The Way Out is The Books’ 4th full length effort released July 20th 2010 on Temporary Residence Limited. It is their first release on said label. The album’s title is derived from the lyrics of the 11th track, “We Bought The Flood”. The cover comes in several different styles, each with a new set of designs filling in the letters in the title. The Way Out holds generally high acclaim among critics.
I first heard of The Books back in February of 2009 when their cover of Nick Drake’s classic, “Cello Song” on the fantastic (and highly recommended by yours truly) Red Hot compilation album, Dark Was The Night. The track also featured Jose Gonzalez. It struck me immediately as an excellent cover of a well chosen song, blending the original with a unique electronic flare.
About a year later I bought The Books’ 2005 album Lost and Safe. I wasn’t too far into that disc that I realized they were the real deal. Their brand of vintage and often times humorous conversational samples mixed with gorgeous original material is reminiscent of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the brilliant 1981 collaboration between music gods Brian Eno and David Byrne. This was impressive. Up until I discovered The Books, I had heard nothing that sounded anything like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, not by a long shot.
My point: The Books are a unique and talented band who take their cues from some of the most unique and talented people in the business. As for the album itself…
The Way Out starts with a track called “Group Autogenics I” which plays out like a motivational tape with a beautiful quiet musical background filled with bass riffs and stifled guitars. It sets the tone for the album as a whole. Its counterpart, “Group Autogenics II”, which is similar, yet quite different than the first, serves as the final track on the album. The bookend arrangement of these two songs really set the album apart and give it a unique voice, even among their own previous albums. Tracks 2 and 3, or “IDKT” and “I Didn’t Know That” respectively, compliment each other well. The first of the two being a short, striking tonal piece which leads into the second of the two which is a funky bass driven number that sounds like a few spoken sentences shattered into tiny pieces and rearranged as an indecipherable, entertaining dance inducing beast.
As if that weren’t interesting enough, here’s where the album crosses into genius. “A Cold Freezin’ Night” is a fascinating, fast paced piece of music consisting mostly of percussion and small children saying some of the most violent things I’ve ever heard. A small girl, in a recording that sounds quite old and frightfully honest, is heard saying “I can kill you with a shotgun… or a rifle, any way I want to.”. Then she continues, “probably by cutting your toes off… and working my way… towards your brain.”. I would love to find out where they got this stuff, it’s priceless. Somehow The Books took this creepy, funny dialog and molded it into a fantastic song.
As great as the faster, more rhythmic songs are, the real shining stars on this disc are the slow burns, such as “Beautiful People” which sounds like a church hymn about math. It’s 2 minutes and change of gorgeous vocals going on about convex figures and tangents. Really fascinating. My favorite track is “We Bought The Flood”. There’s something majestic about every second of it. The lyrics especially. “Let’s notice everything, I mean every grain of salt, Let’s be thorough to a fault, Next time we’ll build it twice as strong.” It sounds like a repair manual for a broken generation.
Song after song, beautiful guitar riff after beautiful guitar riff, this album owns top to bottom. It’s an audible Picasso, a beautiful garbled mess. It’s above all… different than pretty much anything else in my collection.