Tuesday, March 5, 2013

They Might Be Giants: Nanobots

Ever since I started this blog, I knew this day would come.  The day when They Might Be Giants would release their sixteenth album and I would have to recount, in painful detail, my great love for this band.  How I went to my first concert in eighth grade, and how it was a They Might Be Giants show in Seattle with my mother.  How the band Cub opened for them (it was the Factory Showroom tour, and the song "New York City" was a Cub cover), and my mom spent the first fifteen minutes of the show trying to figure out their name, which went something like this:
Mom: "What's this band called?  Cup???" 
Me: "No, Mom, it's Cub!"
Mom: "Tub???"
Me: "No, Mother, it's Cub, C-U-B!!!"
Mom: "Cunt?  My goodness, why would anyone call their band cunt?"
End scene

I could even tell you about how I made one of my lifelong best friends in high school biology class when I listed They Might Be Giants as one of my favorite bands during the ice breaker exercise, and then MAGIC ENSUED.  Or I could post the video of my three-year-old rocking out to "Mr. Xcitement" featuring Mike Doughty with such vigor that the public distribution of the clip would almost certainly get him on Ellen.  But I won't.  Instead, let's just say I like the band...

So since I'm not going to tell any stories about my own love of TMBG, let's look at their public record instead.  Originally, post-modern pop/alt pop outfit They Might Be Giants was formed by two guys in 1982, John Linnell and John Flansburgh, although by now the band includes a couple more dudes.  They also have a crazy-extensive Wiki which I highly suggest if you're a fan, or just want to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of music they've produced (I count no less than 29 tracks that begin with the letter "N", for instance).  And to round out my random presentation of facts - nowadays, they're best known for their kids' stuff and their science-y tracks (you can read more about their favorite science songs over at Wired), and Spin has an article about Flansburgh's cats (one of them has the "swagger" of a lion!).  Obviously, I've missed A LOT, but this band has waaaay to much history to cover in one short blog post, especially since it's already been done over at that Wiki.  Okay, can we talk about the music now?

On Nanobots, first track "You're on Fire" greets the listener with right-left-right blasts of guitar and tongue-in-cheek lyrics as the drums ease into a groove ("Hi/I forgot your name/Whatever"), and "Black Ops" has a low, slow intro of drip drops of percussion and bass before Flansburgh chimes in with his trademark falsetto over an increasingly menacing musical background ("Too many people here/Here come the drones/We take the best of it/And make a mess of it/Ripping up some lawn/And then we're gone").  Then "Call You Mom" gets it started with a hammered keyboard intro before dropping into a surf-ready guitar motif and fantastic lyrics ("And I turn around to find that you are gone/Which was exactly like my mom/And I will go hang up my sailor suit/Lie face-down on the lawn"), and plucked guitar, a galloping drum, and sweet keyboards set off the classically circular lyrics of "9 Secret Steps" ("Throw away the thing that tells you not to throw the thing away/You'll forget to rue the day you went ahead and threw the thing away").  Finally, the Johns go all "James K. Polk" with "Tesla", adopt more fun French phrases à la "Extra Savoir-Faire" on "Stone Cold Coup D'Etat", and embrace their Apollo-18 history with 15-second tracks like "Destroy the Past" and "Decision Makers".  Or as their website puts it, this album is "25 unreasonable songs in 45 impossible minutes!"

All of that being said, and my great love already having been declared, I am not the type of person to embrace anything a group does just because I remember liking the band (case in point: anything Weezer made after Pinkerton.  or Everclear after So Much For The Afterglow).  And I will even admit that I haven't kept up with TMBG as of late - their kids' stuff is cool and all, but they kind of lost me after Mink Car (even though it had the awesome Mike Doughty song).  This newest album, however, is good.  Really good.  Classic TMBG good, good enough that I might even put it on instead of their older stuff.  Quirky, cartoon-y, fun, and full of hooks.  Long story short, I don't know that it will win any NEW fans - like, if you hated the band back when they made Flood you should probably just stay away - but if you dig any of their oeuvre between roughly 1986 and 1996, then this new album will almost certainly win your heart.  And even if it doesn't, it will give you a new appreciation for Tesla.


  1. Humpf. So, I'm pretty sure we saw They Might Be Giants at the Sunshine Theater in ABQ too, which you didn't mention. And I think your memory regarding the "Cub" conversation is a bit flawed. I just couldn't have said that. ;-)

    1. Yes, we've seen them multiple times, but we only had the conversation once. And we definitely had it - that's one of those things I'll remember forever!!!