When sonic surgeons the Books parted ways earlier this year, it came as neither a particularly big surprise or – in all honesty – a massive disappointment. A decade plus change and five albums into a journey that saw the duo rewrite the book on plunderphonic pop-leaning sound collages for a new generation of indie kids, it felt as though they had reached their final destination; whilst their later output was never less than interesting, it rarely managed to emulate the highs of their (still immaculate) debut Thought For Food, and often seemed like tiny variations on a well-worn theme. The same might be said about founder member Nick Zammuto’s first post-Books album, but here it’s a small detail that makes a huge difference. Zammuto finds its creator assuming the role of bandleader, handling guitar, keys and vocals in a live group set-up that also includes his brother Mikey on bass, ex-Books live guitarist Gene Back and drummer Sean Dixon, building the sound from the ground up before giving it a brief going over with the digital scissors and tape. It’s a back-to-basics approach that is far from a backwards step; with a renewed interest in the product rather than the process, Zammuto sounds energised and reinvigorated. Whereas the Books’ cut-and-paste soundscapes often crept into chill-out territory, the full band dynamic gives the album real momentum. “Groan Man, Don’t Cry” is driven by a lively funk rhythm and fluttering African-sounding guitars; “Weird Ceiling” sounds like Death Grips jamming over acid house records and even the sparse “Idiom Wind” feels like it’s constantly pulling at the reins thanks to the insistent, tension-building rim-shots and stop-start elastic bass groove. Zammuto may not be a natural frontman just yet – after years of hiding behind laptops and samplers, his voice here is mostly disguised by vocoders and auto-tuners, at times conjuring a mental image of a malfunctioning robot crashing the stage at a Tortoise gig – but he’s a brilliant arranger with a new lease of life, leading a group of particularly gifted musicians, blending organic and electronic elements like an alchemist juggling test tubes and coming up with pure gold.
Zammuto is out April 2 on Temporary Residence