I remember reading a review a couple years ago that said Thought For Food by The Books was simply an album that had received too much hype and it wouldn't hold up a year or two down the road. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it was simply the case of a single album coming together in a nearly perfect way, and when I heard that the group was releasing a second album, I wondered what they could do to surprise me. With The Lemon Of Pink, the group somehow captured lightning twice, and the album holds up for me just as well as their first.
Suddenly, we're onto the third album from the group and with Lost And Safe the group makes the most dramatic departures from their earlier sound, and once again they manage to do so in a way that feels logical. There are times where the release feels like a transitional effort, yet it also contains some of the best songs that they've ever done. To put my reaction in simple terms, there is no reason for me to doubt this group can keep coming up with unique sonics three albums into their career.
It's true that Lost And Safe may not be as immediately accessible as the first two releases from the group, but it's partially because the group chooses to really ease into things on the release. The opening track of "A Little Longing Goes Away" is as quiet of track as they've ever done, mixing soft pinging drones with subdued vocals by Nick Zammutto (who sings on almost every track on the release). "Be Good To Them Always" picks things up to a level that the group is known for as filtered violins see-saw back and forth while spoken-word samples mingle with sung vocals in a way that build beautifully over the course of almost five minutes. Likewise, "Vogt Dig For Kloppervok" takes off very slowly, with more filtered vocal and violin drones that give way to percussive clicks and clacks and samples before the track segues into a gorgeous section of filtered vocals and bowed strings.
From there out, there are a number of highlights. "An Animated Description of Mr. Maps" is easily the most percussive and loud track the group has ever done, and it is punctuated in just the right way with a building of instrumentation and samples (and vocals) while "Venice" mixes another great sample and some very simple plucked strings into a track that makes me smile every single time I hear it. "An Owl With Knees" is one of the more straightforward tracks on the entire disc, very nearly containing actual verses and choruses, yet at the same time the track is one of the more beautiful tracks that the group has ever done, with soft vocals from Zammutto that show some nice range.
The album not only contains a batch of outstanding tracks, but even on tracks where the group at first feels like they're going to get stuck (as on the simple banjo/string build of "It Never Changes To Stop"), they somehow manage to shift things about and turn the track into something wonderful (in the case of the aforementioned track, it's with a great use of samples). At eleven tracks and just over forty minutes, it's slightly longer than their other releases, yet it's full of those little moments that make The Books such a singular entity in music. Oddly enough, this unassuming duo has not only been one of the most consistent groups of the past couple years, but with their releases have managed to capture both the happiness and sadness of being a human being just about as well as anyone. One of my favorites of the year so far.