Music For a French Elevator and Other Short Format Oddities by The Books could be considered The Books' fourth album. It could also well be considered the third-and-a-quarterth of the emerging aleatoric/folk/ambient/experimental/ungenred group.

After the success of 2005's Lost and Safe, The Books took some time off from studio recording to tour and explore. Fans clamoring for a new album didn't quite get what they were expecting, but they got something good.

In 2004, the French Ministry of Culture approached The Books for an unusual request: write elevator music worthy of being listened to. If you recall the Ministry's attempt to stamp out non-Franco culture invading the country in recent years, you'll see why it was so unusual that a band consisting of an American (Nick Zammuto) and a Dutchman (Paul de Jong) would be given this project, a part of the "1%" project organized by the Ministry.

The Books wrote four songs for the Ministry, titled "Fralité," "Egaberté," "Liternité," and "It's Musiiiic!" As you might expect, these songs are in French, with the exception of "It's Musiiiic!" The songs are still in the Books' peculiar style. For example, "Fralité" tricks an unwary listener into thinking it's counting off floors, as French counting is clearly audible, but the floors are being counted completely out of order. (I'm not sure if the track was reordered from the original, but I doubt it.)

To accompany their 2006 tour, The Books put together a mini CD containing the four Ministry tracks, as well as 9 others, giving it the wholly straightforward title Music For a French Elevator and Other Short Format Oddities by The Books. The mini CD format was used because only 15 minutes of music are on the album.

And are they a good 15 minutes? Yes and no. The music is less reminiscent of the complex layerings of certain Books songs, and is more focused on interesting spoken word sound clips. Many songs are reminiscent of tracks like "PS" from The Lemon of Pink: a series of clips from a single speaker. Tracks like "Of the Word God" reflect this. "Of the Word God" is a montage taken from a thunderous sermon, each clip being only the word "God" as the preacher speaks it. Over the course of the track, she becomes louder and angrier, leading the listener to wonder about what sort of a loving relationship she might have with her deity. (The track doesn't imply any disrespect; this is but my interpretation.)

Several songs are quite good, certainly up to The Books' standard. "You'll Never Be Alone" stands out, inspiring and soothing; "Three Day Night" is one of the few instrumental pieces on the CD, and very good as well. But where the album falls down is the lack of music. Though I may be alone in this, I don't get as much from The Books' spoken word songs as from their melodic pieces, and Music For a French Elevator is heavy on the spoken word. However, very few tracks on other albums are, so this is arguably a good album to round out the gestalt of The Books.

If you're looking to get into The Books, their earlier albums are a better place to start. But if you're already a fan, Music For a French Elevator and Other Short Format Oddities by The Books is a good choice for your collection, and shows a side of the band that has gotten little coverage. The album is only available through The Books' website, so it will take some effort to get it. But for an aficionado, it's worth it.

The tracks:

  1. Fralité
  2. Egaberté
  3. Liternité
  4. It's Musiiiiic!
  5. The Joy of Nature
  6. Meditation Outtakes
  7. A Long Villainous Sequence
  8. Millions of Millions
  9. Of the Word God
  10. Ghost train Digest
  11. You'll Never Be Alone
  12. Three Day Night
  13. Ah…, I See

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