Paul de Jong is better known as the co-founder of the now abandoned collective The Books. When The Books announced themselves to college dormitories in the early 2000s they rightly earned accolades that focused on the distinctiveness of their sound, the uniqueness of their assembled parts. Paul de Jong provided probably the most visible headline, he played the cello.
IF finds de Jong in a crisis of sorts. This LP will undoubtedly be judged against The Books' catalog (how could it not?) which leaves de Jong only the option of bending that story for his own needs and purposes. IF does not take the last record from The Books as a starting point, but rather jumps in about half stream, using albums like Lemon of Pink and Lost and Safe as spiritual sequels.
IF does not stray too far from traditional song structure, and like the previously mentioned albums, uses those confines for its own experimentation. The first track, “Auction Block,” is a dizzying kaleidoscope of moonlight piano, jibberish, and country twang. Somehow these basic elements never seem to be flying off the shelf, always neatly controlled in a smart three minute treatment.
Tracks such as “This Is Who I Am” and “IF” are characterized by their measured openings, which seem to stress above all the clarity that is lurking at the bottom of their landscapes. One of the main themes that permeates these twelve songs is their rise from elemental beginnings to cacophonous rupture. It is a mantra that may become a little bit well-worn, but never tenuous. “Debt Free” seems to offer one of the more uninteresting crescendos of moving parts until an unknown voice appears over the line, speaking directly through noise with an earnest appeal. Then she is gone just as quickly. It might not be far from the truth to wonder if de Jong is outsmarting himself on IF, but it still feels like great fun trying to sift through his labyrinths of meaning.
Towards the record's end, “The Art of What” appears. A sly guitar heavy solo manages to weave echoing vocals and a dusty drum loop through its web. It is patient, hyper, and maybe just a little bit self-indulgent. Like the album itself, part of the joy is teasing out the spaces that open only to you.