After almost three decades of cleverness, this duo is still right on track  

“We didn’t get into music to meet girls or to strike a pose,” says John Flansburgh, who formed the clever alt-rock duo They Might Be Giants with John Linnell in 1982. “It was about having crazy ideas and taking those ideas as far as we could. A lot of people find the idea of humor in music childish, but what we do is post-adolescent. It’s a natural reflection of who we are and what our sensibility is.” It’s a sensibility the pair first began to hone as part of New York’s post-punk scene. “I feel like we’re the last New Wave band,” says Flansburgh. “The underground music of the late ’70s was a revelation for us. The philosophy that anyone could pick up a guitar and start a band was something I grabbed hook, line and sinker.”

The Giants’ latest, Join Us, features the sort of concise, whip-smart songs that have earned the duo a dedicated following. Their first album aimed at adults after several years devoted to children’s projects, the disc boasts song titles—“When Will You Die,” “Judy Is Your Viet Nam,” “Old Pine Box”—that hint at dark topics. “Formal pop songwriting and those short, keenly focused songs of the ’60s were very appealing to Linnell and me,” explains Flansburgh, 51 (one year Linnell’s junior). “We often talk about giving our songs graphic impact. We want the choruses to be startling and we want the verses to be arresting. Hard left turns are something we’re always interested in.”

After some nagging false starts, Join Us became “one of the most focused albums we’ve ever done,” says Flansburgh. Still, the duo ended up recording enough material to release a new odds-and-ends companion disc with the tongue-in-cheek title Album Raises New and Troubling Questions. “We go into preproduction with templates for lots of things that are in varying degrees of completion,” Flansburgh says. “As we’ve evolved, we’ve figured out how to hold onto the twitchy, manic charm of those demos.”

Flansburgh is quick to credit that evolution in part to the duo’s longtime backing group, including guitarist Dan Miller, bass player Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller. “The guys in the band who play with us, and the way we work together, have become extremely fruitful,” he says. “There are a lot of great people involved who make what we do sound right. Considering that we’re nearly 30 years deep into this project, it’s remarkable how on track things are.”

–Russell Hall

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