For their twelfth full-length -- and first "rock" album in three years -- They Might Be Giants recruited the Dust Brothers as co-producers, a combination nearly as intriguing as the fact that the duo released The Else digitally via iTunes more than a month before it was issued on CD. Pairing the Dust Brothers' sonic invention with John Linnell and ...
For their twelfth full-length -- and first "rock" album in three years -- They Might Be Giants recruited the Dust Brothers as co-producers, a combination nearly as intriguing as the fact that the duo released The Else digitally via iTunes more than a month before it was issued on CD. Pairing the Dust Brothers' sonic invention with John Linnell and John Flansburgh's winning ways with words and melodies should be a dream collaboration; after all, the producers' work with Beck was just as witty and playful as it was funky and innovative. Nearly every time They Might Be Giants has ventured into territory that might be considered strange (Apollo 18's "Fingertips" mini-songs, their foray into children's music), they've pulled it off with flair. However, The Else is surprisingly -- and at times, a little disappointingly -- straightforward, particularly on its first half. While "I'm Impressed"'s distorted beat reflects the Dust Brothers' influence on the album (though this track isn't one that they produced) and "Take out the Trash" is a brassy, winning admonition to a girl to dump her loser boyfriend, The Else begins with a string of songs that are fun but not especially memorable. Fortunately, the album's second half is much stronger. "With the Dark" rambles playfully from a ballad about a girl who hates sunlight to a lumbering section about a pirate tired of his "nautical dreams" and then into much more surreal territory; likewise "Withered Hope" tells the tale of a sad sack yet sounds like anything but. With its circular wordplay, "The Bee of the Bird of the Moth" feels like a classic TMBG track, as does "The Mesopotamians," which marries one of the album's hookiest melodies with the antics of "Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal and Gilgamesh" and ends up sounding like the theme song for a show about a Monkees-like band set in ancient times. "Contrecoup," which deals with phrenology and other obsolete sciences and words, is another in a long line of They Might Be Giants songs that uses your head for thinking as well as bobbing it to the beat. Indeed, the second half of The Else is so good that it's a little frustrating that the entire album isn't this solid. Still, there are more than enough good moments to keep longtime fans happy. [The CD version of The Else comes with "Cast Your Pod to the Wind," a bonus disc of podcast highlights. For die-hard fans who don't already have the podcasts, this disc is worth the price of admission -- the loungy cover of Joe Meek's "I Hear a New World" and songs about mysterious beards and other TMBG-like phenomena capture the band's most adorably off-the-cuff moments.] ~ Heather Phares, Rovi