Fine second album by LA-electronica artist Books on Tape. The digipak with the Blue Note-design brings you sixteen straight forward electronic instrumentals that range from laidback experimental hip hop to sleazy porn-grooves and everything in between. Sometimes the music is as superficial as a can of tuna, then he adds some experimental flavour, effects and samples to keep me happy. Strange sense of humour for sure, but also a multi-layered, ever-changing example of a completely uninhibited attitude towards music, by someone who might say that “to rock” is the most important thing and who may think that “hyperactive” is a compliment. Well, if you look at it that way, he is right.
Being compared to Timbaland, Aphex Twin and Sonic Youth within one paragraph must be hard to swallow for any artist. It so happened to Todd Drootin aka Books on Tape. Had to be someone who only listened into Sings the Blues half-assed and with his mind set on finding some astounding and purchase-inducing comparisons. Or maybe this writer-person only read the thanks-list of Books on Tape in this record, which actually does name Sonic Youth and Timbaland (but not Aphex Twin), as well as Talking Heads, Pavement, Albert Ayler, Public Enemy, The Fall, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Neil Young, Mike Patton, The Pixies and David Bowie, plus some others. But not because these people are making music that is somewhere and partly found also in Sings the Blues - a foolish notion that will always end in one of two extremes: every song / track is different from any other song / track or all music is one and the same, but I’d strongly advise to keep zen-philosophy out of electronic music as much as possible. There is one characteristic combining these artists mentioned, and that is their attitude towards making music. All of them followed their own vision and tried and kept on trying to produce something new and unique. Insofar it is a good idea to take them as mentors and idols for any aspiring musician. Two questions have to be asked, though: Why is there not a single artists from the electronic genre in the thanks list? And does Books on Tape produce something new and unique?
I’ll skip the first question for pure low-brow-journalism and get right to the more important one concerning the musical progress and artistical content of Books on Tape. The answer is, yes, there is something about Sings the Blues that is new and striking, but at a lot of times the tracks also seem a little unfinished or not quite ready yet. Todd Drootin obviously enjoys to mix intricate atmospheres around driving beats with spliced samples and then pours some blatantly stupid keyboard-melodies over it. So he might start a track with some glitches and clicks of the finest making, then hit you in the neck with a keyboard line that might come straight from Giorgo Moroder only to start a 160bpm-weirdo-rhythm over that all, complete with drum’n’bass-licks and -fills here and there. Then he bangs you around the head with that for several minutes and calls it Death In the Sex Shop. He does that over and over again on Sings the Blues without ever really repeating himself. It reminds me of painting something beautiful very realistically, then pouring red paint over it and then sticking a glimmering star with as a tag to the upper right corner.
Most of the time Books on Tape rocks like the Seventies did. His humour and straight-forwardness are definitely advantages, especially when playing live and, for once, this is an electronic act I’d like to see live. He might bring the sweatiness and rockbeats of live-guitar-bands back to the dancefloors, so DJs might be interested in this record, so they can scrap a little of the atmosphere for their sets. I am quite sure, that Todd Drootin wants to become famous and beloved, a rock-star in a sense, but I only judge from the exhaustive thanks-list, the screaming info-sheet and the stadium-compatible beats of this record. A big step for a laptop-musician in any perspective. Personally, I prefer the more laidback and relaxed tracks, that are a little more experimental and use strange sounds and settings, rather than the straight forward rockers. So I’d rather listen to tracks such as Republic Of (my highlight). But all in all, Sings the Blues is an interesting record to be used on various occasions, by people who are not easily distracted by conflicting sounds and styles.