The Books
Thought for Food
Tomlab
2002
A



thought for Food is the sound of an album run through an online translator. The music is deconstructed until barely enough remains to recognize the melodies, re-built with intricate instrumentation until new songs form, and saturated with vocal samples until they slowly become the focus of the songs. The difference between Thought for Food and your average Babblefish result, of course, lies in The Books’ precision. Their minimalist song structures and absurd vocal samples are always very carefully manipulated, and the result is brilliantly effective and completely natural.


The opening track, “Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again”, is the album’s best example of The Books’ meticulous layering. Built on a simple guitar melody consisting of only a few notes, the song crescendos into a hauntingly intense piece as acoustic guitars add dissonant notes over the tranquil melody and a distressed female voice enters the foreground before being suddenly sped up, and just as suddenly interrupted. The song largely dissipates from that point, before rising again to segue into “Read, Eat, Sleep”, a beautifully atmospheric piece that slowly spells out its title over a subtle bass line and dreamy electronic hooks.


This superb 1-2 punch is very difficult to follow, and nearly impossible to match, but The Books manage to continue the album with impressive consistency and succeed in engaging the listener throughout the album. “All Bad Ends All” contrasts the solemnity that characterized the first two tracks with its spirited folk guitars and its animated beats, momentarily giving the album an entirely different feel before it once again slows down into “Contempt”.


Named after the film it samples, “Contempt” pieces together male vocals that ask each other questions like “What about my ankles? Do you like them? And my thighs too?” over somber guitars and unusual strings, creating the album’s strangest song.


Never an album to maintain the same character for long, “All Our Base Are Belong to Them” introduces a more conventional side to the band, yielding some of the best results on the album despite its un-treated guitars and absent strings, which the band seem to rely on up until this point.


The band’s voices are even heard for the first time here (along with the standard amount of vocal samples), but the lyrics are mostly unintelligible aside from the very clear “I was born on the day the music died”.


After a couple more tracks, though, the album assumes its most experimental phase, straying away from the conformist concept of song structures almost entirely. “Mikey Bass” is a horrifying assortment of paranoid samples and skittering electronics, with an ever-changing bass line driving the song through its fearful, and very unpredictable course. “Excess Strausses” is more subtly haunting, featuring chopped-up vocal samples and ghostly strings that last in an otherworldly existence until the calming “Getting the Done Job” sets in. Even with this ostensibly normal, and at first tranquil track, though, The Books insert sped-up vocals after a couple minutes, and alter the song’s texture completely.


“A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation” and “Deafkids”, which together encompass less than two minutes and a half of the album, are the perfectly enigmatic closers for such an unusual album. The former remarks in a deep, monotone voice that is wonderful in its unexpected earnestness, “A dead fish gains the power of observation/Speaks the fish, ‘Something’s fishy about this dish/Why am I so still.../It must be that I am dead.’” “Deafkids” concludes the album with a minute’s worth of merciless beats and fiendish child’s vocals that are consciously amusing, leaving the listener paralyzed in an interminable smile.


This sense of harmonizing contrast is what makes Thought for Food so dazzling; while the songs are unlike anything else, they never isolate the listener because of their fascinating juxtaposition with each other. The originality of the songs is not only refreshing, but also greatly rewarding because of the album’s incredible sequencing. The same can be said for the various portions of the individual songs, which would sound absolutely illogical if it weren’t for the outstanding mastery with which The Books assemble them. By working so methodically to create an album that sounds completely unique without feeling at all affected, The Books have given us one of the year’s very best albums, and one of the most innovative works of music to come out in recent years. One can only imagine what surprises their next release will bring.


Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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