True acts of solitude should go unnoticed, which is why I’m hesitant to talk about The Lemon of Pink. Better to just let it be. Better to just let this stainless artifact with its deep warrens of sound exist alone and far away from this life. It’s too alive with error messages and backwardly incompatible. Singer and producer Nick Zammuto, cellist Paul de Jong, and vocalist Anne Doerner built a paradoxical space, an alien world that is pressed up against the skin of our own. All these recondite voices stitched together with skeins of guitar and banjo and cello are a drug, a thick scrim laid over this world that can allow for one real, organic moment of solitude.
Solitude is a practice, and like The Lemon of Pink, it’s a discipline that does not immediately yield tangible results. Emily Dickinson, the patron saint of I’m just gonna stay in tonight, used solitude as a means of survival, where the “soul admitted to itself” would allow for a “finite infinity.” Modern-day dispatches from our moments of solitude are usually not stanzas of Dickinson or Whitman or Rilke, rather they are appeals to whoever will listen. The urge to tweet about how my yoga teacher played like three Smiths songs during Shavasana is staggering. The rush of likes on a selfie from my hike makes the tick bite almost seem worth it. Our effort then is not to be alone but to let others know we were alone. This breaks the character of solitude. To transmit a moment of solitude is to tarnish the ascetic soul. But to let it burrow in and remain private can allow you to learn and unlearn the lessons as dictated only by the self.
So to send back solo transmissions from within The Lemon of Pink seems almost sacrilegious to me. Music does a pretty good job celebrating the communal: the shared knowledge of a great pop chorus, the bruises from a mosh pit, the sweet smell of the dance floor. We are overwhelmed by the largess of music’s spirit. It unites us. And it’s also, you know, it’s just music, man: low stakes, fun, dumb, something to throw on in the car. In grave contrast, The Lemon of Pink is both a compass and a puzzle that I believe can lead you to a state of peace, of stasis, of aloneness. Like from inside the impossible room of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves or from the overgrown Area X in Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy, what comes back from the album may seem backwards and misunderstood when not among its filigrees. Its sounds work within the quieted self, immune to the world around it, constantly creating and reinforcing a new musical language that appears immaculately notated on the backs of closed eyelids. Rare does music seek to make you feel alone. Rarer still does music provide such a fertile environment to be alone.
When the music of The Books arrived, it was precisely this kind of implacable feeling that garnered the album so much praise. It didn’t seem to be connected to any other sounds or styles at the time, and Zammuto credits Mark Richardson’s revelatory 8.4 review at Pitchfork for really kickstarting The Books’ career. Richardson captured what still is so readily wonderful about The Books: There is just so much mystery to discover. Once you drop into the album and get your bearings, there’s the appearance of freak folk, musique concrète, electro-acoustic neo-classical, and cafe indie. But the songs shift in and out of form as if each measure of music was a replica made out of a million grains of sand.