anthem to my childhood. Many a trampoline-jumping session was spent singing “Boll Weevil” at the top of my lungs. I really wonder what would have happened if I listened to a lot of straight-up funk in my youth, I would have probably found it incredible, because the awesome bass-line intro (you may remember that I LOVE those) introduces a funk element that one wouldn’t think could be accomplished with a 2-string bass. Even now, I am impressed by how well The Presidents did with the variety of fun sounds on this album. It’s rare for a power trio to really do much with their sound other than reproduce it endlessly (see: Green Day), but I didn’t know that at the time, I just knew this song was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

I may have been wrong about “Lump”, I think the song most associated with PUSA is “Peaches“, a song that gets away from the topic of animals and strippers to talk about a delicious fruit. Now that I think about it, I wonder how many people you could sing “Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches” to that wouldn’t jump in with you immediately in a moment of comradery. This could very well be the solution that our new President is looking for! Let’s just bring the entire nation, nay, the world together in a chorus of “Peaches”, then maybe all our problems will be instantly rectified, even the really tricky economical ones. Don’t ask me how, that’s not how these dreams work.

Then we go back to animals with another excellent track, “Dune Buggy“. I really hate spiders, but for this song I always make an exception. There’s an undeniable quality to the Presidents’ lyrics where the syllables work well together to create a poetic flow:

I got a rubber band motor, hummin’ on the beach, ready for fun
Quit spinnin’ that web and come out and play in the sun
Eight thimble-size cylinders, to be as smooth as you please
Spider’s badass fat old abdomen stuck in the buggy seat

These guys aren’t messing around. Particularly with their lost-cause anthem, “We’re Not Going To Make It”, where their humor is suddenly brought down to self-deprecation level, which is fine, since that’s one of my favorite kinds of humor. Plus the song is rocking, and only builds up from there.

Next is a psuedo-cover song, “Kick Out The Jams”, which was originally played by MC5. The Presidents’ version contains almost entirely different lyrics save for the song’s title, and is only 1 minute and 20 seconds long.

Then another song about animals, this time a slowed-down song about finding dead animals, which convinces me, probably more than the other songs, that this band are all quite obviously kids on the inside just letting it all out. It might be that they are talking about dead animals to subvert the “I can’t get your body out of my mind” line of the chorus to not be about what you think it’s about. I don’t much care for this song, however, it causes late-album fatigue like nothing else man, and you don’t want that fatigue to cause you to stop listening before you get to two really great songs, “Back Porch” and “Candy”.

“Back Porch” is a great lyrical counterpart to “Body”, since it’s less like a curious child and more like a really old man sitting on the back porch. This song is also a great throwback to the rest of the album, since a lot of the earlier songs are subtly referenced. I enjoy the song quite a lot, particularly about his friends bringing “2-string, 1-string, and no-string guitars”.

We’re then treated to an excellent love song entitled “Candy”, which starts off kind of slow but has one of the best breakdowns I’ve ever heard towards the end, since it contains heavy fast drums and either a woodblock or a cowbell, I can’t quite tell. I can not but approve of it, though.

Then, finally, “Naked And Famous”, which is a nice slow-ish note to end on (Well, until the sped-up portion towards the end). I can’t tell you what it’s about, mostly because I can’t figure that one out. The Presidents liked to use interesting ideas to piece together to make songs that are nearly indecipherable, but that’s a pretty cool move, if you ask me.

All in all, this album looped twice while I was writing about it, which means it’s fairly short, but that’s the perfect length for an album if you want to make a really good impression on a 12 year old. I owe most of my capacity for writing and appreciating clever music to these guys, even though people typically assume I’m most influenced by They Might Be Giants. Funnily enough, when I heard TMBG for the first time on Tiny Toons Adventures, I had already heard The Presidents and it was the similarities I drew between the two that made me even interested in TMBG. Also, since I had no idea what TMBG looked like until some time in the late 90’s, I pictured them as two Mr. Clean-looking bald giants. Oh to be 12 again, eh?

 

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They Might Be Giants – They Might Be Giants

Once again, dear friends, a busy performance schedule is looming over my head as I write about today’s album, and I am found with not a whole lot of time to kill, so I figured I’d go ahead and get started on the discography of yet another band I have been obsessed with for a good portion of my life:

The internet gets an erection every time it sees this

The grand opening to the band’s rather prolific repetoire certainly gives off the impression of being a kids’ album, which is fitting because that’s half of what the band does nowadays.

Indeed, it was a kids’ cartoon show that first demonstrated the Giants’ lyrical thematic prowess to me, when they had 2 songs on the otherwise-terrible Tiny Toon Adventures on a special music-themed episode. The songs were Istanbul, Not Constantinople and Particle Man, and I loved those songs so much that I really wish I had been introduced to them sooner, instead it would be almost 10 years before I actually got into them, but now, almost another 10 years after that, I’m pretty well-versed in their almost oppressive cleverness.

This cleverness starts right at the beginning of the very first album. The first words sung on the album are the title of the first song: “Everything Right Is Wrong Again“. I would consider this song one of the stronger openings to an album, actually, as it encapsulates the mood of the rest of the album rather adequately, from the opening to the obscure movie references, and that wonderful keyboard melody that comes in towards the end, and my favorite bit, the fact that they sing “And now the song is over now, the song is over now” right in the middle of the song.

The next song, “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head” keeps the thing moving with another surreal musical experience, this time featuring the other John’s almost indecipherable singing, which he chose to use for this recording alone (he tends to enunciate much better on later albums, I do not know why). The video also serves as a visual snapshot of what was really going on with They Might Be Giants at the gates of stardom.

Though a bit of the element remains 23 years later, back in the band’s early days, they were about half musical and half visual show. They got known in a particularly tough New York scene to “get known” in, but the quality of their strange music and the unusual (though certainly not unique, there were many acts that did prop work at the time and place) stage antics are what really made them shine above the rest. This probably also explains why the album is 19 tracks of pure weird, since the songs were not necessarily written with a cohesive album in mind, but more to fit their stage act with weird, often humorous songs.

Speaking of, the next song “Number 3”, is a good ol’ fashioned joke song, filled with self-reference and loathing.

There’s only two songs in me, and I just wrote the third
Don’t know where I got the inspiration or how I wrote the words
Spent my whole life just diggin’ up my music’s shallow grave
For the two songs in me and the third one I just made

The chorus is broken up by a slowed-down record of a saxophone playing. Though it’s certainly true that one of the Johns can play the saxophone, they liked the sound of the record so they threw that on there.

After that nonsense is the album’s “hit” track. I think most people who talk about They Might Be Giants tend to cite this track as one of the more “establishing” songs, though I just consider it another quite good song with a nifty video. The song, in fact, is “Don’t Let’s Start”, and I would link you to a lovely official video of the song, but Youtube’s being a bit funny today by filling itself with remixes and slowed-down versions of the song set to the video instead of the video proper. I can’t tell you how much internet TMBG fans irritate me, I just can’t.

The next song, “Hideaway Folk Family” is another song meant to be done live, as evidenced by its more simplistic setup and weird “talk-down” bridge, then “32 Footsteps” is just one that I can’t really explain. In fact, I am going to have a lot of trouble “just explaining” a lot of songs so it’ll be highlights from here on out.

One of the better songs appears at the album’s middle portion, “She’s An Angel”. This song would become much, MUCH better in a live version captured on the album Severe Tire Damage, where the ploddy synth-bass is replaced by a tuba and the whole arrangement is smoother and more subtle. As it stands on the album, it’s not a bad song at all, and the lyrics are quite pretty for a TMBG song, and the melody is something I wish I had the bravery to rip off entirely.

“Boat Of Car” is another track I feel was recorded for a live show, but I do have an automatic interest in it since it samples Johnny Cash. Specifically the “daddy sang bass” part of Daddy Sang Bass. Particularly given the oppressive bass note that hits every so often in the song, and the song’s overall winning melody, I feel this song is a really good example of what can be done with music if you have the inclination. I mean, exactly what genre does one put all this stuff in?

“Absolutely Bill’s Mood” is another favorite, as it is one of the few TMBG moments where the singer just comes out and says “I’m insane”, and the sped-up guitar work on it is a thing of wonder. The way it happened was that a guitarist friend of theirs had written a guitar line and literally phoned it in to them on their answering machine. He had to play quietly so as not to awake his kid, so what came over the phone sounded interesting enough, but the Johns felt that speeding it up 2 or 3 times and putting it on the record was the only obvious course of action. I am inclined to agree.

The whole thing wraps up in a time capsule of a song called “Rhythm Section Want Ad” where so many acts I don’t listen to are referenced, it was as if the Johns were trying to expend their ability to reference other current acts in one go, as I haven’t heard a whole lot of references since then. The other cool thing is that the album stops on nearly the same feel it started in, yet each track is remarkably different, not only from each other, but from everything else I’ve ever heard then and since. I suppose that’s why They Might Be Giants enjoys the large fan-base it does, because there are no true imitators of the style. Unfortunately for people like me, who have less than 5 minutes to get ready to put on a show, it means that anyone who writes clever music in the Beatles-pop format are going to be labeled “They Might Be Giants influenced” right on the forehead, but you know, after so many years of that, I’m considering it more of a compliment now than I used to.

I may have to figure out how to better sum up They Might Be Giants albums in over 1000 but less than 2000 words, since the track-by-track thing isn’t going to work, each album contains a WEALTH of songs. Oh well, food for thought. Until tomorrow, friends!

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Muckafurgason – Muckafurgason

I’m tired of talking about albums everyone knows already! Time to talk about Muckafurgason:

Yep no images exist on the internet of this album, nor does it even have a Wikipedia entry. THAT'S obscure.

This is a band I guess you would have to have been there for. I saw them, as anyone else who has heard of them surely would have, opening for They Might Be Giants during their 2002 tour promoting their kids’ album No! Their show, to date, is my favorite TMBG-opener. For one, the band switched instruments in every song, so at one point each of the members were the drummer, guitarist, or bassist. One of them played trumpet while drumming, and awkward white guy beat-box rapping is something that just has to be seen outside of that wretched “nerd-core” genre.

Needles to say, I stuck around after the show to pin down a couple of those darn albums they had for sale. I really should have bought everything, had I known they would be no more soon afterward, but I bought 2 of the more important albums, one of which was their self-titled release, which was produced by TMBG’s own John Flansburgh. We listened to it in the car on the way back from Dallas and it’s been a favorite since.

It opens up with a track that may seem mysterious at first (it certainly was for me until just this year) called “Mucker Furgason”, a unique spelling of the band’s already-unique name. It combines some fairly standard upbeat drumming with a whole mess of samples, some of which contain words like “All right”, and “Mucker Furgason”, and, at one point, “That’s what I love about white people!” It’s pretty hilarious, but even better is the story behind it. Apparently, the boys were guests on now-defunct Steve Harvey Show, and after receiving some really bland hazing from Mr. Harvey, proceed to do their beat-box rap about Lunch. A couple of the samples in the song are from that fateful night.

“What’s next for Muckafurgason? … the beginning”

The first song proper on Muckafurgason is “Dictionary”, a fairly straightforward song about the function of a dictionary, including lines like:

I was out with a friend, he called me a name that I’d never heard
Was it good, was it bad? I knew that I had to find that word
So I looked it up in the dictionary, ’cause I couldn’t comprehend
In a book full of explanations to words I found you’re not my friend

A really quick and upbeat pop song, I dig it! This song is sung by the Tall one, Chris Anderson, who also plays the trumpet, even while he’s drumming (seriously that’s awesome).

The next song is a little more intense and slightly more abstract. “Liar” is sung by the Englishman of the trio, Andrew Ure, who presumably wrote the thing, at least as the band told me when I asked who wrote what songs and they replied “generally whoever sings the song wrote it”. It should probably be expected to be a straight-forward song about a liar, and it is, but well:

Well she told me that you went to the library
But I saw you and you were out buying batteries
Well she’s a liar, she’s a liar

I should note that the bridge to the song says:

I saw her in the t-shirt shop getting a t-shirt made that said “I am a liar”

And those are exactly the shirts the band was selling. I really had never seen t-shirt marketing like that in rock music before, and I may not again unless I somehow steal that idea….

The next song is “MC Speller”, a song which uses the exact same beat-box rap as “Lunch”, but the song much more together, and functions a little better as a joke song. The song might work a little better live than on the album, but it doesn’t matter because the nature of the album doesn’t seem to require much cohesion.

Speaking of, the next song is an acoustic ballad! It is actually a really good acoustic ballad, again sung by the English feller, and is called “Part-Time Rock Star”. I liked this song so much that I covered it for the couple of years that I had my own band, and it was always my dad’s favorite cover of mine, and in fact, even years after my band stopped playing, he’d have me play that song so he could harmonize the ending with me. Really good times. The song itself might not be much, just a lovely English-sounding ballad about someone who works in an office 9 to 5 and spends the rest of the time being a rock star. I can certainly say I and many others identify with the song.

So why is the next song called “I Wanna Get…” KC? I don’t know, it’s sung by the band’s supposed leader, John Lee, who a few of you may know as one the creators of Wonder Showzen and another show I’ve never heard of. The song contains the only instance of SWEARING on the album, so I dare not repeat any of the words at this juncture (we’ll save that for later when I talk about some Swedish hardcore metal). The song is not without its own cleverness though:

I’m gonna fight my dad
And I’m not even mad

The next song is sung in part by John Lee and part by Andrew Ure, and it’s called “Rock Spaceship”. It’s really not a particular favorite, but it certainly is energetic enough.

I should maybe stop pointing out instances where the song’s content is exactly what’s in the title, as I now see that this is the case for pretty much all the songs, “Why Don’t You Get Married?” is one, it’s about a woman who is nice so she should get married so guys will stop thinking they have a shot at her (sung in a very old-fashioned way, it’s kind of hilarious). “Janeane” is about Janeane Garofalo, who apparently John Lee dated for a while, “Subtle Spy” is an instrumental that belongs in a 1960’s spy television show, and “Killing Flies” (one of my favorites) is about… killing flies.

These songs are all great, really, and it’s too bad their album is out of print. It would be nice if the internet were more obsessed with the band, that way I could find out if Andrew Ure is doing anything, since he’s the one who wrote my two favorite songs on the album. Unfortunately, web searches just pull up this loser. Muckafurgason in general is a band I would have liked to see keep going, but no matter how good a band is, if there’s no commercial success, that could lead to some difficulties when it comes to staying together and making more albums. Certainly in a couple of days I will be reflecting on a band that met with that end, so until then, see you tomorrow!

 

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