Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Saturday, August 28, 2010

John Mayer v. Jen Lekman = Someone stole from somebody

Please this to the first minute of each of the below:

Jens Lekman - "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo"

John Mayer - "The Heart of Life"

So which came first? Who should sue whom?

John Mayer's is the older of the two songs.

In actuality, I did not post those to unearth a conspiracy where Jens stole a melody from John. The fact is there are only so many notes to choose from, so things like this are bound to happen. Instead, I am interested in the relativity of taste. Here are some stats (I made up):

John Mayer has sold many more records than Jens Lekman
Jens Lekman’s albums have received much better reviews than John Mayer’s albums.
5% of John Mayer fans have heard of Jens Lekman (1% are fans)
100% of Jens Lekman fans have heard of John Mayer (1% are fans)

Meaning there exists a large population of people who know and do not like John Mayer, yet actively like Jens Lekman. What makes Jens “better” or at least more critically relevant when obviously at least at one point there is a slight overlap in output?

Personally, I am not too sure; I really liked Continuum and do not care much for Jens Lekman’s music. I think “Heart of Life” uses that melody to greater effect and, in general, “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” is a tad cheesy and grating. Though both are talented pop songwriters, I think John Mayer is a tad bit more focused. I think the biggest difference in Jens favor is that John Mayer is WAY more famous.

Being famous drastically effects how your art is perceived on two very different levels.

1. Intimacy

People want to feel something when they listen to music and often with this type of music the feeling to be felt is closeness. They want believe the emotion the singer is singing is genuine and comparable to something they have experienced. For example, I listened to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and felt a kinship with Justin Vernon at the moment of recording. This remained to be the case when I saw him live, until BAM!!! he became fairly famous. It is harder to be close to an artist when there is thousands of others try to do so as well. Now multiply that effect time 20 and you have John Mayer. When Mr. Mayer sings:

“I hate to see you cry lying there in that position
There's things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen”

it is difficult to believe these lyrics are in reference to something real because as a listener you are incredibly removed. John sounds more detached emotionally simply due to the fact that we are so detached from him. More simply, if I heard this song in concert I would likely be hundreds a feet away from the person creating the aforementioned melody. The distance is constantly palpable.

2. Historically

John Mayer matters. He has been relevant for 8+ years and is skilled enough to be so for 8+8+8… He wins a lot of awards, like Grammy’s, which are all really dumb yet noteworthy. The old guard seems to like him fine. In 20 years John Mayer will be 50 and still loved by many more people than will ever had heard of Jens Lekman (or Arcade Fire for that matter). It is easy to surround oneself with a bubble of Internet chatter (John Mayer has not once been written about on Pitchfork); however, there are a lot of people listening to music and they have made it clear that John Mayer matters.

The problem is that it makes reviewing Mayer albums more important. There are greater demands put upon him as an artist when one has to consider that their eventual children’s children will hear the songs. A good reviewer should be aware that in 30 years the Aughts will be viewed, at least partially, as a time where John Mayer was the preeminent singer/songwriter. As said in reference to Continuum, “…the album is a devastatingly accomplished, fully realized effort that in every way exceeds expectations and positions Mayer as one of the most relevant artists of his generation.” This is a lot of pressure to put on a few chord strums.

John Mayer might be a douche (self-aware or not) but sadly his is talented. The h8ers would have to admit he was at least once as talented as Jens Lekman.

Friday, August 27, 2010

By Popular Demand I Will Talk About Radiohead

Popular culture is remarkably resilient when it comes to meeting its own needs. It is a fact I touched upon when I wrote this piece about The Beatles. Another example is the influence of 1990’s Radiohead.

Radiohead is, or probably will be soon enough, considered the most influential band of my lifetime*. I am well aware that OK Computer and Kid A were monumental releases for the future of music, however I might argue that the influence of the actual records was less important than the stylistic shift itself. This move from a decidedly early-90s Alternative Rock sound to something a bit more cerebral/arty left a particularly large void.

A void that was divided and conquered by two, now, very successful bands:


The Bends alluded to two possible future roads for Radiohead to go down, yet those nerds zigged and/or zagged. The world liked the result, but still had a need for those roads. “OK COMPUTER” came out in 1997 and it took everyone a short while to realize it was not just a brief sidetrack. So it goes that in 1999 both Muse** and Coldplay released their first singles.

Case in point, Coldplay:

Famously, has always been compared to Radiohead forevers, however really they are just VERY comparable to the adult-contemporary parts. There was a need for a band that would make songs that sound like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “High and Dry.” The world wants mid-tempo ballads with vocals that are equal parts soaring and whining.

Radiohead - "Fake Plastic Trees"

Coldplay - "Shiver"

Case in point, Muse:

They decided to take on the need for a band that would make an easily-digestible sort of “heavy” music with vocals that are equals parts soaring and whining.

Radiohead - “My Iron Lung”

Muse - “Your Time is Running Out”

The point is not that these bands suck because they are so derivative. It is simply that they, unbeknownst to themselves, exist to please a predetermined need of the public. I also do not think it is too much of a stretch to argue that they are currently more, or at least equally as, successful than the band that birthed them. What seems to really be the case is that there was a need for all three types of bands. Meaning, if Radiohead decided to not go down the “OK Computer” rabbit hole, another band would have had to emerge to do so. In an alternative universe that band would be Pearl Jam, who at that exact time was also looking to experiment after being overwhelmed by the trappings of being the biggest band in the world***.

It is now 13 years hence and I wonder if Radiohead, a notoriously intelligent bunch, have realized what I have. Do they know that if they kept on making The Bends they could easily have been the next U2****? My guess is that, yes, they very much know and are quite happy with their decision to instead be the most lauded band of the last 15 years.

* Insert ironoic band joke
**If you Wikipedia Muse the entry on the Greek Goddesses of creativity comes up. It is the small things that make me respect Wikipedia.
***Sadly, the music that emerged to fill the Pearl Jam void was the shittiest shit in the history of noise. That time period (1997-2003) was the dark ages for mainstream American culture.
****I am aware you can argue that Radiohead already is the next U2, however I would strongly disagree. U2 existed to fill the need for the biggest band in the world that means everything to everyone. Currently, it seems like U2 was the next U2.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top 5 Fan Comments to Kanye's Tweeting of a Van Gogh Self-Portrait

Kanye West is like a one man Work Of Art: The Next Great Artist. He discoveries small/unknown artists, like the Dutch painter featured above, and brings their art to the masses.

Here is a list of my Top 5 Favorite Comments to the above painting...

5. My deud has taste that i cant even fathom,lol

4. blue period was dope.

3. I'm still trying to figure out what that means, for us old people, please translate?

2a. this cacker had slaves
2b. (same fellow a minute later)he had slaves fuck his art

1. This Very Quintessinal This One Of His Seasonal Self-Portraits With Beard September 1989, You Gogh Kayne!

Discover other gems of art criticism

Many art scholars have claimed that Van Gogh also loved bear-shaped cakes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 Thoughts from My Trip to LACMA

1) The fact that I have lived in LA for 15 months without ever going is flat-out reprehensible.
2) When I grow up - like way up - I want to be one of the old ladies who give museums tours.
3) LACMA had its share of great pieces; however, unlike my favorite museum/place-on-earth NYC’s MOMA, its not necessarily weighed down by its masterpieces. LACMA’s collection is actually refreshingly idiosyncratic.
4) I have never seen Jeff Koons work in person before. Up until that point, I mostly hated him because of his particularly douche episode of Iconoclast. Tune slightly changed.
5) The National’s “Start of War” came on exactly when I started walking through a Richard Serra piece. The two worked unbelievably well with one another; the minor swells of the song perfectly married with the subtle movements of the sculpture. Everyone should do this, soon.

Don't worry, in case of a fire LACMA provides a diagram for how to escape a Richard Serra sculpture.

* I went to an Incubus radio performance in the courtyard area. Yep, that is something that happened.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Something I once wrote about a glass of mango juice

Figaro Café serves a glass of mango juice, which is undeniably the juice of a mango albeit not particularly mangoey. The drink was mango-yellow, exceedingly tart, and had a faint taste of the out-of-season fruit meant to be showcased. Though refreshing and slightly enjoyable, any drinker would be left unfulfilled.

Oddly, this brought to mind El Bulli’s completely antithetical mango caviar dish. A mixture of mango puree, sodium alginate, and sodium citrate is slowly dropped from a syringe into a bath of calcium chloride. This glistening pile of tobiko-like, gel-encapsulated mango captures the essence of the fruit better than simply introducing it to a juicer. Easily dismissed as overly complicated, the end product remains deceptively simple.

The experience of eating El Bulli’s uber-mango offers fewer diversions from the true taste. Figaro juice was distractingly sour, with a texture that was equal parts mealy and gummy. Sometimes produce, regardless of freshness, will clumsily trip over its natural texture, while these much-derided bells and whistles can gracefully make something taste more like itself.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Favorite Thing: July 2010

The Country Style Pork Chop with Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing and Santa Rosa Plum Salsa at Lucques.

Lucques is a cozy, particularly humble, damn-great LA restaurant that is ran by the (apparently) remarkably talented Suzanne Goin. The restaurant is very ingredient focused and rooted in a de rigueur New American worldliness. The menu reads so overly simple and spare that it is easy to overlook, which I sadly had done for 14 months in LA. The aforementioned pork chop more than validates the overall quality of the restaurant, it justifies the existence of this order of chefs.

Listing it as “country style” effectively exists as a wink at some sort of homespun rusticity. One bite and I literally laughed in response to the obviously obscene level of skill necessary to both prepare and conceptualize the dish. This is not home-cooking.

“Melt in your mouth” is such an overly clichĂ© phrase that I have never ever once thought to use it as a description, yet two bites into my consumption of the chop and I used it with a first-timers vigor. My first assumption was that maybe it was all a lie, that I was eating not swine but some newly discovered beast of maximum deliciousness. More likely, however, is she sourced a higher quality of pig than I might have ever before had the luxury of being presented.

I have never been an ingredient for ingredient-sake type of eater, as the result is often lazy or at least not particularly compelling. This one dish confirmed that deep down there is a point to it all. Celebrating a chef for her ability to shop might be hard to swallow, but I assure you, in truly gifted hands, the end product is most definitely not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Inception: A One Word Review

Have you ever had a friend overwhelmed with the desire to tell you about his/her dream? Regardless if you care or not, this “friend” will undoubtedly describe the previous night’s proceedings with the utmost sincerity.

This is how I feel about both the film Inception and its corresponding reception (Inception-reception, classic). For weeks I had to stomach a large percentage of my “friends” discussing the movie like it was a documentary about sad stuff. From what I understood it was a unique and complex picture that featured dreams and sexy folks dressed in their sexiest sexy clothes*. Other than the sexy quotient, these descriptions made me want to run faraway from the film, so faraway that I ended up running right into a theater to see it**.


They sure used the word “subconscious” a lot. Like a lot, a lot, even more than “inception,”***which they uttered with a pretty ballsy frequency for a titular word. This easily overlooked fact says a great deal about the films overall quality.

First and foremost, I should note that I hate the word subconscious. It is a pseudo-psychological term co-opted by New Agers, mystics, and poorly read hippies. Or to quote Sigmund Freud (you know the guy who invented this crap),

"We shall also be right in rejecting the term 'subconsciousness' as incorrect and misleading"

Incorrect and misleading sounds like a fairly apt criticism of Inception. I am not saying I did not like the film because it was unbelievable or confusing, it is that it purposefully aims to be unbelievable and confusing as a way to appear complex. Christopher Nolan has become increasingly adept at making what seems like high-minded cinema for a low-minded public. So he throws around buzzwords like “dreams” and “subconscious” so everyone knows this film is serious/important/intelligent.

I understand there are redeemable factors of the 2.5 hours of actions: Joseph Gordon Levitt’s fight seen was boss, Leo is good at feeling sad/ambiguous/confused about his film wife’s death****, and Marion Cotillard has a face like she does. Still, dreams are not interesting. Likewise, Christopher Nolan’s dream of making a film about dreams is equally not interesting.

*Other than Ellen page obviously. Apparently, in her dreams she still dresses like a hip, smart-alec, twee, newly impregnated, buzzworthy 16 year old.

** I waited for a matinee because I did not want to spend full price on a movie I wanted to see to NOT like.

***That was always paired with a quite obvious Hans Zimmer cue.

****Is this a market he is trying to corner, like Ben Affleck with converting lesbian stories? Long story short, the next pretty faced actress who gets cast opposite LD better not expect to be playing a person who is alive, real, or not crazy.