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The specter of death hangs over The Books

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: actually scary songs.


The Books didn’t specialize in making unsettling music. In fact, Nick Zammuto and Paul De Jong’s merging of found sounds with the clicking and clacking of acoustic instruments occasionally verges on easy listening. There are, however, ribbons of spookiness laced throughout the duo’s central gimmick: all of these disembodied voices, nattering away like lost souls seeking a new corporeal vessel. With the possibility that many of The Books’ “collaborators” are speaking from beyond the grave, the specter of death hangs over the whole enterprise—pretty directly when it comes to “If Not Now, Whenever.” More so than any other track on 2005’s Lost And Safe, “If Not Now, Whenever” uses its audio samples as punctuation and percussion, creating a startling contrast to Zammuto’s half-whispered vocals. The one that always catches me off guard is the crone-like voice that intones, “I am the angel of death” a little after the two-minute mark—though it should be less of a surprise because there’s that really loud yelp that comes before it. The whole of the track plays out like that with long stretches of calm, suddenly upset by sonic scraps forcefully removed from their original context. It’s a fitting encapsulation of the album’s title—which combines two states of being that don’t usually go hand in hand—much like the comfort and terror of “If Not Now, Whenever.”

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