The Books - The Way Out
by Geoffrey Anstey
The Way Out
After five years of silence, the Books have returned with their forth LP The Way Out, and this time they’re ready to get all transcendental on your ass. “Welcome to a new beginning,” greets a steady, calming voice on “Group Autogenics I,” kicking off the album with a guided meditation complete with hypothetical physical states and commands to delve “deeper and deeper.” It’s a bit heavy handed, but trying to open your mind is a good way this record, since, unless you constantly listen to the Avalanches or the Brian Eno and David Byrne’s landmark My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a Book’s album is different than most music.
These are the machinations of nerds after all, nerds bent on creating their own world of found sound and kaleidoscope electronica, so their music hardly ever holds your hand. And as much as the warm, disembodied voices keep insisting for you to relax, attention to detail is a necessity for this album. In the Books’ vast soundscape, hooks are of little concern, and if you don’t pay attention to the fine bits, you’ll miss the whole picture. But luckily for your attention span, the band’s token web of music styles and sound samples is in fine form.
The childlike curiosity of “what’s that sound?” is at almost every moment, and with the songs free of the typical pop structure, they often go into unpredictable and fascinating places. Style changes in the funky “I Didn’t Know That” pop out of nowhere, tossing the groove from instrument to instrument often within a bar. And the calculated drones of “Thirty Incoming” move from atmospheric melancholy, to vistas of busy strings and pounding drums. It’s all meticulously constructed, all wonderfully cerebral, but also disappointingly academic at times.
With The Way Out, the Books again prove that their craft is impeccable, but they still have trouble finding an emotional resonance in their music. Often, it feels like reading poetry with staggeringly complex meter and rhyme, but with little depth. There is a plethora of skill here, but it’s lacking heart. And whenever they try to be directly emotional and even sing, like on “All You Need is a Wall” and “We Bought the Flood,” the result is typical subdued indie folk (ie. dull) partly saved by the Book’s clever arrangements. The creativity is still bursting at the seams however, and as pedantic as The Way Out can be, it’s hardly a failure. It may not be music to sustain the soul, but there’s nothing wrong with a little brain food once and a while.
—geoffrey ansteyblog comments powered by Disqus
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