Record Reviews

The Books - The Way Out (Album Review)

Travis Walter Donovan :: Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 2:30 pm

The Way Out is the fourth full-length album by The Books, and the first they have released in five years. A hodgepodge of genre-dodging songs, The Books mix organic instrumentals with a diverse variety of samples to create a collection that is impossible to cohesively define, traversing a unique but challenging road of risky ideas.

While it can be hard to pin down what exactly The Books are trying to accomplish with The Way Out, there are several moments that shine with a determined clarity and direction, successful mostly due to the contrast they create set against the less enjoyable tracks. “IDKT” is a glockenspiel driven arrangement that builds toward an orgasmic symphonic climax, akin to the dynamic overload mastered by artists like Sigur Ros and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “Thirty Incoming” is similarly cinematic, layered with dense timbres and a driving percussive force. The Way Out sounds best in its patchwork moments of carefully stitched instrumental grooves, channeling the passion of Four Tet and Bonobo.

Unfortunately, The Way Out is too diverse for its own good. It fails to bridge the gaps between its multiple personalities, and ends up sounding like a mix tape of various musicians rather than the work of a single artist. The album has too many tracks, like the opening and closing songs, littered with annoying vocal narratives spouting metaphysical gibberish, like “Your body is now a glass container,” as though mocking some guided meditation audio disc. The spoken words heavily distract from what would otherwise be decent music. Other songs, like “A Cold Freezin’ Night” — which mixes the voice of a little kid telling me all the ways he is going to kill me with bass lines from a Mario pipe level nightmare — are too weird and dysfunctional to fit in with more traditionally and well-written indie-folk tunes like “We Bought The Flood” and “Free Translator.”

Bottom Line
While The Books hit some really beautiful and interesting strides on The Way Out, the album is too disjunct, forcing aberrant pieces together in such an uncomfortable way that the best moments are ultimately overshadowed by the awkward shortcomings.