Akron, Ohio outfit Trouble Books—married couple Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka joined by Mike Tolan, Angie Hughes, Gabe Schray, Cimmee Salter, and Sommer Tolan on the thirty-two-minute mini-album Gathered Tones—produces homemade-sounding collections of trippy vocal pop songs dressed up in eccentric sonic garb. A typical song features an unhurried lead vocal by either Freund or Lejsovka wrapped in an arrangement of synthesizers, guitars, and smatterings of atmospheric touches; it's not uncommon for the vocal to act as the song's stabilizing thread for the diverse instrumental accents that meander alongside it. Synths play an especially prominent part in the album's sound design (in the credits, the group thanks Ben Vehorn for providing access to his synthesizer library). But despite their experimental character, the group's scene paintings are, at their core, conventional vocal songs that Trouble Books splashes with synthetic colour and unusual sounds.
The opening piece, “Ascending Kidney,” exemplifies the group's style when Lejsovka's half-spoken and half-sung drawl recites lyrics both obtuse and engimatic (“Wondering what I'd say if you floated in on some homemade helicopter scattering orange peels and grass clippings”). “Past the New Parking Deck” pairs her untreated voice with electric guitar twang and synthesizers, whikle “From Colfax Place” wraps Freund's voice in an amber synthetic glow. A few tracks focus on the instrumental side of things: “Tropical Islands, Germany” paints an electronic landscape where glissandi sprout like plant life rapidly shooting from the ground, and “Night Indoors” finds natural vocals contrasting with electronic gremlins and the chatter of other nocturnal creatures. Trouble Books' sleepy vignettes are generally unassuming but occasionally a song will creep up and dazzle you, if quietly. The lovely “Abandoned Monorail Station” is one such moment that in its understated way turns out to be the album's most captivating song. It unfolds languorously, with Freund's gentle voice appearing as a relaxed whisper amidst an enveloping field of guitar strums and ambient atmospherics, and does so in such a way that you'll recall its hazy allure long after the album's over.