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They Might Be Giants


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Frequently comedic alternative pop/rock

Status:

Most recent release, Phone Power (2016)

See also:

They Might Be Giants site

They Might Be Giants's Facebook page

Wikipedia's entry for They Might Be Giants

Comparisons:

Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies

Covers/own material:

Own and select covers

General comments:

i personally found everything post Apollo 18 exceeding bad. i wasn't even all that thrilled with Apollo 18, though i have to admit, the shuffle sequencing option definitely is nice and novel. and there are some darn good songs on their, though nothing as sparkling as their earlier stuff.
     truth is, They Might Be Giants [TMBG] got boring after they became a full band (right around Apollo 18). and this is coming from someone who used to be a DIE HARD fan.
     i discovered They Might Be Giants through their video "Don't Let Start". still a great song. their first eponymous album, (which was rereleased along in 2 set i think along with Lincoln their second album, and a bunch of BSIDES that had been compiled and released already under the title MISCELLANEOUS T) is great. i have it vinyl, and probably have worn the grooves out, since the purchase way back when.
     Lincoln their second album spawned a few minor college hit ("Ana Ng", and "They'll Need A Crane") but i never really got into it. but it was their third album (and major label debut i think) that really had them make their mark on the map. Flood is probably the one that i recommend as the most accessible, fun, catchy, and easiest to listen to. you'll probably remember the songs from the radio "Birdhouse In Your Soul", and "Istanbul Not Constantinople" were the two big hits, but the rest of the album is also delightfully quirky and cheerful.
     by the following album though (Apollo 18), they were getting a little long in the tooth. They Might Be Giants always prided themselves on packing their albums full of songs. this often meant the vinyl/cassette recording of 45 minutes of 17 or 18 songs. if you calculate that out, the average song ended up being 2.5 minutes long. with the new 74+ minute CD format becoming the standard though, They Might Be Giants again wanted to give their fans their money's worth and hence, maxed out the CD, with all that they could. except they were still recording 18 to 20 songs per CD. songs went from 2.5 min to roughly 4 min. by average.
     what sounds fun and perky for two and half minutes, gets kinda old and tiresome at four minutes.
     part of it had to do with longer songs, but part of it also had to do with the fact that it was no longer two guys fooling around amusing themselves and their fans. two other members joined in fleshing out the band into a four piece. no longer were they spontaneous and whimsical, they were, well, they were starting to sound like a generic four-piece band. they started to write real honest to goodness structured songs.
     i mean didn't listen to They Might Be Giants for songs. i listened to They Might Be Giants for little short ditties. little snipbits of fun. not for chorus verse chorus bridge verse chorus. nope. nothin' doin' They Might Be Giants had lost their spontaniety. and thus my interest wained. i lost interest in them shortly after purchasing John Henry and really haven't tried to pick up since then.
     perhaps my tastes have changed, i haven't really listened to any earlier They Might Be Giants either. but something tells me, if i were to put on Flood or their first album, i would be bouncing all over the room, singing along to "Don't don't don't let start"......
     so my advice. get Flood. work your way back. then work forward. (5/99, iflin@speakeasy.net)

just wanted to chime in and tack my name onto the list of tmbg fans. i find my infatuation with them rather odd, in that it simply never ends: i don't get sick of their stuff, even though sometimes when i sit back and think about it it seems it should be a little too gimmicky to last. like irvin, i found myself a little taken aback by the "full band" sound of john henry at first, but unlike irvin i found it grew on me too, and now i'm equally comfortable with either side of the spectrum. i find that several songs from each album miss the mark for me, but none to the point where i have to skip them when listening.
     i think with tmbg i was originally attracted by the absurdity of their stuff, and then permanently hooked by their style, their flair, and the fact that i find their voices/accents lots of fun to sing along with and imitate. :)
     i don't know that they're particularly ecto fodder, as i don't see them discussed much here, but i guess i have a tendency to put anything i like that seems intelligent, interesting, thoughtful for "more different than most" under the ecto umbrella (and yes, there's some stuff i like for whatever reason that i wouldn't really consider intelligent, interesting, thoughtful for different ;).
     i think one of the defining tracks of the tmbg experience is from misc t, and is the unlabelled 13th track. it's not even a song—it is, if i remember correctly, a message left on their "dial a song" machine, and i'm not even going to *try* to describe it here. find a friend with misc t, listen to the track, know something about tmbg.
     i think neil guy once referred to tmbg as the proverbial monkeys at their proverbial typewriters. not everyone's cup of tea, and not particularly ecto, but definitely worth checking out if you're not put off by what you've heard about them. :) (damon)

Comments about live performance:

Another funny band that I saw was They Might be Giants. I was into them when I was maybe 15 or 16. It was interesting to see how they changed from 2 guys with a backing tape to a full band. They were even better with a band. They did crazy stuff like dueling musicians: one guy playing against the other guy. They had a funny thing with two long puppets for the encore. (stunning@tezcat.com)

anyway, i'll definitely recommend seeing them live for anyone who is attracted by their absurdity...it carries over into live delivery quite well. we all agreed that they were, somehow, "even more like we expected than we expected". :) the two johns complement each other in a way that can't really come across in a recording...john flansburgh jumping around the stage, lifting the microphone poll high above his head, pounding a huge drum out over the heads of the front row (and actually hitting someone by accident, for which we saw him apologising profusely), and soliciting guitar chords from the audience; john linnell mostly staying put at the keyboards or standing with his accordion, making strange faces, looking somehow vaguely acerbic, vaguely excited, and vaguely a little like neither of the above, but overall like he was really enjoying himself (i think)—hard to describe, but somehow he looked like someone you'd really like to know, and yet you'd never know quite what to expect from him.
     the music was great...they showcased some new stuff but the volume was so high i didn't get a good feel for any of the new songs...i think everyone was there for the good old rockers anyway; i swear i thought the floor was going to give out. i think it's neat the way They Might Be Giants songs start out being captivating for the strange sounds and strange lyrics, grow on you to the point where you just-about-but-not-quite "get" the lyrics, and then metamorphose into just really great songs you can listen to over and over. (well, this is my experience...if you don't like They Might Be Giants, you don't like They Might Be Giants i suppose). (damon)

Recommended first album:

Flood

Recordings iclude:

  • They Might Be Giants (1986)
  • Lincoln (1989)
  • Flood (1990)
  • Apollo 18 (1992)
  • John Henry (1994)
  • Factory Showroom (1996)
  • Then—The Earlier Years (compilation of They Might Be Giants and Lincoln, 1997)
  • Severe Tire Damage (live, 1998)
  • Long Tall Weekend (1999)
  • Best Of The Early Years (compilation, 1999)
  • Live (live, 1999)
  • Mink Car (2001)
  • Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants (compilation, 2002)
  • No! (2002)
  • The Spine (2004)
  • Here Come The ABCs (2005)
  • They Got Lost (rarities compilation, 2005)
  • The Else (2007)
  • Here Come The 123s (2007/8)
  • Here Comes Science (2009)
  • Join Us (2011)
  • Album Raises New and Troubling Questions (rarities compilation, 2011)
  • Nanobots (2013)
  • Glean (2015)
  • Why? (children, 2015)
  • Phone Power (2016)

Flood

Release info:

1990—Elektra

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

John Linnell—accordion, horn, keyboards, vocals
John Flansburgh—guitar, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Marion Beckenstein—vocals
Alan Bezozi—drums
Mark Feldman—violin
Arto Lindsay—guitar
Frank London—trumpet
Rick McRae—trombone
Charlie Sepulveda—trumpet

Produced by:

Alan Winstanley, They Might Be Giants, Clive Langer

Comments:

flood is probably one of the best starting points. after all, it contains "birdhouse in your soul", which is quite possibly my all-time favourite tmbg track, if i'm ever forced to choose an all-time favourite. it's a song about a night-light, which is a sort of typically tmbgish theme. (damon)

Apollo 18

Release info:

1992—Elecktra

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

John Linnell—accordion, horn, keyboards, vocals
John Flansburgh—guitar, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Amy Allison—vocals, backing vocals
Laura Cantrell—vocals, backing vocals
Julie Cohen—vocals
Brian Dewan—vocals, backing vocals
Mark Feldman—violin
Nicholas Hill—vocals, backing vocals
Frank London—trumpet
Elma Mayer—vocals, backing vocals
Randy Meisner—bass, vocals
Peter Stampfel—banjo, vocals, backing vocals
Jim Thomas—drums
Garo Yellin—cello

Produced by:

John Flansburgh, John Linnell

Comments:

I love They Might Be Giants's work. I think they are brilliant at what they do. In my opinion Apollo 18 is the definitive They Might Be Giants so far—especially when played in shuffle mode. (justicek@edge.ercnet.com)

apollo 18 is excellent but much harsher or..."rockier"...sounding to my ears. which put me off at first until it grew on me. the "fingertips" series of tracks is incredibly well done; i think my single favourite track is probably "dinner bell", though it's a close call. (damon)


John Henry

Release info:

1994—Elektra

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

John Flansburgh—guitar, vocals
John Linnell—horn, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Peter Becker—bass baritone
Steven Bernstein—trumpet
Brian Doherty—drums
Kurt Hoffman—horn
Frank London—trumpet
Graham Maby—bass
Tony Maimone—bass
Hugo Munday—baritone
Kevin Osborne—trombone
Wilbur Pauley—bass
Robert Quine—guitar
Jay Sherman-Godfrey—guitar

Produced by:

Paul Fox

Comments:

What might have been an awesome album is merely great. The patented weirdness of They Might Be Giants is toned down somewhat by the "rock band" format of the record, and their concerts were a tad clichéd. But the songwriting is still good and the songs show it. A few classics on this album, but a little inconsistent. (relph@presto.ig.com)

they have a lot of albums, and i've only heard john henry. i like most of it, but there are some songs i absolutely hate. detest. perhaps abhor. (JoAnn Whetsell)

john henry continued the "harshness" trend, and of course was the full band album. took longer to grow on me, but definitely still did. hm...hard to pick a favourite; there are so many great ones. ah, wait, "destination moon", definitely. (damon)


Then: The Earlier Years

Release info:

1997—Restless

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for They Might Be Giants fans

Group members:

John Linnell
Eugene Chadbourne—guitar

Guest artists:

Benjamin Bossi, Robin Casey, The Ordinaires, Barbara Schloss, Fritz Van Orden, Garo Yellin—choir, chorus
Kenny Nolan—drums

Produced by:

Matthew Hill—Executive Producer; Bill Krauss, They Might Be Giants

Comments:

2 CD set of early material: unreleased tracks, two early albums, EPs, cassettes, Dial-a-Song phone messages, etc.

     it's basically their first three albums (They Might Be Giants, lincoln, miscellaneous t) along with a bunch of (er, 19) bonus tracks of various sorts. recommended, i think, mostly for raving tmbg fans, completists, or people who don't have the first three albums. i'm definitely not the latter, but i'm enough of the first two to make me quite happy with it. one slight disappointment, though, is the clarity of the liner notes...i certainly never expected to have anything about tmbg explained to me in such simple terms. it would have been more satisfying, somehow, if the booklet had made no sense at all ;).
     i adore their first two albums, but it might be best to hold off on them and misc t until/if you decide you're a complete tmbg freak. favourite from tmbg: "she"s an angel". favourite from lincoln: "ana ng". (damon)


Severe Tire Damage

Release info:

1998—Restless Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

John Flansburg—guitar, vocals
John Linnell—keyboards, accordion, baritone saxophone, vocals

Guest artists:

Eric Schermerhorn—guitar
Kurt Hoffman—tenor saxophone
Jim O'Connor, Frank London, Mark Pender—trumpet
Dan Levine, Randy Andos—trombone
Diana Harold—vibraphone
Hal Cragin, Graham Maby, Tony Maimone, Erik Sanko—bass
Dan Hickey, Brian Doherty, Zak Alford—drums
Mauro Refosco—percussion

Produced by:

Pat Dillett, Tom Durack, They Might Be Giants

Comments:

i also picked up tmbg's new live album, severe tire damage. these are usually quite different from the studio versions. plus a few extra tracks, typically tmbuggy...and a series of "hidden" tracks which is absolutely hilarious, but i won't say more. i think it's a great overview, though sadly a lot of the songs seem to lose something when they shed the studio production sound, at least in recording. still, you get their rendition of "why does the sun shine?" (i also have the single of this) and the version of "meet james ensor" on here is to die for, with john and john filling in the missing instrument parts with their voices.... definitely recommended :) (damon)

Factory Showroom

Release info:

1996—Elektra

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for They Might Be Giants fans

Group members:

John Flansburgh—guitar, vocals
John Linnell—horn, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Amy Allison—sampling
Steve Calhoon—srums
Hal Cragin—bass
Brian Doherty—drums
Ralph Farris—viola
Sue Hadjopoulas—conga, percussion
Amanda Homi—vocals
Gregor Kitzis—violin
Julian Koster—saw, singing saw
Ronald Lawrence—viola
Steve Light—vibraphone
Graham Maby—bass
Tim Newman—trombone
Jim O'Connor—trumpet
Eric Schermerhorn—guitar
Jay Sherman-Godfrey—acoustic guitar, slide guitar
Krystof Witek—violin
Lyle Workman—guitar
Garo Yellin—cello
Kurt Hoffman—horn arrangements, string arrangements

Produced by:

Patrick Dillett, Art Smith, They Might Be Giants

Comments:

factory showroom was another big change of direction. much more produced sounding, and...what's the style i'm looking for...maybe "discoish". in parts. some excellent tracks, including "spiraling shape" which was in the kids in the hall movie, brain candy. my favourite on here is probably "metal detector", though again it's hard to pick. (damon)

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Entry last updated 2016-06-12 15:35:56.
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