Superstring-Theory Strings Help Songs and Riffs That Aren’t


The formal syntax of the Books’ second album is mostly that of pop songs: A high-end instrument (Nick Zammuto’s guitar) and a low-end instrument (Paul de Jong’s cello) play patterns for a few minutes at a time, alongside voices that sing little hooks (“take time,” “mind has a mind of its own”). The Lemon of Pink‘s timbral vocabulary is the low-tech hum of vibrating acoustic strings, plucked, bowed, stroked, and blown against; guest Anna Doerner operates the strings of a fiddle, a larynx, and a banjo.

As grammarians and poets know, though, structure doesn’t imply meaning. On inspection, the Books’ strings sound as simple as superstring theory. They’ve been digitally kaleidoscoped into uneven not-quite-riffs, slightly outside the realm of what physical instruments can handle, and augmented with near subliminal micro-samples. The rhythms are so smooth and poker-faced it’s easy not to notice that they’re freakily irregular. Even the speaking and singing are deceptively songlike—the album-ending “PS,” a quick cut-up of a radio interview’s between-words vocal noises, raps its knuckles for attention. But go back, and you notice how few of these voices provide actual unscrambled language. Like Noam Chomsky almost said, lemony pink ideas sleep furiously.