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Every modern, indie-oriented college student goes through a special transformation during their four years at the university. These students often assume that the musical tastes they have accrued throughout the first 18 years of their lives are more refined and more cultivated than any of their peers. Their families, and even some of their friends in high school never understood their love for the 2001 “freak-folk” explosion, or their obsession with the New York “no-wave” movement. These students often hope that on that fated first week in the dorms they will meet a whole new group of companions, willing to go to Smiths themed karaoke nights, and that monthly 90’s sitcom trivia night down the street. Practically every left-end college student over the last 20 years knows the feeling of shock followed by excitement when new and unknown music is shown to them at college. Considering this ritual of our select modern day youth, in my estimation, one of the most often introduced and discussed bands is They Might Be Giants.
John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been making music together since 1982, when they were accompanied only by a drum machine and their witty humor. Assuming the name They Might Be Giants from a 1971 British film, John and John set the standards high for the obscurely referenced lyrics that would follow in many of their songs. Any band with a strong 30 year career, 16 studio albums, 2 Grammys, and 1 certified Platinum record, is going to have certain high expectations from their fans. With their latest full-length, Nanobots, I am sure that no one will be disappointed. These 25 songs, adding up to about 45 minutes, have something to offer both the die hard follower, and the new listener (who very well might be a college freshman as we speak).
Part of the appeal of They Might Be Giants, TMBG for short, is the active effort the music requires by the listener. In order to catch all of the quick one-liners and distant pokes at pop-culture, every TMBG listener has to devote a certain level of attention. On Nanobots alone, the lyrical content ranges from a biographical analysis of Nikola Tesla and his career as an inventor (“Tesla”), to a vaguely suggestive war commentary (“Black Ops”), and don’t forgot the one about revolutionary takeovers, both big and small, around the world (“Stone Cold Coup d’Etat”). The educational value of the TMBG catalog easily explains why the music is so often associated with college students, hipster-nerd culture, and intellectual rock genres.
Now, as if an academically challenging appeal wasn’t enough of a draw for a potential TMBG listener, the real double-threat about the band is the fact they if for some reason, one of their fans isn’t really feeling the whole stimulated brain thing, they can easily just accept the music and up-front sonics of the band, without much sacrifice. The lightly jazzed out rhythm of “Replicant” offers a smooth listening experience for anybody with a more relaxed tempo. The song I mentioned earlier “Black Ops” is my favorite and most repeated. The use of compressed percussion to drive the song from start to end isn’t too forced, and works well to maintain consistency for the song. The band is musically talented, just as much as they are thematically.
The name of the album, Nanobots, is more than a random title filler. The way that the record is able to have 25 songs, and keep its total time at 45 minutes is because of the 10 or so tracks that all clock in under 60 seconds. The idea of having shorter suites that help bring a record together isn’t new to TMBG. The same sort of idea was used on their fourth album, Apollo 18. Of these dozen or so spaced out short tracks, the most convincing one is “Sleep” which is catchy enough to get me tapping my feet, right before it abruptly fades out and gets me excited for all that follows it on the record. “Sleep” actually plays a role on Nanobots that is similar to the role that Nanobots plays to the rest of the TMBG discography. As the years pass, and more fans are introduced to the collection, there comes this excitement and anticipation for what is coming next from this special band, and Nanobots is in line helping perpetuate that excitement.