A new They Might Be Giants album couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve recently rekindled my love for Malcolm in the Middle (of which TMBG were frequent musical contributors) and am considering seeing the two John’s this June. Before Nanobots, my timeline for TMBG ended at about 1998. I’d never had much interest in pursuing their later work and even less interest pursuing their children’s music. With Nanobots I figured worst case scenario it would be a mildly pleasing collection of poppy, satirical, history lessons. But big surprise, I really like this album.
On the surface, not much separates Nanobots from any previous TMBG record. The songs are short, plentiful and overflowing with wit and poppy melodies. Vocal duties are split evenly between John Linnell and John Flansburgh, both of whom hold their own. Personally, I’ve always been partial to John Flansburgh. Though Linnell’s songs have often been the big “hits”, Flansburgh’s vocals have a certain sensitivity that I’ve always found alluring. Flansburgh’s creeping “Black Ops” is one of my favorite songs on the record. That aside I love both of these guys and admire how well they still work together even after thirtysomething years.
The microscopic namesake of the album sums up the band’s approach quite nicely. Leave it to a group like TMBG to release an album with 25 songs that only clocks in at 44 minutes. About nine songs are under a minute and yet, they miraculously hold their own against the rest of the bunch. I listen to the 43 second “Sleep” or the 17 second “Nouns” and can’t get over the fact that TMBG has hooked me in such a minuscule amount of time. They often leave me wanting more but maybe it’s for the best. If those songs were longer maybe they wouldn’t be as special.
All in all it comes down to the melodies and Nanobots is full of memorable ones. It’s amazing to me that a band now on their 16th album could still sound just as enthusiastic and prolific as they did on their first. I doubt Nanobots will win over any new fans for this culty nerd duo, but it should appease their old fans and the nanobots hiding within.
Favorite Tracks: “Black Ops”, “Circular Karate Chop”, “You’re On Fire”