A song’s meaning and structure are dependent on its vocals. Vocal delivery and content can propel an artist to iconic status — think of Bob Dylan and his unforgettable voice, singing tales of Americana — or send a group into a downward spiral of garden-variety recordings. The Books’s brand of electro-pop has never been a conduit for lyrical expression; instead, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong opt for sporadic instrumentation and random samples of rambling strangers. Their latest LP, Lost and Safe, departs from their previous work and turns toward becoming stereotypical pop.

Music Reviews
Music Reviews
“Is it just me, or is there some kind of elf standing back there?” (Courtesy of Tomlab)

The Books’s previous full-length releases, The Lemon of Pink and Thought For Food, are templates for greatness. Their gorgeous electronic landscapes and smooth integration of morphed samples give both albums a warmth that is uncharacteristic of similar electronic bands. It’s disappointing that the material on Lost and Safe doesn’t compare to the strength of the essence and feeling of these albums.

The most blatant and ill-advised difference on Lost and Safe is the focus on vocals, which causes Zammuto and de Jong to structure each track more rigidly than before. One of The Books’s greatest attributes had been their ability to create spastic yet catchy songs like Thought For Food’s “Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again.” But almost every track on Lost and Safe progresses predictably, based on a standard pop formula. On “A Little Longing Goes Away,” they try a more adventurous approach to lyrical delivery,­ using airy, soft cries, but the track resembles mellow, ambient art-pop.

The frequent, uninteresting samples on Lost and Safe don’t compensate for the album’s sub-par music and muffled croons. The Books’s other releases use sound clips more erratically; the group would tamper with miscellaneous ramblings to add a new dimension to the music. One of Lost and Safe’s most uninspired tracks, “Be Good To Them Always,” combines a monotonous clip with soft vocals, while intermittent keyboard flares become tiresome and boring.

The Books aren’t completely off their game on Lost and Safe: The introductions on “Vogt Dig For Kloppervok” and “An Animated Description of Mr. Maps” are reminiscent of their older works. Keyboard drones quickly give way to spare, random percussion and well-placed samples, but both degenerate into artsy pop songs.

The focus on vocals on Lost and Safe is an unfortunate deviation from The Books’s signature electronic sound. Though they don’t abandon their previous style completely, The Books have produced a mostly lifeless release. By focusing on the music again, The Books may be able to continue in the tradition of their previous two releases and avoid the mediocrity of Lost and Safe.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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