The Books – The Way Out The Books – The Way Out

The Books - The Way Out

The Books - The Way Out

Stream The Books – The Way Out

I remember when I first heard “Caring is Creepy” by the Shins.  It was a scene straight from Garden State, which I didn’t recognize, because I had not yet seen the movie.  My high school physics lab partner put headphones over my ears and said, “Listen to this and you’ll start to watch people, and wonder what they’re thinking.  It becomes a soundtrack.”  Even then, when my iPod was full of pop and 80s power ballads, I knew that a good album sticks, but only a great album truly fuses to your thoughts.  The Way Out is one of those great albums.  It’s the beat you walk to on your way to class and the lyrics that you want to weave into daily conversation, the chanted mantra you hear while waiting in line, and the symphony you imagine conducting with your fellow commuters as the musicians.

The Books have pressed past their folktronic roots to create a melodic, pop-driven album, while still cleverly manipulating samples as varied and seemingly incongruent as a child making death threats and a meditation master.  It makes sense that the album has an orchestral depth, layers and refinement, given that the duo is guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong.

“The Way Out” is more journey than joy ride.  Beginning in a meditative state (literally, since the vocals instruct the listener to “relax”), the album moves forward to carefree pop, dance, gospel-like recitations.  Touches of funk infuse “IDKT” and its vocalized version, “I Didn’t Know That,” during which a chorus of adults and children exclaim the song’s title with grin-inducing glee.  “Beautiful People” is a lovely, uplifting interlude after the dark “A Cold Freezin’ Night,” which features the child threatening physical harm, instantly conjuring an image of intense sibling rivalry.

“I Am Who I Am” resonates with a Glenn Beck-like evangelical bent, juxtaposed by the “Chain of Missing Links,” which could very well be a Ratatat track overlaid with the dialogue of your local yoga instructor.  The innards of this album touch upon romance and its defeat.  “All You Need Is A Wall” can be interpreted as a forlorn love song; “Thirty Inside” balances voicemails over pumping tribal drums and a fluttering chorus.

My two favorite tracks, perfect examples of this album’s versatility, are “The Story of Hip Hop” and “Free Translator.”  The Books highlight the dichotomy between their vocal samples and the song momentum: narrator describes the journey of Hip Hop, the mischievous bunny, over samples of plucked strings, horns, yelps, a veritable aural kitchen sink.  “Free Translator” winds the album down as an almost-traditional folk song.  On their Tumblr, The Books wrote that they created the lyrics by sifting a well-known folk hit and sifting it through multiple languages on  The track’s tameness and simplicity is achingly beautiful.

What I like the most about “The Way Out” is that it is a refined, intellectual album, meaty and thought-inducing when played in its entirety, but the individual songs possess clout as well.  With tracks for dancing, pondering, mourning, giggling, and zenning-out, I look at this album as a perfect package with something for anyone: an extraordinarily versatile and great Secret Santa gift.  For me, it’s still aptly fit for my commute.  Just like high school physics, I find myself listening to it and staring at my fellow passengers, all of us in the rat race, and wondering who is narrating their day.  I’m more than happy to let The Books narrate mine.

The Books - The Way Out, reviewed by Cardamom on 2010-09-14T13:43:44-07:00 rating 4.0 out of 5

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