The Books a now defunct folktronica duo, consisting of Nick Zammuto and Paul DeJong, made four wonderful albums, Thought For Food, Lemon of Pink and Lost and Safe, and The Way Out, as well as a few side projects and EPs. I rarely feel disappointed when a band splits up, but when I read that this group had split, I was genuinely saddened, though not shocked. See when I read the usual critical assertion that their music is aleatoric, a happening of chance and chaos, the musical equivalent of cut up technique writing – separating words and grammar and meaning throwing them on a felted table and seeing what sticks, I am always slightly in awe of the fact that the listener fell for their schtick. This is no accidental soundscape, no random noise: no friends, this is what anally retentive control-freakism sounds like when things get trippy. Far from relinquishing control, it is blindingly obvious that each dot and tittle, each backwards word in the midst of some 1950’s homily, each Transylvanian accent proclaiming Gandhi’s essential goodness (I’m looking at you Lemon in Pink), each Tokyo train station nasal assertation to take care at the edge of the platform, each masterful mix of banjo and techno comes at a high price of concentration and hard work.
I am actually both impressed that their efforts appear so effortless to some, whilst coming to the conclusion that each track, with it’s layering of played instruments, banjo, cello, guitar, piano, mandolin, and goodness knows what else, being melded almost alchemically with samples grabbed from thrift store cassettes played backwards, digitally processed, edited heavily, the random cuts and jumps carefully controlled in their heartbeat skipping wabi sabi imperfect perfection. Percussion is played on children’s toys, and drawers being banged and slammed rhythmically, getting a range of sounds. If any band ever played the children’s marbles stuck together with guerilla glue and percussed with a cinnamon stick, it would be the Books.
This brings me to urge you to put on Lemon of Pink before we carry on. Dig that tie dye vinyl!
If Miles Davis can take you to Spain in a few choice phrases from his trumpet, the Books can whisk you away on a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, the pull of the tracks and the train, a good book as the world rushes by, and snippets of language that both warns you and shuts you out of the world around you. I wonder how those of you who have never seen Japan might vibe with this album, what feelings it might bring to the surface? I wonder if it would still have that magical response to the trip? Usually I would point out a few stand out tracks, but you are doing The Books a disservice if you do not put the needle down at track one and let it play until it lifts and returns, disk spinning providing the outro. Lemon of Pink (it makes backwards sense in Japanese, where “of” or “no” is used to turn words into an adjective, pinku no Remon being pretty much my regular order at mossburger – Pink lemonade).
We went through hell, sings Annie Doerner on Lemon of Pink, I believe it, guys, I believe it, such non-nonchalant genius doesn’t come easy or cheap, but thanks for the warning….