Music is an intensely personal thing. Each of us have wildly different reactions to the rhythms, words, and beats that someone else put together for us. Sometimes we hear a song that connects with us, electrifies us, inspires us and we rush out to inform others that we’ve stumbled across the next great band. Sometimes they agree, while other times we’re greeted with confused grimaces before our friends tell us they hate it. It’s a mystery why one person can be entranced by a certain band and another person, similar to the first in a million ways, finds the music awful. This is what I’m thinking about as I present you with my next musical offering: The Books – The Way Out.
The Books are an electronic/funk/folk/noise-pop/other-ill-fitting-labels duo from New York City that started working together in 1999. The idea was simple, to utilize random vocal samples from various sources and incorporate them into synthesized beats. The execution of that simple idea stradles the fine line between genius and madness, and I willingly give myself over to their insanity. This band is one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve made in months.
Perhaps my father’s love of Frank Zappa altered my brain just enough to allow me to find pleasure in the absurd sounds The Books are creating, or maybe the dirth of creation on the radio airwaves leads me to embrace all things that are unique in today’s music. Whatever it might be, this album has enthralled me.
Each of us experiences music in different ways. Some of us find the long drive to school or work is the best place to turn the speakers up, while others enjoy turning the stereo on far too loud while cleaning up around the house – and then there are those of us who like to drink too much (or become inebriated in other, more creative ways), put on a pair of headphones, and disappear into the music. The Books are my new favorite band for those introspective, hazy moments alone, worshipping the sound. There are songs on this album, like Chains of Missing Links, that sample motivational tapes seemingly tailor made for these lonely moments. While there are plenty of joyous, raucous moments on the album, like A Cold Freezing Night and The Story of Hip-Hop, the mellow tone set by the first song, Group Autogenics I, pervades throughout. At times I found myself wondering if this album should be classified as music or as a spoken-word/music hybrid. Ultimately, I don’t care. I just want more of it.
Normally, when reviewing a band’s new album, I’ll try to pick out a few songs that best encompass the sound of the whole. I am having a very tough time doing that here. While there are songs I prefer, the reasons for my preference feel unusually personal. While I might appreciate the 10th grade mysticism of a song like Chains of Missing Links, another person might find the relationship-gone-bad focus of Thirty Incoming more appealing. And as The Story of Hip-Hop makes me smile, I can’t help but cherish the second to last song, Free Translator, despite the fact that it sounds so much different from anything else I’d heard through the first 12 songs. It’s more akin to Moby then the elctronica that seems to inspire other parts of the album, but somehow it still fits in beautifully in it’s near-bookend placement.
I have listened to a lot of albums, and most of them can fit into a nice label: A random collection of songs the band selected because they thought they were good. Then there are artists that have gone beyond simply trying to make a new radio pop song. These bands are putting together albums in the hope that you will listen to them from start to finish. Their art harkens back to the mad science of a symphony. It’s ludicrous to try and pick one three to five minute segment to recommend everyone hear. It would be like reading one chapter in the middle of a book. The Books have achieved this level of art with this album, and I would be doing them a disservice to recommend people piecemeal their accomplishment by downloading a couple select songs. Listen to a clip of their music, and if you like it, buy the album. Anything else and you would be cheating yourself out of a beautiful piece of art.
The Books – The Way Out gets a full 5 ships out of 5