They Might Be Giants - Join Us

‘Join Us’ is all over the place, but that’s no bad thing.


It’s pretty awesome to think that the original kings of indie geekdom, They Might Be Giants - aka Johns Flansburgh and Linnell and assorted musical chums - are still going strong as they hurtle rapidly towards 30 years of making their own distinctive brand of goofy, catchy, surreal and mind-expanding music. ‘Join Us’ is their fifteenth record; after a wildly successful stint of writing songs aimed at children, they’ve been dipping their toes back into the world of grown up sounds more recently - but seeing as it’s TMBG, lots of their wide eyed child-like wonder is never far away, naturally. That’s not to say they’re childish - rather, TMBG are subtly strange wizards who can make you see the world as bright and bouncy as when you were a joyful tot with their playdough hooks and skipping rope riffs.

‘Join Us’ is all over the place, but that’s no bad thing. In the 18 tracks on offer here you’ll get a rich smorgasbord of genres from a dash of hip hop and Twenties jazz, to jangly indie and a spot of tango. If you can guess what’s coming next, you’re either a psychic or just a big old fibber. Some tracks work better than others, hanging together more pleasingly with chunkier riffs while others trail off a little. But, crucially, nothing on the record is an entire dud, for even a slightly below-par TMBG track is usually a damn sight better than the best efforts by less fearlessly creative indie wannabes.

‘When Will You Die’ is like a classic Motown track played at double speed, all sassy rhythms and brass stabs punctuating a bittersweet yet tongue-in-cheek deathwish for your mortal enemy. ‘Protagonist’ is a scintillatingly clever track, sung in the persona of a rejected lover setting his doomed romance to a thriller script (“I missed my close up/I’ve got myself to blame”). Ever thought about mixing time travel and tango? On ‘2082’, TMBG do just that, with a sinister tale set to moody latin rhythms. One of the less satisfying tracks, ‘Dog Walker’, sounds like Prince on helium but the initial amusement fizzles out over the course of the song like the diminishing light of a sparkler. And ‘Never Knew Love’ veers into the realms of mawkish - yeah, it’s ace to find true love and all that, but sometimes it’s better not to bang on about it, especially while breaking into a drippy falsetto to a slight, flimsy melody.

Sure enough there are plenty of other gems to choose from, though - take ‘Cloisonné’: an odd ditty indeed, with John singing from the perspective of a whinging rain drop to a jaunty sparsely jazzy backing - surely reason enough to treasure the fact that TMBG are still around. Stuff as crazily imaginative and brilliantly loony is just never going to appear on the next Coldplay album now, is it? If it all sounds a bit of a mess, it certainly is - but a glorious one, like an inspired fashion stylist heaping seemingly incompatible patterns and clashing textures on top of one another and somehow creating an end result that looks irresistible. Consider TMBG the Christian Lacroixs of the alternative music scene.

As always, the legions of die hard TMBG devotees will doubtlessly be itching with barely contained anticipation as to what the Johns & Co can deliver this time around - if this isn’t you, don’t despair, as TMBG will only be too glad to welcome you into their neon coloured, cake-filled, bouncy castle party. After all, surely it’s better to be a latecomer than to miss it entirely?