“We Comprise Our Composure with Mere Association”: newmusicalreleases and Endogenous Criticism

By Gordon Faylor

Last January, Mike Riley of Smooth Breeze alerted me to newmusicalreleases after a mutual acquaintance’s album was reviewed there. The write-up contained a single paragraph and only one link: an AOL Music search of the band’s name. It read cogently, with varied ontological treatments of the release in question.

This will be sure to live up the promise that you can’t always live down the metaphor that will open up your eyes to the time your were ten and your older brothersbeebee  gun made its way into your hands and you shot up the neighbours pets something fierce.  From Tombstone to animal cemetery we’ve all out grown the stipulation that the killing floor wasn’t as promoted as the tortured vision as the Peking duck standing in the window somewhere in China Town; dead as a duck.  This album, m4w byUncles goes from being erratic to ecstatic in an all out premonition of making the rustic folky approach to providing you with a cornerstone for something as riddled as the time you were hypnotized by that rug that turned into a magic carpet ride.  Punchy lyrics and jangly introspection on the guitar make this a world void of quarrels and take you down to the quarry for a bout of thinking “hey, I struck it rich.”  Tracks like “Turkey Water,” talk about a trip of the traditional fanfare esteemed by Americans far and wide.  Though the vocals are kind of chastising and querulous they seem to paint a silkscreen with sleek silhouettes that make the enchanted treasures abound.  The title track “m4w” makes its progression of the simile of envisioning water trickling from a stream into a mossy bed of lichens in an emerald forest of sound.  This album is folk at its best and don’t think twice about open up to the germination of the ideas found here.


nmr’s illustrative movements are sometimes controlled and responsive, other times prone to accidental arrangement. In this case, they pertain to a fluid narrative: an act of animal cruelty is conveyed by way of a violent childhood memory and that memory’s dissolution, the subsequent discarding of which proves its correlate —for unclear reasons— to be Uncles’ m4w. It endows several tracks from said album with clunky, romantic descriptors and second or first-person plural directives. The final sentence latches emphatic recommendation to a vague rejoinder about embracing the author’s ideas. Its shifts in logic and narrative, though legible, are uncomfortable and seemingly arbitrary; they lack any exterior reference beyond a link to a search for “Uncles” on AOL Music. Its unnamed author doesn’t write much that can reliably or empirically be attributed to the music in question. Historical, geographic and cultural contexts are haphazardly assembled and referenced at random. nmr might well fulfill an image it presents in a review of Crystal City’s A Life of Science: “the stage coach for a time travelling adventure into the annals of the future.”


On its own, these aggregates produce unexceptional, tedious reviews. However, nmr has been nothing short of devotional, consistently feeding its replicant criticism into WordPress several times a week since September 2011.


Possibly an instance of demand media or some other spam-based variant, possibly human, nmr would seem to proceed at least partially via an algorithmic apparatus, likely one operating at the distant behest of Time Warner/AOL; the uniformity of logical and syntactic interruptions and the obscurity of its presumptive author all pointing toward another, possibly inhuman source.


From an entry dated March 31, 2012, a review of Nox Aeris by Janus:


Where do we go?  Drawing heavily in comparison to the subjugation of some hideous affirmation.  The producers must have a few screws loose.  I can taste in the air.  The aqueous crackle of the collective pools of not being radio friendly.  At all.  No way.  The procedure of relying heavily on a underpriveledged and jaded youth sees the fruition of some unimaginable group effort, in the shape of manning the rigs, or even more delectably the conscious alignment of the soggy biscotti entering the realm of our universal suffrage, as we are all courgettes of being suffragette.


Assertiveness and confidence pervade nmr reviews, alongside an air of detachment and cockiness that forges ahead, apparently unaware of its internal discrepancies. Content locks into the mainstream and popular alternative sub-genres, mimicking the egregious commemorations so commonly bestowed on them by more respected and well-known peers — though it’s worth noting that the writing is almost never condemnatory. My Morning Jacket, Ween, Michael Jackson, Gorillaz, They Might Be Giants, Slash and the Roots all get a once-over, and are usually subjected to some quick moral admonition preceding a host of florid adjectives.


Well… Have the years ever flown by. Emotional Traffic by Tim McGraw is a statement that the capacious tangibility of the country legend lives on as beyond mere evanescent and as the gospel of Mark stated, “Consider carefully what you hear… With the measure you use it will measure to you- and even more.” (Mark 4)  This album does just that at it makes the metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly as seamless as the star-studded career that has emblazoned itself like the rebirth of country rock made so affable in its righteous continuity as the day the aphid spreads it wings and flies innately beyond our comprehension into the garden of infinite pleasure or all the way to Nashville.


As before, some of these statements aren’t entirely capricious. McGraw’s genre is country music; the reference to the Gospel of Mark sufficiently critiques its beloved object by highlighting McGraw’s artistic trajectory. What is nmr’s ability to positively resist the overtly human and the overtly algorithmic? This question might well characterize other prominent pseudo-spambots, though their celebrity typically leads to a definitively human source or sourcing. The same could apply here.


nmr’s rigged enthusiasm belies a form far more ambivalent and strange, or perhaps more absurdly normal — one riddled with cliché, relentlessly expository and cloyingly ekphrastic.


We become riddled in contemptuous malignancy as it engulfs- we become devoured.  The remedy for those wishing to vent their anger for the sorely departed presence of Kim Kardashian on the tv this album has a glimmer of hope.  Though this music may not be as pretty — it is doubly entertaining.  Feast your ears on the prize.  The atonal assimilation is foreboding.  Parkway Drive are the all-encompassing metal that houses preposterous and titillating hardcore — that will be sure to make you go through the roof.  Indeed, we’re living on the edge.  You can’t help yourself from falling.


These delineations serve their subjects insidiously insofar as they emerge from within the genre of criticism, often resembling more legitimized music reviews. @pitchforkquotes — a Twitter account created by myself, Andy Martrich and Marc Maffei that appropriated snippets of Pitchfork music reviews — demonstrated this, emphasizing the unintentional humor of that site’s inclination to romanticization, exuberance, and affect, all of which attempt to induce a tacit metaphysics of commercial reciprocity that equates music with landscape painting and shapes a market for these elucidations. nmr adopts their content and neutralizes their intent, evoking music criticism’s flatness and ineffectuality; it’s a form where aural entities take on the critic’s phenomenal experience and the anecdotes the critic has crafted for it, adapting so long as the strength of genre recognition impels the writing’s consequential excess to describe. Yet this all provokes larger, more tenuous questions: is this sort of publication endemic only to the Internet, or does music more generally become a fiction when rendered by description? Is this the consequence of textual criticism on any media? nmr only leaves us in the swell:


High calibre folk music is a rudimentarily infused melange of the irreparable fluidity of modern certitude.  It is the culmination of forces colliding around the universe, the artists seem to weigh in on the unique innovations of the parlance of our times.  Politics, war, inflation, friends and enemies unravel as undercurrent themes that orchestrate the consecration.  Underwater byJoshua Radin has rather opted for a different approach.  It applies to the concurrence of adopting to a new lifestyle that pertains to the significance of the pacification of being underwater.


Gordon Faylor is the editor of Gauss PDF, a publisher of digitally-based works. He is the author of Sebaceous Heph and Docking, Rust Archon, both published by bas-books.