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New They Might Be Giants Record!

The seminal nerdy rock band released its billionth (probably) record a few weeks ago. Now is an excellent time to revisit a group that has gotten way better since you wore out your "Birdhouse in your Soul" cassingle in 1990 (yes, for real).

First things first: Yes, the new album, Nanobots, is awesome and you should go buy it from the band directly or the retailer of your choice. "If it wasn't for that tick/we would not be in this predicament/not be in this predicament/that we're in" hollers Flansburg in one of the mid-album microsongs that form an homage to the epic "Fingertips" portion of Apollo 18. Nanobots is a peppier and more upbeat than much of TMBG's post-Flood catalog, and recalls the band's synthy earlier work moreso than the sometimes-serious rock-band sound that followed.

Quick links:

Now that you've bought the new album, we can get down to the real meat of the blog post: Digging into TMBG's entire (non-kid-oriented) body of work so that you can catch up on arguably the most nerd-revered pop group of all time. Check it:

Nanobots (2013) - A fun, lighthearted record that will have you swimming the seas of long nights full of Magic: The Gathering and Dr. Pepper down in your folks' basement. Highly recommended for all TMBG fans.

Join Us (2011) - An amazing album that combines the best of the band's various periods into an organic whole. The best overall record TMBG has recorded since Apollo 18. "When Will You Die," below, rivals the brilliant dichotomy of horrible, depressing lyrics with uplifting music that "They'll Need A Crane" accomplished so effectively back in the day. Start here if you don't already own it.

The Else (2007) - An excellent example of the better side of the four-piece rock-band sound TMBG started experimenting with back in the early '90s, though a few tracks like the surreal "Bee of the Bird of the Moth" will confuse and delight you just as the dancing president-head cardboard cutouts from the "Birdhouse In Your Soul" music video did (seriously though, what is up with those? I mean, they're awesome [obviously], but I'm still baffled). "The Mesopotamians," below, closes the record with a bang and a shout-out to legal scholar Hammurabi and his fellows. Outstanding start to finish, a must-own for anyone who doesn't actively dislike the band's guitar-and-drums mode.

The Spine (2004) - An album of soaring highs and boring lows, The Spine kicks off with "Experimental Film" (below), one of the rockin'-est jams the band has ever done that is made even better with the Homestar Runner-animated video. "*** Wants to Hit Me" is a great curveball that explores the inner workings of social awkwardness, and "Thunderbird" seems like a fun track to roll down the windows and cruise down a county road to until you realize that it's about a father-in-law drinking himself to death. On the other side, "Prevenge" sucks only slightly more than "It's Kickin' In" and "Memo to Human Resources" where it would be an epochal stinker that stands totally alone on any other record. Still worth it for the awesome high points, but not as front-to-back solid as other efforts.

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No! (2002) - The first children's album is the only one that cracks this list, and the only one actually worth owning for adult listening purposes. "The Edison Museum" is a wondrous, dark tale of a tourist attraction/mausoleum that makes the album worthwhile all by itself, but deeper tracks like "Four of Two" and "Bed Bed Bed" would also feel at home on TMBG's top-tier records. "Sleepwalkers" is one of the best album-closers from a band that has a record of bookending its recordings with its best work. Two standout tracks absolutely must be heard, but only hardcore fans should dive deeper.

(the album version was recorded on modern equipment, don't worry)

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Mink Car (2001) - Another collection of mixed results, Mink Car channels the band's delightfully dreamy synth-pop sound on "My Man" and "Working Undercover for the Man" while losing its way with boring or failed-experiment efforts elsewhere. "Hopeless Bleak Despair" deserves special mention as a great example of the band at its best: tackling real issues (in this case, depression) within an accessible melodic rock song. Won't disappoint fans, but start elsewhere unless TMBG's art-house synth work from the '80s is the only thing you're interested in.

Long Tall Weekend (1999) - This experimental download-only record is mostly the bad kind of B-side collection. The good songs - "Older" and "Edison Museum" were re-released in better forms on other records (Mink Car and No!, respectively), obviating any need to pick this one up. Avoid unless you can't handle not owning everything TMBG has ever recorded.

Factory Showroom (1996) - The last record before a long hiatus (Long Tall Weekend is primarily composed of Factory Showroom outtakes) and TMBG's final major-label effort, Factory Showroom mixes in a few exceptional jams ("Till My Head Falls Off," "Metal Detector," "Spiraling Shape") amid a sea of mediocrity. I do owe it a debt of gratitude, though, as "James K. Polk" got me through what would have otherwise been a brutal test in my junior-year U.S. History class. As always, the record ends on a high note as "The Bells Are Ringing" seems to tell some sort of tale of Victorian-era mind control. Pick up individual tracks unless your collection simply must be complete.

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The five albums that follow are unassailably great by any measure. From They Might Be Giants through John Henry, only a handful of tracks should be considered exempt from obligatory repeated listening until memorization. Every one of these has been in heavy rotation in my music collection since I first discovered the band in junior high, following me from tapes recorded off of my friends' CDs (zomg piracy) through CDs purchased with paper-route money to MP3s ripped and later re-bought on a procession of iPods, phones, computers, and streaming services. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

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John Henry (1994) - This held the band's highest chart peak until the digital revolution changed the music biz for good (Join Us at 32 reached a bit higher than John Henry's 64), mostly on the back of the chunky "Snail Shell," which saw a fair amount of radio play. John Henry is the first TMBG album with a full backing band, which breathed new life into its sound while changing it for good. Nonetheless, it's still a must-own for anyone interested in the band a clear high point before the series of middling efforts that followed. My only regret is that I couldn't get the chords for "O, Do Not Forsake Me" charted and rehearsed quickly enough to get it ready for junior year pops concert.

Apollo 18 (1992) - This early period of TMBG's full-instrumentation experiments bore delicious fruit in "The Guitar" and "The Statue Got Me High", while much of the album continued down the weird synth-pop path of the band's '80s roots. Twenty-one micro-song tracks make up the "Fingertips" distraction, and blew minds with their subversion of the innovative shuffle function on our expensive new-fangled CD players. On a scale of one to awesome, Apollo 18 rates out at thirteen megavaders.

Flood (1990) - There's a whole record that comes after that birdhouse song, and it turns out it's awesome. "Particle Man" is synonymous with '90s nerd culture and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" jazzed up an old tune for a new generation, but those are only pit stops on the long, weird trip Flood invites listeners to take. "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love" makes about as much sense as you would assume, and classics like "We Want a Rock" and "Women & Men" are exactly the kind of slightly odd ballads that made a generation of socially awkward kids and teenagers fall in love with a band whose worldview seemed to echo our general bafflement with a society that makes precious little sense at the best of times. If by some bizarre happenstance you don't own Flood, now would be an excellent time to rectify the terrible hole that mistake is tearing through your life.

Lincoln (1988) - They Might Be Giants rocked large before signing onto a major label for the next four records. "Ana Ng" is three-plus minutes of love letter to the weird and wonderful at the World's Fair, "Purple Toupee" is a child's twisted understanding of the worldwide upheaval of the previous two decades, and "Kiss Me, Son of God" places tongue firmly in cheek for a celebration of the televangelism that exploded throughout America in the '80s. Lincoln isn't a socially conscious record in the vein of Public Enemy or Midnight Oil, but more of a wry shrug at the crazy world we live in and a wide-eyed gasp of amazement at the wonderful things that pop up amid all the chaos and turmoil of human existence, all wrapped around approachable sing-along melodies springing out of a clean synth sound. As much as I love the last few TMBG records, Lincoln is still the single best album the band has recorded.

They Might Be Giants (1986) - The band's eponymous debut still stands up as a great album on its own, though it's eclectic to a fault. "Don't Let's Start" launched TMBG's career with its stutter-step upbeat rhythms under John Linnel's simple vocal melodies, while the other 18 tracks feel like nascent song-ideas that let Linnel and Flansburgh make lyrical jokes and probe every weird mood that crossed their minds while recording. This first album makes up for any shortcomings by projecting pure, lighthearted fun through crisp synth sound. For best results, pick up Then: The Earlier Years - a collection of the first two full-length albums as well as most of the band's B-sides and rarities from the '80s.

I've spent way too much of my life thinking about and listening to They Might Be Giants, so thanks for following me through this exorcism of my personal demons. Hyperbole and fandom aside, the band has had a career much longer and full of awesome music than you might think if your only exposure has been through the occasional radio callback to "Birdhouse in your Soul." You're only doing yourself a disservice by dismissing TMBG as a one-hit wonder or a faded relic from your (or your older sibling's, or even parent's...man, I'm old) childhood.

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