Album Review

Duo’s latest speaks to their strength

August 2, 2010

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As experimental pop acts go, the Books — with calling cards including lightly sung non sequiturs, diced-up bits of Americana, and an infinite chorus of voices culled from all manner of found recordings — have claimed a sound unmistakably their own.

On “The Way Out,’’ the duo of Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong’s fourth full-length, the scavenged sonic fragments are as meticulously placed as ever. But where past efforts such as “The Lemon of Pink’’ and “Thought for Food’’ drew strength from their strange alchemy of nonsense and sentimentality, “The Way Out’’ is borderline narrative, charting a course through the uncertain waters of self-help texts, hypnotherapy tapes, and motivational meditations — all with their trademark precision-savaged syntax (“If possible, in our modern world,’’ one voice advises in “Group Autogenics I,’’ “listen for your eyes in your ears’’).

While the unexpected presence of an overarching theme helps stabilize “The Way Out,’’ the songs remain delightfully unsettling. The clambering “A Cold Freezin’ Night’’ pulls its disturbing source material from ultra-violent utterances muttered by unknown children into old Fisher-Price Talkboy recorders. “Chain of Missing Links’’ lays soothing, almost mantric gibberish over twinkling glockenspiels. And “Thirty Incoming’’ is a mix of harrowing honesty and sumptuous voyeurism — a simple answering-machine message from a man named Bob to a woman named Mary: “It really felt good to lay down next to you. I didn’t realize how much I missed that feeling.’’

If there’s a lesson to be learned from “The Way Out,’’ it’s that we need little more than the sounds of each other’s voices to find comfort — or in the Books’ case, to crank out yet another masterwork. (Out now) MICHAEL BRODEUR

ESSENTIAL “Chain of Missing Links’’

The Books play the Somerville Theatre Oct. 21.