Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Favorite Thing: November 2010 Part II

The Record

It all would not matter if it were not for the fact that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a great, great, great record. Like supergreat, great.

"Dark Fantasy"*

Back in my humble days as a Psychology undergrad I learned that Manic Depressives are at a greater danger of committing suicide when just coming out of depression than when they are at their lowest. This is the same fact that separates Kanye’s last release, 808’s And The Heartbreak, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

At the time I wondered at the raw honesty that was 808’s; however, the recency of the emotion that lead to its writing also resulted in a scattered, unfocused, simplistic, and a bit too on the nose album. Even fans of the record, which I was and still am, acknowledged it was pact with few too many cringe worthy moments. On the other hand, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sounds like pain honestly examined and a genius ready to work again.

A lot of people are called perfectionist these days but Kanye is special combination of perfectionist and crazy person. In the last week I have read multiple quotes saying that they never saw him go to bed during the recording, instead he would fall asleep mid-sentence while working in the studio. You can hear this effort, as the album’s dense production can only reveal itself over multiple listens.


Take “Monster” the most the most straightforward track on the album; the beat constantly changes to best support the vocal at the given moment. The beat changes 8 times during Nicki Minaj’s ridiculous verse alone!


Yes, there are A LOT of guests on this album, which is not out of the ordinary for the genre. What is special is how each is so perfectly used and placed: Raekwon’s verse on “Gorgeous”, Rick Ross’s short but powerful 10 seconds on “Monster”, the insanity that is “All of the Lights”. Like a director, Kanye is able to place his character’s exactly where they need be and for exactly as long as they need to be there. I am reminded of a prime-era Woody Allen (of course I am) in that Kanye can get whomever he wants to play any part. No longer does John Legend need to sing every hook if some one else’s voice fits a song better. It is one of the many examples throughout the record of his brilliance in understanding the timber, tone, proportions, and space of music. Listen closely, preferably with headphones, as it is astonishing how much depth there is each of the songs.

"Blame Game"

After multiple close listens “Blame Game” has emerged to me to be the masterpiece of a masterpiece album made up of masterpieces. There is a lot going on, from the beautiful Aphex Twin sample to the improbably affective, darkly comedic Chris Rock epilogue. Still, what stands out is the schizophrenic second verse made up of a push and pull of sped up and slowed down vocals. Upon my third listen of the album as a whole, this moment brought me almost to tears. I do not relate to a lot of the content of record, still I believe why this record works is musically the meaning is a bit more abstract.


“Runaway” is a very literal song that seemingly speaks to something very specific that happened. Upon my first 20 listens I appreciated the song as a gorgeous manifestation of a man trying to reconcile himself with his flaws, but then there was the 21st time. I was driving through central California as a quixotic exercise of blind idealism and “Runaway” came on exactly when my GPS directed me to cut through the Santa Lucia Mountains to get to the 1. As I swerved through the 9-mile stretch, the sound of the “dying cyborg” second half so drastically contrasted the pristine surroundings. It is the sound of a person “Lost in the World”, of self-inflicted isolation. We might not all be famous or workaholics or asshole, but that is universal.

"Lost in the World"

I am able to distance myself enough to determine that this is a 10.0 record - its progressive, complex, ambitious, emotionally candid, and fun – still it is stories like the above that makes it special. And knowing that there are millions of others who at the same time are also cementing their own unique bond is a heartening thought. As much as the polyculture is celebrated, it remains quite isolating. It is in this respect that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is as much about the excess in American popular culture as it is Kanye’s. For the time being, redemption for both comes in the form of a universally celebrated piece of art.

"Who Will Survive in America"

* All of these embedded clips are from the Leaked version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was cleverly released with radio edits. Intentional leaks are old hat nowadays but this record got all the hype benefits albeit people will still likely need to buy the album in its official version.

My Favorite Thing: November 2010 - Part I

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The Lead-Up

Last Spring I was generally hating my job at William Morris Endeavor - a great big monolith of a talent agency/wasteland of underemployed overeducated decent looking ex-suburbanites – when I was given a chance to interview for a “good desk.” Desk is SUPERCOOL slang for being someone’s assistant, a good desk means the agent actually has influence (unsurprisingly, there are few good desks). The agent was Sara Newkirk*, who handled the branding for many of the agency’s highest profile clients. This included helping to build a core of legitimacy that has since allowed Lady Gaga to call herself an artist and, most importantly to me, help guide the pop culture behemoth that is Kanye West. Needless to say, I was actually excited at a job that is traditional void of upside-down frowns.

The interview went quite well; we spoke a lot about my interest in online branding. Kanye’s blog came up a lot, as I believed at the time it provided a backdrop to his artistically ambitious pronouncements. We spoke briefly about Twitter and how powerful of a tool it could be, allowing him to circumvent traditional media and dictate the conversation as he sees fit.

I did not get the job but 75 days later Kanye did join Twitter. Do I deserve credit for the new media juggernaut that was the promotion for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Probably not but I am still oddly proud. Whether it was Kanye intuitively or a particularly savvy member of his camp, some one was able to manipulate the social media landscape to create an omnipresent happening at a time where such events no longer exist.

Read the quotes NY Magazine collected from artists involved with the album; there was no one unaware that they were making a masterpiece. And like an Expressionist painter, Kanye West let the audience into the process. Every Friday came another song that was less a finished product as much as a study for the eventual album cut.

Then there was his assault on more traditional media; ballerinas at the VMAs, whiting out the SNL stage, and most importantly the “Runaway” short-film. The film premiered on MTV, VH1, and BET (and youtube) at the same time. There was a clear message; Team Kanye wanted this to be the biggest album release ever.

Sure, sales matter, and my gut feels they will eclipse half-a-million, but there is a grander scale at play. The reviews are in and the pull quote is that it is the first record to receive a perfect score from both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. As irrelevant as that appears to be, the fact is they are the people writing the history.

History is really what matters here. In my estimation, this is the biggest popular release since Nevermind. I have written many words about how there is no longer a monoculture and I am now forced to reconcile that with this release. Is it the exception that proves the rule? Is Kanye West the outlier? I really have no answer, at least not yet. What I do have is regret in that I did not get that desk and the opportunity to see this manifest itself from the frontlines.

* I am not sure if it is cool to say her real name here but whatever. Here is an mini article about her, I still think she is super awesome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Power Rankings: Week 9

This Week: The Office>Community=30 Rock (translation: The Office was the best, Community and 30 Rock were equally as good)

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community
2) 30 Rock
3) The Office
4) Outsourced (I have watched every episode just in case, still awful)

This week NBC announced their spring line-up to much fanfare disinterested grumbles. The prestige of the magical reveal was that two additional comedies will be added to the current two-hour comedy line-up, making for, wait for it, THREE HOURS OF COMEDY.

ZOMG one of these comedies will be Parks and Recreation (a.k.a. the reigning funniest show on TV); effectively reuniting last year’s famed Murderer’s Row of comedy programming. The other will Perfect Couples, which looks bad in the way that Outsourced is bad. Speaking of Outsourced, which has yet to get better, its sticking around as well.

What people have been most up in arms ambivalently shrugging about is the time slot shake-up. 30 Rock moves to the frightening 10:00 slot, Community remains stranded at 8:00, and P & R gets the coveted post Office slot (which I once predicted). Inspired by this week’s great episode of Community, I think there might be a conspiracy of sorts in the works. Well less a conspiracy and more a case of either incredibly forward or incredibly backwards thinking on the part of NBC.

This new line-up is more of like an anti-line-up. They are programming completely based on the fact that the viewers of these shows do not watch them at the designated time (Time slot - time schmlots.)

For 30 Rock, Community, and P & R this is very important because unlike The Office none of these shows get respectable ratings, yet remain respected critically. With this in mind all of these slots make perfect sense:

8-8:30 p.m. – “Community”

- Community is in the midst of genre-redefining episodic hot-streak and NBC realizes like sports you do not disrupt a hot-streak.

- Community has spent the first 3rd of its season going up against the demographic dominating Big Bang Theory* and has done ok for itself, I assume, accumulating viewership (and repeat views) via DVR and Hulu.

- Beloved shows are able to make money for a network in non-traditional ways (i.e. DVD sales), it is possible NBC is going to ride out this year with that philosophy.

8:30-9 p.m. – “Perfect Couples”

- Let’s assume this show is bad then this is the PERFECT spot for it. 1) it will allow the fans of good comedies to catch-up, by watching a DVRed Community in this spot and effectively recreating the perfect line-up. 2) The Office brings in a ton of less-savvy viewers, who would might actually respond to PC.

9-9:30 p.m. – “The Office”

- One of the few anchors the network has at this point. Especially with the 2nd half of the year's Michael goodbye arc, people are going to be watching.

9:30-10 p.m. – “Parks and Recreation”

- The ideal show to get this lead-in bump. P & R is able to be DVR-pausingly funny without the smartest guy in the room vibe that turns people off to great comedies like Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and possibly now Community. This might appeal more to the Office viewer.

- Not to mention P & R still uses the Office formula.

10-10:30 p.m. – “30 Rock”

- 30 Rock is a show for grown-ups, who I can imagine will be able to stay up until 10:00.

- The later time slot might allow them to push what they can do a bit further.

- NBC already renewed the show for next season, which makes it pretty clear that despite its perpetually low rating, people are watching every episode sooner or later.

10:30-11 p.m. – “Outsourced”

- It has to go somewhere.

- Maybe it will learn how to do race humor from its hyper-racial, possibly racist lead-in.

The message is clear, NBC realizes 2011 is not 1997. Must-See-TV cannot exist in today’s cultural landscape so they have decided to settle for Eventually-See-TV. Or they are idiots.

Either way, every week I am thankful (get it) for this Thursday Line-up. This week's 1.5 hours of great comedic television was no exception. Still there has to be a winner (no there doesn’t) and I thought last-night’s episode of The Office showed that very often its best episodes are its most humble.

To the victors goes the spoils (in the form of this truly affecting closing)…

* I forgot its name while writing so I searched “CBS nerd show” and blammo! first result. I love living in the future.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fox Thursday Line-up

It has come to my attention that some people stumble upon my blog when looking for Fox's Thursday Line-up. This is almost definitely because I weekly recap NBC's Thursday Line-up and there is Fox in both my and my blog's name.

To those people, here is a link to Fox's schedule:

Currently, it is Bones at 8:00 followed by Fringe at 9:00. I have not seen either but Bones stars Emily Deschanel who looks, sounds and acts like a less-alt version of her sister, Zooey, so it wins.


Here is the most popular clip from an episode of Bones on Hulu...

Friday, November 12, 2010

NBC's Thursday Night Line-up POWER RANKINGS: Week 8

This Week: Community>The Office>30 Rock

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community
2) 30 Rock
3) The Office
4) Outsourced :(

This one picture perfectly shows why Community currently is the best comedy on Television - it tries the hardest. It cares enough to use every inch of the frame to tell the story in a way that gets more interesting with multiple viewings.

Take the above from early in the episode, Abed casually gives Annie chocolate. At the time it seemed like a funny non sequitur but eventually it provec to be more like Chekhov’s gun.

The big reveal that Abed is actually tracking the girls' cycles was briefly set-up last week in Abed Robocop vision. Similarly, at the time it seemed like a quick joke; however, because it is Community it gets brought up again in a way that is actually quite revealing of its character. It nails who Abed is; he is not meta for the sake of being meta, it is more a manifestation of his ability to relate to people. Or as Pierce said to Abed, "Did you take Annie's pen to make life more like Benny Hill?"

I loved Troy's reaction to Shirley's possible Halloween conception. In an episode where everyone became zombies came real stakes. This is why I am so impressed by the show; it has created completely real characters that exist in completely unreal world. Compare it to the other shows on the line-up that are much more rooted in the real world, yet the characters seem less human at times.

This is a shot early in the episode that was easy to ignore but on second viewing revealed so much about the episode/show. This was an episode about evolution, as set up by the first shot of Abed and Troy finishing the group's paper mache evolutionary chart. The 30 minutes acted as the show's character evolution update, showing where everyone in the group stands at this point in the series.

They used a bottle episode exactly how bottle episodes should be used. The episode highlighted the depth that exists in these relationships, which the series has been able to use to pull-off its more high-concept episodes (also it saved money that then can be spent on said high-concept episodes). It is these relationships that also made an episode with a fixed location (and no-puppies) so incredibly dynamic.

In the first episode of the season Betty White asked the class, "what is it exactly that separates man from animal?" The show suggests it is our ability to form relationships built on trust and respect that allows us to operate not for our own self-interest but for the betterment of the group. Or more succinctly, we are not like Annie's Boobs stealing each other’s pens.

To the victors go the spoils...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Favorite Thing: October 2010

Preface: Within this post. “DJ” refers to amplified itunes playlist management. No disks were jockeyed.

I always wanted to try to DJ a party. As a tween, I put myself in charge of the music of any party I was invited to and boy was I invited to TONS of parties. Seriously, if you added the weight of all the parties I partied at, it would surmount to well over 4,000 lbs of party.

In all seriousness, I can remember six total (non-Bar/Bat Mitzvah) parties from the age of 10-12:

1. Keith Fletchers 11th Birthday Party – I played a lot of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

2. Keith Fletchers 12th Birthday Party – Set-list forgotten.

3. Drew Blumenthal had a thing – I played Wu-Tang Forever a bunch, though really most of my time was spent inside the house watching Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game”

4. Jessica Bobrow had a thing – Just a bunch of kids watching Titanic, the de rigueur.

5. Maurice Reese’s 12th Birthday Party – Set-list forgotten

6. Jessica Bobrow had another thing – No music was played because the party was dominated by a certain back from Jew-camp friend talking about fingering Jewish females. Till this day, I am certain this is the one and only thing that happens at Jew-camp.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I was 13 for that last one. Leaving me with a measly 1.7 parties a year average (good thing this coincided with Boy Meets World really hitting its stride). Needless to say, this does not really qualify me to tell bars I have DJing experience.

After a year in Brooklyn, though, I was sure I could do it – I could DJ. Any time I saw a friend or friendly stranger twiddling about on his/her Macbook, I thought that looks 1. Fun 2. Easy. Hell, it seemed like everyone else was allowed to be a DJ.

Then I moved to LA and still no one let me DJ something. At this time I realized the real trick was convincing someone that they want me as their DJ, they need me as their DJ.

Then I moved to San Francisco and BLAMMO!!!! This past October, I was able to bamboozle the management of Solstice into letting my friend Dawson and me DJ their Halloween party. It ended up being an easy sell because I am a part of the said management for said bar.

After years of anticipation I can say comfortably that it was 1. Easy 2. Fun.

DJing Is Easy:

My DJ partner – we were billed as DJ Jacob vs. DJ Edward: Spinning Halloween Classics to Win Your Undead Hearts – showed up at the bar 45 minutes, which may or may not have been intentional. Upon arrival the bartenders very pointedly told us we should avoid playing Halloween songs because it would “kill the vibe.” This was my first time DJing, I really did not want to “kill the vibe;” however, it was a GD Halloween party and I spent all week crafting a three hour playlist of kitschy-as-hell Halloween tunes. Dawson and I had a quick Pow Wow and decided to refocus the list, front-loading it with the most classic classics and adding whatever Rap I could. The rest was as the say history.

Revelation #1: People like Rap music. As a genre Rap is dominated by fellahs talking about how cool they are, so by osmosis the listener is left feeling cool as well (it’s science).

Kanye West - "Monster"

Kanye West - "Power (remix)"

Thank the lord for Kanye West’s GOOD Friday campaign, which left me with two Aces in the proverbial whole: “Power” and the actually appropriate “Monster.” If there was a lull, either would instantly unlull the lulled. I played each trice over a three-hour span, even though there was never really a lull*. I tended to focus on the Halloween songs people were very familiar with – “Ghostbusters,” “Thriller,” and, yes, “Monster Mash – and avoided the obscure (sorry “Frankie Frankenstein”).

Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers - "Monster Mash"

Ivan - "Frankie Frankenstein"

Revelation #2: More than even Rap music, people (read: white people) LOVE mash-ups. It allows them to feel both black people cool and white people cool at the same time. It is a genre that I do not particularly care for but, thanks to the bar’s Internet access, I was able to download some on the spot.

R. Kelly v. Broken Social Scene - "7/4 I'm a Flirt"

Grizzly Bear v. Dead Prez - "Two Weeks of Hip Hop"

Revelation #3: It must be really great to be Girl Talk. Yeah, it is hard to create the mash-ups, but by the time he shows up at the venue it is smoooooooooooooooth sailing because, as I have said, DJing is easy.

DJing is Fun:

I mention Girl Talk, whose music and live performances I do not necessarily like, because the night I DJed I felt like his shirt-wearing doppelganger. I even did that thing DJs do where the lift one or two arms above their head and bounce it up and down and up and down to the beat.

In an essay about cooking, comedian Marc Maron wrote. “The idea that I could do something giving and seemingly selfless and still be the center of attention seemed magical.” This nails both my usual impetus for cooking and the feeling I had while DJing. Though most patrons did not give me a second thought and even less understood my ingenious (?) microphone costume, I still felt oddly powerful. For better or worse, I controlled a large portion of their nightly fun index.

Will you ever DJ again Jesse?

It really depends on who is asking and what they want me to DJ. The fact is I currently operate with dangerously little amount of memory space on my laptop so I cannot go gallivanting around the Internet downloading the hottest jams. I could and would do another Halloween party though, regardless of time of year. If no one asks me to play at their Halloween-themed Birthday Party or Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, I am still happy living off the memories of that fateful night in October.

The Smith - "Panic"

*OK there was one lull. It came when I tried to play Tracy Jordan’s “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” I do not care, the customer is not always right. Did you know 30 Rock gets awful ratings? I used to think it was a misnomer stemming from Hulu and DVR viewership, but now I really know the sad truth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Power Rankings: Week 7

This Week: 30 Rock>Community>The Office

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community
2) 30 Rock
3) The Office
4) Outsourced (barf)

I talk so much about the artistic ambition of the NBC comedies that I forget to mention they are hilarious. You take out all the structural innovations and these shows are still some of the funniest ever.

All of last night’s episodes did not necessarily reinvent wheels (though those moments existed) but they were great fun.

The Office: There were some less than stellar moments but it was still pretty solid all around. I like the idea of Darryl trying to take Michael’s job. Previously, he was the shows most underutilized character. Could the show succeed with him as the lead?

Most of note was the C-story featuring Toby. Though it took up maybe 2 minutes of the show, the story of him struggling to enter the church, which concluded with him asking God, “Why are you so mean to me?” was both funny and heartbreaking. Regardless of the shows struggles over the last few seasons, this shows it is still able to create completely unique and touching stories.

Community: I liked but did not love Abed’s "Mean Girls" v. "Robocop" mash-up. Though, his "Robocop" scannings that went by too fast were brilliant. I attached a few screen shots to show how funny, INCREDIBLY-meta, and slyly touching (see who he wants to confirm for Christmas) they were.

I did love, however, Troy and Jeff’s completely absurd trampoline "Secret Garden" B-story. It is a type of premise that really only Community could do. No show would commit to such ridiculous concept to set-up a pretty edgy white supremacist joke.

30 Rock: All the Jenna and Tracy nonsense was just filler to a great Jack and Liz A-story. As I have said before the 30 Rock is at its best (which is THE best on TV) when it focuses on the relationship between Jack and Liz, which is really the only genuine thing about the show. This episode was such a success because it enriched our understanding of their need for one another.

Thus to the victors go the spoils…

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Remember When Alternative Rock Existed?

Here is a chart:

This is a slide from a large study done by Edison Research on radio listening habits of America's youth. Other than revealing that for some reason kids still listen to radio, it presented the above chart.

They are trying to suggest that kids these days are listening to more Top 40 radio than before. I focus instead on the Alternative Rock numbers. The number was cut in half, which if my suspicions about numbers are correct, is a lot. Why?

Because Alternative Rock does not exist really. Over the last 10 years Alternative Rock proved it was very much not the alternative to something else, it was the something else. The bands that birthed the genre, like Nirvana, if existed today would be considered "Indie Rock." So the only thing left to call Alternative Rock are shitty post-grunge bands. Nickelback was THE Alt-Rock band of the last 10 years and sadly Kings of Leon seems poised to be the same for the next 10.

But really who care about traditional radio. It is damn amazing that it has lasted this long. We have the Internet now, you guys, do we still need the radio?