Monday, May 24, 2010

The Books - Lost and Safe (2005)***


"The Lemon of Pink was my favourite release of 2003, with its complex sound collaging, folky tone and cheerful, celabratory feel making it one of the most fascinating and enjoyable albums I'd heard in years. I became a very big fan of The Books based almost entirely on that one release (although Thought For Food is also excellent), so I was very keen to hear what they had to offer on this year's Lost and Safe.

The album is a departure from the duo's style in some ways, yet it still sounds unmistakably like The Books. The most noticable change is the drastic increase in vocal work throughout the album, complete with fully-realised lyrical content. The soft, spoken-word passages drift along comfortably with the trademark cut-and-paste backing, and certainly don't detract from the music in any way. The key effect these vocals have is that they give the album a significantly more instrospective feel. The lyrics are loaded with philosophical musings, mostly about the basics of human nature, which range from genuinely interesting contemplations to loopy mindwarps which the more chemically inclined listeners are sure to enjoy. Examples like 'We know to seek success is utter nonsense / The best is to be blank' (from 'A Little Longing Goes Away') and 'Most of the world is a place where parts of wholes are described / within an overarching pardigm of clarity / and accuracy / the context of which makes possible and underlying sense of the way it all fits together / despite our collective tendency not to perceive it as such' (from 'Smells Like Content') should give you an idea what I mean.

The only drawback to the inclusion of vocals is initially a very noticable one - it's hard not to feel like the overwhelming joy of The Lemon of Pink is absent here. That album's multicultural celebration of the world doesn't really play a part in Lost and Safe, but it only takes a short while for the duo's new focus of joy - the secret inner-workings of people - to really kick in. Once you get used to the new direction, things start sounding very special indeed.

Thankfully, The Books' wonderful creativity survives the transition completely intact, and each listen of Lost and Safe reveals more brilliant, previously unheard touches of magic. One of my personal favourite tricks, one which is quite new to The Books' work, is the occasional use of sample-vocal mimicry (used to brilliant effect in 'Be Good to them Always'). There's just something very likeable about hearing their usual, dug-up-from-nowhere samples, this time coupled with a monotone delivery of exactly the same dialogue, as it adds a surreal, echoed effect to proceedings.

With each listen to Lost and Safe it becomes more and more apparent that The Books have delivered more-or-less the perfect followup - an album which never tries to one-up it's magnificient predecessor, yet does an amazing job with its foray into new and exciting territory. It's an invaluable addition to their catalogue, and one of the year's best releases." - Tom

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