Music

They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science

Photo: Autumn De Wilde

They Might Be Giants create a kids' album about science. Could there be a better pairing of band and topic?


They Might Be Giants

Here Comes Science

Label: Disney Sound
US Release Date: 2009-09-01
UK Release Date: Import
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

They Might Be Giants first turned their always-catchy genre-hopping songwriting skills towards children on 2002's No! To the band's surprise, the album was wildly successful. This led to a (presumably lucrative) deal with kids' music juggernaut Disney Sound, which got them better distribution and more exposure in the right places, particularly Playhouse Disney. They even won a Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children for 2008's Here Comes the 123's. But despite the accolades, 123's and its predecessor, Here Comes the ABC's, were frustrating listens for longtime adult fans of the band. The subject matter of both albums seemed to be a bit too limiting, setting their sights on the very young three-to-six age group. Great for small children, but not necessarily great for kids of all ages.

Which brings us to Here Comes Science. Listening to this album is something like consuming auditory candy for your brain. They Might Be Giants have always done songs about science, from their cover of '60s educational record "Why Does the Sun Shine" to 1992's "Mammal" to several songs written for ABC's 1999 summer science series Brave New World. Plus science is a broad enough subject to give the band leeway to do pretty much whatever they want while still hitting the major elementary school topics. The result is that the album allows the band's considerable songcraft to combine with their geeky tendencies in a way that feels perfectly natural.

The album runs through 19 songs in just under 40 minutes, and covers topics ranging from the elements ("Meet the Elements") to "Computer-Assisted Design" to "Photosynthesis". A couple of songs have appeared previously, such as "The Bloodmobile" and the group's punked-up version of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" But guitarist John Flansburgh isn't about to let the science content from the '60s stand on its own, so the song is immediately followed by "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?", a laid-back, low-key song that contains much more current information about the sun. Other songs here sound like follow-ups to previous TMBG tracks. Keyboardist John Linnell's "My Brother the Ape" covers similar lyrical territory to "Mammal", only with more detail about why humans, apes, and all life on the planet are genetically related. "What Is a Shooting Star?" employs sparse instrumentation and a canon form, making it sound quite a bit similar to the band's fugue-like "Older".

But it's the fresh material that makes the most impact. "Electric Car" features a lovely lead vocal from Robin Goldwasser and is one of the most joyous pop songs of year. Everything in the song sounds incredibly happy, from the harmony vocals in the chorus to the delicate glockenspiel accompaniment in the verses to the bouncy horn section to the perfectly placed bongos. "Roy G. Biv" is, of course, about the colors of the rainbow and the song itself bounces between minor-key verses and a great big power-pop chorus. Little touches like disco-style hi-hat and falsetto backing vocals give the track that extra something that transforms the song from merely good to straight-up great. "Cells" is a classic-style John Linnell song with a shuffling beat and an irresistible melody that throws in a reference to "Dwight David Eisenhower" among its simplified explanations of DNA and mitosis. While founders Flansburgh and Linnell still write the bulk of the songs, they give the other band members a chance to shine here, too. Bassist Danny Weinkauf seizes the opportunity with the speedy and buoyant "I Am a Paleontologist", which has one of the most irresistible hooks on an album filled with great hooks.

The DVD portion of the album is a cute addendum to the audio disc. It features videos for every song on the album, plus several introductory sequences from a pair of bantering, sketched-out-looking animated Johns. The videos are varied in style and form, but all are energetic and brightly colored. The actual three-year-old girl I watched it with was mesmerized for most of the running time. She was especially a fan of the clips for "The Bloodmobile", the animal-filled "Electric Car", and the cute insects of "Photosynthesis". I particularly enjoyed the eight-bit video game style of the scientific method song "Put It to the Test".

The excitement and enthusiasm of the Johns and the rest of the band is palpable here. It's telling that the group took three years to produce Here Comes the ABC's and another three to come out with 123's, yet Here Comes Science arrives just over a year after that. The contrast from those two previous kids' albums to this one is like hearing the band go from enjoying themselves to flat-out having a blast. It helps that this album is smack-dab in They Might Be Giants' wheelhouse, which lends it an aura of effortlessness. This is the kind of record that parents won't get sick of their kids playing nonstop. It's also something worth hearing for lapsed fans who haven't been keeping up with TMBG in recent years or for anyone who loves well-written power-pop with a side of nerdiness.

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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