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Mono Puff: Unsupervised

By Joel Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

You'd think that keeping busy with They Might Be Giants would be enough for John Flansburgh. Not so. Flansburgh also runs the Hello Recording Club, a subscription-only record company that releases 10 CD singles by different bands a year, each one made exclusively for Hello. Freedy Johnston, Soul Coughing, Andy Partridge, and John Linnell (of TMBG also, coincidentally) have been Hello artists. In addition, Flansburgh's solo Hello the Band did an EP, and it evolved into Mono Puff.

Flansburgh explains: "The name comes from an experience I had at the John Coltrane Church in San Francisco. There was a little girl there with a single puff of hair in a perfect circle on top of her head, and I thought if it had a name it would be called a monopuff." Same quirky John.

Anyway, in June 1996, Mono Puff put out an album on Rykodisc, Unsupervised, with a career objective "to spread sunshine into the world." It's easy to pick out the TMBG influence on the tunes, but there is a certain something, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will, that separates it.

The first track, "Guitar Was the Case," sports distorted guitars over a machinesque drum track (though this time it's an actual person) and a melody reminiscent of the Kids in the Hall theme. The title track, "Unsupervised, I Hit My Head," doesn't depart much from the Giants either - upbeat, catchy, and fun. But "Hello Hello" (influenced by what, I wonder) has a really light feel which reminds me of some Euro kind of sound. Dr. Kildaire has some ska in it with a small Mexican feel (the lyrics are definitely Flansburgh).

"So Long, Mockingbird" is actually a ballad, and "Don't I Have the Right?" features Nancy Lynn Howell and sounds like a country song, completely incongruous to the rest of the album, (which I suppose is a very Giantesque thing to do). It comes back with "To Serve Mankind" which features synthesized choral vocals on melody, as well as some bongo, and finishes off the half-hour plus disc with "Nixon's the One," a pleasant acoustic guitar introduced off-the-shelf-pop tune praising Nixon, as only these guys can.

It's not mainstream and is probably best for people looking to get more Giants-related music, but it's not to be overlooked if you fall into this category, nor is the Hello Club (to join call 1-800-HELLO-41). Flansburgh is, after all, an "independent thinker with heightened creativity, strong entrepreneurial impulses and poor spelling habits" and is always looking to add one more person to the group that keeps his projects going.