within an overarching paradigm of clarity and accuracy
the context of which makes possible
an underlying sense of the way it all fits together
despite our collective tendency not to conceive of it as such
-The Books, "Smells Like Content"
"Sample-folk" duo The Books performed at the Great American Music Hall last night.
Experimental violinist Todd Reynolds opened for them, his style what the NYT has described as "impassioned violin soliloquies." He used the same live track layering technique Zoe Keating does to create intricate soundscapes. One of the most memorable parts of his set was "Outerboroughs"--his soundtrack to filmmaker Bill Morrison's old edited public domain footage of a cable car going over the Brooklyn bridge. He recommended Morrison's nostalgic Decasia--old film being played for the last time while being burned into oblivion by a light projector.
When The Books took to the stage, Paul brought out what looked like the hollow shell of a cello--he dubbed it the "celleton." Gorgeous. And travel-friendly, too!
They did a cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song," one of my favorites to along with play at home. The visuals were stunning--for a new song entitled "8 Frame" included in their newly released DVD Playall, the video was timed so each frame lasted for a quarter note. At the very end of the song, they did a gradual time lapse of a water balloon bursting into a thousand shimmering water droplets. Breathtaking. Their music and images are so meticulously coordinated that even the slightest hiccup in rhythm or intonation forces them to start a song over. At one point during "Smells like Content," Nick hit a flat, stopped, and apologized, explaining that if they kept going, everything would be off, and it would be "really bad." We were happy to oblige.
I think what's even more striking than their precision is their ability to create something that is at once provocative, innovative and still accessible, with universal emotional charge.
Pitchfork review writer Mark Richardson nails it:
...the Books have plucked sampled voices from their original context and arranged them inside simple compositions for sliced-and-diced guitar, banjo, and cello. They've taken moments of contemplation-- when one understands something on an emotional level but can't quite articulate his thoughts-- and dressed it up in a melodic frameThe Books' achieve this sound through their own wholly independent production:
[It's] a fantastic reminder of the musicality of the spoken word, an idea that lurks constantly inside the music of the Books.
We do all of our own sample collecting, composing, writing, recording, mixing, and mastering in our home studios using pc's running cheap software and the ragtag equipment that we've pieced together over the years. What you hear on our records is exactly how it left our hands, with no producer, engineers, or sweetening in between. We are completely independent, beholden to no corporations and we have funded all of our music entirely ourselves.Some videos from last year's tour, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia:
An Owl With Knees
The Classy Penguin--about Nick's brother Mikey
"I want all of the American People to understand, that it is understandable that the American People cannot possibly understand." --The Books, "An Animated Description of Mr. Maps"