"No!," They Might Be Giants. Idlewild Recordings/Rounder Records. CD: $18. Ages 5 to 12 (and adult TMBG fans). www.giantkid.net /www.theymightbegiants.com
Children's albums don't come any better--or more wonderfully strange--than "No!," a first-time family recording by alternative pop duo They Might Be Giants, otherwise known as John Flansburgh and John Linnell.
A Grammy winner for "Boss of Me" (the theme song for the TV show "Malcolm in the Middle") and still one of rock music's most off-the-wall creative forces, TMBG is accessible to adults and children here. Its playful and even unexpectedly sweet songs are spiked with just a pinch of the duo's signature darkness.
In the reality-bending songs "I Am Not Your Broom," "I Am a Grocery Bag" and "Sleepwalkers," a broom rebels ("No John I will not sweep for you/for I am not your broom"); a lugubrious grocery bag declares itself ("Milk and biscuits and cocktail sauce: I am a grocery bag"); and sleeping children, who must not be disturbed, wander alarmingly "all across the country."
With the talents of the ace Band of Dans (drummer Dan Hickey, bassist and singer Danny Weinkauf and guitarist Dan Miller) and the "No" Friends (singers Robin "Goldie" Goldwasser and Nicholas Hill, cellist Garo Yellin, violinist Krystof Witek, trombonist Dan Levine and trumpeter Jim O'Connor), Flansburgh and Linnell fit the songs to various musical styles, from eerie, mechanical techno-pop ("Robots on Parade") to a mellow 1960s innocence ("Where Do They Make Balloons?").
Some songs repeat words or syllables, like the weirdly compelling "Wake Up Call," made up entirely of combinations of "bo," "ba" and "baw." "Violin," a strange, stream-of-consciousness track, plays with repetitions of "violin-lin-lin," "hippo," "mop" and "speck of dust," before becoming a surrealistic lesson in fractions: "one quarter of George Washington's head," "half of George Washington's head.... "
There are rubber guitars, buttons on cars, bicycle hats and dogs "two miles wide" on "Fibber Island." In "Four of Two," a man waits an eternity for a 2 p.m. rendezvous with his lady love, never catching on that the clock has stopped. And in "The House at the Top of the Tree," the listener becomes part of a round-and-round tale about an angry mouse and a potato chip-delivering dog.
Every song is a wacky discovery, and the kid-tickling humor doesn't stop. The CD's enhanced computer play features animated visuals that offer loads of interactive fun on 13 of the 17 tracks.