Along A Dark and Crooked Way–New Paradigms in 21st Century Musicology

Posted: April 12, 2010 in Threat Quality

by Harcourt Albemarle, PhD
William Jefferson Clinton University
Department of Ethnomusicology
July 16, 2031

Abstract

The band Along a Dark and Crooked Way emerged from the 21st century music scene some time around 2010, and quickly became one of the most talked about, influential, and important musical experiments in history.  Dozens more followed them, trying to recreate their unique sound, and many dozens more than that rejected their influence over “indie” music.  Along a Dark and Crooked Way managed to accomplish this without ever releasing an album, a single, playing a concert or, as far as modern historians can determine, existing at all.

It’s commonly held that AADACW first entered the public consciousness when Jody Rosen made an off-hand reference to it, in a brief review of the newest She & Him album:

…though it’s not quite Along a Dark and Crooked Way, volume two has the same bittersweet mood, a retro-pop collaboration that’s just as upbeat and sunny at it is heartbreaking…

Rosen undoubtedly underestimated the readership of the source for AADACW, which archival evidence has recently revealed to be a hand-printed and distributed zine called Maladies, produced by an individual using the (likely) pseudonym “Jack Smirk.”  In issue 26 of Maladies, Smirk reviews the recent Goldfrapp album as antithetical to AADACW:

…if you imagine Colin Meloy writing songs for Arcade Fire which are played by Pavement and produced by Danger Mouse, you get an idea of the exact opposite of the philosophy that informs Goldfrapp.

Tortured metaphor aside, the imagery was appealing enough to merit repetition; but the small and dwindling readership of Maladies meant that Rosen’s reference was mistaken, by most readers, for a reference to an actual band.

A period of confusion likely followed, but later historians have undoubtedly exaggerated its significance; surely, a band that had managed to retain absolute exclusivity, that functioned in the 21st century without a website, without performing or even releasing songs was beyond the pall even for what we now know to be an unusually credulous era.  It’s commonly accepted that an “Emperor’s New Clothes” effect existed in the high-social pressure “indie scene” — while no one had ever seen AADACW, no one would ever admit to having never seen them, for fear of seeming out of the loop.

And, certainly, several music bloggers of that year spoke highly of and were occasionally frantic regarding AADACW (the author of the blog “Obscure Sounds” notably offered a thousand dollars for anyone that could score him tickets to a concert he believed was going to take place in Brooklyn in June of 2010), but it’s often difficult to determine just how “in on the joke” certain writers are based solely on archival documents.  If, for example, the “Obscure Sounds” author was disappointed or surprised by the fact that no tickets became available, despite his extraordinary bounty, he never mentioned it.

In his 2026 paper, Irwin Arkady suggests that AADACW was an open secret among the “indie” or “hipster” community, and used as a shibboleth by which they could recognize their own, but even this seems an unlikely event to have maintained for long, especially considering the openly conditional language that Chuck Klosterman used in his 2013 article in Spin (“The Death of the New New Wave”), which simultaneously decried AADACW as representative of the worst aspects of the indie scene but also made it abundantly clear that the band, itself, did not actually exist.  AADACW was revealed for what it truly was:

History’s first entirely hypothetical band.

Unhindered by the actual technical quality or artistic intentions of the subjects of music criticism, critics were able to establish a unified framework of evaluation that used AADACW as an essential exemplar.  There were no artistic curveballs to worry about, no outliers to rationalize, no general statements that weren’t completely accurate; AADACW was an independent band that behaved precisely the way that a critic expected it to, and from the which comparisons could be made quite easily.

In the fertile and cross-pollinated world of music criticism, it didn’t take long for AADACW to become a touchstone in music writing; and, in an era of near-instant feedback, that criticism yielded a wealth of bands that explicitly tried to create the AADACW “sound” (to vary degrees of success — or, rather, to varying degrees of failure, as the task was necessarily impossible), or pointedly tried to avoid it.  By 2013 there were at least four notable bands that were explicitly AADACW “cover” bands (A Hundred Dance Moves Per Minute, Newvana, Visual Purple, and Warren Ellis Can Suck My Balls), and at least two that took defying the indie conventions established by AADACW (Vortyx and Electric Laserbrain, the latter the forerunner of what would later be called the Techno Death-Thrash movement).

While the use of hypothetical bands wouldn’t catch on as a widespread critical technique for at least ten years (starting with the electropunk theoretical band Mount Analogue, in Sean Combs’ shockingly literate series for Esquire), the standard of criticism using exemplars unfettered by the messy inconsistencies of performance was most certainly established with Along a Dark and Crooked Way.

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Comments
  1. Anna says:

    You should start referencing books that don’t exist. Or have you already?!?!?

  2. braak says:

    What, just in general?

  3. Carl says:

    So I dig this. What sequence of thoughts gives rise to this, not only in vague conceptual terms, but then in actual narrative terms? Because THIS WOULD NEVER OCCUR TO ME.

  4. braak says:

    Oh, well, I don’t know. By accident, probably. I think we were going to lunch during a rehearsal break, and one of my fellow actors saw some hipsters and was making fun of them. He said, “Hahah, we’re hipsters, we have sex to music that hasn’t been written yet.” Except I think he sang it, because that was what the game was.

    I replied (not singing), “Hahah, they only listen to hypothetical music.”

    I hate telling stories like that; when it seems like I come up with crazy stuff by plumbing the depths of my ineffable kung-fu intellect, people think I’m brilliant. When it’s just a pretty straightforward interpretation of an off-hand, if neatly juxtaposed remark, I think it makes me seem like just a regular person.

  5. Moff says:

    (1) That Jody Rosen excerpt proves that you have what it takes to write real music reviews.

    (2) “Pseudonymical name”? REALLY?

    (3) This was excellent.

  6. Braak says:

    Oh. Hah. Yeah, I guess pseudonym would have worked just as well. Maybe it was a style choice?

  7. V.I.P. Referee says:

    1. No fair! I want to hang-out with sniffy actors on rehearsal breaks, while they make fun of poncy hipsters:

    “Hey, ‘Flock of Seagulls’–yeah you, you with the ‘hurricane’ haircut! Your pancake and eyeliner’s not balanced!” (Smirk, smirk. Laugh, laugh.)

    2. I’d really love to hear John Cleese read this entry aloud.

    3. I’d pass on listening to (not listening to?) non-existent music, but there are entirely fabricated members of bands that I’d seriously like to bounce with, like the bad-ass crew from “Gorillaz” or those robots from “Daft Punk” (“f*ckin’ magnets, how do those work? I’d bet beat-mixing robots would know…”)

  8. dagocutey says:

    Duuuuuuude — whoa.

  9. Carl says:

    @braak: duly noted; bad form to beg of a magician the techniques behind his slights-of-hand (though it makes us compositional mortals feel a little more comfortable in our state).

  10. Carl says:

    @VIP: Right on, about hiring John Cleese for this.

  11. braak says:

    Also:

    Hardscrabble. Shambolic. Mise-en-scene.

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