This is not a review of Sunblind Almost Motorcrash by Daniel Mahoney; these are just questions I might have been asking myself when I was trying to write the review:
First, tell us a little bit about the book.
That's not a question but sure. The book consists of several strands, the biggest being something akin to record reviews from bands. Mahoney, perhaps through a record store owner character, is half-assessing and half-selling records of underground artists that he thinks are worthwhile.
Bands that exist, like the Velvet Underground?
No, these bands don't exist, like the Velvet Goldmine (or are perhaps even more non-existent if that's a gradable adjective.) Although, they do share a record store shelf and musical attributes with real bands, so as to complicate the cultural mirage being created. These bands—and their names—are composites from Mahoney's obvious knowledge of indie and esoteric music. Essentially, he gives us the neighborhoods but not the street address of the sound he is attempting to capture.
I always thought the Sauna Fartz would be a cool band name.
Sorry. What are some of the band names?
There's Stockholm, Umbral, and Red Lily—the last really feels like a band my roommate's girlfriend's brother was in. There's Clairvoyant Hatelurker and Abbadon representing the more doomy and metallic bands. There's Wilhelm Blech, which I love, and Muebles Pasados de Moda, which feels unmakeupable. There's a fake compilation and even something of a reissue.
So the book is just fake reviews of fake bands?
Ouch. No. In addition to the telling reviews, Mahoney also includes several other modes. Woven throughout are these 21st Century Histories, which are jokey lists of band names often including the same word (goat, for instance.) Also, he slides in these sweet "Analogue" sections, perhaps more purely poetry—pieces of "pure blown space." They speak to music as an endeavor but never fully participate in the project. Or if they do, it's more personal language playing. And I should mention that it all begins with a prologue that feels the most narrative even though we're remembering a hardcore night where everything is bleeding, ending, naked, or a bad idea. But it does seems to give a hint as to who might be writing this all or under what auspices it all takes place.
So if it's all made-up, does it really matter?
Although the albums don't technically exist, the idiom in which Mahoney writes these reviews very much does exist, and that—the language of describing music—is where he aims his project, where he shows off his range, where he bangs his head. Still, these reviews seem multi-purposed. Mahoney vacillates between parodying the language in some instances while at others he strives to push his descriptions past the written word and into feeling the sound.
Could you give us examples of some of this language?
Yes, although that's still not a question, exactly; it's a request in disguise. But here is a list:
My favorite individual words:
Here are my favorite pairings:
And here are my favorite three-word jackpots:
Slither-saturated wheeze drift
Weirdly-recycled guttural blackchants
Purling metal mewl
Superdistant reverbed harmonica rivertwang
But do these phrases make a book?
What makes a book? Sure. Yes. Of course. Perhaps I'm poorly contextualizing these flourishes. In reality, these word trains often arrive in a much fuller, wandering sentence that is aiming at some intrinsic idea. One of my favorite non-glossary descriptions is from a review of a band called Greasewood Park, about whose sound he suggests: "Wounded and wasted, pissed off, pissed, and frustrated, this is what it sounds like when a man takes a swing at heaven." This is how that entry ends. I get that. I was a little disappointed when this band didn't have a song on the tape.
There's a tape?
Finally a real question, but please don't interrupt me. Yes, there's a tape! Spork, the brilliant publisher, is working also as record label this time around. It seems that they and Mahoney have created tracks to ape the bands that are being reviewed. I'd tell you more, but I feel like that's the book's agenda, sort of. Still, it's a nice addendum, helpful in tracking the details of Mahoney's obsessions in the book and in line with Spork's DIY aesthetic.
Do you realize that you sound like a pitchman?
Yes, I know. I feel like Mahoney is laughing at me.
Because part of me thinks Mahoney is satirizing the lengths that music criticism grammar has gone. He references modern reviewing stalwarts like Pitchfork and eventually slips into some self-aware hyperbole: "Insane! Essential! DOOOOOM." He's faking the form, perhaps for fun or perhaps to reach some other form.
What other form?
There's a question I can work with. If he's not just skewering the music that exists between blog twaddle and Robert Christgau's magnum opus, then I think, er, want to believe that he almost might be conveying what it's like to hear music.
Keep up. Have you ever tried to explain a song to someone: Sure, you know it. It goes bah-bumbum-buummm, ba-bum-ba. And the person looks back at you, either lost or smiling politely, hoping you'll stop. It's like that. Only, what if you needed the other person to know the song and not just the hook or a lyric, but everything about it—its totality? How would you do that without actually playing that song?
Are you asking the questions now?
Shut up because I'm coming to something here. That question of how you talk about music is the allure of Mahoney's project. He knows there is a language invented in how we talk about music but that is somehow tragically apart from the music. And that language—especially when it piles up and almost tears itself apart like it does in some of the sentences—is its own art, its own beautiful soundwaves.
Keep going. You're doing great.
The cover of Sunblind Almost Motorcrash shows an outline of what appears to be a young man on the couch. He is mid-jolt—arms up, legs flailing. A splatter is Rorschaching out of his stomach and that seems to be causing the jolt. But what is that? I think he's being hit by music, or more specifically, I think he is being bowled over in awe of some rarefied music that has surprised him. It's a cool image. It repeats on the inside covers in kaleidoscopic form, the young man filled in with punk zine green. The book then tries to put words to this jolt for the next sixty pages.
So, because the book is in part about the inefficiency or insufficiency of certain language—specifically that which tries to classify sound and the feelings that accompany a given sound—did you try to avoid writing a standard review and instead try to fracture a mode like Mahoney?
I don't even understand the question.