It’s been five years since Paul de Yong and Nick Zammuto have graced the world with their music. In that time, children have been born, properties have been moved into, websites have been launched, and the two are now finally back with The Way Out. Running a lengthy (for them, anyway) 14 songs and 50 minutes, it’s their most inventive and varied release yet, with some songs that are familiar and some that are completely unexpected.
Lest that latter statement sound like a bad thing, though, let me just state that after ten or more listens from front to back, this release is still surprising me. On the first couple listens, there were places that made me bust into a wide-open smile and others that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up due to their sheer beauty, and even now I find myself anticipating certain moments and being thrilled by the care that went into it. I’ve been a big fan of the group for a long time (their previous release Lost And Found was one of my top-rated releases for 2005), and I’ve always felt like their use of thrift-store and found samples capture humanity in a raw, unrehearsed manner that brings their music a variety of emotions that really can’t be matched.
In addition to their usual home recordings (including answering machine messages, kids tape recorders, and home vhs tapes), the group makes much use of self-help tapes. In the way that the group has sequenced the release, those latter phrases fit perfectly, book-ending the release with some hypnotic mumbo-jumbo that nonetheless sets the stage and clears it off perfectly.
The first single from the group is probably one of the most unexpected tracks on the entire release, with cracking beat programming that moves at a relentless pace and some absolutely hilarious and rather outlandish samples. It’s one of many totally unexpected songs from the group on the album, and one that causes laughs on first listen and produces at least a grin on just about every subsequent one.
It’s really hard to pick favorites, as the album is pretty much filled to the brim with great stuff. To give an idea of the sheer range of the release, though, I’ll mention the loudest track and one of the softest. “I Am Who I Am” is quite possibly the most brash song that The Books have every had a hand in. With an almost techno music influence, it blasts out of the gate with a thumping beat and warbling bass modulations as filtered samples drift in and out of the mix. As it progresses, a spoken-word sample dramatically pronounces the title of the track as the track rifles through some blasts of chopped-beats. It’s insanely catchy, and packs a ton into only 3 minutes.
“I Am Who I Am” – The Books
On the complete flip side is “Free Translator, a subtle, quiet track that features some lovely acoustic guitar and bass, as well as some fragile singing from Zammuto. As the track rides into completion, the original vocal sample (which sounds like it was taken from a Western of some sort) and a stunning trumpet sample take it to another chill-inducing level.
“Free Translator” – The Books
It’s probably already obvious, but The Way Out is easily among my favorites for the year so far. It has everything from joy to melancholy to absolutely silly in the course of 50 minutes, and it’s basically a little capsule of life itself. I only hope it doesn’t take as long for them to release another album.