Lost and Safe
he sample-heavy music of The Books provides post-modernists ample thought for food, casual listeners something to giggle at, and those in between something to marvel over. In the group’s past two efforts, the sample has been of the utmost importance: few songs had vocals from live musicians, thus the narrative was left up to the voices that Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong pasted together. As such, both releases felt cobbled together—scrapbooks of samples tenuously held together by plucked instruments and radio show announcers and flight attendants. The charm lay in the duo’s penchant for upsetting the balance at a moment’s notice, upending songs with a misplaced sample or thematically tying them together in the same fashion.
But whereas the previous two albums thrived on change and the perceived quirkiness of found-sound, Lost and Safe finds the group glooming on to forms that unify: structured songs, increased vocals, and the increased incorporation of samples that augment, rather than oppose. Simply said, The Books have toned down the weird, smoothed down the edges, and created their most homogenous record yet. Lucky for us, the homogenous version of The Books is still probably ten times more interesting than your favorite band at their most creative.
The homogeneity can be traced most directly to the more frequent use of Zammuto’s voice. By making an appearance on nearly every track, he acts as a grounding influence, despite the fact that he’s hardly the most emotive of singers. In fact what he does probably shouldn’t be called singing at all. It comes much closer to narrating. It’s hard to tell exactly what he is narrating, though. The Books trade in two different modes: cliché and unfinished statement. The former rears its head most prominently on “Be Good To Them Always,” in which Zammuto intones a variety of different statements (“I can hear a collective rumbling in America,” “I’ve lost my house / You’ve lost your house”) and then is replaced the same sorts of non-sensical statements near the end, in sample form. The latter occurs throughout, with sentences ending “uhhh…” and songs ending in melodic sentence.
But, curiously, Lost and Safe feels more finished than any other Books album to date. Due to the more conventional songwriting techniques employed, it’s easy to see why purists of the band might walk away disappointed in the new direction taken. But if what we get instead of the slap-dash Books of old is Sufjan Stevens v. Steve Reich (“It Never Changes to Stop”) or the hushed brilliance of album closer “Twelve Fold Chain,” then that’s a trade-off I’m willing to take.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2005-04-07