THE BOOKS: MUSIC FOR A FRENCH ELEVATOR (2006)
1) Fralité; 2) Egaberté; 3) Liternité; 4) It's Musiiiiiiic!; 5) The Joy Of Nature; 6) Meditation Outtakes; 7) A Long Villainous Sequence; 8) Millions Of Millions; 9) Of The Word God; 10) Ghost Train Digest; 11) You'll Never Be Alone; 12) Three Day Night; 13) Ah..., I See.
Okay, factual foundation first. This is a very brief (barely 15 minutes in length) EP-size release, whose full title is really Music For A French Elevator And Other Short Format Oddities By The Books, but titles of such length do not look too good in all caps. The «French Elevator» segment actually only covers the first four tracks, which were indeed played in a French elevator installed in the Ministry of Culture in Paris for people visiting a special modern art and sound installation in 2004. The other tracks just pad out the «album» with an extra selection of samples from The Books' archives. There is no «music» as such on them — just samples, most of them spoken (or, at most, bleated, bellowed, or whispered).
Now the evaluation. As it is, it happens to be my favorite Books album. First of all, fifteen minutes of Books per session is just about all I can stand. Second, the goddamn honesty. This time around, if you disregard the word Music in the title, there is really no pretense at all that they may be doing something other than mocking your brains out. What happens here is like... well, a little bit like a Terry Gilliam animation sequence with a broken video cable. It does not make much sense, and it is completely stupid from a rational point of view, but if it somehow hits that one right spot that is located God knows where — it's unforgettable.
The «Elevator» tracks, instead of focusing on The Books' usual acoustic guitar and cello (a little bit is still available on ʽFralitéʼ), bring in some lightweight jazz piano (ʽEgabertéʼ) or free-form jazz (ʽLibernitéʼ) that go well with some French fries, er, French spoken samples, and bring the absurdism to its peak by randomly remixing the initial syllables of the song titles. The resulting atmosphere is proverbially nutty, but also uplifting and full of metaphorical sunshine. And since the longest of these tracks clocks in at 1:21, the experience never drags.
The rest... weird it may sound, but it seems as if I really like the band's samples more when they are unhindered by all the diddling. For one thing, it helps us see that they are not simply incorporating random stuff from their libraries, but spend a lot of time editing it. ʽGhost Train Digestʼ, for instance, is really a condensed version of an old British movie where they take away all actual content and leave in most of the "God gracious!...", "oh dear oh dear...", "sorry" and other idiomatic stuff. On ʽMillions Of Millionsʼ, a preoccupied female is counting out money. ʽMeditation Outtakesʼ is one minute of several people spelling out the word «meditation». ʽA Long Villainous Sequenceʼ is thirty-five seconds of evil cackling and grunting. ʽThe Joy Of Natureʼ is a bunch of people trying to sound like farm animals. And so on.
Since you never really know what to expect — at the very least, you may be almost sure that the next snippet is not going to be a boring minimalistic guitar/cello duet — the sequencing is thrilling, funny, and sometimes even thought-provoking. (And ʽGhost Trainʼ is a good vehicle to practice your British pronunciation). Which, logically, brings me to my final point: it might have been a much better idea, given The Books' technical efficiency, if they had always separated their music from their samples. They are good musicians and clever splicers, but their regular albums do not really let us see the former and always obscure the latter. Here at least, for fifteen minutes, you can enjoy «just the splicing». Believe me, there's more to splicing than life.