THE BOOKS: THOUGHT FOR FOOD (2002)
1) Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again; 2) Read, Eat, Sleep; 3) All Bad Ends All; 4) Contempt; 5) All Our Base Are Belong To Them; 6) Thankyoubranch; 7) Motherless Bastard; 8) Mikey Bass; 9) Excess Straussess; 10) Getting The Done Job; 11) A Dead Fish Gains The Power Of Observation; 12) Deafkids.
As a friendly disclaimer, I would just like to remind the reader of a strict «no bull» policy that is observed in these reviews. Music that stirs up feelings is welcome; music that stimulates constructive thought without stirring up feelings is slightly less welcome, but still welcome; music that begs for just one question — «did somebody just make me feel like a complete idiot?» — just makes me feel like a complete idiot. And it's no fun reviewing music in a state like that.
The Books are a creative duo from New York City (the Holy Mother of Progressive Bull, among other wonderful things), consisting of Nick Zammuto on guitar and Paul de Jong on cello, and backed by The New York Symphony Orchestra of Awesome Samples. They call themselves The Books because they have read a lot of books (personal assumption), and if you haven't read a lot of books — and watched a lot of (obscure) movies, and listened to a lot of (obscure) music — you probably have no business listening to them in the first place. As for myself, I am in no way qualified to compete with these guys' level of knowledge of whatever it is they know, even if I did see Godard's Contempt, on which one of these tracks is based (but I'm a Breathless person myself, so, other than a small flash of Brigitte Bardot in the nude, there was really nothing to get too much excited about). Thus, I'm stumped.
Basically, The Books just play small snippets and snuffets of folksy melodies, with acoustic guitars, violins, cellos, and electric bass (the latter of which periodically blows radioactive holes through my speakers). On their own, these snippets would be completely worthless — the playing is unexceptional and the «melodies» are underworked, when they are «worked» at all. The gist is that they are densely peppered with samples, and, if I get it right, the samples are supposed to interact with the melodies in creative ways, resulting in... in... aw, crap.
I do officially admit that the song titles are original enough to merit a carrot. ʽEnjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Againʼ is a clever tweet — if only it had something to do with the actual track, which sounds like a home rehearsal of a daring, but erratic and vision-less folk guitarist spliced with a quiet mishmash of avantgarde violins and people talking in Robert Altman fashion (including a long story narrated by a lady about a stalker). Verdict: this is approximately 2,000 years ahead of its time, and these guys belong in a MoMA installation.
ʽRead, Eat, Sleepʼ is a combination of minimalistic acoustic patterns, chimes, and deep bass, mixed in Brian Eno fashion and sprayed with samples of a spelling bee. Conclusion: "By digitising thunder and traffic noises, Georgia was able to compose aleatoric music". While this gives the listener a fine chance to learn the relatively recent neologism «aleatoric», I cannot in the least agree with raving critical opinions — as far as my organism sees it, the samples and the vapid musical backing cancel each other out rather than complement each other.
Only a couple of tracks actually gives the impression of adhering to the non-rules of musique concrète — ʽExcess Straussessʼ is two minutes of cellos and violins echoing from one channel to another, and the last two snippets really try to weave some sort of pseudo-musical pattern from sampled bubbles and babbles (ʽDeafkidsʼ with its deconstructed thrash metal bassline almost borders on funny — there, I've said it). Other than that, there is no coherence or conceptuality here except for whatever you might want to invent yourself, particularly when you are a professional musical critic for whom «thought for food» is a harsh reality of life.
Speaking of life, one opinion that I have encountered is that Thought For Food is supposed to represent a special «panorama of life», with its array of samples gathered from all sorts of sources and the music merely a sonic backing to add an artsier dimension to the documentary nature of the panorama. Well... okay. Perhaps this will make someone reevaluate all of Life's values, bring open-mindedness, freshness, a renewed sense of purpose, and a reignited taste for adventurous feelings into one's existence.
My position, unfortunately, will remain rather retrograde — I find Thought For Food, and particularly the excited critical reception that has surrounded it, to be just one more sign of a general creative exhaustion of the 2000s. I admit that, to a certain degree, it is a technical success: the samples have been integrated smoothly enough to make the whole thing listenable as a piece of «music» rather than a patchwork of «avantagrde sonic effects» à la ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ. But «listenable» is certainly not enough, and I'd much rather go back to the meaningful sonic nightmare of ʽNo. 9ʼ than sit once more through the bland «non-statement» of Thought For Food, so carefully and meticulously crafted by these two guys.
Nice, intellectual guys, and there is nothing wrong in trying to look for new ways to revolutionize the musical world — it's just that the hunger for change sometimes gets so big that people get inadequately happy at the mere idea of looking for it. Never mind if you don't find anything. Just keep looking, it'll come to you. Or maybe it has already come. Yep, that's right, it's here, it's just what we needed. Isn't it great? Yeah, it's not for everyone, but what is? Justin Bieber? Come on now, conservatism won't help make this world a better place. Besides, you wanted progress, didn't you? You want it — you got it. What's the point of your disrespectful thumbs down? Obstruct development? Cool off the optimism? Sell us all to MTV? When we have just seen the future of rock'n'roll, and its name is... ALEATORIC!!!
Check "Thought For Food" (MP3) on Amazon