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During their 20-year career, Brooklyn's art-rock pioneers, college rock kings, prolific musical stuntmen, and pop icons have inspired two generations of discerning music listeners. "Indestructible Object" contains four originals that emphasize the band's serious songwriting prowess, plus a beautiful cover of The Beach Boys' "Caroline, No".
After a couple of projects aimed into the children's market, (No! and the book/CD Bed, Bed, Bed), They Might Be Giants bring forth an EP that both connects with the aforementioned works as well as their previous "adult" work, Mink Car. Let it also be said that their music from the outset has been quite child-friendly, while their songs specifically for children work just fine on most parents as well, eschewing anything cloying for a slightly milder version of the fractured poetics found in their surrealist wordplay.
Indestructible Objectis in that classic mold of an EP meant to appease and tease prior to the appearance of a full-length disc. Four new songs are appended with a live rendition of Brian Wilson's "Caroline, No." As the two Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh) grow into middle age, the existentialism that has always empowered their finest songs has fully flowered. The enduring magic of their music is the way in which they imbue happy ditties with magical and sweetly alluring melancholy. --David Greenberger
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I think the best track is the first one, "Am I Awake?" I really like the techno sound of that one. "Au Contraire," which is one of the songs that appeared on The Spine, is a humorous, funny track. "Memo To Human Resources" also turned up on The Spine, and is a pretty good track. The horn-heavy "Ant" is a reworking of a song that TMBG had put out earlier, and is kind of interesting. The final track is a very faithful cover of "Caroline, No," a song that was released by The Beach Boys on their classic album Pet Sounds in '66. (It was also put out as a Brian Wilson solo single.) This is my second favorite track on this EP, although it's something I wouldn't have expected from TMBG.
Overall, I find this EP enjoyable, but like TMBG's other EP releases, I don't think it's anything you can't live without.
Track 1, "Am I Awake?", is the theme song that the Johns wrote and recorded last year for the Learning Channel documentary series "Resident Life". The cold, ominous techno-pop instrumentation and keyboard/accordion player Linnell's deadpan, craggy twang are perfectly suited to the befuddled musings of the lyrics, which may well be written from the viewpoints of the sleep-deprived medical interns featured on the show. ("When I get through this part, will the next one be the same? Will I be wondering if I'm awake?")
Two of the EP's tracks feature TMBG's Other Thing, a small brass ensemble with whom the Johns have performed a number of shows in the past year. Track 4 is a radical reworking of the song "Ant", which was originally recorded as a B-side on the Johns' 1990 EP Istanbul (Not Constantinople). The lyrics are about how a seemingly small problem can spin out of control when ignored, and this message is underscored very well by the new arrangement -- with each verse, bespectacled guitarist Flansburgh raises the pitch and volume of his voice, and the instrumentation becomes increasingly busy. (Dig the "Hail to the Chief" refs during the third verse.) Track 5, a cover of the Beach Boys' 1966 classic "Caroline, No", was performed live on the National Public Radio program "Studio 360" in July of 2003; Flansy's vocal is unabashedly raw and emotional, and he does a beautiful job of communicating the despair and regret of the lyrics.
The new EP's remaining two tracks are refreshing slices of grown-up pop-rock that bode well for TMBG's next album. The jazzy, bouncy "Au Contraire", in which Linnell pokes gentle fun at the sacred cows of history (president Franklin Roosevelt, composer J.S. Bach, Mahatma Gandhi) and pop culture (David Bowie, Jodie Foster), is very funny and cute. Even more promising is the lush, pretty "Memo to Human Resources", in which Flansburgh takes on the voice of a frustrated white-collar drone who's contemplating suicide; Flansy sings a vulnerable lead, Linnell supplies sympathetic harmonies, and the soft-rock-meets-country arrangement offsets the bleak lyrics ("I'd be shouting out to you, but I was mighty hoarse... [I'd] talk you through the finer points and issues much too small to force. Then the people came to talk me down...") nicely.
In the liner notes to their 1997 compilation Then: The Earlier Years, the Johns explained that from the beginning, they saw the EP form not as "a kind of musical land-fill", but as "a useful venue for material that might have a hard time fitting into an album sequence." Indestructible Object is no exception, and fans of TMBG should definitely check it out. (Non-fans and Flansy-haters, however, may not have much use for it.)
Well, the best thing you can say about this EP is that it doesn't have a bad track on it. "Am I Awake?" is a creepy, drum-laced track featuring braintwisting lyrics showcasing how your mind works after going without sleep for too long ("The coffee's cold / Did I forget to drink it yet? / Did I forget? / My clothes are wet / I don't remember drinking it"). The similarly strong "Memo to Human Resources," though a bit ambling in its song structure, manages to sum up workplace angst and depression perfectly.
"Au Contraire," in comparison to the first two tracks, is a TMBG fan-favorite, a nice piece of nonsense that, while lyrically lacking, is still rather fun (especially for having the nerve to call David Bowie "Dave" or showcase Jodie Foster, Bach, and Gandhi playing cards together). "Ant" is another favorite that gets a serious reworking. The lyrics are the same (a parable about how sleeping on small problems turns them into rather big ones), but the composition is starkly different, turning the original's quiet guitar strumming into a wild horn freakout. The only somewhat weak track on the album is TMBG's cover of the Pet Sounds classic "Caroline, No," which, while faithful to the original, just isn't TMBG enough to make it more than a novelty at best.
With all the praise I'm throwing around up above, why do I only give it three stars? As I mentioned above, this EP is a tease. It's much too short and leaves you craving for more when it's finished. Of course, given that The Spine is set to be released July 13, maybe this is what the band intended on.
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am i awake is the best tmbg song in a long time!
am i awake?Read more
1. Au Contraire: Good song
2. Memo to Human Resources: Good song