Monday, April 30, 2007

Changing Your Heart: Kristoffer Ragnstam "Breakfast by the Mattress"

Kristoffer Rangstam "Breakfast by the Mattress"

dir. by Nick & Ben

It's nice to see indie musicians and directors embracing exuberant dance in their videos, but this is a great effort for reasons beyond the "Thriller" referencing. From the fluidity of the camera movement to the skill of the lighting techniques, the directors do wonders with a small budget and what is clearly a limited space. The video stays fresh by continually finding new ways of visualizing the music throughout the 3 minutes and 46 seconds of running time. The color palette is also marvelously balanced to create a sense of unity from shot to shot. Fun stuff.

Analog Memories: X-Press 2 "Witch Tai To

X-Press 2 "Witchi Tai To"

dir. by Oneinthree

Celebrating the magic of the mix tape, this nostalgic video is perfectly charming in its simplicity. The mix tape as art is a subject widely tackled in the post-cassette world, and here the directors highlight the themes of individuality, friendship and love that go hand-in-hand with that discussion. Music becomes an actual breathing thing when carefully put together on the perfect tape, and thus each cassette carries in it the memory of its creation and everything that followed.

Rain Over Me: Rihanna feat. Jay-Z "Umbrella"

Rihanna feat. Jay-Z "Umbrella"

dir. by Chris Applebaum

At about 2 minutes and 30 seconds into this glossy new video, a nearly-nude Rihanna poses provocatively inside a huge triangle. But long before that blatant moment of female sexuality director Chris Applebaum establishes "Umbrella" as a multi-faceted metaphor. From the way Rihanna's short skirt mimics the look of an open umbrella to the suggestive way she places a closed one between her legs, the artist presents her femininity as a sensual and protective attraction. But as she combats the rain with her body, she sings about her emotions being symbols of strength and safety as well. Her desire and her heart are two parts of the same feeling, just as she dances in black & white and color.

Yet as mentioned, this all becomes clear rather quickly. The inclusion of Jay-Z in the beginning ads nothing to the theme, and though they cascade all around him and Rihanna - there are no sparks flying here. There is a lulling effect in Rihanna's voice that is both sexy and mildly boring, and the video wallows between these two poles. But strangely enough, the song itself succeeds precisely because of this ambiguity.

Seen A Shooting Star Tonight: Junior Boys "In the Morning"

Well-respected director Jaron Albertin tackles age, beauty and narcissism in the latest video for 2006's best single...

Junior Boys "In the Morning" (Hi-Res)

dir. by Jaron Albertin

What at first appears to be a single falling star soaring through the heavens soon splits into three separate meteors burning into oblivion. Beneath that astronomical phenomenon three characters stumble through the darkness, each illuminated by an occasional streetlight or fluorescent sign. The Hermetic maxim "as above, so below" is often cited as the basic philosophy of astrology, and implies that events in the celestial sphere directly influence earthly matters. Whether or not Jaron Albertin's video for "In the Morning" supports that belief, it's true that after observing the final fires of a distant rock these characters will face their own demise.

Stars in the sky commonly represented immortality in Greek mythology, and thus a "shooting" star was seen as loss of that permanence. Gods and goddesses, though often depicted as all-powerful perfect creations, were not immune to the possibility of death in extraordinary circumstances. One such story of fallen grace involved Narcissus, the son of the river god Cephissus and the iconic symbol of self-love - a beautiful youth literally killed by his own reflection.

Yet though the key phrase in the Junior Boys infectious song is "too young," the people who wander through this video are a bit removed from the beauty of their youth. Thus when the drunken woman sees her face in a pool of her own saliva, the image recalls Velázquez's The Rokeby Venus as much as it mimics Waterhouse's Narcissus. It's an aged look of shocking recognition rather than a fascination with beauty - the end of an oblivious life of vanity.

Narcissus by Waterhouse

The mirrors in which each character comes to terms with their own fleeting existence are created by the seeping body fluids of their intoxicated nights. Blood, urine and drool literally carry the evidence of a self-indulgent lifestyle, and in studying these rather unpleasant liquids they truly understand their loss of beauty. Like a prominently flashing sign implies, these characters are forced to strip away all the false coverings of their thoughts and stare directly at the naked truth of their lives.

A Norwegian court recently ruled that the "striptease" was a form of art. If it truly is, it's surely the most vane/cheap form of expression imaginable. One presents self-beauty as a consumable product aimed at eliciting a very precise reaction from the audience. Yet all art holds traces of this same self-indulgence, and some may even accuse Albertin of committing this very "crime" here in this video. But unlike the director, the characters in this story are never aware of their own stage performance until it's too late.

None of them are actually shown drinking, and so alcohol isn't the real catalyst here. Rather it's a pseudo mid-life crisis, like a moment of clarity in the night that opens their eyes. Severe drunkenness is simply a symbol of self-obsession and self-pity - in many ways these people were only avoiding something they already knew as fact. The fear of growing up and "losing" beauty has pushed them to the extremes of contrived behavior. The irony is that to spend your days worrying about or avoiding the reality of aging will only increase the pain of the eventual realization.

Vanity, though it seems a product of pride, is more about a lack of confidence (as is binge drinking). To be "too young" is to hold fast to the naivety of believing in one's own immortality long after you've lost true innocence. While many videos and works of art idealize the image of the "shooting star" (artists who shine brightly for a brief moment), Albertin's characters are disconnected from themselves - spiraling towards an eventual burnout. Like the billions of unseen meteors dying in the universe every second, these characters perish alone - leaving no trace in the morning.

All is Vanity by C. Allan Gilbert

Friday, April 27, 2007

We Drink Tonight: Beirut "Elephant Gun"

Highly anticipated video delivers with sweeping choreography and surreal imagery of disconnect...

Beirut "Elephant Gun" (Hi-Res)

dir. by Alma Har'el

Beginning with an ornately drawn compass, Alma Har'el's lavish video for "Elephant Gun" is very much a study of travel, distance and home. Which makes sense when you consider Beirut, a band whose very sound evokes far away lands and an acute feeling of wanderlust. It's also no coincidence then that the song begins with the lyric, "If I was young, I'd flee this town."

Zach Condon's voice expresses a loneliness amongst the crowd of revelers who move beautifully around him. The walls are plastered with maps that lead elsewhere - perhaps to solitary oceans - but here he is with bottles of liquor, beautiful women and the temptations of extravagance. One imagines Condon's characters mingling with Gatsby or Hemmingway's lot in The Sun Also Rises - people who drown their sorrow in excess and life amid the foreign and unknown.

There is beauty in this strangely erotic room, and no doubt most of its residents are enjoying themselves. There is something sublime in "letting the seasons begin" and completely embracing the energy of the moment - the lust, the drinks and the music. But the look on Condon's face is the clue to everything he hides inside - the bored desperation of his dreams comes pouring out the weary notes of his trumpet. He can live in distraction or follow the postcards on the wall, but either way a life of escapism will leave one unfulfilled - dragging empty cans along the beach.

Turn on the Bright Lights: The Deadly Deaths "Bury It"

The Deadly Deaths "Bury It"

dir. by The Deadly Deaths

To continue with our theme today: more lights. This actually might be our favorite so far, what with the "Seven Nation Army" referencing and excellence of the backing track. There's also a dreamy quality to the way the lights cascade around the performers - like the outer edges of a fire - which is helped greatly by the blippy synths and trippy guitars of the song. If you're interested in the process behind the video, check out the "making of" blog on the band's site.

Precious Time: Y.O.U. "Moviekiss"

Y.O.U. "Moviekiss"

dir. by Gina Niespodziani

We may have called this video lite-brite earlier in the week, but Y.O.U. bust out the real thing for "Moviekiss." Painstakingly put together from thousands of compositions on the legendary Hasbro children's toy, it's a fun and inspired idea. Also goes well with the Maccabees post below.

Baby Making Music: Groove Armada "Get Down"

Groove Armada "Get Down"

dir. by Pleix

In case you haven't seen it yet - this one is too much fun to pass up.

Darkness Into Light: The Maccabees "Precious Time"

The Maccabees "Precious Time"

dir. by Sam Brady

The Maccabees "First Love" celebrated the strangeness of love as much as it lamented the pain of losing it. Here we find another focus on peculiar action, except this time it's the small things we do to pass the time - from a game of Guess Who? to throwing paper airplanes. With the help of creative animation and camera work, many of these seemingly mundane activities come alive in striking fashion. In this way the video gives weight to our imagination and the everydayness of life. Like the singer who asks his lover to slow down so they can enjoy themselves longer, the video will do any random thing in order to avoid the point - which is actually the point. It's from these small acts of creativity and leisure that we often derive the most palpable sense of happiness.

Ex-Deadly Snake: Andre Ethier "Don't Let This Mean Old World Swallow You"

Andre Ethier "Don't Let This Mean Old World Swallow You"

dir. by Adam & Dave

We were big fans of The Deadly Snakes and their snarly Canadian rock, so Andre Ethier's first solo album had a lot to live up to. This track doesn't quite deliver on that promise, and the video isn't much to write home about either. That being said, the opening shot is magnificent - reminiscent of Polanski's The Tragedy of Macbeth - and there is something weirdly hilarious about all the secret society and Obi-Wan Kenobi posing. Seems like the only way to stop "this mean old world" from getting you down is creating your personal niche - or getting possessed by demons.

As long as Ethier holds onto that voice, he'll keep our interest.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Can't Sleep Nights: Ludacris "Slap"

A hip-hop homage to Travis Bickle that actually works? Well if you couldn't tell, we're excited...

Ludacris "Slap"

dir. by Philip Andelman

The genius of Bernard Hermann's score for Taxi Driver is the way it establishes important themes but never obscures or overpowers the images. The sounds work with and against Martin Scorsese's vision, helping create the suffocating atmosphere of the picture. There's the sultry saxophone which lures you into the seedy New York streets, while simultaneously underlining the loneliness of Travis Bickle. Then the rising drums which push forward and bang against the cacophonous trumpets as the violence crescendos. Just as the camera lingers on empty hallways and drops of rain, the score echoes the complicated inner psychosis of Bickle. Many have described Scorsese's masterpiece as a horror film, and it's Hermann's music which ads the final touch of paranoia that lingers in the hellish smoke rising from the sewers.

Ludacris picked up on the same idea in composing "Slap," using slinky west coast synths to complement the rising tension of his brooding baseline. The cheesy electric guitar is a perfect addition, evoking the excitement and fear of the night like the trumpets in Hermann's score. Yet much of this only becomes clear upon watching the visuals, in fact the song doesn't necessarily stand out amongst the other tracks on Release Therapy. This is that rare occasion where the pictures actually make the song much better; adding enormous depth to Ludacris's lyrics and emotion.

The director uses many of the same effects and shots as Scorsese, from slow motion drive-bys to red-hued close-ups. Direct scenes are copied - like the pull-ups in the doorway - and the narrative follows a nearly identical arc. On paper this might read like a bad idea - what's the point of so closely copying such a renowned film? Is it a cheap ploy to profit off Scorsese's art and image? Yet despite these questions, and somewhat miraculously, this video still works. Unlike the many Scarface and Godfather references you find in every other rap video, Ludacris and his director aren't using Taxi Driver merely for its street-cred or arresting visuals. The reference actually exists as a powerful ally to the lyrics, increasing anticipation for what we think we know will happen.

The song is especially vital in this regard, as the repetition within the chorus and angry inflection of Ludacris's delivery serve to build the suspense to a fever pitch. He raps about losing a friend, being disconnected from his girlfriend and the general stagnation of his life. Then he turns his sights on the state of the world, and we can just feel the intensity of the moment as he kicks Bush and his TV onto the floor. It's a different context but since we "know" what's coming we translate the heat of Bickle's self-destruction into Ludacris's character. Yet in the next scene, based on one of the iconic moments in all of cinema, we don't get the pay off we are expecting.

One could argue this is the point where the video falls apart - without the threat of Bickle's guns, the climax might feel blasé. Ludacris stands in front of the mirror pretending to slap someone, and you almost want to laugh. That's it? That is what you've decided to do about your pent up frustrations and excruciating loneliness? Not that slapping someone isn't a violent or physically powerful act, but Ludacris himself makes mention of a .45 earlier in the song. We almost want him to go out in a blaze of glory.

But once again this isn't Scarface, and Ludacris isn't playing Travis Bickle either. It'd be easy to critique the rapper's improvisations in front of the mirror when compared with De Niro's singular performance, but if you look at it on its own - which the video invites us to do with the lack of the gun - Ludacris does a fine job of channeling a different sort of spirit. In retrospect his character is far from the utterly lone soul that Bickle is. He at least had a close friend, he has a girlfriend and what really throws him over the edge is the American government's corrupt policy and lack of respect for his community. This taxi driver is expressing more frustration than loneliness, while Bickle's frustration was a direct product of his isolation.

Ludacris isn't just frustrated with the world around him, he recognizes that part of the problem may be his own laziness. In that way he is much more like an average citizen than the mentally unstable Bickle, who never really looks in that mirror. Granted most of us aren't walking into whorehouses and slapping around pimps, but we can relate to "I hate my 9 to 5." In Taxi Driver the pressures of society which push Bickle over the edge are more subtle and relate more to his own inferiority complex - what screenwriter Paul Schrader called self-imposed loneliness. But here the character actually encounters death, robbery and the constant fear of war.

It isn't nearly as complex or gripping a portrait as Scorsese's magnum opus, but in its own way it relays the troubles of modern society while mirroring the themes of isolation and paranoia. It's also a monumental video for hip-hop right now. Bill O'Reilly once used this exact song as the basis of a seething critique of the Grammys and Ludacris (who won for Rap Album of the Year), repeatedly referencing the "slapping" as proof of the rapper's promotion of violence. It was clear then and it's clear now that O'Reilly never listened to this track or gave the artist a chance. I'm certain, considering Ludacris's history with O'Reilly, that those words where in the back of his head during the shoot. For this reason alone the video must be counted as an unqualified success; a dramatic affront to anyone who fails to see the potential of hip-hop expression.

Many critics agree that Travis Bickle being hailed as a hero at the end of Taxi Driver, after his murder spree, is a comment on the glorification of violence in American culture. So the fact that Ludacris clearly changes this major plot point in his own story is of some significance. It not only goes against the expectations set-up by the film reference, but also challenges the glorification of gun crime in hip hop culture. This isn't a story about a drug-deal gone wrong, or a man walking in on his cheating woman (not that those stories have no relevance, but they're told all the time in this genre), it's a complex look at personal insecurity, racial issues and frustration with contemporary affairs. The rapper doesn't make himself a hero, but rather presents a story and asks us to evaluate it ourselves. Thus the ultimate irony (and glory) of Ludacris's dark Scorsese-inspired vision in "Slap," is that it may very well be anti-violent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Out in the Open: The Twang "Either Way"

The Twang "Either Way"

dir. by Daniel Wolfe

Despite lacking the lyrical wit of Mike Skinner or Lily Allen, it's hard to entirely resist the sincerity of The Twang. Director Daniel Wolfe plays up the confessional tone with lonely shots of the singer in deep introspection, versus the full-band performance during the choruses. The work also moves from cautious peering through the blinds to the freedom of an outdoor setting - as the singer begins to fully express his feelings towards his love. But it's the rising notes of the music which really get the blood flowing.

A Ship in Fog: The Envy Corps "Rhinemaidens"

The Envy Corps "Rhinemaidens"

dir. by Christian Bevilacqua

It's no "Dashboard," but Christian Bevilacqua's high-sea adventure is a humorous and continually inventive ride. The story of lower deck men saving a damsel from the distress of the upper class is somewhat Titanic-ish, but this is no blockbuster. The zany acting and cardboard thought bubbles point to the irony of opening with that "Universal Pictures" logo. Despite the obviously meager budget the video mixes old school film techniques, modern animation and live-action performance rather well.

The story takes its inspiration from the lyrics of the song, where the singer describes his love as "my smelling salt by way the sea." The original "rhinemaidens" appeared in Wagner's four-part opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), in which they protected a magical ring and lived free from human influence - including love. The narrative itself kind of sputters out - especially since we anticipate its resolution right away - but the song is catchy and the visuals are varied enough to keep our interest. The "Paperman" is especially endearing.

Singin' In the Rain: Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Me and My Imagination"

Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Me and My Imagination" (Hi-Res)

dir. by Nima Nourizadeh

There are two points of emphasis in this video: the brilliant Lite-Brite effect that illuminates the night, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor's long long legs. The later of which increases the Kylie Minogue factor of the work, which was already going to be pretty high considering the music. This all makes for some fun times and more than a few memorable shots as Ellis-Bextor leads us through her fantasy Fred Astaire-like.

The character sees love as a game where the less you know the more you get - like a trip to the land of Oz without ever looking behind that curtain (she starts the video by clicking her heels). There's also more than a little bit of sexual innuendo going on with the words and the visuals, and Ellis-Bextor is perhaps more concerned with having a bit of fun than actually being in love. In a sense she maintains power over her man or woman (she picks flowers but steps over tree trunks) by withholding information and asking the other to support her "imagination." Neon-lighted hearts only get you so far, but who says you have to go any further?

South of the Border: Julieta Venegas

We continue our look at international videos with a brief focus on pop star Julieta Venegas, who has topped charts in Spain, Italy, Columbia and Mexico ...

Julieta Venegas feat. Anita Tijoux "Eres Para Mi"

dir. by Picky Talarico?

California-born singer Julieta Venegas (Latin Grammy Award winner, 2 certified platinum albums in Mexico) has often released interesting and off-beat videos to accompany her hit songs, and this latest project is no exception. While the video has its flaws (doesn't go anywhere), the vibrant colors and street-dancers are exuberant visualizations of the love the singer expresses. She brings her companion into this fantasy world in order to share it with him/her - so that they might become that much closer. The final shot splits Venegas in two as she points at the screen and smiles - suggesting that her lover is literally an extension of herself.

Three more videos released from the Grammy-winning Limon Y Sal:

Julieta Venegas "Me Voy"

dir. by Picky Talarico

As the title suggests, this one is all about escape - but not necessarily escapism. In the real world the character's boyfriend is a jerk, so she dumps him in favor of grand fantasies among animals, balloons and Dali. He didn't appreciate her dreams, but once she rids herself of all things him - she's free to go and live them.

Julieta Venegas "Limon y Sal"

dir. by Picky Talarico

Inverting famous fairy tales while cleverly referencing the silent era within a pop video, this video shows us that love has no rules, standards or norms - the strangest of pairs can often work the best. Kind of like lemon and salt?

Julieta Venegas "Primer Dia"

dir. by Joaquín Cambre

While it starts out super-cheesy, the dream sequences which bring to life cheap Asian movie posters are spot on. They don't just perfectly recreate the aesthetic of films made on shoe-string budgets in countries on that side of the world, but they make a direct reference to the fairytale subject matter of the narratives within. Venegas sings of a first encounter with a lover, and the possibility of too good to be true romance - the kind you often find in these films - is exactly what's running through her mind.

The rest of the video is fairly average and the song itself could do without those horrible rap segments.


Julieta Venegas "Algo Está Cambiando" (2004)

dir. by ?

In Groundhog Day fashion, something is indeed changing here - albeit over time and not always to the knowledge of the protagonist. The video represents the small decisions we make which can effect such drastic change over time. The most memorable aspect is the hanging versions of Venegas, which sing from the different stages of her life like forgotten memories left out to dry. There is also more than a little bit of Gondry present and the whole thing looks very 90's - both of which are good things.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Child Within My Heart: Young Galaxy "Outside the City"

Young Galaxy "Outside the City"

dir. by ?

Recent Arts & Crafts-signees Young Galaxy paint a portrait of grand escape through the innocent eyes of children. Yet these aren't just any kids, they are confined to life within a prison-like orphanage. Even within these oppressive conditions a girl finds the strength to dream of something beyond the walls in front of her. Eventually she gathers the courage to take a chance and pursue those dreams.

The director ties these runaways to the band through inter-cut shots and an eventual encounter; it's clear that the musicians reflect their story of hope. Catherine McCandless sounds like Paula Frazer in that Cornershop song about drinking, but she has a vibrant urgency in her voice which comes out in the chorus. The snowy exterior also reminds one of the Fleetwood Mac comparisons this band frequently receives (this could easily be the video for "Landslide"). The video is at its best when the kids are racing through the snow and the music reaches its climax - eventuating with the two heroes standing at the edge of the world staring at a new horizon.

K.O.S. (Determination): Wade Waters "Movement Music"

Rappers visit a New York middle school to shoot their latest low-budget video...

Wade Waters "Movement Music"

dir. by ?
"On February 16, 2007, Wade Waters took over the University Neighborhood Middle School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for the day. We spoke to the 6-8th graders about a variety of topics, including education, hip hop, and the creative process. At the end of the day, we put on a show for the whole school in the auditorium.

As much as I've personally lamented the condition of the American public school system, my experience at UNMS really gave me hope for the future. The faculty at UNMS is passionate and dedicated and the students were remarkable. In many cases, the students steered our conversations in directions we would have never thought to go, and I think we all took something away from the interaction."
- Wade Waters
Though "Movement Music" isn't the most revolutionary or well produced video we've ever seen, it's an interesting look at hip-hop in light of all the negative publicity the industry has received of late. In fact it's the description by Wade Waters that accompanies the video which really sheds light on its value. While Anderson Cooper and Camron' discuss the depressing realities of inner city America, it's equally important to recognize the progress and hope that still exists. What we see in the halls of this Manhattan middle school are posters questioning the use of the "n" word and children who seem genuinely happy, not to mention artists who take a real interest in inspiring these kids.

Anyone whose experienced life in inner-city America firsthand or seen season four of HBO's The Wire (maybe the greatest single season of television ever), knows that kids who grow up around crime and violence are indoctrinated into a mentality of fear from an early age - and changing that way of thinking can be near impossible. Just watch these kids talk about "snitching" on 60 minutes, and you'll see how deeply they buy into the "code" of drug dealing - via hip-hop. But both The Wire, and to a lesser extent "Movement Music," realize that the education system plays just as vital role in the lives of these young people as the music they listen to.

Suppressing the influence of the misogyny and fear that we find in some hip-hop music is no doubt a near impossible task (and one has to question whether suppression is really the answer), and forcing rappers to switch to a more positive message will prove even harder (let's face it, Wade Waters isn't nearly on the level of T.I. or Lil' Wayne). It would also be contrary to their artistic spirit - the appeal of many of the best hip-hop artists is their ability to convey the harsh realities of their lives; which often involve misogyny, fear and violence. The key is not to pretend that everyone grows up in the same cookie-cutter way, but rather provide a hopeful counter to the paranoia and despair we find in most "offensive" hip-hop. Snoop Dogg may say "ho" and "bitch" a lot, but how many of our classes teach positivity towards women? Suddenly the American patriarchy cares about its black women?

It is possible to express growing up on the corner in a creative and positive way - many artists already do so - but it takes self-confidence and a belief that things are actually capable of changing. Imbuing society with that hope is not just the responsibility of a few musicians - it's a far more universal and difficult task. But the occasional hip-hop video does remind you that real hope still exists, no matter where you live. Now imagine MIMS making this video and airing it on MTV and BET - that would be "hot."

A Draught of Vintage: Stephanie Dosen "This Joy"

This elegant combination of song and video is shattering in its evanescent beauty...

Stephanie Dosen "This Joy"

dir. by Dan Sully

The video begins in black and white, with a small bird taking flight within its cage. Stephanie Dosen sings of the "midnight darkness" being "nearly through" and her love staying "true," as her hand pensively traces the arms of her chair. The wall behind her springs to life just as she reaches the line, "it's going to be taking me over/ this joy, this joy." The screen is colored but so is Dosen, her smile's infectious and her sincerity illuminates the room.

Director Dan Sully uses deep close-ups, understated colors and slow motion to really let the beauty of the words fully bloom. The animated wallpaper is also a nice touch, and when it switches from a cage above Dosen's head to a print of leafy vines, it directly connects the singer to the birds who wish for freedom. Yet it's only a momentary experience; a step through doors into the light of an adjacent room. Dosen is covered alternately by shadows and bright lamps throughout the video.

Like those people lost in a trance dancing to the music, Dosen shines in the middle of the crowd overcome with her fleeting joy. Represented in that one shot is youth, love, and happiness - all things brief and beautiful. She sings that her heart is filled with light like a "constellation" in the sky, and the disco ball above reflects her joy on all those around.

The video and the song build brilliantly toward these choruses (the first one is especially breathtaking), which themselves are microcosms of the experience Dosen narrates - "it's like an hallelujah." The final shots are back in the black & white of the opening, and we may question why after such elation it ends in darkness. Sudden overwhelming bliss is a rare occurrence in life, but as Dosen reminds us - no matter how deep you float in the night, the sun will always rise. It's the contrast that moves us to jubilance.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Where the Heart Is: The Western States Motel "Powerlines"

Sometimes finding home is as easy as stealing from motels...

The Western States Motel "Powerlines" (Hi-Res)

dir. by Rylan Strader

This charming video is filled with vibrant colors, sweet melodies and magical suitcases as it tells its tale of life on the road for one-man band Carl Jordan. The "traveling song" is of course a singer-songwriter mainstay, but director Rylan Strader adds a personal touch which makes this a better-than-average vision - and the perfect introduction to a new musician. He simultaneously references the name of the band while using motels to expound on the themes of a constantly roaming soul.

While the protagonist here is a man obsessed with collecting (and stealing) random objects from every room he inhabits, he finds his many suitcases leave him unfulfilled without a permanent place to lay them. On the doorknob of each pastel room he enters he places a "do not disturb" sign. It isn't just that he fears getting caught in his kleptomania, but he is in many ways afraid to let anyone "in" on a personal level - he holds his privacy as the only real definition he has.

When he finally does settle on an abandoned barn in the middle of nowhere, he pulls everything out and recreates the same setting he has faced for years. It was never about the physical environment for the singer; home is far more elusive concept than a roof and a door. In a sense it's a constantly changing phenomenon, and something you recreate in every moment. But the sense of comfort and safety which "home" can provide, is in fact something that comes from within. Thus he throws his suitcase out the door - no longer scouring the globe for false warmth - and places a new sign on his doorknob, "The Western States Motel." It's through his music and art that he has finally found a sense of self and security.

French Connection: Yannich Noah, Fatal Bazooka

We check out two recently released videos making waves in France...

Yannick Noah "Aux Arbres Citoyens"

dir. by ?

Combining clever animation and an environmental cause, "Aux Arbres Citoyens" is an interesting challenge to governments and world leaders who sit aimlessly discussing statistics while the world around them falls to pieces. The real fear here is that the children who must live on this dilapidating planet are being crushed and forgotten under the weight of these figures and charts. Perhaps the best moment comes as two kids attempt to push back an increasingly heavy piece of a pie chart; perfectly capturing the point while getting at our sympathies.

This video urges the viewer to think of the real world consequences of polluting actions, and reminds us of the relative simplicity of a healthy ecosystem. After all, we are taught from a very young age that if you put bad things in the air, then bad things will come back - and if you ignore a problem it never gets better. Of course there are complications on the road to cleansing the Earth, but it does make you stop and wonder why it seems so difficult for everyone to agree that this is an issue that matters.

Also reminds us of another (better) critique we came across a few weeks back.

Fatal Bazooka "Mauvaise Foi Nocturne"

dir. by Michael Youn

You don't have to be a French scholar to see the humor in this video. A parody of all things hip, hop and pop - it's really an epic comedy of errors. In the end it may be a bit too far over-the-top, but there are more than a few moments of hilarity. The car with the broken window and two steering wheels is an especially effective set piece.

Passing Time: The Willowz "Evil Son"

The Willowz "Evil Son"

dir. by Ace Norton

Last time we saw The Willowz, they where moving at the speed of light in "Jubilee". For this video director Ace Norton slows things down, emphasizing the lyric, "I lose my mind now and again," capturing the strange things people do when given time to kill. Yet the irony is that great music is often made in the same way. The Willowz are thus celebrating the mundane and overlooked activities of the day, highlighting the unrecognized value of every moment and daydream in life. Whether it's simply a feeling of happiness or an excursion into the absurd, we actually require this strangeness to keep ourselves sane.

Shirtless, wearing that crown and singing with a verifiable twang - they also seem to be challenging Kings of Leon for that whole "southern-fried rock" throne. Luckily they're music and their videos are already better.

Mojo-Cross: Datarock "Bulldozer"

Datarock "Bulldozer"

dir. by Pascal Forneri and Antoine Bouillot

A simple and humorous visualization of the song's ironic chorus. We know it's a bit old, but whatever. [via if:mv]

Necessary Voodoo: Bjork "Earth Intruders"

The Icelandic star continues her tradition of releasing challenging and unique videos for her equally exotic music...

Bjork "Earth Intruders" (Hi-Res)

dir. by Michel Ocelot

Bjork and first-time director Michel Ocelot invert our typical expectations of invasion by depicting a revolution that starts from within - these are soldiers digging themselves out of the very earth which they proceed to conquer. They are described as "intruders" only because they bring a "shower of goodness" to a world accustomed to turmoil, carnage and rambling.

The leader of this dance is Mother Bjork, calling on the spirits of her beloved land in the way only she can. The singer described the inspiration behind this track in a recent Pitchfork interview, "I mean, the human race, we are a tribe, let's face it, and let's stop all this religious bullshit...We're all fucking animals, so let's just make some universal tribal beat," and the video captures this particular sentiment of the song very well. The march here is not one of robotic acceptance, but a joyous and free-flowing rebellion. The shadowy figures take serious aim at the drudge of society, but have fun while doing so. After trudging through the muddy darkness of this "intrusion," Bjork stands content in the light of a new morning - the beautiful Earth resting clean behind her.

In case you missed it, check out our complete retrospective on Bjork's video career here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

After All That We've Been Through: Gwen Stefani "4 In the Morning"

A rather mundane Gwen Stefani video, upon closer inspection, becomes an interesting look into the process of pop video making...

Gwen Stefani "4 In the Morning"

dir. by Sophie Muller

In Gwen Stefani's "Cool," Sophie Muller used smooth cinematography, deft editing and her signature soft lightning to create a small romantic epic. It was an avalanche of memory, lust and heartbreak wrapped around a single afternoon teatime. She took a pop gem and filtered it through classic Italian cinema, emerging with one of the best videos of 2005.

It was also a significant moment in the career of both Muller and Stefani, marking the beginning of a partnership that has now lasted through five videos. In ten years or so, when we get ready to do a Depth of Focus on the pop star's career, I imagine "Cool" will be a central point of discussion. Muller had worked with Stefani previously on a number of No Doubt videos, thus she held a longstanding influence in the crafting of the singer's persona. But at the same time the director herself showed signs of creating a style specific to Stefani, which showed itself most beautifully in that video. The mutual impact of the relationship between artist and director is a factor in almost every video made, but it is especially evident with the duo's latest collaboration, "4 In the Morning."

Unlike "Cool," this video features a less immediate narrative, and a song that isn't quite as dreamy. So Muller chooses to open with the charm and beauty of Stefani (of which she has ample amounts), and then challenges the star to hold our attention through the rest. The singer has grown considerably as an actress, and her coquettish smiles and frowns are more subtly delivered here. She oozes sensuality with every soft step, and Muller's two central set pieces - a bed and a bathtub - are clearly meant to ratchet up the sex appeal.

In fact it would be quite easy to make the mistake of seeing this video simply as a ploy to capture the attention of all the horny boys and girls. Muller shows us Stefani pulling her shirt down to cover an exposed back, wading in the bathtub naked and consistently focuses on shots of her body in that tight t-shirt. Like most mainstream videos featuring a female protagonist, every other frame seems to remind us how attractive the singer is.

But Muller has more on her mind than arousing her audience, and she makes this evident with two important longer takes. The first occurs with Stefani in bed, glancing at the camera as she sings her opening verse. Rather than cut away after one beat of the song, Muller lingers in the sheets a moment longer. We get to see Stefani prepare for her line, we see the hesitation in her acting, and we are momentarily outside the world of pop video - forced to simply observe the performance and hear the lyrics. Then we plunge right back in with quick cuts and slow motion posing, but just long enough to set us up for the next dramatic scene. Stefani gets the longest take while sitting in her bathtub completely exposed to the world, hair strewn across her face and the emotion of the song built to a climax. She stares at us with those hurt eyes and tries to pull us into the room with her sincerity.

Yet these elements aren't only about exposing the vulnerability of the superstar either. The tension between the foreplay and the emotion is what develops the intimacy between the camera (i.e. the viewer) and the singer. The line, "I'm handin' over everything that I've got," takes on a double meaning. While Stefani sings about an unfulfilled relationship, she looks directly at the screen - it playing the role of both the estranged lover and her private diary. We watch her as she gets out of bed, makes a cup of tea and then indulges in a bath - each detail heightening our feeling of voyeurism and familiarity.

Stefani's constant staring at the camera breaks the wall between fiction and reality, between a narrative and performance video, and makes us constantly aware of the video camera - which automatically becomes a representation of Muller. Thus we are drawn into a dialogue between the director and the artist; we can sense the direction from behind the camera and the intentionality in the acting in front. We are also reminded of past Stefani videos, with her outfits and hairstyles recalling previous collaborations between the two - including "Cool." This actually takes away from the slight story being told in the video, but makes for a far more interesting end product. In the end this work is just as much about Muller's cinematic gaze as it is about Stefani's luxurious image; a meta-Muller video.

Step Back: Brassmunk "Take It Easy"

Brassmunk "Take It Easy"

dir. by Richard YOUGOTTALOVE

These Canadians move forward as the world regresses, or perhaps they venerate hip-hop history while their peers roam aimlessly onward? The song has a fresh new beat, but it simultaneously recalls sounds from the past. Either way, there's a new entry in the best backwards videos of all time category - though "Drop," this is not.

California, Here He Comes: Coconut Records "West Coast"

Coconut Records (Jason Schwartzman) "West Coast"

dir. by Cheryl Dunn

This marvelously edited work subtlety announces the return of movie star Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Marie Antoinette) to the ranks of (modest) rock stardom. Compiling obscure footage surrounding an art exhibit in Germany, director Cheryl Dunn puts together a compelling video without any appearance from the singer or a massive narrative. She simply captures the excitement and beauty of a moment in 1998 from beginning to end - culminating in an amazing performance of athleticism and grace by pro-skater Mark Gonzales. This arc is perfectly matched to the rising and falling of the song, making for a surprisingly thrilling experience.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Look Here: Tim Armstrong ft. Skye Sweetnam "Into Action"

Tim Armstrong ft. Skye Sweetnam "Into Action"

dir. by ?

This breezy ska-pop song manages to look more punk than it is, simply by using a grainy black and white filter. There's not much else to it, but it's worth mentioning (if you didn't already know) that Armstrong is formerly of the punk band Rancid - who were big in the mid-90's - and counted The Clash as a major influence. You can sort of see that same influence here, but mostly in the visuals.

Sweetnam is a Canadian artist who was nominated for a Juno Award in 2006 ("Tangled Up in Me"), and describes her next album as "Nine Inch Nails meets Britney Spears." Umm.

Hardboiled: Bogdan Irkük "Curare"

Bogdan Irkük "Curare"

dir. by Pistachios

With a single animated lighting effect, the video for "Curare" rises from mediocrity into a fantastically taught noir-thriller. The pulsing rhythm of the music does wonders in augmenting the tense atmosphere, and the flash-back narrative only furthers the suspense. But it's the intermittent darkness, where the driver is left alone in the car, that really establishes the tone. In those shadowy moments all his fears come to life, but we only see glimpses of his terror. It isn't just the poison running through his veins, it's the guilt and paranoia racing through his mind - and it's the combination of these forces which lead him to lose control so quickly.

Check out an interview with the director over at Videology.

Smell the Coffee: The Rumble Strips "Alarm Clock"

Futureheads-esque rock from recent British buzz band...

The Rumble Strips "Alarm Clock"

dir. by Harry Dwyer

This fun little video takes it's cues from Gondry (who doesn't?), but nevertheless does interesting things on its own. The band have an exuberant sound, and it's the horns and beat of the song which give the video such bounce. The everyman tone of the lyrics are reflected in the story on screen, and the performances of the musicians are quite good in that respect. But it's the simple, yet effective themes of the work which make it such a joy.

The basic plot revolves around a man who spends his days dreaming, but is afraid to pursue his fancies in the real world. In his head he is building a grand machine from disparate parts, with the help of his trusted friends. But when he finally does wake up, to his surprise reality is far grander than his dreams. He's a (future) rock star after all - living a fantasy everyday.

Out of the Web: Snow Patrol "Signal Fire"

Promotional clip for the new Spidey film that is barely more than a trailer...

Snow Patrol "Signal Fire"

dir. by Paul McGuigan

This thinly-veiled (if veiled at all) advertisement for the new Spider-Man movie features a ho-hum Snow Patrol ballad and a rehash of the major plot points from the first two films. Yet despite the Hollywood influence, director Paul McGuigan is able to tell his own story within and independent of Sam Raimi's (and Stan Lee's) world.

The story of Spider-Man is essentially that of a regular Joe rising to the occasion to do extraordinary things. Before that fateful spider bite Peter Parker was a man who lacked self-confidence and felt the pressures of growing up. So whether or not he became Spider-Man, he would have had to face those issues eventually - just like everyone else. McGuigan highlights this point in giving a shining moment to the spider biter himself, the force that originally set the story in motion. The shy kid seizes an opportunity and heroically kisses the girl of his dreams - overcoming his doubts. It's similar moments of bravery amongst normal people, like those of his grandfather, that really sting Peter Parker into being a superhero.

We admit it, we're die hard fans.

My Body is a Cage: Shiny Toy Guns "You Are the One"

Shiny Toy Guns "You Are the One"

dir. by ?

They rarely make epic rock videos like this anymore, so watching one brings back fond memories of MTV and Guns 'n Roses. There's no grand piano here, but there is a heavy dose of November rain. The song is large enough to just barely sustain the weight of the over-the-top imagery, and the unique style of the band members fits just right with slow motion waterfalls and unbelievably heavy winds.

We see a woman trapped in a large sphere - her own bubble of self-doubt - but with the help of Shiny Toy Guns (and love) she reaches out to the world. It's her "tears" which finally free her, and the band is soaked in the subsequent downpour; themselves liberated by the music and emotion. When they emerge, they are all on top of the world - standing in the light of a newly risen sun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Love to Hear the Story: Marco Polo "Nostalgia" feat. Masta Ace

Marco Polo "Nostalgia" (feat. Masta Ace)

dir. by Schackman Films

Speaking of not forgetting, here comes Masta Ace to remind us why we love this game so much, and that Rawkus still exists. This is fun, confrontational and skilled artistic expression. From break-dancing to beat-boxing, the video showcases every corner of the hip-hop block. The opening of the work, moving from the neighborhood shop to the streets in one take, grabs our attention from the get-go. Masta Ace keeps us there with some slick couplets, and the rest of clip is filled with a downright rarity in modern hip-hop - positive images of society, black and white.

The World Forgot: Tacks, The Boy Disaster "Forget-me-not"

Tacks, The Boy Disaster "Forget-me-not"

dir. by Super!Alright!

Moving from warm nostalgia to a scarier sort of future, this is a video that asks that we not forget - and slow down a bit. The 50's drive-in of the beginning later becomes digital animations in a studio, just as the song turns from simple pianos into a multi-layered epic. Favorite moment: the snow falling from one frame to the next, the way our memories blend and work together. It's a fantastic song as well.

Attacking the Giants: Rufus Wainwright "Going to a Town"

Rufus returns after a 3-year hiatus with a gorgeously somber song, and a brilliant Sophie Muller directed video...

Rufus Wainwright "Going to a Town"

dir. by Sophie Muller

On 2004's "Gay Messiah," Rufus Wainwright sings sarcastically of a "coming" savior. Throughout that track from his fourth album, Want Two, he makes illicit jokes, takes a dig at certain strains of Christianity and references his own role in this impending revolution - as "Rufus the Baptist". But three years removed from that album, the Baptist steps into the lead role for his video "Going to a Town" - the first single from his forthcoming Release the Stars.

Esteemed director Sophie Muller wastes no time getting to that point, prominently featuring a crown of thorns in the opening sequence. Wainwright sits below it, studying the woven chaplet hanging from a nail, while an open book rests in front of him. The struggle he faces may appear a bit pretentious, but the video merely matches the ambitions of the song - "I got a life to lead America." The crown on the wall actually seems to represent his inner "Jesus" - or the potential for greatness in every human being - and his ascent to the thrown is simply a recognition of responsibility to that potential.

Wainwright has claimed no religious affiliation, but rather a general fascination with "spiritual" aspects of life. His latest album cover features a close-up on a sculpture of Gaia, the Greek goddess (mother earth), which is part of a larger work, "Athena Attacking the Giants," in Berlin. Over time Gaia lost out to the patriarchal tendencies of society, but in early mythology she was a far more prominent figure. Thus the image of a silenced Gaia is entirely appropriate as Wainwright's muse - and a particularly helpful tool in understanding this video beyond its Christian context.

Cover Art: Release the Stars

"Athena Attacking the Giants"

The silencing of certain groups in society, including the gay community, is in many ways the fire that ignites the burning bush.
In Exodus, Moses is informed of his divine calling byway of the fire, and here the inflamed roses push Wainwright towards taking the crown. But the fact that this is a rose bush, and not a mere shrub, is an important distinction.

A popular quote from that story of Moses in Exodus 3:2 is "yet it was not consumed," in reference to the persistent life of the bush. Here the thorny plant is blooming, but the roses are only released into the world through Wainwright and his music. After the fiery inspiration things don't just persist, they actually get better. It's a beautiful image of rebirth, and perhaps the highlight of the video, as Wainwright sits on his bed American Beauty-style and red petals consume the room.

Like that excellent Sam Mendes film, the video has much to say about the prohibition of American society. Wainwright sings of "folks who have already been let down" and America taking "advantage of a world that loved you well." The mourning women that come to raise the singer up on his cross are perhaps a reference to the mothers of soldiers in the war - or just death in general. Like the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, they foretell a changing of the guard and warn of the deceptions of the world.

When Wainwright sings of "a town that has already been burned to the ground" he isn't just singing of America's well-documented descent over the years at the hands of another Bush. Like the statue from which he gets his album cover, this album was born in Berlin - a town devastated by war just a few decades ago. In the song the singer is leaving tired America, which is burning, to seek out a place that is already covered in ash. That doesn't mean he is giving up on the country, but instead on a journey to discover something inside himself which can spark change.

There's no question that Wainwright sees himself (and his music) as a special part of this fight, fulfilling his own dreams on his way "home." In a recent Guardian interview he admits to aspirations of being the next Verdi or Wagner. But even as he leads America on a path to salvation, he "ain't gonna be alone." One could interpret that as walking on the beach with God, or a lover in Berlin, but I think he's talking more about people - of all the other angry and inspired individuals ready to fight with him.

Wainwright clearly defends the right of all people to love, and the heavy use of Christian imagery to deliver this message is an ironic jab at the more Passion-ate members of our society. But Muller's work doesn't require you to read the Bible or study Mel Gibson films to feel its power. It's evident that the jail-like setting contrasted with the triumphant explosion of roses is a comment on the hidden beauty of humanity. And it's also clear that Wainwright and company aren't going to take this suppression laying down. The final shot of his face reveals a seething, fiery anger - poised for attack.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Haunted House: Karin Strom "Klaustrofobi"

Techno beats trapped in the dark walls of cinema and human psychology...

Karin Strom "Klaustrofobi"

dir. by Tobias Annerhult

Though it might help if we had the lyrics translated, it doesn't seem to be a stretch to suggest this is a video about suppression and confinement. These are people who seem to be on the edge - at their individual breaking points. Even the smallest details, like a tentative hand movement or the sparseness of the set design, imply nervous loneliness. The grainy quality of the film even gives an impression that these characters are literally stuck within the frames of the camera. Yet there is something in both the music and the performance, from a small smile on a skinny girl to Karin Strom emerging from water, that also suggest the possibility of breaking through these fears of enclosure.

In one particularly haunting shot we see the eyes and forehead of a man at the top of the screen, and then seemingly within his body - where his chest should be - we see the same man hunched over with his back facing the screen. The video begins with a faint image of a woman, almost as if behind the pictures on the screen, and then ends with a blunter version of the same thing. In the begining we also see one woman split in two - or perhaps two women blurred into one - struggling to separate and connect.

The director seems to be saying that we all have inner faces or "sides" which we hide in response to social pressures, but occasionally they push themselves out. Or conversely we create inner models or ideals for ourselves (also based on societal pressures) which end up clashing with what we see in the mirror daily (for one brief second we see Strom as a blond). Yet if we continue to keep them claustrophobically hidden under our skin, they have the potential of emerging in frightening ways. Furthermore, our insecurities over these inner thoughts are precisely why we walk around in such tentative fear all the time.

Totally Rad? The Battle Royale "Oh Martha"

Retro-inspired foolishness...

The Battle Royale "Oh Martha"

dir. by Amalia Nicholson

Umm. Cool song though.

Paper Perception: Switches & Shit Disco

Two papier-inspired pieces accompanied by some catchy pseudo-punk...

Shit Disco "OK"

dir. by Price James

While watching this magnificently fun video, one can't help but wonder how long it took to put together those pop-up images of the band. Then at the conclusion we might ask why, after all that hard-work, the director lets us see the strings which hold up the paper in the final shot. But that seems to be half the point - just as each page of the book emphasizes a distinct sound or part of the song, the strings are a reference to the process behind making this video. We are at all times aware of the unprofessional and hand-made quality of either the music or the visuals. It's simultaneously low-fi and expertly engineered; a mixture of raw talent and honed skill. Even as the live band performs in front of a white screen, we can tell they are on the set of a shoot. Thus when the band members begin to protrude Donnie Darko-like paper accordions, they are simply exemplifying their inherent "indie-ness" and their literal role in the production of the art. Maybe?

Switches "Lay Down the Law"

dir. by Ben Ib

A faceless man tears through walls of image to reveal the dirty little secret behind all great music - which happens to be sex (not the best kept secret ever). This video does well making reference to concert posters and album art, the artistic brethren of music videos, but unfortunately the enlivened photo technique has been used before - and to better effect. The work would have benefited from a few more original flourishes and perhaps a narrative structure. Despite that it's still an entertaining and exceedingly good-looking video, with an especially memorable collage sequence.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Lonely Desert: Low in the Sky "Cool Sanson"

A very impressive effort that pushes the boundaries of animation while conveying a powerful message...

Low in the Sky "Cool Sanson"

dir. by Tyler James

While the painstakingly realized sand-animation is the most visually thrilling aspect of this video, it isn't the thematic focus. The fact that director Tyler James attempts a narrative, where others would have been content with the 300 hours it took just to animate the sand, is evidence of serious artistic ambition. The result is a very affective music video, despite its brief length.

The story is told mostly through a flashback from the perspective of a small boy sitting in his sandbox. Thus when the sand comes to life through his eyes, we expect traditionally childish memories or dreams of playful innocence. Instead we are abruptly faced with the realities of his home life, which are anything but "playful." The fear and pain of these thoughts is contrasted with what we normally imagine children are thinking about. This underscores the gravity and tragedy of the situation.

Unlike Pharoahe Monch's "Gun Draws" from earlier this year, which emphasized the possible violent responses of children witnessing spousal abuse, Low in the Sky choose to focus solely on the psychological effects it can have. For this reason the video seems to end abruptly, where we may have wanted some firmer conclusion. Yet most children who deal with violence or abuse don't draw a gun or heroically save their mothers from harm. Instead they bottle their emotions up, blaming themselves or drawing pictures in the sand that no one will ever see. There is a helpless quality to this cycle of silence and pain, but artistic statements like this are cathartic moments of freedom for those who have suffered.

"to animate the sand, i took the original footage desaturated it and increased the contrast. i made a dvd of it, and traced every third frame with a dry-erase marker onto a piece of plastic. i took the outlines and painstakingly sprinkled sand onto the plastic. each frame took between 20 and 30 minutes to create. there were around 600 frames to animate, thats roughly 300 hours or 12.5 days." - Tyler James [via Antville]

A Class Act: Feist "My Moon, My Man"

This Broken Social Scener seems incapable of it goes again...

Feist "My Moon, My Man"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

Another new treat from the dynamite combination that brought you last week's irresistible "1234." Filmed alongside that buoyant number, "My Moon" is a far silkier affair - matching the rhythm of the music with shiny glass, snappy dancing and an ingeniously utilized walkway. In contrast to the wide open space of an empty hangar bay, Feist begins bundled in a trench coat amongst the dark lights and blank faces of a busy airport. Her initial modesty sets up the subtle eroticism of the song, and previews the eventual loosening of that same tightly-wound coat.

The choreography has a spontaneous and natural feel, but there is tension developed by the dancers and the resisting movement of the conveyor belt below. The camera occasionally zooms in on the action as if revealing precious clues in a sultry thriller. Daughters also pits everything in complete darkness from time to time to match the tone of the song. The playful mystery and seduction leads up to the crashing climax of lights, paper and free-flowing hair - where the chaos is both exhilarating and frightening.

Feist emerges from that bridge floating across the screen on the edge of a moving railing. People dance behind her as she seems compelled by a moment of euphoria, her legs dangling across the side in the strobing light. It's a beautiful and graceful peak for a video that is as sexy as it is fun.

Feist leaves the scene in a joyful mood, literally lighting up the room as she goes. The singer herself is of course a major factor in the success of this collaboration. From the beginning her charisma and nonchalance breathes sensuous life into the purposefully steely set. One can only hope this isn't the end of the fantastic Daughters-Feist connection, especially considering the wealth of catchy tunes still left on The Reminder...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hey, Brother: Switchfoot "Awakening"

Switchfoot "Awakening"

dir. by Brandon Dickerson/Switchfoot

The band does a fairly good job of explaining both the concept and execution of this video on their official website. But we're most excited about the Arrested Development connection and the celebration of interactive music-related video games. Much like the recent Shins video, this is all about "awakening" the individual spirit within. Switchfoot have pretty much mastered the inspirational radio anthem at this point.

I guess this means it's cool to be obsessed with DDR, right? Maybe not.

Big Time Talent: Lil' Mama "Lip Gloss"

17 year-old phenom who is poised to take over the charts with her hot debut single...

Lil' Mama "Lip Gloss"

dir. by

What separates Lil' Mama from other pure novelty artists like Jibbs or MIMS is that her song is actually about something beyond herself or her possessions. While on the surface "Lip Gloss" may appear to be exclusively about showing off wealth and status, the video emphasizes the metaphorical aspect of the chorus, "my lip gloss is poppin," by turning the stick into a magical product rather than just a very expensive one. Thus the value she possesses does not come from her lips but rather her "magic" - which is represented as her musical skills.

Yet despite these efforts, and the scene at the very end, this is a video that still values appearance over all else. Just as Mama raps about different brands of clothing and accessories, the "dorky" kids turn into "cool" kids by changing into new clothes. Some of them also reveal new skills like dancing and jump-roping, but for the most part the changes are external. What's most troubling is that Mama directly quotes Beyonce's "Upgrade U" in her lyrics, revealing just how influential B's image of glitz and glamor has been. Though truth be told, Lil' Mama's track still has more depth than her inspiration's.

Furthermore this video trumps almost every other hip-hop video out today with its positivity. The choreography is fantastic, especially the hallway and lunchroom scenes, and the beat of the song is undeniably catchy. In the end, the video at least wants to be about valuing self-expression over money or physical appearance. Supposedly Lil' Mama herself came up with the concept for the video, which means she's got her head in the right place. It's truly inspiring to see a young female hip-hop star with some talent and intelligence making interesting music. Keep it poppin'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easy Does It: The Shins, Feist

Two new videos from indie heavyweights...

watch video

Feist "1234"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

This is the type of video that requires no elaborate description or interpretation. Its brilliance speaks for itself. From the perfectly flawed choreography to the energy of Feist's performance - all shot without a single cut - Patrick Daughters deftly captures the simple bittersweet beauty of the song. Pre-order the The Reminder today!

The Shins "Australia"

dir. by Matt McCormick

The Shins, who impressed with their Daughters-directed "Phantom Limb" earlier in the year, once again play to the strengths of the song with this fun little video for their super-catchy second single "Australia." Jumping off the prison or "criminal" themes of the lyrics, the group, clad in orange jumpsuits, decide to steal balloons from a local car dealership. It may seem like a petty or childish act, but when "facing the android's conundrum" even the smallest act of freedom can feel like an escape from suffocating mediocrity. As the balloons rise, these men take a momentary flight out of their dull confining lives. The same joyful respite the Shins and their director want to offer the viewer.

Wait Until Tomorrow...

Silverchair "Straight Lines"

dir. by Paul Goldman and Alice Bell

Not much to say about this ho-hum video, just wanted to point out that - to my surprise - this band still exists. The song isn't that bad actually, and they are also playing Lollapalooza later this summer. That's all.

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

(November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007)

Waiting Room: Mavis Staples "Eyes on the Prize"

A legendary voice in American music re-emerges to spark a new generation with images from the attention Don Imus...

Mavis Staples "Eyes on the Prize"

dir. by ?

Not sure if this is an official clip or not, but we'll take any chance we get to talk about Mavis Staples' new album. Her reworking of a popular civil rights anthem (which itself originated as a spiritual) is given a relevant treatment here, despite the familiarity of the images. This isn't just another compilation of protests, Dr. King and the Ku Klux Klan.

The most harrowing moment of the video comes 45 seconds in, when a black man is inhumanely harassed by white men as he peacefully walks down the street. You've probably seen similar things before, whether in high school history class or a documentary on television, but that doesn't really make it any less horrible. It's hard to watch, but an important reminder of how deeply ingrained feelings of hatred were - and how much had to be overcome (not that the journey's over).

The simple refrain of the song, along with images of group singing and rejoicing, also underline the impact that music itself had on the movement for peace. Despite everything that we see, from random brutality to large-scale hosing from the police, the strength of the people doesn't falter. Music has always played a substantial role in giving hope to the oppressed, and Staples' song reminds us how powerful a tool it was during the civil rights movement. It isn't blind faith, the video reflects pain and anger as well, but it 's a trust in the unifying feeling of singing a chorus that lets people smile even in the darkest moments.

In the post-Katrina orange alert climate of today, it might help if more artists were making this kind of music. But it's not surprising that Mavis Staples, a 40 year veteran of the music industry and survivor of racism, is leading the way once again. Buy the album, We'll Never Turn Back...

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie