The Books: The Lemon of Pink

The Books
The Lemon of Pink

Musique concrète is one of the wild conundrums of 20th-century art. You make music from recordings of everyday sounds--not too far a cry from cubism or dada. But the idea has deprived the sleep of thinkers from Walter Benjamin (what happens to the 'aura' of an artwork in the age of mechanical reproduction?) to Flavor Flav (who stole the soul?). Musique concrète was pretty alien and unlikable to the average mid-20th century ears, as is the case with avant-garde movements. The difference, though, is that it still sucks even now.

Twelve-tone music is still blue-chip among contemporary composers compared to this airy-fairy stuff. But the more interesting paradox is how the premise of musique concrète--for a long time a free-floating, impractical, unpalatable idea among the cultured set--eventually landed in the hands of American sample freaks like Public Enemy and became redefined as the fin de siècle popular music paradigm. What didn't quite work as art music worked great as pop.

The 20th century is full of mysteries like this, but the Books are the blind spot between them: deft avant-gardists who steal the sounds of the modern world in the guise of entertainment. The Lemon of Pink sounds like a string quartet equipped with Laurie Anderson's magnetic-tape bows, more of them than Sonic Youth ever had guitar tunings. A continent-sized quiver of violin bows for every displaced soul-sound in Walter Benjamin's aesthetic limbo, now given a second chance at life. Strings and samples and sounds percolate with the rhythm of speech, rather than the hegemonic drum beats which normally organize sample-based music like hip hop or electronica.

In fact, calling the Books "sample-based" is selling the band (and yourself) criminally short. Wouldn't it be more worthwhile to think about the way your own life is sample-based? You draw back the curtains, put on the Books, and listen to the sound of the dishes moaning as you wash them. A low-drawn bow over the bridge of a cello exhales pillow breath. Strings hopscotch in and out without pretense of being "organic"--the digital bubble-pops of their entrance become the counter-rhythm of conversation. The pragmatics of party-talk collapse entirely on the last song ("ps"), where the violins fall down dead and the human voices gather themselves around a Ouija board--or maybe it's the suspended studio moment right before musicians become musical. The song is followed by nothing, and then the sound of the CD player clicking off, punctuating sentences you didn't know you were hearing. Ever talk to yourself and find no one's listening? Ever been punched in the gut by silence? The Books play these moments as giddy chamber music.

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