Watching Nick Zammuto at his eco-ranch home in Vermont, one cannot help but be taken by the heartfelt beauty of it all: Here’s the young dad grilling pizzas, playing with his children; there’s his pregnant wife cutting a pie filled with homegrown blueberries. In family and in music, the man once behind The Books is an auteur of authenticity, alternately (and at times simultaneously) wedding opposites: playful and ponderous, analog and digital, organic and synthetic, permanent and ephemeral, fuzzy and foreboding. By repeating and reversing loops, twisting samples and sometimes funneling a sound from a speaker through a PVC pipe into a mic, engineer-wizard Zammuto builds songs that “move forward as they move backward.” As this album is in its nature autobiographical—album titled Zammuto, band called Zammuto, recorded in the Zammuto homestead studio-shack—this review must be biographical.
Cut to 1999: Nick Zammuto lives in the same New York apartment building as cellist Paul de Jong. The two bump into one another and soon form The Books, a band whose collages augured the information inundation that has so become part of our tumbled, tweeted and ‘liked’ lives. Their debut Thought for Food stands as one of the few albums in recent memory that sounded new when released. The subsequent discs, while not a revelation in the same way, were interesting: samples of strings, children, gurus and Gandhi creating New Age music for people who would never say aura. By 2010, the albums tapered off; in April 2011 The Books made their final tour. At that point, Zammuto was ready “to transcend the ‘Simon and Glitchfunkle’ scene.”
In 2006, on tour in Europe, Zammuto received an email from his pregnant wife Molly; it included photos of a simple, snowy structure in the Vermont foothills. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I dug through the slush and found good things, the land is good.” Before their first son came, the couple added a staircase, skylights, and made the attic into a bedroom. Leaving a Brooklyn apartment for 16 acres, Zammuto made a small studio next to the house, where 2010’s The Way Out was made, as well as this record before us. He found space and sustainability, though not totally cut off (as in spring shoots tweets). And we, the indie rock listeners, the knowledge laborers, seem, though churning through content day by day, stuck.
It may be that it is against this stagnation that Zammuto creates contrast: the thesis of the album is presented in “Idiom Wind,” in which Zammuto’s warped voice warbles:
Educated man, learned everything he can /
Which isn’t much because his education isn’t worth a damn /
Try getting off your ass /
Try picking up an ax.
Things are getting overgrown/
And it’s time for ruthless cutting.
Recorded in a handmade studio-shack, with a sprouting family and loving garden, Zammuto has found axe-chopped essentialism. Like the life it sprang from, the album is a statement of self-sufficiency born of creative tensions, between man and woman, people and land, performance and recording. Within these dualities, Zammuto has created something whole.