The Way Out (Temporary Residence Limited) The latest full-length album by found-sound folktronica savants The Books is a lot like enlightenment: if you think you can fully define it, you probably have very little idea what it is. Band members Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto may not have reached nirvana — or be Nirvana, for that matter — but they’re certainly enlightened musicians with a knack for evading succinct classification with every new piece of experimental “collage music” they create. The Way Out feels more like the way in — into the mind of someone with numerous personality disorders. Zammuto and de Jong have a talent for making people feel slightly uncomfortable about what they’re hearing without completely alienating them. Creepy samples of a child saying things like “I can kill you … with a shotgun, or any way I want to” dominate “A Cold Freezin’ Night,” and for the track “The Story of Hip Hop,” Zammuto spliced together portions of a decades-old recording of stories written by members of an esoteric Christian sect, cobbling together a new creation story about the beginnings of hiphop. Odd time signatures, strange instrumental interludes, and funky glitch bombs that frequently and violently bounce throughout this ode to psychedelica and hokey New-Age wisdom make it The Books’ least accessible album to date — but also, perhaps, its best. — Rob DeWalt
The Books may not have reached nirvana — or be Nirvana, for that matter — but they’re certainly enlightened musicians.
!!! Strange Weather, Isn’t It? (Warp Records) With unemployment and the B.P. oil spill in the news all summer and with Hollywood failing to provide much in the way of quality blockbuster fare, music has rushed in to provide a nice bit of escapism. There has been a slew of solid dance pop in these warmer months — ready to turn that frown upside down and move those hips left to right. !!!’s Strange Weather, Isn’t It? is the latest, offering roughly 40 minutes of Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson (strangely, with some vocals that sound a lot like Jackson 5-era Michael). The band uncorks its strongest material from the first notes: “AM/FM” and “The Most Certain Sure” are hook-heavy jolts of bass, funk guitar, and keyboard effects. “Wannagain Wannagain” tries to replicate the success of the band’s most celebrated song, “Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard,” by sprinting through an acrobatic montage of 1970s and ’80s funk, dance, and hip-hop trends, from the JBs to Blondie through Eric B. and Rakim. The affair cools when the band dims the lights for the slower, darker numbers “Hollow” and “Jump Back.” Particularly after the stunning “Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks,” these songs open a trapdoor on the dance floor, and the record never quite gets its footing back, even when the band returns to the hard funk. Maybe by that point you’ve realized that a little disco goes a long way.
— Robert B. Ker MINIATURE TIGERS For tress (Modern Art Records) Let’s just admit it. The Beatles and the Beach Boys are the source of all indie rock. Tight pop hooks and slightly behind-the-beat rock drums combined with harmonizing vocals — the formula has never been successfully duplicated. Bands like the Brooklyn-via-Phoenix Miniature Tigers would simply be better off trying to drink from shoegazer guitar rock’s headwaters. Instead, with varying degrees of success, the group tries to replicate the hot indie fare of the 2000s, reducing itself to shadows of the bands it so fervently admires. “Rock N’ Roll Mountain Troll” sounds like a worn retread of the preppy Afro-pop sound that powers Vampire Weekend. Ditto “Japanese Woman Living in My Closet.” Lyrically, “Lolita” veers into some dark territory about desiring a 17-year-old girl. Musically, however, the track doesn’t just sound like Panda Bear — it actually samples a vocal riff from that band’s 2007 album. For listeners who like the bands that Miniature Tigers so brazenly rip off, their new second album could be enjoyable. For those wishing they would stake out some sonic territory of their own, the disc’s only redemption is the lead single, “Goldskull,” a Neon Indian-produced gem of chillwave pop that is perfect rolled-down-windows summer car music. — Casey Sanchez FRED HERSCH TRIO Whirl (Palmetto) Fred Hersch and his trio, with drummer Eric McPherson and bassist John Hébert, offer 10 songs right up the leader’s gentle (but never lite) alley. The disc opens with Harry Warren’s “You’re My Everything”: perfect lyrical pianotrio music. Three more covers show Hersch’s eclecticism: the impressionistic “Blue Midnight” by Paul Motian; “When Your Lover Has Gone,” a soft, pretty song that was a hit for Louis Armstrong about 80 years ago (and on which Hersch adds a few old-fashioned flourishes); and the bright, quirky “Mrs. Parker of K.C.” by Jaki Byard. Three of the standouts on Whirl are tributes. First is the entrancing title track, for ballerina Suzanne Farrell. “She was absolute perfection in every way, and this piece takes its rhythm from her spinning en pointe,” Hersch says in the liner notes. The pianist’s “Sad Poet” is a fascinating, episodic piece dedicated to Antonio Carlos Jobim, and “Still Here” is a tribute to Wayne Shorter. The CD’s collection of Hersch compositions includes the Latin-themed “Mandevilla,” the upbeat “Skipping,” and “Snow Is Falling ...” — delicate, minimalist, cool, and beautiful. Overall, this is a remarkable album with no hint of the pianist’s recent ills. HIV-related symptoms — including loss of motor functions, inability to swallow, and a two-monthlong coma — ganged up on him in 2008. The master is back. — Paul Weideman