They Might Be Giants: Holidayland EP

They Might Be Giants: Holidayland EP

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They Might Be Giants

Album: Holidayland EP
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They Might Be Giants

Album: Holidayland EP

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The ridiculously prolific humorists of They Might Be Giants aren't often cited for profundity, but at their best, John Flansburgh and John Linnell spike their music with sharp comments on the dangers of conformity, the silly continuity of pop-culture history, and the hard-to-articulate feelings of unease that make human interaction difficult. The problem is that so much of TMBG's output seems so off-the-cuff that it's hard to know when to take it seriously, or to know what's canonical and what's apocryphal. It didn't help when the band followed up the full-length Mink Car with the skimpy EP Holidayland, a collection of four previously released seasonal songs and one new recording (a cover of The Sonics' "Santa Claus"). The selection is fine, and the EP is reasonably priced, but 12 minutes of music is 12 minutes of music. A few more covers would have made the package seem less like another of TMBG's strays. On the other hand, given the indifferent response to its recent "proper" releases, why should the duo bother making the effort? Like 1996's exceptional Factory Showroom, Mink Car has been sorely under-recognized. Working with a full band again, and with a revolving team of producers (including Clive Langer and Adam Schlesinger), Flansburgh and Linnell place renewed emphasis on sonic variety, adding bubbling electronic rhythms to rocked-up arrangements. The album still has its throwaway comic elements: "I've Got A Fang" is a brief confessional sung by Linnell as though he were a guy with a big fang sticking out of his mouth, while "Wicked Little Critta" consists of Flansburgh riffing on famous Boston Bruins in a southie accent. More often, though, the two Johns leave aside cleverness and string together fun-sounding words—or even syllables, as on "Mr. Xcitement," wherein former Soul Coughing vocalist Mike Doughty applies his scat-like cadence to phrases like, "We nix the glaben/The knifey-knife is staben." Most of the band's stylistic quirks (hushed passages, stretched stanzas) remain in place, which grows exhausting. But the swinging instrumentation of "Mink Car" and the danceable frenzy of "Man, It's So Loud In Here" keep the record lively, and the latter offers a bevy of funny-but-pointed lyrics in its portrait of intrusive hipsterism. Mink Car also contains songs about the worship of minor celebrities ("She Thinks She's Edith Head"), paralysis ("My Man"), the need for permanence ("Hovering Sombrero"), and the shrugging off of daily anxiety ("Hopeless Bleak Despair"). It's all funny, but also wise in a way.

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