Video Review

July 28, 2011

Debut single and music video, “Anna Sun,” from breakout Ohio (it’s always Ohio) indie rockers, Walk the Moon. The first day I had a chance to check out this video, I was in absolute awe. They shot the whole video in one cut à la Russian Ark? Ho yah! …Or so I thought. When I finally started compiling this treasure trove, I gave it my undivided attention. Twice. Maybe thrice (lead singer Nicholas Petricca is très adorable). And promptly realized that the single cut is only the first portion in a potpourri of dancing joy. Watch it for the multiple types of film roll (shot in studio, shot in natural light, shot on vintage film, or at least with vintage, Super8-esque effects), the dazzlingly bright colors, and to throw a hop into your step! “We got no money, but we got heart… What do you know? This house is falling apart./ What can I say? This house is falling apart…” Some of the best hooks I’ve heard in a while… or since “Pumped Up Kicks.” Ha. Giggles.

This whimsical little vid. features the band members of Fair Fjola lackadaisically bobbing along to “Water Tower” while their animated little log cabin house floats away in a great big animated flood among some very whimsical mountain peaks (Would be hard to find such triangular formations out in any real-life mountain ranges… is all I’m sayin’!).

This creation to accompany Blonde Redhead’s “Equus” is also a semi- or mostly-animated extravaganza… The whole thing is actually severely disturbing.  The female lead of the band, Kazu Makino, who in 2002 was trampled by a horse after it bucked her, transformed the traumatic event that disfigured one side of her face (and left her to reconstruct her singing voice and self-perception) into fantastical, lyrical tales like “Equus”: “Sometimes I think I must/ just let you be a horse./ All I want is to be a rider,/ to be part of you.” The semi-animated video seems to feature all the band members, with the instrumentalist twins playing Kazu’s doctors and Kazu playing herself, with her face almost entirely masked and flattened by the animation effects and her body turned into a mannequin-robot mechanical entity. It also, of course, prominently features a horse and then a panoply of horses. … “Equus, by nature,/ timid creature,/ ready to run away. Equus, by nature,/ timid creature,/ cares nothing/ for the plans they made.” Better Propaganda has speculated that the band’s creative process was already centered around world-weariness before The Accident. That might be a fair assessment, but as this video and one or two other songs were my first introduction to the 18 year-old band, I cannot at this moment judge that assessment. But disturbing effects and imagery aside, I’m quite glad Kazu got back on her feet and brought those breathy vocals back. Otherwise, I would be down one heck of an indie band (signed to 4AD!) in my listening dossier!

“Mr. Peterson” – Perfume Genius

This is another one of those instances where I wasn’t paying enough attention the first time I encountered something. When I first heard “Mr. Peterson,” the main thing I noticed was the Joy Division reference – which carried extra points in my tally. But I missed the whole point of the story. In the video, it’s beyond difficult to ignore the palpable pain of singer Mike Hadreas as he relives the story of the teacher with a thing for the sixteen year-old, who commits suicide the same year. The stark simplicity of the video, just two keyboards and their players spotlighted against a black backdrop, definitely honors that life.

“Round the Moon” – Summer Camp

Here I absolutely have to resort to the words of TurnTable DJ Neowman – ” This video is awesome, too… it’s like a cut from some crazy 80’s Swedish movie.” Having watched the film and mulled over it for a couple days, I can definitively say that Neowman is absolutely right. There is no better way to describe this video than to summon the ghost of Ingmar Bergman (and maybe a bit of John Hughes, while you’re at it). From the color processing to the coming-of-age themes (Someone tell that girl she is much too young to be sleeping with that bullied-about, leather-jacket-wearing houligan and that there is never a good age to wear miniskirts that miniature!), 80’s all the way. Minus those cars that date back probably earlier than just the 80’s.

“Vampires” – Mr. Gnome

Oy. Where do I even start? I watched this epic ten-minute narrative twice this week, and both times, I shirked from the gruesome images on-screen and resorted to peeking at the frames through my fingers, only difference being that the second time I was prepared, with a blanket to hold tight for reassurance. I guess it’s a bit of a new day “Thriller,” but with buckets and buckets of blood. The story revolves around four characters who work on the set of a some wacky children’s television program titled, tellingly, Space Magic. With some intensive drug use, glorification of fire-arms, and a ghoulish army of sharp-toothed vampire-zombies sprinkled in for good measure. You might pick up a whiff of Pulp Fiction, I Am Legend, Alice in Wonderland, and some horrifically demented Pappyland, etc.. A ghastly short which might be three parts horrid, five parts pure genius.

“Shake Me Down” – Cage the Elephant

Okay, this one isn’t so much a new find as just brilliant, in every sense of the word. Whimsy, love, loss – the very stuff of existence and the hardiest stuff for creative inspiration. Not much else to say! “In my life, I have seen/ people walk into the sea,/ just to find memories,/ plagued by constant misery,/ their eyes cast down…”

Oh, and I forgot to mention! It’s made me cry every single time I’ve watched it. That powerful!

“Simple Math” – Manchester Orchestra

I really don’t know anything about this group and am not feeling up to researching them at the moment. I only know that they make me think of Mannheim Streamroller… and then gag. Until the music starts in, of course. And this video? Just… Wow. A whirlwind tour through childhood, imagination, and a deer-riffic wood, with some great staging, effects, and editing. I can’t remember much of the song at the moment, but the imagery certainly stuck with me.

“Out Getting Ribs” – Zoo Kid

This kid is way too young to be singing with that voice! What is going on? Gah! What? Woah! Wow. So this is Archy Marshall, 16 or 17 year-old vocal wunderkind. Well, yeah, he plays instruments, too, but can’t you hear it? Ohmygod. Leave it to the Brits! I think there’s a new Brit indie icon on the horizon. If he can just manage some snazzier titles for his tracks!

I’m really confused by the lone observer in the room here. Is that his mom? Can someone please explain it to me? What the ‘eck is she doing there?

“Frontier Psychiatrist” – The Avalanches

The Avalanches are hands-down my favorite Aussie group (and that’s saying a lot, with disbanded Leonardo’s Bride quite close to my heart). I love what they do with radio, er – audio, collage. Lots of recycled and collage art I’m gushing about these days… which is a good thing, as I am always gushing to myself. So this means the terrain of this little blog, Turtle-landia, is moving toward more and more nuanced reflections of those cultural insights lodged somewhere in my thoughts. Woo. Anywho… The Avalanches! Apparently their collage aptitude goes beyond the merely audible. What the heck is going on here? (Oh, sorry. Is that refrain getting too familiar?) My favorite part are the dancing sheets. What’s yours?

“Seven Sisters,” self-made/homemade/home-brewed music collaboration from the Bastard Child of Rock And Roll – self-christened Le Blorr – based out of the dueling worlds of New York and Florida, not-at-all-understandably unsigned, and quite possibly the next big thing, electronic, drum-loving duo of Adam Winn and Chris Hess are… (I’m gonna go out on a limb here…) decidely bigger and better than, but still close genre neighbors to, Film School. If it were even a contest, this video should cinch the deal. Look, just look. Muted mermaid-enchanted waters and the way the air bubbles multiply to evoke the feel of shimmering stars… it doesn’t get much better than this.

…Oh, you noticed the predominance of double-lettering, too?

First Aid Kit, energetic, shimmering, siren, Swedish sister duo, covers “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” off the 2008 debut album from Seattle’s Simon & Garfunkel, The Fleet Foxes. We’re transplanted to another wooded scene, though this one’s much more serene than Manchester Orchestra’s. All quite stunning in its simplicity!

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Named By A Poet

April 2, 2011

We live, we die. We’re fragile, more fragile than we care to notice. In a snap of the fingers, it can all disappear. And on the flipside, if you live long enough, everything you came to know will disappear, and an entire landscape of the unfamiliar will expand out before you. It’s that sort of heady stuff we tend to shirk from, because it’s just too overwhelming. It’s part of why we drown out our confusions and preoccupations in a haze of television and other bright screens. The modern world is just a fantabulous cataclysm of marvels and mayhem.

Avalon, Mad Men, Imitation of Life… Plenty of big and small screen creations tell the stories of our chaotic times tremendously well, what with all the frenzied changes upon changes unleashed by the Industrial Age.

I’m in such a weighty mood after watching that terrific eighties film, Avalon, again after many years. (It features a young Elijah Wood, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.) I couldn’t keep from crying, even though I already knew the scenes were going to play out the way they did. Serendipitous, really, that I wanted to watch that film today, when in my grand plans for National Poetry Month, I’d already slated today’s spot for R.E.M.’s classic single, “Imitation of Life,” itself titled for the fifties film starring Lana Turner, perhaps the style icon dearest to my heart.

What attracts me to poetry is the way it cuts through all our layers of b.s. and puts us face to face with our own fragility. Mortality, after all, is the poetry at the heart of everything, from theatre and film to sunflowers and sunsets. For me, nothing encapsulates that truth more than my own little staged funerals as a four year-old. Even as a young’n, I was attracted to melodrama, theatricality, movement, family history, the geography of a sterile Soviet concrete fortress of an apartment building, through the fact of death. Our ultimate fates are difficult to acknowledge, but it’s best if we face the music sooner rather than not soon enough.

“Imitation of Life” was prevalent on the airwaves back when I obsessively listened to my hometown’s rock stations, before I dabbled with Christian radio and hip-hop and then completely gave up on radio for a decade (TMI? Yeah, probly). At one point, I got the melody stuck in my head, along with the word “sugarcane,” but internet search wasn’t as good back then as it is now, and it took me years to trace the song back to R.E.M., even though I had some of their other tunes, such as “The One I Love,” perfectly squared away in my mental musical ledger. (I remember I had something like “na na na” and “sugarcane” scrawled on a faded blue Post-It note for years, and I tried my hardest not to lose it. Good thing I did not.) Hold tight to your childhood loves, my friends, for you never know if, or when, words like “sugarcane” will be all that you have left.

In the words of the poets…

Imitation of Life

Charades, pop skill;
Water hyacinth, named by a poet–
Imitation of life.
Like a koi in a frozen pond,
Like a goldfish in a bowl.
I don’t want to hear you cry.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try.

You want the greatest thing,
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized.
Like a Friday fashion show teenager,
Freezing in the corner,
Trying to look like you don’t try.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try,

No one can see you cry.
That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s freezing rain, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This sugarcane,
This lemonade,
This hurricane, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This lightning storm,
This tidal wave,
This avalanche, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see me cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry.