Category Archives: PHONING IT IN

Phoning It In: “Shape Shifter” And The Final Reckoning

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

They Might Be Giants conclude their 2015 Dial-A-Song odyssey with “Shape Shifter,” the 52nd weekly entry. If you happen to despise TMBG yet are somehow hate-reading things such as this on the internet for fun, “Shape Shifter” may represent a portion of your distaste for the band. It’s “whimsical” (the opening vocal can easily be mistaken for Weird Al) and a little showtune-y and difficult to encounter while uncaffeinated in the morning.

File-A-Song: 6/10

And now it’s time for Phoning It In to hang it up. There have been mistakes, offenses, misreadings and acts of unfairness over the course of the year. We have some corrections, apologies, and caveats: The table below lists all the songs with final, adjusted ratings. We did not consider any of the more than 20 bonus songs issued to Dial-A-Song subscribers. The videos accompanying each weekly song were not viewed so as not to skew the impression of the music. No offense to the artists who created those videos; this was just a music-based critique. Sorry for trying to pit the two Johns against one another. Sorry for the summer slide. Sorry the chart below is nigh unreadable. Sorry for the constant disclaimer of “I’m not a TMBG superfan, I’m a normal person.” There was nothing normal about this. #sorrynotsorry about everything else.

tmbg_chart
The final average rating is 5.79, which is almost on target for what we set out to do: make a 5 rating the true average, instead of bowing to the ineffectual music-criticism practice of making a 7 the mark of mediocrity. This is not high school, where 70-79% is a C and that is average; the spectrum truly ranges from 0 to 10, dummies. By comparison, the average was 5.92 at the midway point, week 26.

tmbg_final_chart

2015 Dial-A-Song Supermix (10-song playlist curated by Phoning It In):
“No Cops”
“Erase”
“And Mom And Kid”
“I Love You For Psychological Reasons”
“It’s Good To Be Alive”
“I Am Invisible”
“All The Lazy Boyfriends”
“Music Jail, Pt. 1 and 2”
“Answer”
“Impossibly New”

Finally, Phoning It In acknowledges the herculean effort put forth by They Might Be Giants this year. Three or four albums could have easily sprung from this material (two actually did, Glean and Why?). We think criticism facilitates discussion and signals importance (though we’re clearly not certain of that point). Laser-focused microcriticism over an entire year facilitates and signals a) listener fatigue and b) complete awe of the creative powers of They Might Be Giants. Never mind Satan, all hail Dial-A-Song.

Phoning It In, over and out.

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Phoning It In: “I Love You For Psychological Reasons”

TMBG

They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

Kendrick Lamar stinks and you know it. That’s the sum total of Phoning It In’s coverage of the Best Albums of 2015, because we live in an insular world of Dial-A-Song. I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in Dial-A-Song, etc. Music critics are spineless and scared of being behind the curve. When you operate from that position of constant fear, there is no bandwagon you can jump on quickly enough. The technology sector operates the same way. Other sectors I am not sure about: medicine, for example—they probably vet things pretty well. There is no justice when Grantland and Wondering Sound retire from the internet, but Phoning It In survives, at least for one more week. Then we dismantle the one bandwagon we’ve been riding all year long (this one), and we walk in the road with the rest of you poor people.

This week’s song, “I Love You For Pyschological Reasons,” is in the top five of the year. This clever and animated pop song would have made sense as the final entry: a bookmark to the also-excellent inaugural track “Erase.” Now this becomes an exercise in figuring out what the finale will be, because we force logic onto Dial-A-Song. Could it be a compositional reflection on some or all of the previous 51 tracks? A short goodbye or a political statement? A New Year’s jingle? A dial tone? Stay tuned.

File-A-Song: 9/10

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Phoning It In: “I’ll Be Haunting You” And “Long White Beard”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

It’s the beginning of the end of Dial-A-Song 2015 and, by extension, Phoning It In. The latter enterprise dried up long ago in terms of interesting or original things to say about the former enterprise; all we have now are the formalities, the bows and ribbons to tie it all up. Statistics will be calculated and rankings determined. Until then, we have two songs to discuss.

“I’ll Be Haunting You” is about how the Google search engine will forever associate my byline with this year in the wilderness of They Might Be Giants. LOL JK. The production on this song is strange—more Jam & Lewis than Linnell and Flansburgh. It’s also a song where Linnell tries to fit too much text into the lyrics, and it results in a monotone vocal. Admittedly, this happens a lot in TMBG’s songs and is often successful; here, it’s not so great.

“Long White Beard” is culled from new children’s album Why? and features vocals by Robin Goldwasser, who is John Flansburgh’s wife. Goldwasser also sings Why? opening track “Oh You Did,” and Phoning It In wishes that song had been selected instead: It might be the LP’s best and funniest track. Phoning It In would also like to announce a ratings correction; the song “Elephants” has been bumped up from a 6/10 to an 8/10.

File-A-Song
“I’ll Be Haunting You”: 4/10
“Long White Beard”: 6/10

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Phoning It In: “Apophenia” And “I Am Alone”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

Apophenia is the psychological process of making false connections, projecting meaning onto meaningless patterns, and mistaking coincidence for purpose. It also happens to describe much of how Phoning It In (and the majority of music writing) works. It is a mental disorder. Mere weeks from now, when Phoning It In “hangs it up” (!) and concludes coverage of 2015’s Dial-A-Song campaign, we’ll think it was all a hallucination. And then we’ll Google it and find out it was real, because they let us use the computer for an hour each day here at the care facility (or, if you prefer, “nuthouse”).

“Apophenia” is a good example of how John Linnell turns internal dialogue into lyrics. Or vice versa. The song’s walking bass line gets a little tedious, but it serves the crazy lyrical patter. “I Am Alone” rocks a little harder and has a decent guitar solo at the end.

File-A-Song
“Apophenia”: 6/10
“I Am Alone”: 7/10

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Phoning It In: “Daylight”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

“Daylight” sounds like a tribute, in miniature, to Roxy Music’s dream of synth-rock balladry. This mission is at stylistic odds with They Might Be Giants’ strong suit of post-punk guitars, vintage adornment and catchy choruses, but the effort is respectable, and the track doesn’t overstay its welcome at a shade under two minutes.

Friday marks the arrival of new TMBG full-length Why?. Phoning It In beta-tested the album with a seven-year-old and recommends it. It doesn’t take much to top the primary-colored shit buffet that is the genre of children’s music, so consider Why? in the context of TMBG’s previous children’s albums: It’s not the babyish fare of  Here Come The ABCs/123s, nor does it have the tad-too-educational tone of Here Comes Science. Why? takes a kid’s point of view that makes it imaginative and mischievous.

File-A-Song: 6/10

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Phoning It In: “College Town”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

“College Town” would be a good name for an R.E.M. cover band. Instead, here it is the title of a plodding piano lament about a breakup and relocation to Michigan. It sounds like a long sigh, reflecting the apathetic viewpoint of the boy whose girlfriend is leaving him. This earns a 4/10 because it is one of those songs that could be a perfect b-side. This is a conundrum for Dial-A-Song. Advice to “College Town”: post on Craigslist. “B-side ISO LTR w/ a-side.” Good luck, little buddy.

File-A-Song: 4/10

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Phoning It In: “To A Forest,” “It Said Something” And “Elephants”

TMBG

They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

No Apologies World Tour 2015: Yes, we skipped a couple weeks. We are in Month 11 of Dial-A-Song.

“To A Forest”
Pleasant acoustic strum and cool solo. You know what band did awesome guitar solos? Silkworm. There are tracks on Firewater that absolutely stink until the guitar solo comes around, and then it’s like rags to riches. America. Back to “To A Forest”: zoned out every time I listened to this song.
Which Celebrity Is “To A Forest”? Wesley Snipes!
File-A-Song: 4/10

“It Said Something”
Who among us has not thought, “I am only truly understood by dogs”? Cat people: Your pet, too, can penetrate your thoughts but they are not doing so to understand you. Cats are vicious killers. The sentience of nonverbal living and non-living things has always been a creepy national obsession, from Kitt to Christine. Overthink the lyric “set the monkeys free” and you can wonder if the “It” of the song is: a) a monkey itself, or b) not a monkey, but a predator of monkeys who wishes to have its source of food available in the wild. This song is very identifiably TMBG, with its vintage organ/oompah style and paranoia-to-the-chorus structure.
Which Celebrity Is “It Said Something”? Alicia Silverstone!
File-A-Song: 7/10

“Elephants”
Just as a cover song cannot earn higher than a 5/10 in the Dial-A-Song rating system, children’s songs can score no lower than a 2/10. This is the equivalent of bowling-alley bumper systems that prevent endless child-induced gutterballs. What? No, it’s not like a booster seat at all. The bowling-alley-bumpers analogy is the one we’re going with, and that’s final. This is an informative and winsome song about elephants. The children speaking in the song bother me; not for the usual reasons, but rather because the children sound too bright and composed. I’d prefer the Bad News Bears version of these kids.
Which Celebrity Is “Elephants”? Carroll O’Connor!
File-A-Song: 6/10

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Phoning It In: “Prepare”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

“Prepare” is a song about the passage of time and how quickly the present becomes the past and how unknowable the future is. (Hey Merlin, the only thing more fractured than time is the pitiful structure of the previous sentence. —Ed.) If you accept that we exist in a multiverse, in about 90 percent of those universes the remainder of this post devolves into a discussion of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. It reads like a True Detective McConologue minus the beer. However, we are not in one of those universes because this version of myself realizes that the aforementioned topic makes for stultifying copy.

On the topic of the actual music, “Prepare” takes on the auditory persona of a shitty 1970s psychedelic rock band. Why the Johns chose this musical style (and, to their credit, re-created it down to the defeated, muddy production) is the central question here. Is this what Spirit sounded like? I can’t remember. Approximately every three years, I attempt to appreciate Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum but never make it through the extremely dumb-as-it-ever-was “Summertime Blues.” But we digress, because “Prepare” doesn’t sound anything like Blue Cheer. And it’s not so much a song about time itself, but one about the anxiety of time passing. Of course TMBG makes specific choices about style (the synth-pop “All The Lazy Boyfriends” or the country/gospel “Impossibly New,” for example), but why choose this?

This is the most confusing Dial-A-Song so far.

File-A-Song: #ImNotHigh #NoYouAre

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Phoning It In: “Black Ops”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

In a previous post, I suggested the Johns add another John to the band in order to be more like the Ramones. This week, it turns out They Might Be Giants made a subtle move toward my position. They may not have added another John, but “Black Ops” is the most Ramones-ian of Dial-A-Song installments yet. Perhaps not so surprising, my main criticism of the song is that it’s slightly too long. Also not surprising is my resolve to no longer offer Insane And Unsolicited Advice to the Johns. If there’s even a slim chance TMBG is surveilling this series of blog posts, I don’t want to be the one who gets disappeared. “Black ops, black ops/A holiday for secret cops.”

File-A-Song: 7/10

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Phoning It In: “Say Nice Things About Detroit” And “Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees And Hares”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

Using Detroit as a signifier of abandonment seems a bit too … topical. Somewhere, in some sidebar or unseen margin of a web page, a debate rages about the actual necessity of currency in popular music, because of political protest and culture. Jello Biafra practically lives in that space. But not here. What really scuttles “Say Nice Things About Detroit,” however, is that vamping guitar rhythm. The song misses the opportunity for a nuclear-option guitar solo to shake things up.

As you may have suspected based on the sweetness of quasi-recent entries such as “And Mom And Kid” (which is near the top of this year’s pile of songs) and “Omnicorn,” They Might Be Giants have a children’s album coming out next. It’s titled Why?, and I can’t find the release date at the moment. “Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees And Hares” is surely slated for the tracklist, and it’s very likeable in the context of a children’s album. From a parental standpoint, the entirety of Dial-A-Song 2015 will make a very good 52-song playlist for long car rides. I’m going to go stand on another point now. It’s time for Insane And Unsolicited Advice for the Johns: Inspired by the “Detroit” song reviewed above, begin a Sufjan Stevens-style series of songs about major American cities. Because there’s nothing like being trapped inside a concept with no choice but to continue or admit defeat. See you here next week.

File-A-Song:
“Say Nice Things About Detroit”: 3/10
“Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees And Hares”: 6/10

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