10 August 2012 Stuff We Like
The Books - A Dot In Time.
I suppose my first exposure to electronic music was of the various types played at raves in the late '90s- trance, drum and bass, happy hardcore, etc. Although I was intrigued by these genres and the various scenes associated with them, I had a hard time connecting and really digging into the vast landscape of seemingly very similar and anonymous releases. Perhaps if the me of today was sent, Quantum Leap-style, back into my late-teenage body (please no) I would be able to appreciate it more, but perhaps not.
By the time I learned about the Books, The Lemon of Pink had just been released. Calling the Books "electronic music" alongside the aforementioned genres reveals a sharp divide in sound and technique, which is kind of the point. My exposure to electronically produced music up to that point could be largely characterized as aggressive, locked-in, repetitive, artificial, and unnuanced. The Books were one of a number of artists I discovered around that time period who revealed that electronic music could be essentially the opposite: gentle, free flowing, unpredictable, and organic. The Books went even farther than most "electronic" acts in their embrace of a combination of found/sampled sounds and live voice and instrumentation, to the point where you weren't always sure which was which.
A Dot In Time collects all of the Books full lengths, from Thought For Food to The Way Out, along with the other audio and video odds and ends they produced during 10+ years of existence. As this compilation attests, the Books were one of those rare bands that carved out a unique, singular sound from their very inception, and rather than becoming trapped by their distinctness, were able to take the elements that defined them and shape them into something unique and progressive on each release. Though my feelings were initially mixed as more and more of Nick Zammuto's vocals crept into the Books' later compositions and their songs grew closer to capital-S Songs, in looking back I recognize those pieces as beautiful extensions of their earlier, more free-form material.
With so many bands putting out compilations and retrospectives, it's easy for a band to become lost amongst the sea of reissues. The Books, though not as long gone or long lasting as some of the other bands we've seen revisited recently, are certainly worthy of being recognized among them. In his recent review, Mark Richardson noted the Books as the product of a very specific time, arguing that their particular brand of music composition would have lacked a certain resonance in today's cut-and-paste, mashup-heavy, digital-collage culture. I would propose instead that they remain ahead of their time, and that there are still corners and alleyways to be discovered in the landscape they uncovered and explored. This box set suggests it will take a brave and curious soul to find them.
– Jeffrey Woldan