Listen: Who's your favorite president? (part 2)

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43 Songs for 43 Presidents, how could you choose?!

[above: dead prezzes]

Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 Presidents. There are only a couple things which could be contained within such a mighty title: 1) Total tongue-in-cheek irony. 2) Total alt-country patriotism. 3) a Rickroll. What I wasn't expecting was this much measured sincerity. I mean, these guys know this could be pretty silly, but they're doing it without cracking even half a smile. They're in it all the way, man.

Sometime in the 90s They Might Be Giants snuck a history lesson into the middle of Factory Showroom in the form of “James K. Polk,” three minutes and eight seconds of the triumph and trials of America's eleventh president — so great, he sought no second term. That's about the only precedence I can think of for Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 Presidents: a sprawling three-cd set out September 9th on Standard Recording, which comes complete with a huge illustrated booklet with all the lyrics and notes:

Penned by songwriters Matthew Gerken (of Nice Monster), Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitcher (formerly of Above the Orange Trees). The set features a slew of special studio guests including Califone, Rosie Thomas, Bill Callahan (Smog), Alan Sparhawk (Low), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), Marla Hansen (Sufjan Stevens), Steve Dawson (Dolly Varden), Vince DiFiore (Cake), Monahans, James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand), and Tom Carter (Charalambides).

And don't forget Denison Witmer and Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, who gives us a downright creepy take on Woodrow Wilson. (Oh Woody, we hardly knew ye.)

The music is surprisingly even for such a diverting subject, it's all got an unsettling alt-country flair that never settles on one unmixed emotion. Take the harmony-laden “Abraham Lincoln: Malice, Charity, And The Oath of God” (Feat. James Jackson Toth), which takes most of its lyrics from Lincoln's writings:

J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher, “Abraham Lincoln: Malice, Charity and the Oath of God”

Or the not-irony of our first president and his Chesire smile, featuring Vince DiFiore of Cake:

J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher, “Washington dreams of the Hippopotamus”

There's a long tradition of album-collections of songs about stuff, the Mag Fields and Sufjan spring to mind immediately, and still this is an oddity. It's a collaboration, it could double as a history textbook, it's about presidents for crying out loud. They even wrote a song for William Henry Harrison, who died in thirty days. (And wrote it as a sad testament to the expulsion of the Native Americans, the war of 1812 and the consequences of American expansion to the west. I know, seriously!) Not only does that take some serious writing chops, it takes a serious straightface.

Kudos, guys. Next time we want a song for every US congressman. Hop to it.

1.George Washington: Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus (Feat. Vince DiFiore of Cake)
2.John Adams: Armed with Only Wit and Vigor and the U.S. Navy (Feat. These United States)
3.Thomas Jefferson: The Mouldboard of Least Resistance
4.James Madison: Zinger
5.James Monroe: The Last Cocked Hat (Feat. Marla Hansen)
6.John Quincy Adams: Death In The Speaker's Room
7.Andrew Jackson: Benevolence (Feat. Califone)
8.Martin Van Buren: The Little Magician (Feat. Tom Brosseau)
9.William Henry Harrison: So You Don't Have To
10.John Tyler: Hindsight Falls On Deaf Ears (Feat. Bill Callahan)
11.James Polk: The Other is Better / The Landscape to Transform (Feat. Monahans)
12.Zachary Taylor: Rough and Ready
13.Millard Fillmore: The Proof Is In The Pudding
14.Franklin Pierce: My Only Enemy Is Myself

1.James Buchanan: God Will Strike You Down (Feat. Marla Hansen)
2.Abraham Lincoln: Malice, Charity, And The Oath of God (Feat. James Jackson Toth)
3.Andrew Johnson: Was Ever Alone?
4.Ulysses S. Grant: Helicopters Above Oakland
5.Rutherford B. Hayes: The Beard of God
6.James Garfield: Seven Months
7.Chester Arthur: The Epitome of Dignity
8.Grover Cleveland: Bees And Honey
9.Benjamin Harrison: Kid Gloves Hands Surplus to Big Sugar
10.Grover Cleveland: Rubbermouth
11.William McKinley: Czolgosz's Dream (Feat. Magnolia Summer)
12.Theodore Roosevelt: The Sherman Act Does Not Care
13.William Howard Taft: There Was No Longer Use To Hide The Fact That It Was Gout (Feat. Marla Hansen)
14.Woodrow Wilson: A Life Among Men (Feat. Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu)

1.Warren Harding: An Army Of Pompous Phrases
2.Calvin Coolidge: On Silence (Feat. Radar Bros.)
3.Herbert Hoover: Woe Is A Spoon-Shaped Heart (Feat. Marla Hansen)
4.Franklin D. Roosevelt: Illuminating The Bright Lines
5.Harry S. Truman: Suits And Fine Trousers Vs. Hiroshima (Feat. Denison Witmer)
6.Dwight D. Eisenhower: When Ike Walked The Land (Feat. Alan Sparhawk & Mark Kozelek)
7.John F. Kennedy: There Is No Plan
8.Lyndon B. Johnson: Ladybird Take Me Home (Feat. Steve Dawson)
9.Richard Nixon: 2 Under Par Off The Coast of Africa (Feat. Tom Carter)
10.Gerald Ford: Now You See It, Now You Don't See It (Feat. Vince DiFiore)
11.Jimmy Carter: A Great Beam of Light (Feat. Rosie Thomas)
12.Ronald Reagan: Such A Marvelous Dream (Feat. Califone)
13.George H.W. Bush: It Was Foreshadowed Here: The Beginning of The End
14.William J. Clinton: The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again
15.George W. Bush: Though The Night