Perhaps the most startling realization I had while listening to Books on Tape’s Sings the Blues is this: for a record that falls firmly in line with the glitch/IDM genre, there’s nary a laptop to be found on the album. Instead, Books on Tape’s sole member, one Todd Drootin by name, crafts his electronic music with an impressive array of guitars, pedals, samplers, and synthesizers. While this may seem to some an old-fashioned and time-consuming way to produce music that’d be much more easily concocted with computers, the care and diligence Drootin uses to craft his signature sound shines through on every track, taking what might have been a conventional exercise in glitchy abstraction and making it into something fun, captivating, catchy, and, most importantly, booty-shaking.
The record kicks off with the warm, low-key stereo-panned guitar plucking of Laptop Blues, a track that immediately brings to mind Anticon collective member Why?, and his recent work on both the Early Whitney EP and his stellar full-length, Oaklandazulasylum. The track is incredibly short and immediately segues into the more trip-hop-oriented Republic Of, whose nice beat is accentuated by a melodic, pitch-shifting hum that sounds nothing so much like an old Macintosh laser printer on sedatives. The track also features brief, quiet stabs of funk guitar that add to the atmosphere and serve as a nice counterpoint to the steady thump-tick-rattle of the drum work.
The next two tracks, See You In Tokyo and She’s Dead To Me, respectively, up the quotient of dark-sounding 80s synths, sounding not unlike something you’d hear in a dance club (although instrumental). See You In Tokyo features a bopping keyboard bass line that uses the majority of the chromatic minor scale to give the track a film-noir feel. It sounds creepy, but the overall effect is more fun than frightening. She’s Dead To Me is immediately more aggressive, featuring a frenetic keyboard riff that soon evolves into glitchy drums and a spastic bass line that flips between going a million beats per minute to sudden minor key repetition as the drums drop out.
Pointe du pied is fun and relaxed, sounding almost like an outtake from Felix Da Housecat’s utterly ridiculous (and ridiculously fun) Kittenz and the Glitz. The synthesizer chirps on a major key melody while layers of alternately skittery and crunchy beats drop in and out. Girls Up Front plays with your mind a bit, featuring a sound sample that cuts in and out just enough to drive you nuts before the music starts in earnest, layering funky breakbeats over the sample before dropping it nearly entirely for a darker synth line. Death In the Sex Shop starts out quietly enough before delving into a fragmented nightmare of minor key techno beats featuring a wacked out sax solo. Siberian Soundsystem is probably the most conventionally “catchy” track on the album. Drootin plays it mostly straight here, laying down some funky beats and a low-end melody that screams “PLEASE DANCE!”
There are so many good things on this album to recommend that I could literally go on for hours. I bet this thing’s a freakin’ amazing trip on headphones, and I can’t wait for a chance to listen to it on mine. With the majority of IDM music coming out these days seeming either too light and fluffy (most of the Morr Music roster, although I love their stuff) or too academic and dark (Amon Tobin, some of Anticon’s stuff), it’s good to know that there’re electronic artists out there who don’t take themselves so seriously and know how to have fun. Maybe if a few more artists in this genre “sung the blues,” the world of IDM might be a better place.