(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Thought For Food (Tomlab, 2002), 7/10
The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab, 2003), 8/10
Lost and Safe (2005), 6/10
The Way Out (2010) , 5/10
Zammuto: Zammuto (2012) , 7/10
Paul DeJong: IF (2015), 6.5/10
Paul DeJong: You Fucken Sucker (2018), 5/10
Zammuto: Anchor (2014), 6/10

The Books, a duo (Nick "Zammuto" Willsher and Dutch-American cellist Paul DeJong) based in New York, concocted a fusion of folk, electronica, vocal samples and found sounds. Zammuto had already released on CDROMs an electronic trilogy titled Solutiore of Stareau, recorded between 1998 and 2000, the third being reissued as Willsher (Apt B, 2000).

The first Books album, Thought For Food (Tomlab, 2002), displayed familiarity with avantguarde techniques and an almost John Cage-esque passion for reconstructing sound in the studio. Enjoy Your Worries You May Never Have Them Again is an interesting setting for a psychodrama of sorts, in which the voices are mixed with the instruments in an apparently childish electroacoustic collage. Voices are also hidden inside the wavering strings of Excess Straussess, but no attempt is made at bestowing any meaning on their dialogue. If there is a statement, it is about the human condition as such, not about a specific issue.
A mini-jam of traditional jazz surfaces from the casual string plucking of All Bad Ends All. A violin leads the country litany of Motherless Bastard. There is a folk lullaby growing inside Getting the Done Job although little effort is made to streamline it. But most of the album is an anemic as it gets, rationing sounds and disconnecting them to the point of non existence. Dada at least was trying to provoke and be funny. The Books are not trying anything, just laying down some flow of sounds. Very little happens in pieces such as Contempt, a typical Books cryptic vignette. All Our Base Are Belong to Them sounds like the random recording of a party among friends with some amateurish banjo playing, although at the end the whole coalesces in a guitar-driven singalong. Thankyoubranch proceeds the other way, with some convoluted guitar playing that decays into a ghostly space of subliminal drones.
The album is mostly about a different kind of sound art, different in the way it is laid out and different in what it tries to achieve. What Books were saying is that there is a point where popular music and musique concrete intersect, although it is not charted on any map. The technique pioneered by John Oswald, Negativland and Christian Marclay of making music with bits of music embraces a more traditional song format.

The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab, 2003) is even more disorienting, because the cut-up technique is even more disjointed and the instruments are even more dissonant. This is, after all, the same solemn demystification of roots-music preached by the Holy Modal Rounders in the Sixties, although transposed from the hippie civilization to the high-tech civilization. This is the same surrealistic cabaret of the United States Of America, although transposed inside a videogame.
Far from being random dadaistic provocation, each montage has its own emotional dimension, whether it's the chaotic madness of The Lemon of Pink (with string instruments and voices occupying the same space but behaving as if they were unaware of each other) or the half-sung melancholy of The Future Wouldn't That or the percussive frenzy of A True Story of a True Love or the irreverent romp of That Right Ain't Shit. Order occasionally emerges out of nonsense. The whirling collage of Tokyo eventually settles into a quasi-baroque aria on the guitar. And there is, as usual, a twisted emphasis on the human voice. The unstable dialogue between strings (straddling the border between chamber music and country hoe-down) and voice samples of S Is for Evrysing exhibits an internal consistence that almost compensates for the lack of a real story to tell. The vocal samples are assembled in There Is No There and set to a brisk country accompaniment so as to reproduce the feeling of a singalong, although they don't say anything. Take Time toys with a polyphony of voices. What is unique about their experiments on the human voice is that the musical substratum is an amateurish version of roots-music, deliberately left incomplete, and is mostly coupled with disjointed meditations by the strings (guitar, violin, cello, mandolin, banjo). They are cryptic streams of consciousness that dispense with words.
There is something grand and noble to these grotesque proceedings. As deranged as it is, the Books' sound art is a metaphor for a higher plane of life the same way that psychedelic freak-outs were a metaphor for altered mental states.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

I Books sono un duo (Nick "Zammuto" Willsher e Paul DeJong) di stanza a New York che architetetta una fusione tra musica folk, elettronica, samples vocali e found sounds. Zammuto ha anche realizzato su CDROM una trilogia elettronica dal titolo Solutiore of Stareau, registrata tra il 1998 e 2000, la terza parte è stata ristampata col titolo Willsher (Apt B, 2000). Il primo album dei Books, Thought For Food (Tomlab, 2002), mostra già familiarità con le tecniche della musica d'avanguardia ed una inclinazione quasi John Cage-ana per la ricostruzione in studio dei suoni.

The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab, 2003) è ancor più disorientatne, perché la tecnica del cut-up è ancor più selvaggia e gli strumenti sono ancora più dissonanti. Questa è la solenne demistificazione delle radici americane predicate dagli Holy Modal Rounders, ma trasposti dalla civiltà hippie alla civiltà figlia dell'alta tecnologia. Questo è il cabaret surrealistico degli United States Of America, ma trasposto dentro un videogame. Ogni montaggio ha la sua densità emozionale, che sia la pazzia caotica di The Lemon of Pink e Tokyo, l'irriverenza di That Right Ain't Shit, o le fabule semi-razionali S Is for Evrysing, A True Story of a True Love, Don't Even Sing About It, o il criptico flusso di coscienza di There Is No There e Take Time. C'è qualcosa di solenne e di nobile in questi processi grotteschi. Disorientante com'è, l'arte dei Books è una metafora per un più alto piano vitale nello stesso modo in cui i freak-out psichedelici erano una metafora per gli stati mentali alterati.

Despite the cleverness and agility of the production, Lost and Safe (2005) is their weakest album yet. Despite the increased use of live vocals (instead of samples) and spoken-word samples and the emphasis on melody, the album feels lazy, contrived and incomplete. There are many moment of delight but overall the collection seems to be drifting rather than flowing. Tiny disorienting sounds populate the empty sonic space of A Little Longing Goes Away. That is the world inhabited by a slow whisper, that is made to tremble at the end of a phrase as if dying or amplified at the beginning of a phrase as if high on drugs. Enigmatic guitar parts that are distorted, looped and overdubbed feed into Be Good to Them Always. Tentative music is accelerated and decelerated, while a gentle vocal tune is interrupted by oscillating electronic sounds. The faux hinduism of Vogt Dig for Kloppervok merges raga-like drones and fibrillating tabla-like found percussions, then adds a layer of sonic montage of dialogues that collapse in a deconstructed psalm. Smells Like Content swings like a bossanova.
But the all too frequent spoken-word passages detract a lot from the action, and the litanies/conversations become more predictable than a pop melody (there is a point where the avantgarde is less innovative than the retrogarde). The duo had previously managed to create a new kind of relationship between human and machine, between emotion and technology. This balance is becoming mere torpor to the extent that the two coexist without adding anything to each other. One could as well enter a store of electronic equipment and listen to customers chatting while they test the various devices.
The strength of the Books is elsewhere. It Never Changes to Stop is a brilliant specimen of chamber music for ticking, Indonesian-sounding banjo, slowly moving romantic cello lines, and theatrical recitation. An Owl With Knees is a dreamy lullaby sung in a detached tone and backed by a surreal, insistent, exotic arrangement in the vein of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. These are pieces that intrigue and mesmerize. Most of the others, at best, entertain.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Antonio Buono)

Nonostante la destrezza della produzione, Lost and Safe (2005) è un album molto più debole. Nonostante l’incrementato uso delle voci senza trattamento elettronico (come accadeva in precedenza) e l’enfasi sulla melodia l’album è lento, artificioso e incompleto. Ci sono molti momenti di delizia, ma complessivamente l’album pare fluire con difficoltà. Minimi suoni disorientanti popolano il vuoto spazio sonoro di A Little Longing Goes Away. È un mondo in cui esiste un solo lento sussurro, tremolante alla fine di una frase come quello di un moribondo, amplificato all’inizio come quello di un tossicomane. Parti enigmatiche di chitarra distorte e dilatate scorrono in Be Good to Them Always. Musica sperimentale viene accelerata e decelerata, mentre un motivo vocale gentile viene interrotto da oscillazioni di suoni elettronici. L’induismo di Vogt Dig for Kloppervok fonde droni raga e percussioni fibrillanti, e poi aggiunge uno strato di montaggio sonoro di dialoghi che si chiude in un salmo de-costruito. Smells Like Content ondula come una bossanova. Ma troppi passaggi parlati detraggono molto dall’azione e molte litanie/conversazioni diventano più prevedibili di una melodia pop (c’è un punto in cui l’avanguardia è meno innovativa della retroguardia).

La forza dei Book sta piuttosto altrove. It Never Changes to Stop è un brillante esempio di musica da camera per ticchettio di banjo indonesiano, linee romantiche di violoncello e recitazione teatrale. An Owl With Knees è una ninnananna sognante cantata in tono apatico e sostenuta da un arrangiamento surreale, incalzante ed esotico nella vena della Penguin Café Orchestra. Questi sono i pezzi che incantano. La maggior parta degli altri, nella migliore delle ipotesi, divertono.

The Way Out (Temporary Residence, 2010) was an uninspired attempt at revitalizing a sound that was not innovative anymore. The jovial atmosphere enhances the experience of the polyrhythmic disco-music of "Beautiful People" (with ethereal vocals worthy of a movie soundtrack from the 1960s) and of the intricate fractured funk pastiche of "I Didn't Know That". In fact, one can visualize what Frank Zappa would have done with digital devices had he lived to use them.

Nick Zammuto resurfaced as a solo artist with Zammuto (Temporary Residence, 2012), a collection of catchy high-tech folk music sung (with rare exceptions) in robotic ("vocoded") voices. At one extreme is Yaj, whose scientifically mauled vocal melody is grafted onto a prayer-like organ, and at the other end of the spectrum is the ethereal synth-poppy The Shape of Things to Come. In the floor-shaking polyrhythmic funk orgy of Zebra Butt what is pulverized is instead the synth melody, while Groan Man Don't Cry is relatively straightforward, an Afro-funk ballad whose guitar work might evoke the Allman Brothers Band as well as African griots. The jovial romp and rigmarole F U C-3PO is another aural delight. Sean Dixon's drumming is a crucial factor to the success of the project. Thanks to him the brainy, acrobatic rhythmic alchemy of Weird Ceiling makes even the most convoluted prog-rock jam look trivial. Unfortunately there are four or five songs that are utterly boring, otherwise this would have been the zenith of Zammuto's career.

Paul DeJong's IF (Temporary Residence, 2015) is fragmented but contains many delicious fragments. Auction Block is a hybrid of the Penguin Cafè Orchestra, of Brian Eno's Music for Airports and of a psychedelic hoedown by the Holy Modal Rounders. There is cheerful danceable melodic pseudo-Appalachian folk music (Hollywald) as well as a micro-sonata for rapidly shifting repetitive patterns (Golden Gate). DeJong indulges in a hypnotic tribal Mad-chester merry-go-round (This Is Who I Am) and then winks at glitch electronica (IF), intones a lyrical Tchaikovsky-ain neoclassical sonata for cello, violin and guitar (Age of the Sea) and then sets in motion an android jazzy vignette vivisected by abrasive drones (The Art of What).

DeJong's next solo album, You Fucken Sucker (2018), is more digital than musical, with samples that invade, intrude and distract. The fragments feel more like songs, especially You Fucken Sucker (a catchy singalong) and It's Only About Sex, but they are certainly not groundbreaking nor any different from much bedroom music of the past and present. Even the most eccentric and intriguing ideas (the frenzied bacchanale The Wind, or Doomed, that shifts from Canterbury-school prog-rock to a reggae-fied music-hall skit) don't seem to coalesce. We are then left with trivial attempts at ambient music (the eight-minute Wavehoven) and minimalism (The Jar Bell), and a seven-minute finale which is mostly spoken word (Breaking up).

Zammuto's Anchor (Temporary Residence, 2014) relies quite a bit on drummer Sean Dixon. Daniela Gesundheit of Snowblink whispers the litany of Good Graces that soars in an angelic falsetto coda but it's the syncopated polyrhythms that keep it alive. The David Byrne-esque chant of Need Some Sun and the jazzy organ complement are grafted onto an effervescent 5/4 beat. The glitchy beat that is the only accompaniment of Electric Ant and the convoluted and intricate drumming makes the Hawaiian chant irrelevant in Hegemony. The protagonists of Stop Counting are the subdued sneaky percussion patterns that duet with stately piano notes. The scrambled Caribbean fever of Code Breaker is another moment reminiscent of the Talking Heads. When the rhythm is not creative enough, the song languishes (see Sinker). The melodic standout, Great Equator, is electronic pop that is both ominous and robotic, the natural outcome of Zammuto's process. The single 10, instead, is loud funk-rock that doesn't quite fit in the spirit of the album.

Zammuto's EP Veryone (2016) contains one of their most disorienting rhythmic tricks, Smolt, and a coldly vivisected pop song, It Can Feel So Good, in the vein of Laurie Anderson.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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