By now you know that The Books duo, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, have parted ways. Everyone was sad, especially after their strong and final studio album The Way Out, released in 2010. But at least they parted on a good, humorous note. It made me think. Rewind about six years. It was the first time I heard the track “The Lemon of Pink”. It was the first time I heard The Books. Somewhere between that short walk from my apartment to the university campus, my idea of music was dismantled and rebuilt. I was hooked. A few months later, by some twisted act of serendipity, my entire CD collection was stolen, taken from the trunk of my car. So instead of rebuilding my past, full of ’80s punk and indie pop, I rebuilt starting with The Books’ 2005 album The Lemon of Pink. Now, when I listen to Zammuto, I hear a Books album explored and expanded, refined and premeditated over a decade. The Books was an incubator and Zummuto was the egg.
Zammuto is four piece setup with Nick Zammuto on guitar and vocals, Gene Back (also from The Books) on electric guitar, organ and keys, Sean Dixon on Drums, and Mikey Zammuto on Bass. With such a traditional arrangement, the music is anything but traditional; although lyrical content is more prevalent here than in Nick Zammuto’s previous works.
Zammuto approaches their writing with a percussive cornerstone—a loquacious beat. Melodic noises and sampled sounds surround the percussion, complement its tension and recede as the beat is lifted to an electronic plinth, supporting one of many mantras that define Nick Zammuto’s vocal style. Mantras like “A river of people’s things,” from the track “Harlequin”, are repeated then concluded with heartbreaking visuals like “…carried downhill in a perfect expressional gravity endlessly sinking into an ocean of everything.” These prose saturate your retinas with a scene of humanity succumbing to a whirlpool of noise. At least, that’s how I see it, and perhaps that’s why Zammuto is so powerful. It conjures emotion with minimal cue.
The percussion is full of odd timings, or what Nick Zammuto calls indigenous rhythmus. Melodies include a mixture of organic and electric particles, repeatedly smashed in sync via the partial collider that is Zammuto’s production. Vocal samples of meandering soliloquies, reminiscent of The Books’ aesthetic, emphasize an emotional tone that is always playful, sometimes melancholic or even dark, as is on the short track “Crabbing”, which seems to emphasize a failed humanity.
The album opens with “Yay”. A catchy beat introduces a voice chopped and cropped to emulate what I can only describe as the sound a child makes singing through the blades of an osculating fan. These fun effects are scattered through the album. Guessing how the sounds are made is part of the fun of a Nick Zammuto project. I recently learned that Nick Zammuto created many of the beats with The Books by simply scoring the inside of an old vinyl record in a fractal patter, which when played under a needle, created pop sounds that were then pitched to a note via a PVC pipe pressed against the speaker. In the short documentary, A Day With Nick Zammuto, by Matt Day, Zummuto comments on one such technique, “10 feet [regarding the PVC pipe length] is roughly a C sharp in my experience.” Who has the time to figure this out?
Zammuto made an experimental album that doesn’t expire. Prepare to give in to the percussive urgency, melodic journeys and peculiar vocals. Leave your current collection in the truck of your car in downtown Reno, place Zammuto on your shelf and see what happens next. A decade goes by and you might find yourself writing about music.