Books on Fate – Memory
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Record Label: Independent
Right from the outset of Memory, a criminally overlooked 2012 disc from the band Books on Fate (which itself is a musical moniker for singer/songwriter Adam Dishart), the record immediate sounds like a hybrid between a lost Cure album and Bloc Party’s underrated career highlight, 2007’s A Weekend in the City. Dishart is obviously a Cure fan, and the first track here, a downbeat bit of nostalgic 80s goth pop called “Memory,” sounds like the missing link between the neon luminescence of 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and the brooding introspection of 1989’s Disintegration. It’s more difficult to mark Dishart as a Bloc Party apostle, though the meandering musical structures and wistful lyrical snapshots at play here – as heard on the fittingly-titled “Carnival Lights,” a surging summer night anthem that instantly marks itself as one of the best songs on the record – certainly do enough work to prove just that.
On the whole, this record, with its beating heart sentimentality and emotional nostalgia, is probably what Bloc Party’s Weekend would have sounded like if Kele Okereke and company had written a set of downbeat songs like “I Still Remember” and “Kreuzberg” instead of trying to maintain the loud and percussive urgency of their debut album, 2005’s Silent Alarm at the same time. And since I’ve always thought Weekend had a ton of untapped potential, most of it locked away in those slow, sad songs, I don’t mind hearing a record like Memory, which – unintentionally or not – recreates a lot of the same musical and thematic beats in a more consistent and cohesive fashion.
With that said, Memory isn’t always successful. Occasionally, Dishart gets too bogged down in his own 80s pop posturing for his songs to really take flight. Case in point is “Impossible Nevers,” where Dishart drawls and moans in what I can only imagine is his best Robert Smith impersonation. He comes across sounding more like the frontmen from current 80s revivalists like The Horrors or Interpol, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t really match the extremely emotional territory that the rest of the record seeks to explore. In the press materials provided with Memory, it is stated that the Books on Fate project was built as a vehicle for Dishart to “capture the alienation and wistfulness of youth.” On aching tunes like “Memory” and “Carnival Lights,” or on later triumphs like acoustic closer “Fountain of Youth,” that theme really bleeds through. “Carnival Lights” is particularly striking from a lyrical perspective, with a breathtaking stream-of-consciousness middle section that was simply too stunning not to reproduce in full here:
Do you know the smell?
Carnival: popcorn, candy foam, the stench of piss and violence
Somethings, once weres, might haves, and never was
Cold August night, your whole history comes crashing down
In those sacred and reckless years
When I brazenly swore there were things I would never do
Then the crimson and cloudless sky echoed everywhere
"There is no thing you wouldn’t do."
Those lines perfectly capture the things we all see in the faded carnival lights and broken down rides that linger in our memories from some bygone time. They capture youth and young love; they capture a protagonist who isn’t sure who he is yet, but who is slowly figuring it out, one awkward step and one magnificent mistake at a time; they capture the romance of muggy summer nights, the hope of knowing that anything is possible between the mile markers of sunset and sunrise; and they capture the pain of watching all of those things evaporate and fade away as adulthood rears its ugly head and sends them scattering. It’s possible that the song works even better as poetry than it does as music, largely because Dishart’s raw untrained voice and questionable grasp of pitch aren’t exactly a perfect match with the warm sentimental nostalgia of the lyrics. Still though, for the words alone, “Carnival Lights” is a master class work, and much of Memory follows in the same vein.
On the whole, while Memory draws its musical inspiration from 80s records (or from bands like Bloc Party or The Horrors, who themselves drew inspiration from 80s records), it’s actually more on the level of the recent record from Modern Baseball. The caustic vocals, the wistful lyrics, the lo-fi production, the stream-of-consciousness writing style, it all sounds like a slightly darker and more gothic twist on that scene band's 2014 record, You’re Gonna Miss It All. For that reason alone, Books on Fate is probably a band that would resonate with a lot of different people from this community. Sure, Memory isn't a perfect record, but it does have a few moments that more or less earn that descriptor, and that fact is impressive enough in and of itself.