I just don’t wanna be out there. I don’t matter. It’s nice to be any / every / nobody.
–Breakmaster Cylinder, in an interview with Exolymph
Conor and Will are sitting at a pair of microphones in a mid-budget recording studio, recording their commentary on Reply All.
Conor: There you have it: the whole animal kingdom is drawn towards Will’s appearance, just as we are drawing towards the end of this article. Any final comments, Will?
Will: Hi dads!
Conor: We are not at Yes Yes Yes right now.
Will: You are No No Wrong about that.
The tapes in the studio stop recording. Conor sighs in relief. Interns burst into the recording room with bottled water for Conor and Will.
Conor: You know, I think there’s still one question that our listeners might have about Reply All.
Will: It’s the question on everyone’s minds.
Conor: Who is the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder? Who is this electronic-musician-turned-theme-song-composer who hides behind assumed identities and vocal distortion?
Will: We’ve scoured the web like a pair of internet oddballs turned journalists, and come back with our six best guesses.
Conor: Let’s start with a potential Breakmaster that’s hidden in plain sight…
Melania Trump [Conor]
- The Backstory: Melania Trump began composing electronic music in secret as an escape from her husband’s suffocating bravado. At first the name “Breakmaster Cylinder” was a touch of whimsy. Then as the late nights alone on the computer piled up, Melania realized that she could not tolerate seeing her art subsumed into her husband’s brand. Anonymity was her only way of avoiding the Trump name.
- The Evidence: Breakmaster Cylinder’s music is meticulously crafted. This is the result of hours upon hours at the computer. It’s the work of an obsessive. One easy way to be obsessed is being forced to live with the most tiresome person on earth.
- What would prove it: If Breakmaster Cylinder released a new track consisting entirely of samples from Michelle Obama’s speeches.
- The Opposition [Will]: If her husband is as rich as he says he is, then the Russians would have already dug up any of his wife’s secret aliases. But let’s wait until the tax returns are released to be sure.
Alex Goldman [Will]
- The Backstory: We all know that Alex Goldman has a relatively new baby that keeps him busy. That’s clearly code for “I’m making the theme music for our podcast but plugging yourself at the end of every episode is so basic”.
- The Evidence: Lurking behind those lush, fuzzy beats is a grouchy heart full of gripes. The kind of heart that would make mysterious electronic music under a pseudonym for its own twisted satisfaction.
- What would prove it: Alex will concoct an inscrutable tweet and then suggest it for a Yes Yes No segment. After lording his internet knowledge over PJ et al., he will drop the hammer and reveal himself on air in front of the whole Twitterarium.
- The Opposition [Conor]: “It is better to curse the darkness than to compose complex electronic music.” This is basically Alex Goldman’s catchphrase. I mean, he may have a more well-rounded musical diet than PJ “Only Likes The Hold Steady” Vogt, but does he really have the motivation to write music? It’s possible, but so is Alex Blumberg not being the last person to catch on in a Yes Yes No.
John Lennon [Conor]
- The Backstory: John Lennon was one of the greatest iconoclasts of his generation. The first album after he broke up with McCartney and Co., he’s telling his fans, “I don’t believe in Beatles!” It’s only inevitable that he would eventually realize that there was one final idol that needed to be shattered: John Lennon. So he faked his own assassination in order to produce music far from the constant attention of his fans. It turned out that this was more difficult than he expected. He tried being a secret member of the Traveling Wilburies, but he had to depart after George almost outed him one drunken night. He ghostwrote for Weezer for a while, but when the Blue Album took off, he left the band with nothing but a half-finished album named Hurley. Breakmaster Cylinder is John’s attempt to use the greatest of all masks, the internet, to his advantage.
- The evidence: It’s well documented that Paul McCartney was proud of the fact that “Beatles” could refer to a bug or a car. Could not Breakmaster Cylinder’s Pickled Beets albums be seen as a response to this? “See Paul, this pun brings together rhythm (which is actually relevant to the music) with purple vegetables (which are not relevant but I at least had the courtesy to show on both covers) AND it drops an oblique clue about my identity.” I think we finally know who the best Beatle is.
- What would prove it: If Breakmaster Cylinder started using a sample of Paul McCartney singing “Let It Be,” pitched up two octaves and mixed with fart noises.
- The Opposition [Will]: While John Lennon did decide to come back to life four years after his death, he has since focused his musical talents towards a career as Whistlin’ Pete. Then again, who really knows what goes on in that RV of his?
D.B. Cooper [Will]
- The Backstory: As Wikipedia so delightfully puts it, a man now known as D.B. Cooper was the perpetrator of “the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history.” After Cooper leapt out of the plane with his ransom money, he was never seen again.
- The Evidence: Cooper’s ransom haul was $200,000. What else costs $200,000? All the electronic equipment and software you would need to become an enigmatic electronic musician (in 1971 dollars, at least). Plus some cash left over for food and such.
- What would prove it: The FBI announced in July that they were suspending their investigation of the Cooper case. Now is the perfect time for Breakmaster to release a viral mashup sensation of all the newscasts that ever mentioned his name, set on top of some groovy electro-rhythms.
- The Opposition [Conor]: Puh-lease, Will, don’t be so naive. We all know that the so-called “D.B. Cooper hijacking” was really just a ploy by Richard Milhous Nixon to distract the American people from the obviously faked moon landing. D.B. Cooper cannot be Breakmaster Cylinder, because he does not exist.
Ben Carson [Conor]
- The Backstory: Who knows why Ben Carson started composing electronic music? What matters is that he could not possibly sell it under his own name unless he intended to market it to Christian radio stations. Christian radio stations are not Breakmaster Cylinder’s intended market.
- The Evidence: Breakmaster Cylinder->BC->Ben Carson. Need I say anything more?
- What would prove it: Of all the potential Breakmaster Cylinders, Ben Carson is the most likely to out himself. He just wouldn’t be able to resist adding a chapter to his newest memoir about how “music helped him survive on the streets,” but he “didn’t want to do rap because it was too race-baity.”
- The Opposition [Will]: While his endlessly creative mind can come up with stories about belt buckles and Egyptian grain pyramids all day long, the man’s hands simply aren’t gifted enough to craft beats as sick as these.
Charlie the Funland Robot [Will]
- The Backstory: Charlie made his world debut on November 1, 1969, as the villain of season 1, episode 8 of the long-running true crime television series Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (sic). We learn that Charlie was created to take care of Funland theme park while its owner, Mr. Jenkins, was occupied. Charlie was one of the few Scooby Doo villains not to be revealed as a human in a mask, but simply a robot whose programming had been compromised. Charlie goes from terrorizing the park to, eventually, scratching Scooby Doo behind the ears with near-human affection.
- What would prove it: Since Breakmaster Cylinder’s robot head would have to be their actual head and not a Daft-Punk style helmet, a mere X-ray would prove that the ostensibly human artist is in fact, Charlie the Funland Robot. That or a Scooby Doo theme song remix.
- The Opposition [Conor]: I’m convinced.
Will: Case closed, as far as I’m concerned.
Conor: Charlie the Funland Robot, we expect you to submit a formal resignation from your post as Breakmaster Cylinder within the next 24 hours. I’m sure there’s a Reddit thread somewhere that will accept it. Until someone else worthy of the Breakmaster Cylinder mantle takes over…
Will: Matt Lieber is the interim Breakmaster Cylinder that fills a role perfectly without you ever needing to ask him.
P.S.: We reached out to Breakmaster Cylinder for the images used in the banner. Turns out he/she/it welcomed our challenge to unmask them, saying “I can’t wait to find out who I am.”
The Hon. Cylinder also said “I’m like Ben Carson’s Tyler Durden”. Does this prove anything? Who knows! We hope we’ve helped you on your journey of self-discovery, Breakmaster. We’ll keep trying until the last beet is pickled.