Kiowa County Signal - Kiowa County, KS
by Garon Cockrell
They Might Be Giants: “Nanobots” (2013) CD Review
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By Garon Cockrell
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May 3, 2013 5:21 p.m.

I’m always excited to hear a new album from They Might Be
Giants (yes, including their children’s CDs – “Alphabet Of Nations” is
now one of my favorites to see them perform live). Their new album, Nanobots, has twenty-five tracks, yet is
only forty-five minutes. That means lots of very short tracks. They Might Be Giants
have included short tunes before (like “Please Pass The Milk Please” and all of
the other tunes in that odd medley on Apollo
18). On this new album, however, the short tracks feel mostly extraneous
and not all that interesting. There are seven tracks which are less than thirty
seconds each. But don’t worry – there are plenty of other songs that totally
work. Standouts on this album are “Call You Mom,” “Replicant” and “Icky.”
I always enjoy hearing this group’s unusual take on the
world, and their unmistakable voices. There is something playful in their
delivery, in the way they approach their material, the way they approach
reality. And they play with language, something I appreciate.
This band is always capable of surprises. In “Circular
Karate Chop,” there is a sudden section with percussion, to which is added a
spoken word bit by the sensei, with three rules: “One, outsource your feelings/Two, limit your
training to be task-specific/Three, assign regret to those accountable.”
Another thing that was surprising to me is that a number
of these songs have something of a 1960s pop feel at times; like, for example,
“Stone Cold Coup d’Etat.” And the “ba ba
ba ba” vocal bit in “Sometimes A Lonely Way,” which is a oddly sweet
song. (That song’s line “Not everyone who
is lost is wondering why” seems a strange twisted reference to that line
from J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost,” which adorned bumper stickers
for years.)
Nanobots opens
with “You’re On Fire,” typical fun They Might Be Giants material, in which an
important bit of information is delivered in an offhand manner – “Your head’s on fire.” And there are
backing vocals repeating, “Combustible
head.” But this person has bigger troubles: “Is that your car they’re towing/I’m pretty sure that’s your car.”
The good news is, “You’re easy to spot in
a crowd.” Sure, it’s not all that clever or original, but it’s a lot of fun.
“Nanobots,” the CD’s title track, is a more interesting
tune. I love lines that celebrate the positive with the negative, like “All the old troubles will soon be at an
end/And all the new ones will begin when we send the signal.” There’s an
unexpected reference to the Status Quo song in these lines: “I would decorate the room, but there’s no
more space/All I see are pictures of matchstick men.” This is a cool tune.
“Black Ops” is an odd song (well, it’s a They Might Be
Giants Song, so…) about secret cops on holiday dropping presents from
helicopter. I dig the lines, “We take the
best of it/And make a mess of it.” For most part, this song is percussion
and vocals, with the vocals sung almost as in a children’s song – simple,
straight-forward, clear. Then about halfway through, the song kicks in and takes
on a heavier tone. This has a different feel from a lot of the band’s material,
and has a sudden ending.
“Call You Mom” opens with the lines “I think I’d like to call you Mom/Because you remind me of my mom.” This
one has something of an old rock and roll feel, but with that strange They
Might Be Giants energy about it. And of course it has some odd lyrics like, “I turned around to find that you were
gone/Which was exactly like my mom/And I will go hang up my sailor suit/And lie
face-down on the lawn.” This is one of my favorites.
The track with probably the brightest, most fun feel is
“9 Secret Steps.” Nine secret steps to the key to the door that you’ll throw in the well/And
let go of all your thwarted dreams and visions of success.” There’s a short strange bit, “I can’t tell you what’s in secret step five/You
will know when you’re no longer alive,” before it goes back to those
bright, fun tones. “Let go of all your
thwarted dreams.
The track with the coolest sound and groove is
“Replicant.” The song’s narrator addresses the replicant: “Look at me when I’m talking to you/What have you got there behind your
back?” Yes, as if to a child, which is wonderful. And he’s protective of
the replicant, as he would be of the original child (“Whatever you did, we’ll get through this/Go out the back and I’ll deal
with the cops”). There is also a great jazzy element to this tune. I absolutely
love this song, and dig it more each time I listen to it.
“Icky” is another one that feels a bit like a 1960s pop tune,
particularly in its beat. Though obviously not in the lyrics, as “Icky” has
lines like “You’ve got a nice pair of
slacks which he takes but will only return one of them.” And then later: “Here, this is yours, I’m done with it, I’ve
brought it back/Don’t know anything about some other slack/I only borrowed one
slack.” This is another of this album’s truly fun tracks.
Nanobots ends
with “Didn’t Kill Me,” a short song performed a cappella. “Though she didn’t kill me/She didn’t make me stronger.”
CD Track List
  • You’re On Fire
  • Nanobots
  • Black Ops
  • Lost My Mind
  • Circular Karate Chop
  • Call You Mom
  • Tesla
  • Sleep
  • Stone Cold Coup d’Etat
  • Sometimes A Lonely Way
  • Destroy The Past
  • 9 Secret Steps
  • Hive Mind
  • Decision Makers
  • Nouns
  • There
  • Insect Hospital
  • Tick
  • Replicant
  • The Darlings Of Lumberland
  • Great
  • Stuff Is Way
  • Icky
  • Too Tall Girl
  • Didn’t Kill Me
  • Nanobots was
    released on March 5, 2013.
    (Note: I also posted this review on Michael Doherty's Music Log.)

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