Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #88 The Books
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#88 The Books
The Books have found unexpected success in their refusal to pander. Like The Flaming Lips of this generation, the members of The Books seem, at first glance, way too old and unhip to be an independent sensation. But that's something that actually works in their favor: they operate unsocketed from the world of hype and stardom, and instead they choose to create the some of the most interesting aleatoric music around. With cellos, violins, makeshift percussion and old sound samples scrounged from thrift store VHS tapes, movies and God know where else, The Books cobble together stunningly romantic narratives out of found bits and pieces of audio.
I've seen The Books play live three times now, and their set is a wonder to behold - not only for the way the expert coalescence of scattered elements can make you feel when everything goes right, but for the endearing ways in which the spectacle has gone wrong. The rig consists of mostly live instrumentation, a machine running sampled audio, and a synchronized video of found footage in the background. It's like watching a film pieced together out of other people's discarded lives. Twice of the three times I saw them, they had to restart "Smells Like Content" because they were about a half a second off from the syllable-by-syllable projection of the lyrics on the screen - something which the vocalist simply would not allow. And these two times, I was among a crowd of people who were not impatient and/or unappreciative hussies (a younger audience would balk at a performer dropping a song midway through for a restart) - they understood The Books' delicate commitment to getting everything just so. I think that's the appeal - it's about, as a woman whispers in "The Lemon of Pink Pt. 1," "subtle details."
Some may argue that the canted, sample-heavy style The Books present is unlistenable - experimental music that is to be appreciated but not enjoyed. I disagree - I can listen to any of their full-lengths nearly endlessly. I see them as wranglers as the unknown and the incompatible - what they piece together is a coherent, collective telling of a series of interesting stories - a something coaxed out of the nothingness of white noise that invades our lives. Very often, the tale heralds youth and hope and wonder - a refreshingly upbeat message from a pair that is, on average, many years the elder (and wiser) of its fans and disciples.