Soundcheck: They Might Be Giants’ Nanobots

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Imagine a group of musicians who don’t write music to inspire, don’t write to cry about a broken heart and definitely don’t write to be taken seriously. They Might Be Giants — remaining outside cliché — writes for a purpose unbeknown to anyone, really. Though their quirky lyrics may cause listeners slight confusion, humor-filled comparisons will drive them to hilarity. While They Might Be Giants enjoy poking fun, some social observation buried in the lyrics adds a stroke of dark humor to their songs.

Staying true to the band’s screwball tendencies, their new album Nanobots pulls listeners into a slightly strange sphere of combustible heads, black ops, insect hospitals and infinitesimal robots. Nanobots’ 25 tracks encapsulate themes of isolation, but with a tone of casual wit and humor. Some tracks, such as “Decision Makers,” even perform well under the 20-second mark with broad declarations of, “decision makers / deciding for me / decision makers /decide.”  By incorporating the irrational with the ridiculous, They Might Be Giants pulls their listeners into yet another unknown realm of absurdity.

“You’re On Fire” leads the album in with quick strums of electric guitar and steady drumming as vocalist/guitarist John Flansbergh begins singing, “Hi, I forgot your name / whatever / my point is / hi, your head’s on fire.”  Reminiscent of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” the song reflects the band’s familiarity with the college party scene. Whether driving or trying to rouse up a crowd, “You’re On Fire” could easily be heard blasting on any radio.

Catering to their darker side, “Black Ops” sounds like a children’s lullaby, if a children’s lullaby consisted of Communists or drones. Packed with euphemisms such as “dropping presents from the helicopter” or “a holiday for secret cops” the song pleasantly describes government interference and its consequences. “Black Ops” initially uses close to no instrumentation to create an alluringly soothing sound. Yet, as the song progresses, a clash of drums and a hard guitar solo makes the song more aggressive and shakes the listener from a trance.

Acting as a biographical love song, “Tesla” glosses on the high and lowlights of Nikola Tesla with a blissful melody. Listeners can’t help but blush as Flansbergh croons “Tesla / brought the X-ray photo to the world / brought the AC / power to the world”.  Combined with a continuous keyboard tap and modest bass line, the fanciful melody creates a mockingly hilarious concept for a love song. “Tesla” shows that They Might Be Giants didn’t lose their sense of humor in their last 15 albums.

“Circular Karate Chop” digresses back to the underground Post-Punk roots the band stemmed from in Brooklyn. With a wailing organ in the background and overwhelming guitar, the song could effortlessly become the theme song for a Nickelodeon cartoon. Though it does speak about They Might Be Giants’ ability to create comedic music, the album would survive without this track.

Nanobots is everything one should expect from a band like They Might Be Giants. It is fun, it is comedic and it is certainly random.  Despite the disorderliness of Nanobots, all the pieces somehow fall into place generating a thoroughly entertaining album.

Best Tracks: “You’re On Fire” and “Black Ops”



Coconino Community College
Student Housing at NAU