Musical Kaleidoscope : They Might Be Giants & Laura Marling

My Musical Kaleidoscope!

The idea is:

  1. Friends, family and whoever throw out some album recommendations.
  2. I pick two, give them a spin and blog the result.

It’s a brand new record for 1990…

The first album to talk about is Flood by They Might Be Giants.

I’m resisting the urge to fill this blog entires with non sequiturs. For the uninitiated, They Might Be Giants are silly. Not silly in a Weird Al Yankovich parody-song kid of fashion. The correct word is absurd.

This album features..

  • a song where a person yells “Minimum wage! Yee hah!” and groovy lounge/coyboy music plays for 40 seconds and then it ends.
  • the tale of Particle Man, Universe man, Person Man and the particularly grumpy Triangle Man
  • a confusing song about a person who is either dead and hasn’t done anything they want … or is possibly not dead and has nothing they want to do (I think).
  • my personal favorite ‘We Want A Rock’. It correctly explains that everybody wants a rock to wind some string around and/or prosthetic foreheads to put on their real heads.

During that latter song I literally Laughed Out Loud.

“Welcome to Hell, here’s your accordion”

(Google that and see if you can find the Larson cartoon.)

The music for TMBG does feature accordions. I’ve never really seen myself as an accordion music fan. It’s not just this particularly member of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone family that is an issue. The music simple is quite silly sounding.

There’s nasally singing which sometimes gets ramped up intentionally (see the ‘and’s in the middle of the song Dead). Also in the mix are a variety of guitars, some synthesiser beats/samples and other weird sounds (eg. the end of Hearing Aid).

However, at some point something clicked. I was convinced it was necessarily ‘good music’. Instead  was won over because it was fun and enjoyable music. There’s an infectious energy as it moves from one bizarre stylistic choice to another, all the while chattering along with strange tales of Sapphire Bullets of Love.

The alternative Alternative music.

This was a great album to listen to. Firstly it opened my mind a bit on what music I can get enjoyment out of, cause I did really enjoy this album

Secondly, it reminded me of when albums like this got national airplay. During the 90s the boundaries of genre were a bit looser. In my mind, Alternative music wasn’t synonymous with Grunge, it was literally the alternative to the established genres. Heavy songs, silly songs, rude songs, retro songs, whatever songs. Alternative music could simply be a silly song about Istanbul not being Constantinople.

<Thomas takes off nostalgia glasses>

I Speak Because I Can : by Laura Marling

The first thing to say is there was a major time lapse between this sentance and the last. My ears decided they wanted to ache constantly and I had to quit all music for a few weeks. Things are more tolerable now so I’ve returned to finish off things.

So here we have Laura Marling. After several listens it’s undeniable that there’s talent on display here. The lyrics are crafted with the care of poetry. Laura sings with a high degree of control over the words. She curls around vowels, pinches words for effect and sings clearly at other times. The impression is that of highly skilled craft.

The most noteable feature about the singing is, to borrow a phrase from some other reviews, Laura sings with a “wisdom beyond her years“. The reason people say that is Laura sounds like she’s 40 (and I thought she was 40 when I first heard the album)  while in actuality she’s 20.

I had a problem.

This is the point in the review where you get to agree with me, or say I’m being a close-minded idiot.

Can a 20 year old sing convincingly about regret and world weariness?

Johnny Cash can sing Hurt in his dying months and it’s emotionally devastating… but could Justin Beiber pull it off? (hint: No)

Listening to this album I felt torn…

On one hand, it’s just about the music.

I’ve previously stated how little I care about lyrics. It’s the music that matters, right?. Melody, rhythm, texture, technique. So if Laura Marling sounds good (which she does), who cares if she’s 20 or 12.

On the other hand, music is a statement by the artist.

Lately though, I’ve felt a stronger connection to music (and Art in general) as a statement by the artist. Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, was made following his separation from his wife. NIN’s Year Zero in the midst of Bush-era America. In some cases an album can be seen within a given context. This can and often does affect our interpretation of it.

When Laura Marling sings “Never rode my bike down to the sea/ never quite figured out what I believe” I tend to think … well, you’re only 20… surely you’ve still got time?

Ok… but the lyrics in Heavy Metal are ridiculous… is this criticism a little unfair?

Well, sorta. Yes I love Heavy Metal and yes the lyrics are ridiculous (often undecipherable). It’s not a problem for me on a Metal album as lyrics are hardly ever the main drawcard. Instead there’s always a catch riff or absorbing texture that feel’s like it’s ‘the point‘ of the music. With this folk album, if I do wonder what’s the point if the 20 year old singer has very little life experience to back up the songs.

In conclusion, yes this is a well made album by talented musicians. Unfortunately I had a hangup that dogged me the whole way. If you can put that to the side, I do think there’s a lot to like.


Assuming my ears are up to the task, I’ll be listening to..

  • The trancey, metal weirdness of Infected Mushroom with Legend of the Black Shawarma
  • Alternative rock godfathers, Sonic Youth and Daydream Nation

Thanks to Sarah and Damien for this weeks suggestions.


One thought on “Musical Kaleidoscope : They Might Be Giants & Laura Marling

  1. You’re liking TMBG and listening to lyrics. Good god man, next you’ll be listening to A&J Stone 😉

    My previous recommendation for Best Kids’ Album Ever being TMBG’s Here Comes Science stands.. plus the DVD is funky. And it undoes some of the evil indoctrination of xmas carols 🙂

    Re life experience.. it can depend. I had the sameish problem with the first Missy Higgins album. Age isn’t necessarily a barrier – Ani DiFranco’s first album (at 19) is raw and emotional and honest and mind-blowing. Guess it all comes down to how believable the whole package is.

    Glad the magical mystery tour is back on track.

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