Sunday, July 4, 2010

Album Review: The Books - The Way Out

Let's get something straight away with this review, I'm biased. I've loved The Books for years now, I believe it started in 2007 or so, when I first listened to one of my most beloved albums Lost And Safe, it was a masterpiece, and it still is to me. So before you go any further, know that this is review stems from a mind already in love, and that you might not get the most unbiased review on the planet, but I will try my best to set my adoration aside.

It's been five years since the last Books release, and for those of you who are wondering what The Books sound like, think existential experimental music, composed of minor vocals from the duo, and a series of recordings from film, radio, field recordings, and audio books, all layered on top of cello, guitar plucking, and the occasional drum, with the inclusion of the band's new instrument, the electronic influence. If that doesn't make sense, I wouldn't be surprised, so therefore, I think you should hear it then. Their sound is really something to behold, sometimes eery, sometimes funny, many times sobering, lovely, and gorgeous.

The Way Out is quite a bit different from Lost And Safe, and it's safe to say that I was quite bothered to begin with upon hearing it. The first half of The Way Out is very focused on implementing electronic bass, aggressive and almost angry recordings, and drum beats that are anything but the relaxing Books I know and love. The first track, "Group Autogenics I", is what I understand from The Books, small guitar tapping, light drumming resembling more of a clanging, and chanting from the duo, all underneath what I'm sure are recordings from motivational tapes slowly telling the listener "I am calm, I am relaxed, I am the loop that goes around and round in your head, flowing warmth." It's truly calming, and it made nostalgia crawl up my spine, but then, after that track the album shifts into a funk of electronic driven experimentation I can only describe as aggressive, as far as The Books go. One of these tracks "A Cold Freezin' Night" features fast tribal drumming fed through a series of electronic elements, and children explaining how they would like to kill each other or simply change their sex. It wasn't until I found out that all the recordings of the children were gathered from home recordings via cassettes bought at thrift stores did I truly appreciate the track. It's angry but amazingly well put together, and definitely shows off the composing talent of the Duo, but it simply isn't what I know from the books more relaxing tone, and I felt truly angry for a bit that I wasn't getting the soothing experimental music I enjoyed from them.

Then the other half of the album started, right around track 7 of 14, the songs revert to the old Books in some small way, light, playful music that can be enjoyed by focusing on it, rather than having it in the background as noise. "All You Need Is A Wall" is definitely one of the more interesting tracks in the album, because of it's simplicity and strange effectiveness, Nick Zammuto's vocals are easily the best he's done, really singing with the same guitar clanging, and Paul De Jong plays some cello on the album, which is one of the biggest elements I feel was missing from The Way Out. The cello sounded amazing in every track from Lost and Safe, bringing a sense of purpose and immense beauty, and it seems here it was replaced by dirty, old disco beats that take away from the beauty.

"Collage Music" as Nick Zammuto calls it, isn't something done by many, in full truth I've really only heard this style of music done by these two, which is what makes The Books such an endangered species, making music I couldn't hear anywhere else. It's a style of music I place with orchestral pieces as far as complexity in composition, and for that amazing attention to detail, I love The Books with a sense of awe. I want to protect them, because for this band to stop making music is for this fascinating genre to die. This album feels to me like The Books stepping out from the protection created by Lost and Safe, and into places I might not like as much, such as a parent knowing their child is getting into "goth" music and hoping they don't start asking for tattoos, it's the fear of change and I'm trying to accept it. I started the album disappointed, but probably ended it nodding with understanding, wanting to hear the songs that bothered me most again, in hopes of gaining something new. That's probably the nicest thing I can say about The Way Out, it made me want to understand something new.
Album Rating: 8.9 / 10
- Matt Galey

OH AND A SIDE NOTE: The album cover is god awful ugly, as with most Books releases, it's some sort of reference to a bible or something, either way, It's still ugly, so don't judge the album from that.

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