Well, it’s apparently official: bent pop sound collage artists The Books are no more. Their label, Temporary Residence, is billing a new Books box set as a “perfectly fitting conclusion to one of underground music’s most vital players.” We’ll miss you, guys! Although Nick Zammuto’s first post-Books project has definitely taken some of the sting out of your demise.
Now about that box set: It features The Books’ entire recorded output on seven vinyl records, including a double album’s worth of previously unreleased material; a two-hour DVD of all their videos; a 56-page picture book; and their entire catalog on a cassette-shaped USB flash drive. Oh and there will only be 1,000 copies made. You can pre-order it now from The Books’ label, Temporary Residence, for a mere $150. It’s due to ship “on or around July 15.” You know indie labels, they’re casual like that.
Let’s play this post out with The Books’ take on two of our favorite things: golf and guns. (Although despite watching this video like 59 times, my backswing is still a mess.)
(Photo swiped from BoingBoing.net)
Anticipation really seems to be building for the debut album from Zammuto, the new band/solo project from Nick Zammuto, one-half of sound collage mavericks The Books. Just today, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Track” shout-out to “F U C-3PO,” an almost proggy jam with robot vocals and distortion pedals set to stun. And last week, director Matthew Day debuted a short documentary called “A Day With Nick Zammuto” that shows the musician hard at work on his new music and chilling in his amazing self-built house with his wife and ridiculously cute children. We’ve embedded the YouTube version of the film below, or you can watch the original on Day’s website, Naked Musicians.
Zammuto will be making their live debut on Feb. 3 at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts. If anyone goes, give us a report!
Not many bands can claim to have invented an entire genre of music, but Negativland actually goes one better than that: They invented an entire art form, a technique called culture jamming, that is now such an accepted part of consumerist, mass media culture that it’s hard to imagine anyone having to invent it. From Adbusters to Banksy to self-aware Sprite commercials to fake BP Twitter accounts, the basic concepts of culture jamming are part of our everyday vernacular at this point. But yep, Negativland coined the term back in 1984. Before that, it was hard to know what to call the band’s mix of intercepted CB-radio conversations, sampled radio announcers and commercial jingles, krautrock, processed guitars, and ambient noise. Except really, really weird.
Negativland was started all the way back in 1979 by Mark Hosler and Richard Lyons, who were then still going to high school in the East Bay. Early on, they recruited a reclusive cable TV repairman named David “The Weatherman” Wills to join the group; his homemade devices, like cellphone scanners and a sampler/oscillator called The Booper, really helped the group perfect their sound collage approach to making music.
The group’s 1987 album Escape From Noise got them a little attention, but what really put Negativland on the map was their 1991 U2 EP, which most famously featured a spoof of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” accompanied by a profanity-laced, anti-U2 rant by Top 40 radio DJ Casey Kasem. The track earned Negativland its first lawsuit, from U2′s label, Island Records. After a four-year legal battle, chronicled in a book called Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, the two parties settled—Island dropped their suit, and Negativland stopped distributing the U2 EP (although they later reissued it as a “bootleg” under the fairly awesome title—quoted from part of Kasem’s anti-U2 rant—These Guys Are From England and Who Gives a Shit).
Thirty years later, Negativland are still at it: They’ve got a new project called It’s All in Your Head FM v2.0 due out later this year, along with a handful of reissues, and band member Don Joyce continues to host a public radio “audio collage” show called Over the Edge on Berkeley’s KPFA. And hey, kids—you can book one of two totally different Negativland shows in your local planetarium, art gallery, or high school auditorium! Take your choice between either a “two-hour-long, action-packed look at monotheism” or “a wordless wall of electronic sound.” Either way, you’re bound to impress all your snooty art friends and vastly increase your chances of scoring with girls whose panties drop at words like “semiotics” and “Noam Chomsky.” [Update: That link is now dead, so apparently they're not playing planetariums anymore. Sorry.]
We’ll leave you with a classic Negativland video from their 1989 opus No Other Possibility. The cigarettes are probably a metaphor for something, but we prefer not to dig too deep on this one and just appreciate it for its delightfully Pythonesque silliness.
There’s certainly no shortage of artists known for building their music around found sounds, field recordings, manipulated bits of conversation and the like. But something about the way The Books do it is definitely unique and, we think, weird enough to deserve a shout-out.
Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have been making their special flavor of sound collage music for nearly a decade, but they still manage to fly pretty far under the radar—maybe because they didn’t start touring until 2005, maybe because their name is virtually un-Google-able, or maybe because their music lacks the beats and synthesizers of more hipster-friendly sample-happy acts like Lemon Jelly and Boards of Canada. That might change, however, with the release of the duo’s fourth full-length album, The Way Out, later this year (2010). Early tracks “Beautiful People” and “A Cold Freezin’ Night” are as good or better than anything they’ve ever done, and “Freezin’ Night” has what Zammuto himself calls a “pseudo-techno-dance” beat to it. By Books standards, it’s a jam for the ladies!
The even cooler part of “A Cold Freezin’ Night” is how Zammuto and de Jong assembled the sampled children’s voices that, more than the pseudo-techno beat, are the track’s main attraction. Always on the lookout for new sources of obscure recordings to add to their vast library, The Books have been scouring the thrift stores in search of Talkboys, an oddball recording device introduced in the early ’90s as a tie-in with Home Alone 2. (Macaulay Culkin used one in the movie apparently, although we’re not sure how—we’ve never been able to sit through more than five minutes of that celluloid turkey.) And, well—just check out the video for “Freezin’ Night” below, which was spliced together from old home movie clips also collected by the Books boys. Kids are dark.
By the way, in case you need any further proof that The Books are in fact Weirdest Band material, consider the following: They once created music specifically to be played inside an elevator for the French Ministry of Culture, and one of them plays the cello. We rest our case!