Monday, July 19, 2010

Thrift store musicians

Part of the fun (for me, anyway) of doing a lot of shopping at thrift stores is finding the little bits of former lives in the items that you buy. I have a couple shirts that have names sewn (or written) on the inside neck label, and I've found ticket stubs, notes, and funeral handouts in jackets that I've purchased. In books, I've found cards, inscriptions, homework, and even money a couple times.

Of course, this former life personalization is the reason that many items end up at a thrift store to begin with (I can't count the number of times a perfect item has had to be refused due to holes or stains), but all in all I've found myself charmed more than I've been frustrated. Just the other day, I found a teacher note to a student in a book that said "Sally had a GREAT day in music class!" and it brightened my day a little bit.

That's probably a long way of getting to the point, but it's an important one when talking about the music of The Books. The duo of Paul de Yong and Nick Zammuto have released 3 albums to date, and this week they just put out their fourth, The Way Out. They make skewed pop music that really sounds like nobody else out there, and yes, there's a thrift store element involved.

One of the key components of their music is sampling, and a large portion of those samples (especially on this new release) are pulled from home VHS tapes, home-made cassette tapes, and even answering machine tapes that the two have found in thrift stores. They cut up the samples and re-arrange them in a way that fits the song, then add their own instrumentation (and sometimes vocals) over the top, creating something amazingly emotional in the process.

Take, for instance, the first "single" from their new album, titled "A Cold Freezin' Night." For this song, they pulled a variety of different clips from an old Talkboy tape (more back-story on the song on their blog). It's two kids trying to one-up each other and recording the process, and the two turn the song into a lively, and dare I say catchy song.

As if that weren't enough, the two also create a video for each song, cut perfectly in time to the song (and again, largely using found footage).

If that song didn't do it for you, check out one of their older cuts, titled "Classy Penguin." The construction elements are similar, but the song takes a completely different direction. Oh, and the video captures some beautiful little nuggets out of every day life. Basically, you'd have to really be a grump to not crack a little smile or feel a bit wistful watching it.

And really, that's where the group shines the most. They take slices of life that really meant something to someone at some point, recapture then, then add their own little elements on top of them and set them off into the world as songs and videos. Over the course of their albums (and especially The Way Out), there's a lot of joy, a little bit of sorrow, and a dash of absurdity for good measure. In essence, they capture a great slice of humanity, and they're some of my favorite musicians because they do so.

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