How is it possible to make experimental music look so easy? Well, maybe not easy, but sound collage act The Books‘ four studio recordings feature this atmospheric and strangely arousing style, utilizing loops and samples to the point of actually having emotionally-charged dexterity. It is music whether or not you think otherwise, and it has resulted in some of the most impressive and immersive “music” this reviewer has heard in my years listening to countless artists try and try again. While I may not get over the fact that the decade-old duo is no longer, I can find solace in knowing that one-half of The Books — handyman Nick Zammuto — has taken the necessary steps to form a new band and move on into deeper, even stranger directions.
A year of home recordings in the studio he built himself has resulted in the first full-length LP. Simply titled Zammuto, the album is comprised of that same experimental ferocity that marked the artist’s work with The Books. This might be the first time, however, that Nick’s gumption can be fully articulated and appreciated. Take a cue from the audacious second track, “Groan Man, Don’t Cry,” whose intricate bleeps and bloops of guitar noodling are blended with gentler moments of soft organs and Nick’s vocals drenched in bubbly filters. You sort of can’t tell what’s being looped and played in sync, but perhaps that’s the point — everything meshes together to form this texture your ear buds want to eat up from left to right channel. It’s aesthetically odd but continually inviting, and it’s only one of a few tracks here that really punctuate Nick’s craftsmanship.
The first half of Zammuto keeps a pretty strong handle on its eclecticism. The breathy harmonics and intimate yet charmingly boyish vocals of “Idiom Wind” feel so appropriately warm and familiar, somewhat in the vein of “All You Need Is A Wall” from The Books’ own The Way Out. Matched with the loopy opener “YAY,” segued into the looney and rather fun “F U C-3PO,” and then swirled up by the candy-coated and digitized “Too Late To Topologize,” Zammuto‘s flow is never sacrificed despite its assorted nature. Each track finds its way through to the next and all are tied together because of their consistent experimental tendencies, making each track work in the order that they were assigned in. That’s another point for Mr. Zammuto’s crafting skills.
As much praise as I have for the album’s first half, however, reaching the sampled prog-synth-styled “Zebra Butt” and the multi-layered “Weird Ceiling,” there begins a certain heaviness. It’s not at the fault of these tracks alone, as they both have their admirable quirks like the rest of the tracks that appear on here. But once you’ve arrived at the half-hour mark after seven consecutive experiments (save for the 30-second sample “Crabbing”), you might start to feel as though you were just put through a test of aural exercises. It’s a little tiring to say the least, and it’s understandable that Zammuto would want to provide you with as many productions he can fire out of his creative canon, but the peak hits just a bit early on.
That isn’t to say Zammuto buckles before it ends, as the last few tracks settle down for a little change of pace. “Harlequin” and “Shape of Things To Come” keep Nick’s echoed and reverberated vocals in check, but the lower octaves and near-ethereal tonality present the album with a kind of peculiarity beyond the more tricked out tracks that precede them. Along with the balladry of the album closer, “Full Fading,” these more “song” driven tracks feel very flavored with pronounced guitar work and glowing strings, effectively accenting Nick’s lyrics through all of his vocal effects. They act like the descent back to the ground after a startling takeoff and journeying flight, which was perhaps what Nick had intended all along.
Zammuto plays as a welcome return for Nick into the musical spectrum. It’s not merely a showcase of what he is capable of doing, but it also allows us to really grasp the sonically introspective and creative release of this talented handyman after all that has been building up inside. Even if it can become a bit too much, each track on here has a retaining quality that will surely be remembered by year’s end, and we can feel grateful knowing that this won’t be the last time we hear from him.
Zammuto is available on Temporary Residence on multiple formats on April 3rd. Be sure to check out the track “Idiom Wind” and Zammuto’s tour dates down below as well.
Zammuto Tour Dates:
04/05 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
04/06 – Grand Junction, CO – Mesa Theater & Club *
04/07 – Salt Lake City, UT – In the Venue *
04/08 – Missoula, MT – Wilma Theater *
04/10 – Seattle, WA – Moore Theater *
04/11 – Eugene, OR – McDonald Theater *
04/12 – Reno, NV – Knitting Factory *
04/15 – Davis, CA – Mondavi Center *
04/16 – San Francisco, CA – Palace of Fine Arts Theater *
04/17 – San Francisco, CA – Palace of Fine Arts Theater *
04/18 – Pomona, CA – Glasshouse *
04/19 – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
04/20 – Visalla, CA – The Cellar Door
04/22 – Flagstaff, AZ – Orpheum Theater *
04/24 – San Antonio, TX – Backstage Live *
04/30 – Brooklyn, NY – Glasslands
05/01 – Annandale-on-Hudson, NY – Bard College
* with Explosions in the Sky
For more info: Zammuto’s Website