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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Books: Thought For Food


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" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Thought For Food" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Another unlistenable obscure band that nobody will remember in 10 years time? hopefully they produce one or two good albums that's worth the bother. I'm already craving for a Yeah Yeah Yeahs review.

  2. Surprising choice. Listened to a couple of their songs on Youtube about a year ago, wasn't impressed (that's an understatement). However, Nick Zammuto has released a very good album this year - well worth tracking down. Somehow most of those seemingly random sounds clicked with me. It's even catchy in places. George, however, will NEVER review Zammuto. Not even all the right juices can do the trick.

  3. I was never much of a fan of the Books. But I love Zammuto's solo album from this year, hope the addendum categories doesn't have to go by letter cuz otherwise we'll be waiting a long long time for the review of that one!

  4. How will he ever review Zammuto? He's barely through the "B's", and it's been five years! I kid, of course. But I think you're way off on this one, George. Thought for Food is a wonderful album, full of emotion (really? you felt nothing for "Motherless Bastard" and "Getting the Job Done"?), and I certainly remember it now, 10 years later.

  5. I've actually seen this band live. Two observations I gleaned from their performance. If they wanted to, they can actually play actual songs without the need for samples -- they're technically very great guitar and cello players. I found myself just wishing they would get rid of their samples/video collage thing they had going. Unfortunately, combining samples/video/acoustic instruments in one collage made them appear like a "galleria" act, nice enough to see but hard to remember.

    I think that's a huge problem with a lot of other similar acts. They try to do too much and forget that at the end of the day your music is what lingers, not the samples and extraneous stuff.

  6. Ah, it seems like Mr. Zammuto saw the same thing I saw:

    more power to him, it takes cajones to not hide behind samples.

  7. I love "Contempt" (or "Le Mépris" to be snobbish) but I don't see the point of these guys quoting verbatim (in English no less, the vulgarians!) the opening scene from the film. It doesn't reveal anything about the picture, it doesn't comment upon the film's ideas or values, it doesn't expose or enlighten or makes me reevaluate anything, and it isn't even any funny.
    So what's the point of it then? My only guess? It seemed like a cool idea at the time. Which is really what they should have named the album (or the band).