Once, in Mexico, I rode a horse named Tequila down a slick and treacherous canyon, led by non-English-speaking Mexican cowboys — at sunset — as part of a two-hour journey into the Chihuahuan Desert. Along with a caravan of thirtysomething twentysomethings, I clambered blindly, my kneecaps colliding with horses’ assholes, at a liberal, if terrifying, clip to truly the middle of nowhere, with the specific intent of ingesting psychedelic peyote cactus. Afterwards, feeling the plant’s effects, we re-mounted our horses and traveled another two hours back whence we came: the mountain-flanked village of Real de Catorce.
Preceding this experience, I thought, “Damn, this has potential to be wonderful for my portfolio.” But afterwards, what stood out the most was all the times my knee went into those horses’ assholes and how that’s not really all that strange given the context of the situation, but is without it. If, hypothetically, a psychologist were to show me a picture of a peyote cactus today and asked me what came to mind first, it would be an endless loop of my knee colliding with horses’ assholes — hardly “textbook,” I’m sure. Without the whole story, which requires a lot of backtracking and apologizing to tell and without taking into consideration the importance of “being there,” (which I’d weigh quite heavily) I’d guess my response would put my sanity under serious scrutiny by the psychologist. Again, hypothetically, of course. Although to hear the full story kind of kills its excitement, or in the psychologist’s case, makes for a more difficult argument against my sanity. And that’s no fun.
What makes a band like They Might Be Giants so exciting to listen to after 16 albums is that their songs are just as amusing in and out of context. The playful spirit of instrumentation, met by clever, insightful lyrics, makes for music that sounds familiarly weird. It’s nice to know what to expect from They Might Be Giants because of how good they’ve gotten at communicating their style. It’s their own, to be sure. They’ve built a sonic universe where Nanobots feels right at home. It takes a little bit from Guided by Voices— not just because their songs are short, but because they’re impossibly catchy; Sparks — not just because their lyrics are zany but also because they’re educational, and Brian Eno — not just because their songs are well-produced but because they’re punk.
Speaking to They Might Be Giants’ prolific catalogue, it’s interesting for me to see the analogue the band has with my generation, remove the members completely, and regard the project itself as a person who was shaped by the same particular influences as I was. Which is to say if, hypothetically, that same psychologist were to hold up a sign that read, “They Might Be Giants” and ask me what first came to mind, I might say something like, “Propeller? Whomp that sucker, here come the warm jets!” And I’d bet that hearing that response, without any kind of explanation at all, would trigger in him a sort of sense of agreement with me, compelling him to hire an elite team of analysts, each decorated with distinguishing academic accolades, to run a battery of thorough mental examinations to determine the intactness of his own sanity. It’d be like he’d heard it before but how could that be? Pretty interesting. Again, hypothetically, of course.