December 13, 2009
albums of the decade (IV)
The Books - The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab, 2003)
The first time I heard the Books was on a compilation that came with the first annual "music issue" from a magazine called the Believer. The song was "There Is No There," the seventh track on the Books' second album. I'd never heard anything like it before. A diverse range of sounds: percussive everyday noises, excerpts from speeches, violin/cello fragments, meandering banjo lines, and a lot of looping. Occasionally a woman's voice (Ann Doener) breaks in with more conventional vocals, but such moments of clarity are rare. How does one begin to describe the Books? I've tried and failed many times, but I'll attempt it anyway.
When I first got a hold of this album I felt like I'd really happened upon something special, something unique and surprising. Each track on the The Lemon of Pink is more than the sum of its parts. Pop hooks seem to emerge from out of nowhere, yet you can't really put your finger on what's going on. The Lemon of Pink is notoriously difficult to pin down, and I think that's why I like it so much. Although you may have to accept that you don't really know what's going on, there's something very immediate about the emotional effect the songs on this album have. You can call the Books' approach collage, tapestry, or mosaic, but such metaphors seem immediately stale compared to the vitality of songs like "Tokyo" or "Don't Even Sing About It."
Still, "There Is No There" and "Take Time" are the best example of the group's ability to combine an assortment of sounds into truly affecting songs that feel as profound as they are weird and unconventional.