What must it be like to wake up as Ian Cohen?
You open your eyes to that soft Carolina light. You stretch your arms. Your cat, named Death Grips, snuggles up close. You fumble around on the nightstand. Where’s your damn phone? Oh, here it is. You type in your password (JeffRosenstock777). After 20 minutes spent chuckling over the latest Anthony Fantano Soundcloud rap review, you sigh and pull up Metacritic. “I wonder which new albums are out this week?” Scrolling through the long list of new releases you think about maybe making some coffee. You wonder when the last time was that you brushed your teeth. And then you see it. You sit straight up in bed. The pork pie hat that you sleep in falls off your head. Your ears burn and your blood feels like ice in your veins. It’s hard to breathe and your hands go numb. Still, you force yourself to reach for that laptop, already formulating beard jokes and Marc Maron comparisons in your rapidly frenzying mind.
For Eels has a new record coming out.
And you know what you have to do.
Does anybody happen to know exactly what Mark Everett of Eels ever did to Ian Cohen? If so, please hit me up. I’d really be interested in finding this out, because I haven’t come across a “critical” attack quite this personal since, well, Ian Cohen’s last Deer Tick Review . And if anyone knows what the Deer Tick guy did to personally offend Ian Cohen, then please let me know that as well. Having this information will go a long way toward finally achieving an understanding of why Ian Cohen chooses to full-tilt hate certain artists well beyond their music and overall aesthetics. He actually hates them as people. And this is going too far in the critical context.
Take this Eels review for example. It would be perfectly fine for a critic to hate this record and to, ahem, deconstruct the aspects that most make the record unconvincing, limp, bland, outdated, etc. And yet here comes Ian Cohen accusing Mark Everett, an artist he has most likely never once met, of tasking women to pull him out of his “reflexive self-loathing” right there in the first paragraph. What does Cohen know of Everett’s relationships beyond the lyrics of his songs? Probably nothing at all, so how can he hang this particular albatross across the guy’s shoulders? How many hundreds (thousands?) of blues, indie, rock, rap, R&B, pop, synth pop, chillwave, coldwave, cold cave, country (especially), etc. songs have been written from the perspective of sad sack, self-hating losers and the men and women who stick by them and prop them up? Does Ian Cohen hate all of them too? We hope not for his sake, because Ian would lose out on a very large swath of great music we think he would enjoy.
There is a paragraph toward the end of this hate screed where Cohen abandons music criticism entirely and unspools into a sort of cultural gossip columnist. It is within these three run-on, multi-comma sentences that we can most closely find the window into Ian Cohen’s own self-doubts and grievances. Speaking of Everett much like a a slacker would of a hated, successful older brother, he says, “He’s managed to transcend the Beck comparisons to a mythic status of his own in Los Angeles, somewhere in the galaxy of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Daniel Clowes, and Marc Maron: an uncompromising eccentric, patron saint of junkyard dogs”. This is not music criticism, ladies and gentleman. This is 100% jealousy. This is hater shit. This is a personal attack. To harshly critique an artist’s record is one thing, but to compare them to Marc Maron? Now that’s just a low blow. Could this be it? Could this be the well from which the stinging, scorched-earth hatred is drawn to nourish his critical hit pieces? Does Ian Cohen dream of sitting at that microphone in Marc Maron’s basement, sipping bad coffee and petting his dog, saying shit like, “Marc, man, all great critical forms spring from sheer pain, dude”? Judging from this paragraph, the beating heart of his latest in a long line of wounded-bear attacks on random bearded cult musicians, this may very well be the case. And speaking of beard-envy, Cohen wraps up the paragraph in question with this “oh, snap” pull-quote: “This is a testament to just how much mileage Everett has gotten out of the mid-’90s archetype where a beard and ironic detachment are equivalent to intelligence.” If you close your eyes you can imagine him slouching at the dinner table, mumbling this under his breath when his mother tells him, “Your brother Mark Everett is going to be on Maron again this week. So, have you considered looking for a job, maybe getting your own place?”
None of this is to say that Ian Cohen is a bad music critic. When he sticks to the actual music, he’s magic. And there is indeed some magic that’s been washed to shore in this Haterade flood. A good editor would have taken one read of this thing and pointed out, “You land far more effective punches when you dis on the music instead of the guy’s beard, Ian. Here, I’ve isolated the most stinging parts. Build your review around these and knock off the whole passive aggressive jealousy thing.”
Below are the lines the editor would have kept, stinging put-downs of the music in question that would hit far deeper to the soul of Mark Everett than accusing him of being an LA hypebeast:
“(Everett has a) maniacal dedication to the kind of elementary rhyme schemes that would get laughed out of a battle rap in 1983”
Boom. Now that one hits hard.
“(Everett has the) cynicism and clutter that I’ll forever associate with the countless Beck clones I heard while working at the Gap in 1998?”
Oh shiiitttttt. A certain bearded, jean-jacketed LA pop troubadour is really on the ropes now.
“Everett is either unwilling or unable to modulate his vocals, and so he has to rely on outdated signifiers of “happy music” (joy-buzzer synths, cloying power-pop guitars and handclaps) to differentiate “Today Is the Day” from the rest of The Deconstruction. The effect is not even remotely believable.”
Aaaaannndddd Mark Everett is down for the count. Yet before the officials can pull him away, he gets in one more kick to the dead Eels head:
“When given the slightest bit of scrutiny, The Deconstruction produces no eccentricity, pop smarts, orchestral creativity, or emotional revelation.”
Music criticism can and should be incredibly cruel if warranted. There should be no rubber stamping or middle-of-the-road tiptoeing around artists’ feelings. But the cruelty involved should be intertwined with the music at hand. In going off-topic and lashing out at the artist on such a deeply personal level, Cohen often comes across as needlessly spiteful and bitter. Just what is he bitter about? Well, in the case of this review it would seem to be repeat podcast appearances, D-level celebrity status, Echo Park addresses, and bearded men. Cohen is far too good a music writer to let this stuff get the best of him. Check out how he recycles a paragraph from an earlier Pitchfork Eels review, replacing the old song titles with ones from the new record, as a harrowing demonstration of just how little has changed in the songwriting of Mark Everett. It’s a brilliant critical maneuver, and if he had stuck to this sort of thing he would have driven his stake much further into the heart of a certain Maron-approved, bearded Beck clone.