New Age is quite often followed closely by the word “bollocks”, and while The Way Out isn’t strictly a New Age effort it’s pretty damn close. Call it filth by association, but for the most part The Books’ latest offering is appalling.
Singer-guitarist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong found a selection of hypnotherapy cassettes in a thrift shop and decided to build their latest album around the imagery and hushed spiel that they found there. In essence it’s not a bad idea. Matmos created an album from the sounds of plastic surgery procedures after all, so an exploration of alternative therapies is a reasonable premise in theory.
In practice it makes for a terminally dull listening experience. The Books might well have been around for 10 years making albums that consist of electronic bleeps, spoken word samples and a whole load of clever editing, but this latest offering is something of a disappointment.
Starting off with Group Autogenics, the guided tour of the subconscious begins with a hypnotherapist taking you down step by step into a dreamy otherworld. “On this recording, music specifically created for its pleasurable effects upon your mind, body and emotions is mixed with a warm orange coloured liquid – your body is now a glass container…” he intones in a passive manner over a simple slip-sliding bass. This early warm liquid goo phase is irritating rather than calming, more likely to invoke a fire of rage than deep relaxation. The Books themselves seem to have drifted off into a somnambulant state as they spliced together the track with little in the way of the inventiveness they’re known for.
I Didn’t Know That is a little better, with scampering rhythms and frantic cut and paste sequences layered over something that could almost be described as a jazz-funk arrangement. For once, in this case, jazz-funk can be accepted as a positive thing. A Cold Freezin’ Night follows and stakes its claim as being the standout track on album with an assurance that is well justified. Using snippets of a couple of children threatening to kill each other that The Books found on a cassette in an old Talkboy recorder (see Home Alone 2 for an example), the track strays away from the main premise of the rest of the album. The arrangement is a masterclass of cunning as the band interweave the boy’s voices with brass blasts, flitting bass lines and honking harmonica. Partly cartoon, part Sesame Street, and with a healthy dose of consequence-free childish threats and violence, A Cold Freezin’ Night is a welcome distraction to the meandering electro-drone that populates the rest of the album.
But from here on in, it’s a case of the law of diminishing returns. The Story Of Hip Hop provides a little kick in the ribs with its clever narrative and jagged arrangement, but it’s a faint ray of hope in a morass of turgid ideas. By the end of the album, hypnosis seems the only option available in order to forget what’s just been endured.