Fire Ian Cohen

I don’t really read many blogs, or use Tumblr, or Facebook, or ever even look at a computer because I once heard on Fox News that Obama has implanted a virus into all electronic devices in America that gives you rabies so he can enact his tyrannical Kenyan socialist plot to bring everyone before his death panels (I’m not actually typing this right now; like I do with all my posts on Jeremy Etc., I’m dictating it via telekinesis from my desk at work to a trained monkey I keep locked in my basement). Nonetheless, bits of information from the e-universe do occasionally slip through to my receptors. One such nugget of cyber gold is the now-defunct Fire Joe Morgan. From 2005 through 2008, FJM’s vulgarly venerable moderators (who in real life are TV comedy writers for shows such as Parks and Recreation and Workaholics) spent a bunch of their time writing uproarious and irreverent meta-criticism of shoddy sportswriting and boneheaded broadcast commentating by moronic hacks like Skip Bayless. Because you don’t really have to be particularly smart, or even be a good writer, to be a professional sports journalist, they had plenty of material to pick on. In its four years of active blogging, FJM nitpickingly eviscerated everything from the borderline retarded Tim McCarver’s mystifyingly stupid witticisms to the legions of sports columnists who are content to dismiss statistics–you know, the stuff we use to measure players’ on-field performance–as nonsense for nerds to play around with in their moms’ basements, while gushing about the “intangible” grit and hustle of everyone’s favorite midget albino shortstop, David Eckstein. It’s truly one of the funniest things on the internet.

So I started thinking to myself… can’t I do with music criticism the same thing FJM did with sportswriting? I mean, there’s got to be at least as much bad music journalism out there as sports journalism, right? Yes, I realize this has been done before. But yesterday, as I absentmindedly clicked through Pitchfork to see what The Mightiest Indie Tastemakers In The Land were up to, I found myself reading Ian Cohen’s review of Gossamer, the latest album by Passion Pit. And I couldn’t help myself.

Passion Pit is a band I know very little about. Every once in a while I hear one of their songs at a party. It seems to me they make obnoxious electronic disco music that I don’t particularly enjoy. But I am of course perfectly willing to consider that my very limited exposure to the band was not sufficient enough to form an accurate or nuanced impression of them.

Ian Cohen, this is where you come in. You have awarded Passion Pit’s latest album a high grade of 8.4 and a coveted Best New Music tag. So, I beseech you, Mr. Cohen, explain to me why I, a potential Passion Pit listener, should investigate the band further! Let’s begin with the blurb that appeared on Pitchfork’s front page under the link to your review.

 

Three difficult years in the making, Gossamer is an overwhelming album about being overwhelmed, a bold torrent of maximalist musical ideas, repressed anger, and unchecked anxiety.

 

Uh oh. This doesn’t sound like the synopsis of a music review, take out the word “musical” and substitute the title “The Catcher In The Rye” for “Gossamer” and its sounds like the thesis of a 10th grade English paper. Sounds like Ian is going to go the route of hardcore lyrical analysis in this review and in the process channel his younger self, from the days when he was a humorless Lit major at Northwestern (*does google search to see if Ian Cohen was actually a Lit major at Northwestern* *is unable to find any info his scholastic history* *decides to continue to assume he was a Lit major at Northwestern until proven otherwise*). Well, let’s hope he at least acknowledges that the album includes musical content as well! That’s not too much to ask, is it?

 

OK, so here’s the actual beginning of the review:

 

Here’s an incomplete list of the subjects dealt with on Passion Pit’s second album, Gossamer: immigration, alcoholism, economic disparity, suicide, mental illness, drugs, domestic abuse. So when Michael Angelakos sings, “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see,” that should come across like a tremendous understatement. But two lines later, he cries “no one believes me, no not a single thing.”

 

Bummer, dude. This Michael Angelakos guy sounds like one seriously hardcore emo poet. Apparently he is also a singer in a rock band, though you wouldn’t know it from these first two sentences. But that doesn’t mean this is an invalid way to start off the review. I mean, Nick Cave has written like single verses that encompass “alcoholism, economic disparity, suicide, mental illness, drugs, [and] domestic abuse” (I didn’t include immigration, because what the fuck does immigration in and of itself have to do with those other things? It’s a puzzling inclusion on this list). And he’s done it in a much more eloquent manner than with narcissistic, whiny throwaway lines like “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see.” But hey, we’re just getting started! I haven’t given up on the idea that Angelakos has interesting things to say! Or that he makes music and not just writes lyrics! Onward!

 

That part cuts deep, since Passion Pit’s 2009 debut LP, Manners, was an often dark and troubled record a lot of people chose not to take seriously due to its sugar-smacked synth pop and countless product placements.

 

Cool, a reference to music! Sort of! “Sugar-smacked” is a unnecessarily cute descriptor and sounds like the catchphrase for a brand of cereal, but I get what he’s saying. He means that they’re high-energy and catchy, right? Makes sense. But I’m totally baffled by the reference to “countless product placements.” When I read this line, I imagined that the album must have The Who Sell Out-style commercials in between songs for Coke or something. But I just spent several minutes reading the lyrics to every song on Manners and I could not find anything that even remotely explained this allusion. In fact every song seems to consist almost entirely of awful self-pitying cliched emo imagery that could’ve been written by the goth kids on South Park. No references to consumer products at all. So I can only assume that, like many hacky critics before him, Ian invented an impenetrably cryptic description of some aspect of the album that doesn’t make sense to anybody but him, and then stuck in the review anyway without bothering to explain it.

 

So it’s no wonder that Angelakos’ next words are “my brain is racing and I’ll feel like I’ll explode!”

 

Why is it “no wonder” that he says this? Because “a lot of people chose not to take [Manners] seriously,” therefore Angelakos’ “brain is racing?” Couldn’t his brain be racing for literally 8,000,000,000,000 reasons besides the fact that hipsters prefer to drink tequila and dance awkwardly to his music instead of sit alone in a dark room and brood to it? If I were him, I’d prefer they have fun with my music rather than ponder suicide because of it.

 

Perhaps it’s fitting that Gossamer, so focused on failure and human frailty, should begin with a stumble. “Take a Walk” is a fairly by-the-numbers Passion Pit song. Nonetheless, there’s a strange imbalance to it.

 

Might it help to define what a “fairly by-the-numbers Passion Pit song” sounds like before moving onto a new idea in the very next sentence? I barely know anything about Passion Pit’s music, remember? Your job as a critic giving a positive review is to explain to me, someone who has not heard the album, or perhaps even the artist, in question, why I might want to listen to said album. Giving me some sort of indication of what it sounds like would be a good start. But you haven’t done anything along those lines yet. Unless you count “sugar-smacked synth pop,” I guess. But you’ve given me absolutely no indication thus far of what kind of instrumentation, song structure, vocal style, or anything else I can expect from a “fairly by-the-numbers Passion Pit song.” From these two sentences, the only thing I can gather about such a song is that Ian Cohen would probably think that “it has a balance to it that is not strange.”

 

The massed chorus of chipper vocals and the stoic, pavement-pounding verse feel mismatched.

 

Hey a whole sentence describing the actual musical features of a song! Cool! Although I have no idea what “pavement-pounding” is supposed to mean. Totally meaningless and uninformative descriptor. Having not heard the song, I would imagine he means that it’s like thumping and hard rocking like heavy footsteps on pavement, but since he also describes the verse as “stoic,” it would appear he means the exact opposite of that. Huh.

 

And while Angelakos’ literal account of the financial troubles facing his family is gut-wrenching and brave, it amounts to a curious fit on an album that’s otherwise entirely personal. As a one-off, it would be an intriguing character study. As the leadoff track on Gossamer, it feels misplaced.

 

Fair enough. Though from what I’ve seen of these guys’ lyrics today, I would think a song that isn’t totally self-centered would be a breath of fresh air.

 

Luckily, “I’ll Be Alright” doesn’t allow much time for the disappointment to register. The joy-buzzer synths

 

“Joy-buzzer synths”? That’s like ten times worse than “sugar-smacked.” “The Joy Buzzer” sounds like the name of a masturbation device for middle-aged housewives only available from 3am infomercials.

 

and Angelakos’ falsetto scan as instant-gratification Passion Pit

 

Would it be so hard to just say, “The synths and Angelakos’ falsetto are instantly gratifying?” Or are there not enough unnecessary words in that sentence for your taste?

 

but on both a musical and lyrical level, it’s a raising of the bar, far more complex than anything the band has done to date.

 

Explain.

 

Consider the combination of its surging chorus and the synapse-frying barrage of microscopic jumpcuts, and you might have the weirdest and catchiest band on Warp, and the most dejected if you’re really paying attention.

 

Cool. This actually sounds interesting. I like songs that use happy-sounding or anthemic music to disguise less-than-happy lyrics, or vice versa. At last, I now have a tangible idea of one aspect of Passion Pit’s music. Although some of these word-choices are questionable. “Synapse-frying”? Do you mean “synapse-firing”? That would make more sense. That’s what synapses actually do. Also those jumpcuts can’t actually be “microscopic” because they aren’t visible entities, but I guess that one’s forgivable.

 

The first line of “I’ll Be Alright” could be a retroactive assessment on the day-glo Manners, asking “Can you remember ever having any fun?/ Cause when it’s all said and done/ I always believed we were/ But now I’m not so sure.” The effect is initially disorienting and uncomfortable: Do you escape into the comforts of the music or give into the lurid thrill of confrontation?

 

Now you’ve lost me again. First of all, I fucking hate when critics reference fake genres like “day-glo” and “glo-fi.” They’re fictional trends invented within the minds of like ten bloggers and then spread insidiously into the popular lexicon. Second… wha?? What does this generic lyrical excerpt have to do with the line that follows? There’s almost as much disconnect there as if I were reviewing Rubber Soul, quoted a verse of “Norwegian Wood,” and then wrote, “The effect is initially disorienting and uncomfortable: do you pour yourself a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats or go take a poop in the woods?” I’m beginning to think that you’re just doing anything you can to make this guy’s mundane emo lyrics sounds way more interesting than they actually are so you’ll seem like you have deep, intelligent insights into them. I’m also beginning to think you might be a robot programmed to simulate knowledge of human passions and thus uses phrases like “the lurid thrill of confrontation” to describe them. Also, you seem to have a habit of putting colons where periods should be. Making sentences longer rarely makes them better. FYI.

 

Angelakos is no pop subversive. While he’s been forthcoming about the autobiographical details that inspired Gossamer, within the auspices of Passion Pit, he seems incapable of dealing with them through anything other than pop’s pleasure principle.

 

“Pop’s pleasure principle,” is, of course, Newton’s fourth and most celebrated law, which measures the happiness vector of all soundwaves in the universe. Come on, people, weren’t you paying attention in physics class?

 

Also, are you planning on mentioning the names of anyone else in the band besides the fucking lead singer?

 

On Gossamer, Passion Pit recast themselves as polyglots and pacesetters, tackling the currency of pop music head-on as a competitor rather than admiring it with a few well-placed press quotes.

 

I have no fucking clue what this is supposed to mean. Not even gonna try to decipher it. Also, the dictionary.com definitions for “polyglot” are as follows:

 

noun

3. a mixture or confusion of languages.

4. a person who speaks, writes, or reads a number of languages.

5. a book, especially a Bible, containing the same text in several languages.

 

Yeah, try cracking open that Thesaurus one more time there, Ian old buddy. Maybe if you said “musical polyglots” it would make sense, but as is, you’re saying that Passion Pit are literally multilinguists. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t true. Though I could be wrong. Maybe Michael Angelakos is actually Portugese or something. Not gonna look it up.

 

Gossamer is rife with dichotomy, one of which is that the hooks highest in fructose are lent to songs dealing with the most uncomfortable topic: money.

 

I’m pretty sure money is not “the most uncomfortable topic.” What about that stuff you listed at the beginning of the review? “Immigration, alcoholism, economic disparity, suicide, mental illness, drugs, domestic abuse” all seem like much more uncomfortable topics than money, in and of itself, to me.

 

Later on, “Love Is Greed” is far more multi-layered than its title and hook (“If we really love ourselves/ How do you love somebody else?”) initially indicate. Courtship is reduced to the search of “another person that’s just yours for the taking,” which is essentially a trenchant distillation of post-recession social science.

 

What utter bullshit. It’s a generic line about how dating sucks, and you’re acting like Passion Pit just explained quantum theory to you.

 

Next, Ian almost exclusively devotes two paragraphs to quoting a bunch of shitty lyrics, and eventually concludes from this discussion that:

 

Because even though Gossamer could not be more overt in its exploration of profoundly adult and bleak topics, all some people might choose to hear is how most of the melodies could still sell children’s cereal.

 

First of all, here are a sampling of the many lyrical excerpts quoted in this review:

 

“Can you remember ever having any fun?/ Cause when it’s all said and done/ I always believed we were/ But now I’m not so sure.”

 

“If we really love ourselves/ How do you love somebody else?”

 

“And then I’m lifted up/ Out of the crimson tub/ The bath begins to drain/ And from the floor he prays away all my pain”

 

“Slipups in this town are like a sentence to life/ Like overhead insults or a cheating wife”

 

“If there’s a bump in the road, you fix it/ But for me, well I’d just run off the road/ But tonight you’ve got me cornered/ And I haven’t got a place to go.”

 

Pretty much all of these could have easily been written by a 14-year old with a rhyming dictionary and a predominantly black wardrobe. Seriously, it’s almost laughable how stubbornly dependant on rhyming they are, as well as how teenage emo they are. And yet you keep holding them up as these “profoundly adult,” heart-wrenching masterworks. They don’t seem any more “profoundly adult” to me than My Chemical Romance.

 

But hey, maybe Passion Pit (you know, that band you’re reviewing that has more than one member in it, which you still haven’t acknowledged) weren’t trying to create some great soul-baring masterpiece with Gossamer. Maybe their primary goal was to write some fun melodies that could “sell children’s cereal” (you know, the musical aspects of this collection of music that you’ve spent an absolute minimum amount of wordspace even acknowledging) and the lyrics were secondary. How do you know what their intent was? Why are you acting so put-off about the fact that people might like the upbeat aspects of their music? Or—and this is just way out there, but bear with me—that people might be capable of enjoying both the music and the lyrics and accepting the contrast between them? Why must you be such a killjoy? “How dare you rubes have fun with this music? You savages! I demand you sit and listen to this album alone in silence with the shades drawn until you learn to appreciate brilliant poetry like, “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see.”

 

Anyway, let’s finish up here.

 

But Gossamer‘s music is meant to reflect its sense of encroaching panic, where you really feel like you’ll explode if you don’t figure out everything at once.

 

Now this is the kind of thing that really pisses my shit off in album reviews. You have no idea what Gossamer was “meant to reflect.” You weren’t there when they were making it. You aren’t in the band. You didn’t write the songs. Only the artist knows the true intentions of his or her music. So unless at some point you interviewed Michael Angelakos and asked him, “What is Gossamer’s music meant to reflect?” and he answered, verbatim, “A sense of encroaching panic, where you really feel like you’ll explode if you don’t figure out everything at once,” then you’re just talking completely out of your ass. In reality, what you’ve written here is what you personally got out of the album’s themes and ideas. So say that! Don’t be afraid to phrase an opinion or a personal reaction as such! Don’t phrase it like you have some deep insight into the inner machinations of Michael Angelakos’ mind when you absolutely do not!

 

Anyone can manufacture hope through a slogan, but there’s an empathy and humanity that simply can’t be faked as Angelakos tries to figure out how to stay atop his life. It’s hard to think of a more noble goal for a pop album.

 

Really? That’s the most “noble goal for a pop album”? Not “writing good songs” or “good musical performances”? I realize you’re just trying to make a point so you can pretend that all your weird theories about this album can cohere, but come on. When it comes to the most important goals for a pop album, the singer “figur[ing] out how to stay atop his life” isn’t even in like the top 400.

 

Phew! That was exhausting! But fun! I should do this more often!



4 Comments

  1. Robin wrote:

    Yes, you should!

  2. Emily wrote:

    This totally reminds me of one of my first Popular Criticism classes in which we had to bring in reviews and criticize them. I brought in a review of Heaven is Whenever, and when my professor asked what I thought, I told him it was accurate (since I’d already heard the album). He laughed and proceeded to inform us that it was a shitty review because it mentioned next to nothing about the actual music. He wasn’t familiar with the Hold Steady and from the review he couldn’t even determine the genre they play, let alone what kind of instruments etc. were used on the record.

    I don’t read PItchfork and all the better after reading this. The original review is so convoluted and irrelevant I don’t even know what I just read.

    • victoid wrote:

      I don’t know if their music is good or not, but Passion Pit is a pathetically shitty name for a band.

      As for Ian Cohen- he is not a music critic. He is, unfortunately, just another in an interminable line of mouth farters whose words ooze like pus from the decaying goiter that exists where a normal person’s brain is.

      Mr. Etc wastes an enormous amount of literary talent on this maggot. Better to call an exterminator and turn your attention to matters of some interest than to flirt with insanity by giving credence to his excretions.

  3. Robin wrote:

    Not a waste of time, Victoid. Sometimes the arses need to be called out!


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