Review Summary: Further reinforcing a solid return to adult-oriented music from children’s music made by their previous outing.
As a group with a love for the experimental, They Might Be Giants have built up a reputation of being anything but predictable. After using the quirky tone and zany nature of their bizarre alt rock music’s personality to work its playful wonders in the direction of children’s music, They Might Be Giants resumed making music for a more mature audience on their album Join Us
, but that in no way meant they had lost their comedic qualities and knack for the unconventional and strange. But being as unpredictable as they are, fans had no reason to be sure that They Might Be Giants would stick with a return to their old sound for a second album, which in this case is the quite varied Nanobots
While Join Us
had an almost theatrical level of weirdness to it and was quoted by the group as an attempt to make “a really insane record”, its successor Nanobots
seems to be an attempt to stay the return-to-roots course set by Join Us
, but to contrast that album’s craziness with an abundance of more toned down and low-key moments, while simultaneously besting it as the group’s most diverse album in years in terms of characteristics and moods.
Reminiscent of the group’s earliest works in how out of its 25 tracks, a fifth of the songs barely reach 10 – 15 seconds, and another fifth are several seconds short of a minute, Nanobots
seems to be an album of songs that aim to quickly deliver their hooks and don’t feel the need to concentrate much at all on repeating them until they stick. What’s impressive about tracks like “Hive Mind” and “There” is that despite not being even 10 seconds in length, they’re quite memorable and distinct for what they are, and warrant returning listens in that respect.
Though a constant issue with these very short tracks is how they are ordered on the album. This isn’t like the numerous five second-long parts of their album Apollo 18
’s “Fingertips” composition, because while the tracks were short, they had smooth transitions into one another and maintained a steady flow throughout. The short songs here on the other hand, can frequently be far too abrupt in how they’re placed right after one another, and this breaks focus from the album’s flow all too often. These are some of the shortest tracks They Might Be Giants’ have composed in a long time, and the album would play in a far less meandering manner if the longer tracks were ordered in before and after each of these shorter songs. It’s not in They Might Be Giants’ nature to be conventional like that, but this is a case of how that can sometimes hurt an album.
However, aside from that flaw, Nanobots
has impressively varied traits. While there’s moments of straight up gags about some of the shortest tracks, the humor here overall has more of a dry wit to it than is typical for They Might Be Giants, on tracks such as “Circular Karate Chop” especially. While They Might Be Giants are the last band known for making tear-jerkers, the heart-wrenching lyricism of “Call You Mom”, and the elegant piano of “Sometimes the Lonely Way” shows that this band can effortlessly juggle being funny, and tackling topics of a completely opposite attitude within the same album, and all without causing conflict.
The usual standard instruments are used in crafty ways here, - as they always are by the group - and while the instrumentation of elements such as the saxophone and flute aren’t used here nearly as commonly or as bombastically as they were on Join Us
, it feels as though this was done intentionally to take things down a notch, as a means to achieve a jazzy vibe; with orchestral elements that are more down to earth as opposed to up in the rafters.
In conclusion, though it may have arrangement flaws, Nanobots
is a fine example of how an artist can successfully continue in a return-to-roots course while still offering more than its fair share of surprises, and it’s not surprising at all that They Might Be Giants would be the ones to provide an album that's proof of this.