As one half of the influential sample-driven pioneers The Books, Nick Zammuto has already become something of a legend. The Books were adept at creating innovative music from found sounds and twisting them into new shapes. Their final album was fittingly entitled The Way Out and was built primarily from a mash up of live guitar and sections of hypnotherapy tapes that Zammuto and his collaborator Paul De Jong had found in a thrift shop. By the time of The Way Out’s release, The Books’ status as pioneers and innovators was slowly being eroded by the availability of cheaper technology. Despite being generally well received, the band themselves seemed to be lacking a cutting edge.
Zammuto represents a form of reaction to the dissolution of The Books from its creator, and although such reactions are generally dour affairs relating to loss this is an album that often fizzes with energy. The hypnotic state that lingered over The Way Out has been well and truly dispersed.
This is an album that revels in the possibilities of a new and uncertain future. It is less concerned with conceptual statements and instead attempts to concentrate on having fun through creating music and being a little bit silly. Take opening track Yay. Not only is the title an expression of happiness but the stuttering electro vocals border on the comedic. Shackled to razor sharp percussion and uplifting synth swells, this quirky opener finds Zammuto seemingly in high spirits. Zebra Butt continues in a similar vein with its ridiculous title, squelchy electro-tinted techno and robotic put downs establishing that Zammuto’s tongue is firmly in his cheek. Yet despite the silliness inherent in these tracks (and the Vocoder Sci-Fi electro romp of F U C-3PO is most certainly daft) the technical proficiency displayed is too obvious to ignore.
Away from Zammuto’s obvious skill as a song crafter, the heart of this album is the drumming of Sean Dixon which at times defies belief. He’s more than capable of providing a solid backbeat when required to drive these songs along, but when he really cuts loose as on the skittering jazz freakout of Weird Calling it can be mind boggling. The Shape Of Things To Come also highlights his technical ability, and although the track itself is a drifting dreamscape requiring very little in the way of forceful dynamics, it’s Dixon’s busy high hat juxtaposed with a lazy rim shot that adds to the otherworldliness of the song.
Despite Zammuto having assembled a wonderful new set of songs and a band of incredibly talented musicians, there are some tinges of sadness to be found in the depths of the album. Idiom Wind wears its emotions on its sleeve. Dixon’s jazz club drumming and Gene Back’s wonderfully orchestrated strings provide a “bar at closing time” ambience as Zammuto indulges in a call and response with his bassist. His brittle voice is full of frustration as he sings of “an educated man doing everything he can, which isn’t much cos his education isn’t worth a damn”. Groan Men Don’t Cry meanwhile is less obvious as the emotions are hidden behind low key funk and a vocoder, but under the blanket of taut bass and busy electronics, there’s a grown man crying (and not just about his use of puns).
If these moments of reflection are necessary for Zammuto to move on from the loss of The Books, then at least he’s done so with a series of well crafted songs shaped by a band on top form. If anything, this is an album that succeeds purely by shedding the past. There’s no pretentions, no concepts, just an exploration of music and Zammuto is starting to write the book of the future once again.