The latest instalment in The Books' library is tinged with a more prominent sense of humour than previous output. Although past work has seen such priceless comedy-poignancy collisions as Motherless Bastard and All Our Base Are Belong To Them, this record is more openly playful. This is demonstrated in no small part by A Cold Freezin’ Night, throughout which adorable children’s voices spew threats of violence, to hilarious effect, whilst quick quasi-improvised clacking drives the track toward its comedic close: “I’m gonna rip your hair off, you’re gonna be bald, and everybody’s gonna think ‘Ahh, look at Meredith, she’s an idiot!’”. Another overtly tongue-in-cheek number is The Story of Hip-Hop, which I shall refrain from spoiling.
Group Autogenics parts I and II - which take spoken samples exclusively from old autogenic therapy VHSs found in thrift shops - open and close the album, introducing the comedy element without hesitation. Although one could argue that the unconcealed humour exemplified by lines like “the average human being only uses about 5% of their brain; the other 95% is available for... food” constitutes a flight of subtleties, there is no question the duo are having a lot of fun.
This album highlights more than ever the band’s uncanny finesse for matching the rhythms and pitches of the music to those of the found samples - a treatment arguably first explored in Steve Reich’s 'Different Trains'and certainly one appropriated by The Books from the get go. 'I Am Who I Am' sees stonking rave-like bass and wooden clatters brutally attack each syllable of archaic oration with startling accuracy, and the results are inspiring and menacing in equal measure.
The use of found audio was at the forefront of their work until 2005’s 'Lost And Safe' on which it stepped back, if only slightly, to make room for Nick Zammuto’s breathy, exacted vocal. The band’s escapist placing of lo-fi, anachronistic samples reclaims the throne on this record, but thankfully we still get to hear Zammuto’s voice on We Bought The Flood on which he silkily whispers existential lyrics reminiscent of Smells Like Content from aforementioned 2005 record.
'The Way Out' may be the most refined and fascinating work yet from an unashamedly cerebral act. The Books have consistently been nothing short of sonic architects, and any attempt to stylistically place their music in relation to that of other artists quickly becomes both problematic and useless. The see-saw of intellectualism and chuckling indulged in by the band is highly engaging, and it can perhaps be encapsulated by Paul de Jong’s claim, during their Manchester show this May, that the universe is in C#, but 79 octaves down.