They Might Be Giants relaunch Dial-a-Song and return to the Vic | Bleader

Thursday, April 16, 2015

They Might Be Giants relaunch Dial-a-Song and return to the Vic

Posted By on 04.16.15 at 12:00 PM

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The two Johns of They Might Be Giants, Linnell and Flansburgh
  • Shervin Lainez
  • The two Johns of They Might Be Giants, Linnell and Flansburgh

At the start of 2015, unstoppable nerd-pop geniuses They Might Be Giants relaunched the Dial-a-Song service that had helped them build their devoted audience in the 80s. From 1983 till 2006 fans could call an answering machine whose outgoing message, usually on cassette tape, consisted of an unheard TMBG recording—often a demo or sketch of a song that would later see conventional release, but sometimes a skit or fake jingle. (The popularity of the service led to one of its many slogans: "Always Busy, Often Broken.")

Now updated roughly weekly, Dial-a-Song has a new toll-free number (844-387-6962) and an online component called Dial-a-Song Direct. TMBG plan to release 52 songs through the service in 2015, and 12 of the first four months' tunes appear among the 15 tracks on their 17th studio album, Glean (Idlewild/Megaforce), which comes out in the States on Tuesday. Two more Dial-a-Song albums are in the pipeline, and on Friday the band's Our Options Have Changed tour (like the nice robot person on the phone says: "Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed") brings them to the Vic for a sold-out show.

Today's 12 O'Clock Track, released via Dial-a-Song on January 5, is "Erase," the lead track on Glean. Sung by John Linnell (the one with the nasal voice), it's a jaunty, sinister number that seems to toy with the notion of a fantastical erase button that can correct continuity errors in human lives. The evocative but not exactly linear lyrics combine the mundane, the surreal, and the supernatural (in fine TMBG style), and they've given rise to a variety of interpretations at the band's Wiki site.

Some people suspect the "erasure" refers to suicide or even homicide, or to expunging memories of a failed relationship a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One fan, prompted by the line "When darlings must be murdered" (a reference to a common piece of advice in writing workshops), thinks the song addresses the creative process and the need to sweep the mind clear and start fresh. I'm happy to not be sure what it's about.

The video for "Erase" uses the Web app Anchovy, which translates text into color gradients. In this case the song's lyrics provide the text. Linnell's diction is pretty good, but I'm including them at the bottom of the post so you can puzzle over them too.

And if you've got more time to spare than the two minutes and 47 seconds it'll take you to listen to the song, you should read the splendidly witty Artist on Artist interview John Flansburgh did with Shame That Tune's Abraham Levitan when They Might Be Giants played the Vic in 2013 in support of their previous album, Nanobots. I especially like Flansburgh's recollection of the band's state of mind in the early years. "I don't think it was at all clear that anything we were doing would find a larger audience or save us from our miserable lives," he said. "I think we felt like what we were doing was clearly gonna be an extension of our miserable lives."

You and I will be together
When we shed our memory
I won't wear an orange sweater
When I get it off of me
When it's as it someday is, it
Always will have been the case
When your ever-searching finger
Finds the button marked erase

Finger find the button marked erase
Like a deep-sea diver
Falling into a mermaid's embrace
Put one box on the sidewalk
Then you return with the next
And the first one's gone
Everyone gets on the bus out of town
And the lights start going out one by one

Button marked erase
When darlings must be murdered
When your heartbreak overwhelms your heart

Think of this as solving problems
That should never have occurred
Please don't call it strangulation
That is such an ugly word

Press erase, ignore the shrill alarms
See the way the deep-sea diver
Falls into the mermaid's arms
Put one box on the sidewalk
Then you return with the next
And the first one's gone
Everyone gets on the bus out of town
And the lights start going out one by one

Button marked erase
When darlings must be murdered
When your heartbreak overrides the very
Thing you cannot face
The skeletons that won't stay down
The mercy kill that can't be drowned

Put
Box
Sidewalk
Then
Return
Next
First one gone

Everyone
On
Bus
Out
Lights
Out
One by one

Finger find the button marked erase
Like a deep-sea diver
Falling into a mermaid's embrace
Put one box on the sidewalk
Then you return with the next
And the first one's gone
Everyone gets on the bus out of town
And the lights start going out one by one

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