They Might Be Giants, ‘Nanobots’ (Idlewild)
This extremely clever, Brooklyn indie-pop band headed up by the two Johns — Linnell and Flansburgh — hasn’t had a big hit since 1990’s “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” but the group’s charming 16th studio album, a wonky sci-fi concept effort called “Nanobots,” has some chart contenders. Among 25 often extremely brief tracks loosely configured around a futurist theme involving robots, Nicola Tesla, replicas and insects, standouts include the sinister, shape-shifting “Black Ops”; the alternately sunny, two-guy vocals punctuated by “Star Wars”-ish instructional directions of “Circular Karate Chop”; the hilarious, Chuck Berry-inspired “Call You Mom” (“I think I’m going to call you Mom because you remind me of my Mom”); “Tesla,” done as a romantic paean to that scientist’s many inventions; and the threateningly slinky electric bass lines of “Replicant” (“What have you got behind your back?”).
It’s all done in good fun, with impeccable musicianship and whistle-clean production, including sudden, jaunty spurts of horns, percussion and even mandolin (“Hive Mind”). Granted, listening to 25 quippy little songs is a bit like getting to the bottom of a bag of sour penny candy you shouldn’t have finished. But it’s fun in little bites. And that’s just how it’s made to be consumed.
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Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic