[Temporary Residence; 2012]
Technology can give people false encouragement. Whether it be the Xbox Kinect giving kids (and adults) everywhere the belief that they can actually dance or Instagram inspiring users to seek out their inner Ansel Adams. The same can be said about the world of music. With a couple simple, user-friendly Apps and editing programs, anyone can now claim to be DJ. A recent episode of “Portlandia” captured it best in a skit where everyone is spinning – the bank teller, the garbage man, and even your mom.
Maybe this oversaturation of DJs, sampling to their whimsy, is what led to the demise of the sample-tastic geniuses The Books. The duo wrote the final chapter to their musical journey with 2010’s aptly titled “The Way Out.” Nick Zammato and Paul de Jorg started their musical experimentation 10 years ago with their eye-opening classic “Thought For Food.” Over the years they explored the various directions they could take their innovative sound, and despite being their last album, “The Way Out” sounds just as riveting as the work that came before it.
After contemplating a retirement from music, Zammuto decided to give it one more go around with a solo album of sorts, one last chance to see if there was any undiscovered galaxies still out there to be traversed. Instead of turning to the familiar (the now over-populated world of electronica), Zammato aimed his focus on live instrumentation. In a sense, he decided to move his sound forward by looking back.
While the album is still grounded in synths and thumping beats, the reliance on the fragility of live instruments is clear from the get go. The result is an album of electronic prog rock – a series of songs that are melodic by nature yet marinated in a savory mix of bleeps and modernized synth swoops. The feelings of giddy surprise and enjoyment I experience with this album is what I imagine folks felt back in the 70s the first time they listened to King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.”
I’d like to believe that “Groan Man, Don’t Cry” makes Robert Fripp smile (or cry):
Much of the fun found within the work of The Books was nestled within the strange, off-kilter audio morsels that the duo unearthed and saved for all of us to devour. While the true enjoyment of a Books album is based in the quirky beats and sensual synths, the samples always took top-billing. The sample lolly-gagging is still there on songs like “Too Late to Topologize” and “Zebra Butt,” but the majority of the album is comprised of songs propelled by Zammuto’s voice. But don’t worry; these aren’t the type of vocals found on Top 40 radio. As with anything Zammuto, expect the unexpected. Often, his vocals are caked in digitized manipulation. Yes, there is some of that old-hat vocodor here, but Zammuto makes it do things you’ve never heard before (how do I describe it…a robot receiving fallatio?).
In an interview, Zammuto hinted that the album is set up to follow the stages of grief, and if this is the case, album opener “Yay” is surely a song of shock and denial. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything quite like it. Zammato’s vocals come at you in machine gun fire, slices of melody being chopped into bits. It reminds me of when I was a kid playing with the volume knob on the radio until mom got mad. Zammato attempts to express himself amidst the mechanical chaos, yet is lost in the garbling squawks. The organs come in halfway through, a reminder that this is indeed music from this planet and that this is a real experience.
“Yay” is like pouring a bucket of ice water directly onto your frontal lobe (or what it may feel like to have Metta World Peace elbow you in the head):
Although an album that takes you through the grieving process sounds extremely depressing (think Eels “Electro-Shock Blues”), “Zammuto” is an album with a message of moving on, best seen on album closer “Full Fading.” The synths are gone, the booming beats resting, the blowjob robot turned off. It’s just Zammato and a choir of guitars. The small electronic twitches are only glimpses of his past, and for the first time, Zammuto resembles Radiohead more than The Chemical Brothers. It is a song of acceptance, a final goodbye to the The Book’s library of samples, and one final guiding light of hope for the future of his new musical journey.