The Books

thought for food

The Books were an American duo consisting of guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong. Their releases typically incorporated samples of obscure sounds and speech. They released three critically acclaimed albums on the German label Tomlab, and released their fourth studio album, ‘The Way Out,’ on Temporary Residence Limited in 2010.

Zammuto and de Jong met in New York City in 1999 as they shared the same apartment building. De Jong invited Zammuto to dinner at his apartment, where he played him some of his collection of audio and video samples, including a Shooby Taylor scat record. Zammuto said of their meeting that ‘we both kind of knew at that moment that we listened (to music) in interesting ways and had similar approaches to music.’ Soon after, they began playing what they considered to be pop music, in comparison to their own works, under the name ‘The Books.’

The Books are commonly cited by critics to be of a genre of their own. Zammuto has described it as ‘collage music.’ Paul de Jong called it, ‘the new folk music…[w]e make our own instruments, use our own libraries of sound bites while trying to create something universally human.’ Although they have said that their influences include Nirvana, David Bowie, Roxy Music as well as new wave and classical music, these do not show prominently in their music. Zammuto has said he was personally influenced by electronic musicians Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.

The Books’ music usually consists of acoustic instrumentation of folk melodies usually played on guitar, cello, banjo and more, combined with a diverse range of samples obtained from cassettes found in thrift stores. They also rarely use a drum kit in recordings and performances, instead favoring samples of inanimate objects like children’s toys and filing cabinets. Some observers contend that their music is aleatoric (partly random), but Zammuto has disagreed, saying the music is very tightly controlled.

In 2000, The Books started work on what would become their début album ‘Thought for Food.’ Zammuto and de Jong moved locations constantly during this time, recording in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and finally in the basement of a hostel in North Carolina where Zammuto worked for a while after hiking the Appalachian Trail. The album was released in 2002 and was praised by critics for its distinctive sound: extensive sampling from obscure sources coupled with acoustic instrumentation.

Shortly after the release, the band relocated to North Adams, Massachusetts, near where Zammuto had graduated from Williams College in 1999 (studying chemistry and visual arts) to record their follow up, ‘The Lemon of Pink.’ Anne Doerner, a guest vocalist on the album, said the process was much more arduous than the previous effort, with Zammuto working on the album for five straight months. ‘The Lemon of Pink’ was released to critical acclaim in 2003. It is similar in style to ‘Thought for Food,’ but oriented more around vocals performed mostly by Anne Doerner.

In 2004, the French Ministry of Culture asked The Books to compose music for a new elevator in their building. The Books released a Mini CD of this work in 2006, under the name ‘Music for a French Elevator and Other Short Format Oddities by the Books.’ In 2005, the duo released their third studio album, ‘Lost and Safe.’ Zammuto has a greater vocal presence in this album, and was criticized for this change of sound. In early 2005, The Books collaborated with the electronic artist Prefuse 73, appearing on his album ‘Surrounded by Silence’ and his E.P. ‘Prefuse 73 Reads the Books,’ a remix of material sourced from The Books’ albums.

The Books began working on ‘The Way Out’ in late 2008. Zammuto spoke of the album’s New Age themes in an interview in 2009, saying they took samples from self-help and hypnotherapy cassettes. When asked to describe the album, Zammuto said ‘You’re getting verrry sleepy.’ In 2010, Pitchfork Media began streaming the track ‘Beautiful People,’ which Zammuto described as ‘a three part christian harmony mixed with a sort of euro-disco-trash beat, an orchestra’s worth of sampled brass and lyrics about the twelfth root of two (my favorite irrational number), trigonometry and tangrams.’ The full album was released two months later.

In 2012, Nick Zammuto announced in an interview via Pitchfork Media that The Books were splitting up to focus on other projects. Nick released a self-titled album in April of that year under the moniker ‘Zammuto.’

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