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First Listen: The Books, 'The Way Out'

When I was younger, my friend gave me a piece of music, and I've been turning it over in my mind ever since. Eager to reach beyond the simple, pretty pop that crowded my CD booklet, and hungry for cerebral stimulation, 2002's Thought for Food worked to whet my adolescent appetite. The Books' calculated whimsy and surrealist sampling demanded that I listen actively; that I dig in deep to capture the essence of the duo's sonic exploration, and in the process attempt to reach a greater understanding of music.

So I dug, deeper and deeper, through two more albums: 2003's The Lemon of Pink and 2005's Lost and Safe. As I searched, the comprehension that I sought buried itself under layers of glitchy vocals, shifting rhythms and contemplative lyrics, leaving concrete answers only to the imagination. In Lost and Safe, I felt that every line was significant; that it was a tightly wound novella of higher consciousness. That album, in particular, combined the type of philosophical pontification and instrumental experimentation that made the group so fascinating.

Now, five years later, The Books' new album The Way Out stays true to form by sculpting formless arrangements and once again capturing the imagination. Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have developed tremendously as producers: The diversity of moods on The Way Out shows the clear maturation in the pair's tastes. Using exercises in autogenics to start and finish the album -- at one point, a voice explicitly asks the listener to go deeper and deeper -- they fill the middle with everything from children's voices to spacious brass sections to anecdotal interpretations of musical genres. In "I Didn't Know That" and "Beautiful People," among others, The Books' experiments continue to push past the edges of expectation, dishing out another welcome serving of food for thought.

The Books' The Way Out will stream here in its entirety until its release on July 20. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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Sami Yenigun is the Executive Producer of NPR's All Things Considered and the Consider This podcast. Yenigun works with hosts, editors, and producers to plan and execute the editorial vision of NPR's flagship afternoon newsmagazine and evening podcast. He comes to this role after serving as a Supervising Editor on All Things Considered, where he helped launch Consider This and oversaw the growth of the newsmagazine on new platforms.
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