It's always interesting when members of a band create solo albums, allowing the listener to decipher what influences each member brings to the band. With the release of Unsupervised under the band name Mono Puff, They Might Be Giants member John Flansburgh reveals his eclectic, experimental nature that was so great a part of the early TMBG albums. "Hello Hello" is the whisperings of paranoia as the singer intones "Hello, hello, it's good to be back" while the drummer supplements the hysteria with an incredibly complex, ever changing drum part. "Don't Break The Heart" and "Don't I Have the Right" are country songs replete with incredible harmonies and the obligatory twang. "Distant Antenna" is a compelling organ-based instrumental with a running dialog in broken English of one families struggle to pull in a Mono Puff song through the FM haze of their radio. In fact, many of the songs are instrumentals, such as the opening James Bond/surf music "Guitar Was the Case" and the eerie "To Serve Mankind" which is played on a melotron "sampled" with human voices, giving it a disjointed, otherworldly feel.
The worst part of the CD is that it is so short, the thirteen tracks only making thirty-three minutes of music. If you take out the one or two duds in the mix, that leaves only twenty-five minutes of good tunes. Of course Flansburgh is unable to leave his They Might Be Giants background behind and most of these songs would have fit in easily on a TMBG release. Instrumentally, bassist Hal Cragin has added some very creative bass parts, often times making a song that would have otherwise fallen flat. The lyrics are a bit more straight-forward than you would find on a TMBG release, but the humor is still there. Lines like "I hit my head/I hear the phone ring/ I was distracted by my friend Joe" from the title track and "Don't make the fatal error/ Of thinking you'll find someone better" bring an easy smile to the listener's face. Overall, it's a good first solo effort, very similar to They Might Be Giants in style, but horribly short!
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, October 1999.