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The Way Out

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Trying to explain the music of the Books to someone is like trying to catch smoke; there’s a tangible essence, but just when you think you can get hold of it, it curls into a wisp of something else. This is the New York-based duo’s fourth full-length album, and they stay the course with acoustic and electronic instruments, manipulation and sampling, and found recordings (from Mahatma Gandhi to lovelorn phone messages and self-help therapy tropes). Creating music from collage and sampling — and from real instruments — takes skill; falling into the trap of kitsch, or consistently forcing the dark underbelly of our souls out into the open is too easy, and too predictable. While the cruelty of children (“A Cold Freezin’ Night”) and the alienation of lovers (“Thirty Incoming”) are not exactly fluffy topics made for dancing, the tracks are designed to allow us to feel both amusement and guilt (for eavesdropping); the genteel folk of “Free Translator” and the soothing, meditative pastiches of the “Autogenics” tracks are both mesmerizing and questioning. The Way Out is one of the Books’ finest, most beguiling, musical page-turners.

Customer Reviews

Sgt. Pepper 2010

This may be the finest record I've ever heard. 7 stars. Buy it if you breathe.

Most rewarding to the more studious listener...

The Way Out is The Books' fourth full-length album. Their previous album was released over five years ago, and until earlier this year, I had assumed it would be the last one, since we had heard nothing from them for such a long time. When they announced that a new album would be coming out this year, I was both excited and apprehensive. There's nothing that bums me out more than a band releasing an incredible, game-changing album and following it up with more of the same or, in a rare, unfortunate case, a regression.

2005's Lost and Safe was a powerful, complex meeting of pop melody with mathematical songwriting and tape archive sampling whose whole added up to more than the sum of its parts. It was beautifully performed, elaborately edited, carefully compiled, and perhaps most importantly and in contrast to The Way Out, it actually contained memorable melodies. Even the instrumental pieces were easily within grasp, infectious and indelible. It was wholly affecting and immersive and remains one of my favorite albums to this day.

For this reason, it is almost painful to admit that The Way Out is not really an acceptable follow-up to Lost and Safe. This is not to say that it isn't good. In truth, it's obviously a labor of love, crafted with as much attention to detail as any of their previous work. Paul and Nick (the only two members of The Books) are amazingly talented and purveyors of good taste, so I don't believe it's within their capacity to release anything that even flirts with the descriptor "bad." Even so, The Way Out is notably more obtuse than previous albums, opting for psychotic rhythm experiments over melody and arrangement. Within the first seven tracks of the fourteen-track record, I think six of them can't be classified as SONGS. They are fascinating collections of tape recordings of bickering siblings, evangelical sermons, and autogenic therapy combined with mathematically complex drum loops and highly modified percussion samples, but there is no part of them that can be vocally repeated, hummed, or whistled. This classifies them as bizarre modern audio-technological artifacts, but despite their deft composition, they aren't always enjoyable to listen to. "A Cold Freezin' Night" has nearly no substance, and the first half of the album is inexplicably stacked with similar experiments which I fear will cause many listeners to dismiss the entire album out of hand before reaching its infinitely superior second half. The only relief on the album's A-Side is "Beautiful People", an almost liturgical vocal piece about the twelfth root of 2 (1.05946, for the morbidly curious) which includes some captivating lyrical contemplations such as "the irrational sine versus tangent 45."

Thankfully the last seven tracks change the tone of the album considerably, led off by the strongest track on the album, "All You Need Is A Wall," a conjectural song about living with crippling autism. For the first time on the album, we can hear bare vocals and a guitar, and the result is painful and lovely, and reminds us what The Books are capable of as songwriters and not simply cut and paste artists. The remaining six tracks include some really powerful work, including the harrowing "We Bought the Flood" and the refreshingly light-hearted "The Story of Hip-Hop" (which I recommend as a one-track introduction to the album). These final seven tracks make the album worth listening to; without them, there's nothing considerable about The Way Out.

If you haven't listened to The Books before, then I can't recommend The Way Out. Instead, find a copy of Lost and Safe and experience that album in its entirety before moving onto The Books' other works. But if you've listened to and enjoyed any of their previous three albums, I can recommend this album highly on the basis of its latter half, but be warned that the journey from the opening track to the eighth may not be a pleasurable one for many listeners. Take my word for it that it is worth your time to stick it out. Or just start the album on the eighth track for a more immediately engrossing experience.

flay the trout

there is a warmth within that sustains. on top of the whatever, and i know you know what i mean, a true maybe radical thing emerges. that is why this music is effective, and good, in a more true sense of the word.


Formed: 2000 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The Books' story began in 2000, when Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong met through a friend in New York City. Sharing similar interests but different backgrounds in acoustic music and found sound, Zammuto and de Jong experimented and plunked away with a mix of melody, electronics, and ethereal atmospherics. Eventually, with some urging by Tom Steinle of Tomlab Records, they created what would become their debut record, Thought for Food, in 2002. Within a year, the Books relocated to Hot Springs, NC,...
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The Way Out, The Books
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