Review

Denis DesHarnais, Transform, December 9, 2005

Strange, disorienting, and sometimes abrasive electronica. Todd Drootin’s “beatpunk” project, Books on Tape, is back with a new dose of strange, disorienting, and sometimes abrasive electronica. Actually, after listening to Dinosaur Dinosaur a few times, I’m not sure how accurate the term “beatpunk” is; quirk-core might be closer to the truth. There’s definite charm in the low-fi, hyper-quantized, synth-oriented production, but the end result is a style music that owes more to ‘70s and ‘80s avant-electronica than punk rock. This difference is even more marked on here than on earlier releases like 2004’s The Business End EP. Once again, rubbery synths, dissonant soundscapes, and heavily-filtered drums are the order of the day, but on Dinosaur Dinosaur, the veneer of the more dance-floor friendly (if only fleetingly so) beats that graced Books on Tape’s earlier work has all but disappeared under a tidal wave of cacophony. That’s not to say that there isn’t quite a bit to recommend these new, more frenetic, and ultimately denser stylings, though.

Killing Machine and Surly Ambassador are especially inventive both in sound pallate and programming, morphing between a variety of electronic and IDM styles, from drum n’ bass and electro to techno and house. When Siblings Attack is another winner with its hyperactive beat blending and tighly-looped nonsense vocals. Are the ahh-ahh-ahh’s an homage to Aphex Twin or a parody of Amon Tobin? It’s hard to say, but it’s entertaining any way you slice it. If there’s a failing in the programming on Dinosaur Dinosaur, it’s in the tendency for rave-ups to degenerate into the “industrial stomp”: a kind of grooveless four-on-the-floor that sounds more like a skipping CD than a beat. Both Bubblegum and Upon Rock City fall victim to the stomp, but otherwise Books on Tape largely steers clear of this artistic hiccup. The only other real bummer here is album closer Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten Kitten Surprise, which lets the textures veer so far into the abrasive end of the spectrum – we’re talking dentist’s drill here – that some of the more interesting programming and sampling involved tend to get lost in the screech.

Ultimately though, when it comes to this type of music, a certain amount of tonality gets sacrificed at the altar of originality, and when it comes to envelope-pushing sonic pranksterism, Books on Tape’s inventiveness is unflagging. So if you’re the kind of music fan who still has Duck Stab in daily rotation or for whom Nurse With Wound’s The Sylvie And Babs Hi-Fi Companion qualifies as mood music, welcome home: Books on Tape is waiting for you, wearing nothing but a smile, and the bathtub’s full of warm ketchup.

… it’s entertaining any way you slice it.

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