Release Date: Sep 2, 2014
Record label: Temporary Residence
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Experimental Techno, Glitch
The bio for Nick Zammuto’s namesake band refers to his former project, The Books, as “college pop,” [Note: as pointed out in the comments, it actually says “collage pop,” which makes more sense, though strangely college pop isn’t really inaccurate either]. That band, a collaboration between Zammuto and cellist Paul De Jong, is nearly impossible to summarize in two words, as their work is characterized by an ever-morphing sound that utilized cut-up samples and found sounds, then reconfigured into imaginative compositions that grazed what might be considered pop and was likely consumed predominantly by people in college. Zammuto’s sophomore album might better display the “college pop” tag than anything The Books ever released, as it is more immediate and conventional than what we have come to expect from the songwriting trailblazer.
Nick Zammuto's first post-The Books album was busy, wild, and eclectic, making pop music out of experimentation. On sophomore release Anchor, Zammuto remains as fidgety as ever, but this time around, he's given the music space to breathe. Opener "Good Graces" quickly falls into an irresistible groove that makes it clear that Zammuto's taking his time.
Though the project technically existed in the form of a few CD-R albums of glitchy, experimental ambience in the early 2000s, Zammuto made a proper debut in 2012 when Nick Zammuto, founding member of indie collage duo the Books, was processing the dissolution of that long-running and highly accomplished band. Part of that process was the recording of the tense, sometimes claustrophobic self-titled album from Zammuto, a dizzying affair that went against all of the trademarks the Books had established for themselves and replaced folky, organic samples with layers of processed vocals, cold synthetic sounds, and a generally relentless songwriting style that was anything but easy to digest. Burying a known style in clutter may have been an understandably reactionary move to intentionally set Zammuto apart from the Books, but the end result was more confusing than distinctive.
Four albums by The Books were never going to be enough. The 2000s duo plotted an uncharted headspace between sound collage and pop with a strange, almost magical knack for found beauty, and while that output won’t soon be matched, guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto managed to complement it with a 2012 debut under his own last name. Funded by an Indiegogo campaign that exceeded its goal by a mile, the follow-up by Zammuto — a four-piece band, not a solo act — is even better.
As soon as I started listening to Zammuto’s sophomore record, Anchor, I scrawled those exact three OTHERS — Bon Iver, The Postal Service, The Shins — onto a Post-it note, not because it sounds like those artists necessarily, but because it exudes a similar deftness amidst moments of prismatic abstraction. Later, while I was scrounging for some cheap information (read: inspiration) for a clever introduction (or some kind of igniting quote or something), I came across Pitchfork’s review of Zammuto’s 2012 self-titled debut, and linked within its text were those exact three artists. So, as Zammuto’s follow-up initially unfolded into my listening space, somewhat clunkily at first yet all too familiarly — like a bamboo mat — my first (lazy) critical thought was that it was a simplified darkening of faded lines on old blueprints, its sturdy yet purposefully off-kilter mix of hermetic folk, cabin living room “indietronica,” and reductionist pop not as much an electrifying extension of that sporadic, alternating current that has ran through former Books member Nick Zammuto’s previous work as a slight rewiring of it for a more comfortable, intimate environment.
By Nick Zammuto’s measure, the Books didn’t end well. "I’m still too close to it to talk about it without getting angry," the vocalist/multi-instrumentalist for the defunct collage-pop duo told Pitchfork back in 2012. When asked about the pointed lyrics on his self-titled solo debut from that year, he opened up a little bit more: "Everyone’s got a brass robot in their lives that they want to tear a new one, right?" He went on to refer to his last record with Books member Paul de Jong, the meditative 2010 effort The Way Out, as "an optimistic attempt to see if it could still work"; although the record stands as the slightest in the Books’ singular catalog, its mix of new age affectations, torrents of rhythmic underpinning, and straightforward humor never suggested the work of two people having trouble staying in the same room from each other.
It would be easy to say Nick Zammuto is still figuring things out. As the frontman and namesake behind Zammuto, he spends much of the project’s sophomore album finding a groove. Anchor is not, in fact, anchored in one thing in particular—rather, it jumps from prog-rock to avant-electro to art-pop and back to total chaos without warning. But throughout, there’s a sense of careful, patient precision that pokes several holes in this hypothesis.Every move on the album is intentional and nothing is unchartered territory for Zammuto.
"The one thing I was really proud of with The Books is that our audience was filled with individuals. [...] People would respond to different moments in the show in very different ways, and I remember looking out into the audience to see little pockets of laughter or a single person in tears, like little sparks going off." Anyone who's listened to Nick Zammuto's former band likely knows exactly what he's getting at here. There was a very open-ended quality to nearly all of their work; you didn't know if what you were hearing was supposed to be dramatic, humorous, or emotional, and it felt like all of those elements were in there somewhere if you were looking for them.