Album: I Like Fun
Artist: They Might Be Giants
Release Date: 19 January 2018
- I Left My Body
- By the Time You Get This
- Push Back the Hands
- The Greatest
- Last Wave
I wouldn’t be fair to say that They Might Be Giants peaked early, but it’s hard not to judge any new TMBG album without comparing it to their early work. TMBG were one of the first “alternative” bands to gain widespread appeal and yet while they sounded nothing like mainstream music of the late 1980s, they also sound nothing like the other alternative bands. All of this is a long way of saying that TMBG have dropped another solid album although nothing they do will ever seem so transformative as Lincoln and Flood when they were first released.
True to form, I Like Fun contains cheerful ditties with humorous lyrics that reflect on darker topics ranging from individual mortality to murder to the extinction of the human race. “They call me “the greatest”/’Cause I’m not very good/and they’re being sarcastic,” begins “The Greatest” with a gut punch. “Last Wave” closes the album with the cheerful chorus “We die alone we die afraid/We live in terror we’re naked and alone.”
There are experiments in music styles and instrumentation, and several tracks have a crunchy guitar that makes it more straight-out rock music than typical TMBG. But overall it sticks to the well-defined TMBG template the band has crafted over 30 years of doing their own damn thing and doing it well.
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Julia Emelin
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)
Previously Read by the Same Author: His Majesty’s Dragon
This epic, high fantasy rooted in the Polish folklore focuses on a land tormented by an evil, sentient forest (the Wood) that can only be held in check by the magic of wizards. The wizard who lives near the provincial village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya, known as The Dragon, selects one teenage girl every 10 years as a tribute. The novel begins when the protagonist Agnieszka is unexpectedly selected and brought to the Dragon’s castle, The Tower. There she’s made to perform domestic chores and the Dragon trains her in simple magical spells, frequently berating her for her clumsiness and unruly appearance. From this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario it’s not surprising that these two will fall in love.
It turns out that Agnieszka is in fact skilled in magic although not in the way that The Dragon expects. As she becomes more experienced, her compassion moves her to challenge The Dragon’s pragmatic approach of using magic to simply hold back the approach of the Wood. Instead she liberally applies magic to rescue people trapped by the Wood and pushes the Dragon toward more aggressively combating the evils of the Wood (yes, this book can totally be read as a metaphor of the 2016 Democratic primary campaign).
Agnieszka ends up finding herself thrown into the politics of the royal family and into the ultimate conflict against the Wood. It’s grim and gory but with a satisfying ending. I found the book a bit too long and humorless, but a good example of informing a women-centered heroic narrative with elements of classic folklore.
Recommended books: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire