The Books at Millennium Park / by Doyle Armbrust

If there is such a thing as a new paradigm in music, the Books may be it. With a just-south-of-precious moniker, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have made careers out of mining thrift stores for found audio, assembling bits and pieces from home videos and hypnosis tapes, to create an aural backdrop for their guitar/banjo/vocal/cello compositions. Sampling is a well-trod scheme for musicians, but the pair’s peerless talent lies in its use of esoteric and previously unheard clips, as well as its refusal to use these files as a nostalgic gimmick.

That’s not to say the band lacks humor. Halfway through The Lemon of Pink, the Books’ sophomore full-length, language-tape vowel pronunciations are stacked and repeated in a kind of Rosetta Stone breakdown. Throughout the rest of the album, as with the duo’s entire catalog, de Jong takes a painterly approach to the cello, incorporating ponticello and col legno bow techniques to dramatic effect. Zammuto’s wonderfully languid guitar and banjo picking are also a group trademark. The New Yorker’s vocals often double the found audio, or run through filters and take on the effect of dissolving in and out of the ether.

With each release, the Books have gradually moved toward more discernible song forms, most notably on 2005’s Lost and Safe. On the single “Beautiful People,” off the upcoming The Way Out, the duo sounds positively poppy—though fans likely can rest assured that the new album will be just as fantastically weird as previous output. Not clear is whether the Books’ film collages will be included in their Pritzker Pavilion debut. Either way, now that the Outdoor Film Festival is kaput, this is the closest you’ll get to cinematic in the park.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on June 16th, 2010