Delving into The Books' new DVD is like deep-sea diving in a kiddie pool. With not much to really discover, there isn't much to talk about. Fans of The Books will either flock to Play All or run from it. I did neither -- it came to me. And for that I'm appreciative and frightened. Appreciative due to the wonderful cut-and-paste video techniques reminiscent of young cinemaphiles of the '80s, manipulating mom and pop's BETA players and VCRs. Frightened because what all this amounts to is a whole lot of nothing.
I love visuals with music. In fact, the Climax Golden Twins' visuals during their shows are usually more eventful and memorable than the actual performance. You may like the music, but unlike the typical concert experience of seeing how a band transforms recorded material into a lively, action-packed stage performance, The Books are found-sound manipulators and minimalist musicians. Creating those manipulations and minimal sounds may be fun for them, but not much action goes into the live product; some running around and the occasional show of emotion followed by a few crowd acknowledgments. Perhaps The Books were well aware of how dull their show would be without adding a visual element and thus sound and video become one.
Play All does its best to please both the eyes and ears, but most of the videos just seem out of place on your television via the DVD player. Much like their music, The Books are fond of found video transformed into a collage. Unlike their music, which gels into the ridiculously cool and thought-provoking, very few of the videos offered via Play All accomplish anything more than making me wish I had a stash. Perhaps that's the key to finding the messages left behind amid a sea of meshed footage.
Some song and video combos ("That Right Ain't Shit," "Smells Like Content," "It Never Changes to Stop") stick to the simplistic (black-and-white footage of men putting on and removing hats and psychedelic sun and moon visuals), but the leftover collages from songs past are boring and repetitive. Play All also contain three new songs (and their videos) that do little to change the view. "All A's" does less as a song than it does as a video, which is nothing more than the alphabet being presented letter-by-letter as Sesame Street falling down the rabbit hole. "Classy Penguin" is a catchy tune, but as a video of home movies and random shots of toddlers and adolescent children doing nothing more than what children do, it fails to do anything for the song. "8 Frame," meanwhile, is forgettable as both a song and video, so much so I can't recall either the melody or the video, even though I have notes in front of me about both.
The one video and song combo that caught my attention came in the form of "If Not Now, Whenever." There is a synergy between video and music that has been left untapped. The video matches the moody, almost devilish nature of the song. The most vivid image of the collage involves footage of an older woman speaking as the lyrics "I am the Angel of Death" are transposed over her moving lips. The video is ripe with dark humor and twisted world views.
Other than a few random non-Books pieces tacked on at the end (footage of a 1933 news reel that has Handfart Man playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" accompanied by a pianist, a terrible performance piece from 1985 titled "And I Will Go to Bed at Noon" that features the creator -- Paul de Jong -- repeating the title line over and over with various clocks and visuals to get the point across), Play All is all about The Books and their penchant for creating collages of sound and sight. But as evident throughout the duration of the DVD, these visuals are best left for the live concert experience.