The Books - The Way Out

by Louise Harlow Rating:8.5 Release Date:2010-08-09

The Books are back - welcome them with open ears and arms. New York's sonic scrapbookers have returned with the sprawling, hypnotherapy-sampling delight that is The Way Out, and ruddy good it is.

As with all its predecessors, Zammuto and De Jong have sifted, rifled and pillaged their way through thrift store miscellany in the search for audio swatches to permeate The Way Out. Their prime resources - kids' Talkboy recordings, answer-phone confessionals and self-help cassettes (fear not - it's a smarter, waaaay more cerebral Dan Le Sac)- have made for a disarmingly thoughtful record, a collection of songs concerned with the everything inherent in nothing.

However, along with material as rangy as life coaching, sibling baiting squabbles and existentialism on an answer phone, comes the occupational hazard of incoherence. There is definitely a dichotomy running through The Way Out, polarising the tracks, but I'm reluctant to say it's a problem. Who's ever pressed play on The Books in anticipation of predictable continuity? And so things open in eclectic style, as we alternate between the ebbing circular guitar hooks and piano spikes of 'Autogenics 1', the sacred chants of 'Beautiful People' and the funk-twitch kick of 'I Didn't Know That'. In the latter, waves of guitar colour float over the patter of burbled underwater vocal sampling, and just as the track hits its off-kilter stride three minutes in, it ends as swiftly as it came.

The misery defying cacophony of 'A Cold Freezing Night' is familiar, (the single was released earlier this year) yet the demented, downwards drilling bass line, whistle blasts and (improbable) snatch of hoe-down harmonica still demand attention. Zammuto says the sampled vocal content comes from a pre-pubescent brother/sister spat which he found recorded on a Talkboy (early 90s tween market voice recorder/manipulator- revisit Home Alone 2 for cultural context). Man, this shit is feral - "I'm guna kill you by cutting off your toes and then working upwards", "I'm guna rip off your hair so you're bald" - takes me back to my own sibling anger-fests, usually settled by my brother making an apology letter comprised entirely of filofax stickers. Thoughtful.

The sampled material and The Books' treatment of it takes a more poignant bent as The Way Out moves towards a close. With the linear snare and glitch of 'Chain of Missing Links', ambience is all, and the beautifully downcast 'All You Need is a Wall', with its delicately grungy guitars and falsetto vocals, mirrors the numb pleasure of Lost and Found's 'Smells Like Content'. It's a downplayed Bon Iver, and I can smell the coast from here. 'Thirty Incoming' takes that most impersonal vessel of 20th century affection, the answer-phone message, bleeds it into De Jong's tremmoring cello lines and distorted dialling tones, and pulls out in the mix a poignant take on that bitch of a problem - loneliness.

The best thing about The Way Out, and pretty much everything else The Books have ever done, is that the use of sampling has never been a crutch for some vital song-writing inadequacy (witness 'Free Translator': "Know the wind moves in a patient way/ Like a two decade day"). Zammuto and De Jong are cherry-picking perfectionists, who deservedly stand atop a mountain of unravelled audio cassettes and discarded answer machines, as the magpie Kings of the sonic collage.

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