THE BOOKS: THE WAY OUT (2010)
1) Group Autogenics I; 2) IDKT; 3) I Didn't Know That; 4) A Cold Freezin' Night; 5) Beautiful People; 6) I Am Who I Am; 7) Chain Of Missing Links; 8) All You Need Is A Wall; 9) Thirty Incoming; 10) A Wonderful Phrase By Gandhi; 11) We Bought The Flood; 12) The Story Of Hip Hop; 13) Free Translator; 14) Group Autogenics II.
Question: so why exactly did The Books break up? Answer: why, cuz the darn kids just don't read 'em no more these days! In this sad, illiterate age, plagued by free porn and Angry Birds...
...oops, sorry, wrong platform. The correct answer, of course, is: because so few people really cared if they lived or died that they preferred to die. For publicity's sake, I assume. «The Books broke up today». «What are you talking about? I only just finished rearranging the shelves». «No, apparently there was a whole band out there, called The Books, and they just broke up.» «Whoah, you don't say? A band called The Books? Why didn't anybody tell me? What's their game? Where can I buy their records? Do they offer a last minute garage sale? Is the fan club offering T-shirts for free?»
Not sure about T-shirts, but at least the band went out with its most transparently «musical» album ever. Ironically, it is also their one record that is the least dependent on their traditional brands of instrumentation. Most of the backing tracks are either electronic or R'n'B-ish, or both, with the emphasis no longer on guitar and cello. This is not necessarily a plus in itself, but it makes the record more dynamic and jerky, so at the very least it is not that easy to fall asleep to the individual tracks.
Moving on, the album, for the first time ever, somehow tries to explain itself to the befuddled listener. "Hello, greetings and welcome. Welcome to a new beginning, for this tape will serve you as a new beginning... On this recording, music specifically created for its pleasurable effects upon your mind, body and emotions is mixed with a warm orange colored liquid. Your body is now a glass container". If you have already signed a written consent allowing your body to be treated as a glass container, who knows? — your mind, body and emotions might even consider The Way Out an introspective masterpiece.
Or «outrospective», whatever. The herky-jerky nature of these tunes produces a paranoid impression, which is way better than a lethargic impression. ʽI Didn't Know Thatʼ sounds like a shredded and recycled hip-hop (or would that be trip-hop?) track with a free jazz flavor for good measure. ʽA Cold Freezin' Nightʼ features a little boy threatening to blow your brains out to the merry sounds of something in between a robotic electro-funk pattern and a video game soundtrack. ʽI Am Who I Amʼ tips its hat to industrial metal (soft, though) as the protagonist asserts his identity ("I will be who I am and what I am"). And so on — do I really need to go through all the tracks?
Actually, a couple of the tracks almost work as actual songs. ʽAll You Need Is A Wallʼ is a rare spot of quiet acoustic meditation and falsetto vocal harmonies; and ʽFree Translatorʼ is an acoustic folk composition, plain and simple. Neither of the tunes is particularly memorable or original, but at least The Books leave you unable to say: «These guys never made an actual song in their entire life». Although, come to think of it, it would sound cool, especially considering that they are much better at collages anyway.
In the end, I would probably have given the whole thing the usual negative assessment, if it weren't for ʽThe Story Of Hip-Hopʼ, a track that lambasts the genre in the subtlest way possible — as actual hip-hop samples are mixed in with a steadier rhythm track, «disrupting the flow» of the whole thing every several seconds, someone narrates «the story of Hip-Hop» as an animate character, including smart observations about the latter, such as "He never rests. He beats and whirrs and whirrs so fast that you can't tell what he looks like". And the moral at the end: "Now you see the trouble little Hip Hop got into. It was all because he didn't look where he hopped..." Hey, could I take credit for that? Guess not. Too bad.
So, The Way Out is not a particularly bad way out for these guys. If their purpose in art was to confuse and derail, I must say this is the only record in the catalog that seems to me to have hit at least somewhere near that mark. Occasionally intriguing, occasionally funny, rarely boring, featuring ʽA Wonderful Phrase By Gandhiʼ, and lots and lots and lots of «original» text that I very much want to see as a parody on spiritual sermons than the real thing (ʽChain Of Missing Linksʼ is pretty much the apogee here). It's okay. I just hope these guys never come together again. Out is out, after all. It isn't nice to cheat.