If you love music, but the prospect of reading a collection of record reviews strikes you as a less-than-thrilling use of your time, Daniel Mahoney just might make you reconsider.
His new book Sunblind Almost Motorcrash, published by Spork Press, collects a series of imaginary record reviews by bands that don't exist. (If this review was in an audio format, you'd hear the sound of a needle scratching a record here.) That's right: the songs, records, bands—even the record labels—are all products of Mahoney's prodigious imagination.
For example, in Mahoney's review of Greasewood Park's The Woman Inside My Head, he sings the praises of fictional vocalist Jed Winstone: "Fat guitar, solid drumming, and soaring violin sound timelessly goodtimey, while Winstone repeats his grievances reminding us of old lovers or any number of lovers we might have had kids with but somehow didn't. Wounded and wasted, pissed off, pissed, and frustrated, this is what it sounds like when someone takes a swing at heaven."
What appears at first blush to be a sendup of underground outlaw blues turns into the kind of screed one types through squinted eyes at three in the morning after getting unintentionally drunk and there are things that need to be said. Right. This. Minute.
Or, at least that's how it was for me. When I was a record reviewer for punk rock zines like Flipside and Razorcake, I'd often find myself staying up late at night, drunk or high or gacked to the gills, a poor man's Kickboy Face (who was a poor man's Lester Bangs), pounding my sneering feelings into the keyboard. At times it felt as if the record review was the perfect format for surreptitiously shoe-horning declarations of love and loss and heretofore indescribable woe in 250-word blocks of copy, destined to be read by a handful of record fanatics and some very confused musicians.
Mahoney has been there, too, and he's elevated the mostly thankless chore of finding new ways to say, "Guys you really need to check this out" into an art form.
"The results are nothing short of miraculous, and we are left strucken dumb, shaking our heads as if to say: This was not merely a symphonic woodstool, this was a velveteen polyphonic sofal assortment of microfine dronefibers exquisitely arranged."
To get the joke, it helps to know that the band being discussed is precociously named sINTerval, and their latest opus is the not-so-promising sounding Blandwave Vol 1, but every music magazine has its tribe of ultra earnest scribes who drink too much on deadline day and can be counted on to try and slip Joycean neologisms past the copy editor, such is their eagerness to make their mark as Sincere Young Men. (I don't know why it's almost always men who fall into this trap, but you can read "Portrait of the Record Reviewer as a Young Pitchfork Employee" every day on the Internet.)
Mahoney is at his most humorous when the genre is death metal. "After last year's unrivaled metaldrone masterpiece, Maaaaaaa! Abaddon comes back again with a weighty doomic slew: Lock! Choke! Distort! Dead Black Monarch. This is Abaddon but Abaddon times a billion! More grimlore! More moss distortion esoteric over-moan, more tongue spoored corkscrew splutter. More deepblind shadows and blackrobed slow-mouthed murder vox." One gets the sense that Mahoney could go on forever in this mode.
One of my few complaints with Sunblind Almost Motorcrash is that if there's a joke to be had, Mahoney will go for it and one can't help but wonder what the book would have been like if the faint, flickering narrative of the nameless reviewer had been developed along the lines of Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's, another masterpiece of neglected formats: the comment card.
Still, even though we're squarely in the realm of make believe, Mahoney somehow manages to be spot on in his descriptions. Consider the following: "Heartbroken beautifully refined girl/boy harmonies mixed with highspun guitar hooks allowing the lilting mystery of each song into further realms of caramelized suncrumble." Doesn't that sound like the perfect description of a self-titled record by a band that deigns to call itself "Dandy Lions"?
Well, you don't have to imagine because this beautiful, handmade book is accompanied by a cassette tape filled with real music by real bands that wrote and recorded real songs inspired by Mahoney's fake reviews. Call it art imitating imitations.
Sunblind Almost Motorcrash brought me back to a time before record reviewing morphed into promotional content and was a form of ultra-personal correspondence between people who shared the same secret language.
Jim Ruland is the author of Forest of Fortune. He blogs at www.jimruland.net.