Feature: The Lost Art of the Music Video

FEATURE:

The Lost Art of the Music Video.

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It seems that the music video is becoming less relevant or less well-considered.  In recent years, few memorable videos have been created.  Whether fewer people view them; or the talent isn’t out there, one thing is clear: we need to make sure we do not lose them altogether…

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SOMETHING rather worrying has been accompanying- as well as working in tandem with-

Music.  There has been an overall decline in the standard of music, pretty much since the late-’90s/early-’00s.  It is not entirely down to the musicians themselves; standards and tastes have changed; the greatest musical waves and periods have past- and music has stagnated somewhat.  The acts I review on a weekly basis are exempt from my condemnation, yet they account for a tiny percentage of the overall market.  If you think about it; turn on the radio; think about what music is out there at the moment, and ask: how much of it do you genuinely love?  In the way that music is open to everyone, it has led to a decline in quality control.  It is great that it is easy to make music (although not inexpensive), and there seems to be something for everyone.  The downside is that amidst all of the new music, there seems to be few genuinely great acts.  Established acts and the best on the market are working hard, yet one day their reign will be subject to entropy and a natural death.  We always have to think ahead as to whom will replace the best and brightest when the inevitable day arrives.  Everyone has their favourite new acts, and there are certainly a few new acts (aside from the ones I have reviewed) that I am excited about.  In the larger sense, there are few that get me hot under the collar and compel me to write and perform my own stuff.  Thinking about this, I have had a bit of a think.  If the relative few wonderful acts are a precious commodity, then it seems that something has to be done with regards to the overall package.  Since the music video for Bohemian Rhapsody arrived nearly 40 years ago, there has been excitement and attention with regards to the art of the music video.  The form has developed and evolved, and all kinds of videos have been made.  It has always been a vital part of a band or act’s mantle, and not just important with regards to individual songs.  When you think about the personality of a particular act, there are few that really win you over.  Today there are so many musicians and artists whom are infamous and laudable; the genuine everyman (and woman) are being silenced by the flashing glare of the paparazzi lens.  I guess the music and the person (or people) behind it can be mutually exclusive, although I feel as long as the music is strong, then it is not overly-important if the artist is likeable- or appealing even.  It means, however, that the music has to be that much stronger.  The music video is a key element of a song, and is the visual representation of your work.  When M.T.V. was starting out, it was easier for people to see music videos, and appealing for artists, as they had a widespread medium to have their songs seen and heard.  Stations such as these have declined and sites such as YouTube have taken their place.  I have been worried by the output of many acts and artists over the past decade or so.  It seems that the quality of the music video hit its peak- or saw its last real influx- about 15 years ago, and there have been fewer truly memorable videos.  I am not sure if it is the quality of music on offer or the lack of talented directors; yet it seems it may be both.  As much as anything, attention spans and desires have changed.  The video used to be a thing that can watched, studied and re-watched.  Today- and over recent years- they have come to be seen as disposable and cliche.  In so much as music is easy to make, so too is it easy to make a video.  If you have a camera and know the right people, then you can pretty much make your own.  This has meant- like the quality of music itself- the music video standard has dropped.  I often look at an E.P. or album cover that an act has put out and sigh.  Little thought is given to creating an image that is memorable, historical and fascinating.  There are too many self-portraits; too many basic images and far too many stale and lifeless attempts.  The likes of Nevermind and Sgt. Pepper seem like forgotten footnotes, and I cannot remember the last time I was mesmerised by an album cover.  Similarly, I struggle to remember a music video that blew me away.  Imagination, creativity and stunning intelligence mandated the scene at certain times, and the boldest and bravest directors came to play.  The all-time great directors are gone- or slowing- and there are very little up-and-coming wonders.  I hope that this is something that is rectified, as the music video is crucial.  Every single needs one- or should- so it is no less crucial that attention and thought is put into them (videos).  I am hampered by lack of funds (and am not a professional director), yet am already looking ahead to my first video (when my first song is released).  My mind is often awash with ideas and scenes, and I have formulated at least half a dozen ideas I feel can rival some of the best.  With the range of technologies, landscapes and possibilities, it is not difficult to conjure up a video that elevates (or makes) a track.  I feel there is not a lack of money or impetus; merely a lack of bravery or forward-thinking and pioneering directors.  Whether video directing is seen as second-best to film/T.V. directing, I am not sure; but the fact is this: even a medicore song can be made a classic by a wonderful video.

This got me thinking about what- for me- ‘makes’ a music video.  I have seen many a crap track suddenly made wonderful by a great video.  Conversely, a huge number of great songs have been let down by a boring or uninspiring video.  The music video is a way of uniting actors and musicians; making mini films and fascinating stories; creating chances for up-and-coming directors- as well as making something that could be studied and dissected decades from now.  It is important that fantastic videos are created, as we may live to see the day where none are made at all.  I am depressed and sickened by the digital dominance which is putting record stores out of business.  It is horrifying that the compact disc may be put to sleep.  That means that album covers and music artwork  will be replaced by fake digital imagery and intangible products.  The physical release- the artwqork and disc- will be replaced by sterile and digitized replacements.  It may mean that music videos will become obsolete, and more and more videos may be made online- negating and bypassing real life and actual filmmaking.  I was thinking about my favourite music videos, and why particular ones stuck in my mind.  Each of my five choices feature phenomenal musicians, and there is not a single video that represents a poor or overrated artist.  Each one of the videos, too, has something unique and wonderful; a unique selling point- as well as qualities and merits that have not been replicated.  The majority of the music videos were made during the ’90s, and considering that was the last truly great decade for music, it is hardly surprising.  It has been 11 years since the last video (from my list) was made, which worries me a bit.  I am hoping that there are a lot of keen directors and bold artists keen to keep the artform alive and burning, and I am sure everyone has their own favourite videos.  Many musicians I know are making some great videos themselves, and considering their budgets are three or four-figured, it is an impressive feat.  You do not need a tonne of money or years of music video-making experience to turn out a classic.  If you have an imaginative brain and a pioneering approach, then you can create something truly memorable.  Take a look at the below, and have a think about your own favourite videos, and ask me this: what makes them so special and incredible?

Blur- Coffee & TV (1999)

I am beginning with my all-time favourite.  The music video was directed by Hammer & Tongs, A.K.A. Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith.  The duo have created some of the most impressive and memorable music videos ever.  They directed Radiohead’s Lotus Flower, where Thom Yorke danced his way into everyone’s hearts.  They directed Pulp’s Help The Aged; Supergrass’ Pumping on Your Stereo, as well as Imitation of Life by R.E.M.  The directing duo have worked in colour as well as black-and-white, worked with Muppet-like puppets (for Supergrass’ video), as well basic D.I.Y.-style concepts (see Radiohead’s Jigsaw Falling Into Place).  The boys clearly are a mega talented duo, and it is hardly surprising that they produced such a mesmeric video for Blur back in 1999.  Blur were in a bit of a career quandary in this period.  The halcyon days of Parklife and Modern Life Is Rubbish had past, and the late-’90s was to see something transformative happen to the band.  Graham Coxon was already starting to feel the strain, and would eventually leave the band during the recording of their follow-up Think Tank.  The band’s self-titled album was well-received and contained some classic numbers; however their album 13 was not so celebrated.  There seemed to be a sense of fatigue, and the group were clearly tired.  Too much filler characterised the L.P., but there were glimmers of light.  Tender was one of the greatest tracks they ever produced, and No Distance Left To Run is one of the most affecting and personal songs Damon Albarn has ever written.  Nobody expected anything historic from Blur at this time, and a lot of critical attention was moving away from their shores, and towards newer acts.  To my mind, Coffee and TV changed so much.  It was a song penned by Coxon, and remains one of Blur’s best and most memorable songs.  It has a huge sing along quality and its lyrics are enduring and timeless.  The video, however, lifts this phenomenal song into something of sheer genius.  The concept itself revolves around a carton of milk called Milky (made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), in search of Coxon.  Mr. Coxon is missing, and his family sit glumly around the breakfast table.  The narrative of the video splits between the plight of Milky (as he searches for Coxon) and the band performing the song (in what looks like an abandoned building).  Throughout the track, Milky passes dangers and strife.  He falls in love with a cute milk carton- only to see her stomped on.  Hitching lifts and asking favours, he eventually stumbles upon Blur performing; gleefully aware he has found the missing guitarist.  Coxon then gets a bus back home, drinks from the carton, and is reunited with his family- as the milk carton floats up to heaven.  The concept is brilliant, yet simple, but is the way that the video is made that is so brilliant.  The idea of a milk carton going in search of someone has not been done before or since, and it is a charming and wonderful creation.  The song itself is brilliant, yet I cannot listen to the song without the video- as they fit together perfectly.  It is unsurprising that the video scooped awards, including best video at the N.M.E. Awards in 1999 and 2000.  Many magazines have placed it in their ‘top 20’, yet few have ever crowned it as their number 1.  I feel there is no finer video, as it scores a wonderful song, yet makes it better and more memorable as well.  The concept is bold and stunning, and even 15 years after its creation, I still an enthralled by it.  Blur’s existence may be in limbo (and there may or may not be another album in them), yet Coffee & TV remains one of the band’s best songs- and their greatest videos.  It turned a rather unspectacular album into a treasure and clearly the band were having a blast filming the video.  It is a template that directors should study closely, and I have not seen any video since that measures up to Coffee & TV‘s golden standard.  Have a peek of the video, and I defy you to show me a better video.  In fact if you don’t come away (from watching the video) you may be technically dead inside.

See the video (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oqXVx3sBOk

The White Stripes- The Hardest Button to Button (2003)

This is a video from the mind of a truly remarkable talent.  Michel Gondry may be recognisable to many, as he directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Gondry, however, made his name in music videos, and has directed gems for the likes of Beck, Bjork and Kylie Minogue.  Gondry is one of my favourite directors, because he has a childlike and wonderful imagination.  Throughout his tenure directing Bjork, he has presented weird and wonderful scenes; with overgrown bears in woods; monkey dentists as well as weird late-night scenes.  Gondry works on songs that may not be ‘commercially popular’ or familiar to all, but tracks that inspire the creative mind.  Take the case of Sugar Water by Japanese duo Cibo Matto.  I’ll admit that the song is not instantly memorable- or indeed durable- but the video is a bizarre work of wonder.  It tracks a day in the life of the two girls, as they go about their days.  It works in split screen, as one half charts one girl’s day in reverse, and the other in forward motion.  At various points of the video the two halves overlap, and the girls interact.  It is a sort of muder mystery mixed with strange thriller, and is mind-boggling to even comprehend.  How Gondry managed to pull it off is testament to his talent and intelligence (watch the video and see if you can figure it out).  Throughout his career, Gondry has pushed the envelope and defied gravity, logic and common sense with his bold brilliance and daring style.  Although less prolific nowadays, Gondry is still directing and has amassed an impressive collection of work.  I will be mentioning Gondry again later, so will not go into too much detail.  One of the bands that Gondry worked with closely throughout the years is The White Stripes.  As well as directing their songs Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground and The Denial Twist, Gondry created the celebrated video for Fell In Love With A Girl.  In this video he used Lego figures of Jack and Meg White, of them performing the song and involved in various different scenes.  It was the video for The Hardest Button to Button that I feel is his most memorable, and one of the best videos ever.  It is one that demonstrates Gondry’s attention to detail, patience and imaginative flair.  The video depicts Jack and Meg performing the song through the streets- and subway- of New York.  Filmed over several days, it is a stop motion video that is arresting and stunning.  The video follows the duo performing, but upon each guitar chord or drum beat, multiples the duo’s instruments- as they move along the street.  You start off with one image of the drum or amp; a second passes and they are duplicated and so forth.  Essentially every second or so another image of the duo’s equipment appears as they move through New York- from day to-night.  It is impressive not only because of its originality, but it must have been a painstaking process to undertake.  One take would have been filmed; ‘cut’ is called and then another filmed.  It is like directing stop motion with figurines or puppets- but only with human beings.  The concept and style of filmmaking was a rarity and it is something that was even rarer with regards to music videos.  Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer did it brilliantly, yet few have done it since.  The Hardest Button to Button was a track from the Detroit duo’s album Elephant– seen as their greatest album by most critics (I think their greatest is White Blood Cells).  Although the album was a classic, there were better songs on the L.P. than T.H.B.T.B.  I was impressed at how incredible the video is, as most would have struggled to conjure up anything spectacular when listening to the song.  It is a great track, yet one that does not instantly whip up marvellous video ideas.  As I mentioned with Coffee and TV, it is great to hear a great song, but if you can create a video that is even better than the song, then it makes the band (or artist) look even better.  White himself claimed he had no idea what the video was about (when Gondry called him to explain its concept), and if anyone explained the concept to me at the time, I would have been baffled.  You watch the finished product and can’t keep your eyes off of the action, as it moves at a break-neck pace.  After watching you wonder how the hell it was made and how it was put together.  It is a video that is probably unfamilar to most, but I implore everyone to watch it, as it is a visual feast and something that is original, wonderful and without many equals.

See the video (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkhz8kYo8Ug

Lucas- Lucas with The Lid Off (1994)

Chances are, you have never heard of the artist- or the song itself.  To be honest, neither had I this time last year.  Having mentioned Mr. Gondry once already, you will not be surprised to see another of his videos on my list.  Lucas is the moniker of Lucas Secon- a Grammy-winning rapper, producer and artist.  Secon resides in London, but has managed to stay under the radar for most of his professional career.  He began his recording career in 1993, and released his debut album Lucascentric the following year.  It was an album that failed to spark commercial interest, and left many critics a little cold.  In the midst of a muddled and underwhelming album comes its only single, Lucas With The Lid Off.  In 1994, Michel Gondry was working with mainstream and established artists for the most part, making the paragon with Lucas all the more extraordinary.  I am not sure as to how the two met or came to work with one another, yet this can be said: if they hadn’t then the video for Lucas With The Lid Off would be tripe.  There was something within the song that sparked the imagination of Gondry, who turned out the greatest video of his directing career.  It is not shocking that the song caused fevered excitement for the French director, as it is a stunning cut comprising stonking horns, catchy loops and a confident rap.  Infused with a bolstered and propulsive beat, the track earns its stripes with its relentless pace and energy, coupled with Lucas’s proud and boastful rap.  Even when you examine the song fully and dissect it, you would never imagine a video such as the one Gondry concocted.  Most would take the song in a different direction; possibly create something that is a little generic, but gives our central artist plenty of room to shine.  You would probably come away from watching the video pleased with the results- yet it would probably never linger in the memory.  That would be the mark of a good director.  The mark of a truly exceptional one, is those whom can take a song like this, and couple it to a video not only endlessly fascinating, but totally unexpected and original.  It is not just the style of the video that captures you, but it is the technicalities and complexities that hit you hard.  Like The Hardest Button to Button, it is another Gondry video that you can never figure out how he came about it, and how he pulled it off.  It is an example of a video that outweighs and outshines the song it represents, and many magazines and music critics have rightly hailed it as one of the greatest videos of all time.  Before I examine the video, I should mention that it is the inspiration for a video idea I have bene obsessed with.  I have always had the idea of charting the embryonic stages of a musician’s career, through to its end- over the course of a video.  It would be shot in colour, and would show our hero or heroine moving through the course of a day, month, year and decade.  The camera would never stop moving, and the entire video would be a single shot.  Scenes would include a recording studio, a cafe where song ideas are created; a music video stage where that video is shot; a radio station where the central figure is interviewed; a street scene, as well as a multitude of sets, situation and scenarios. Everything would be mounted on a huge Lazy Susan, and the musician would move from set to set within.  When reaching the end of one Lazy Susan, another one would connect (like cogs in a watch) and move through that set.  There would be a third one too, so by the time they reach the end of the third set, the first one would be used, and so forth.  There would be no cuts and no separate takes- it would be one shot like a live theatre performance.  Actors would dress off set, run around camera, and sets would be dressed and remounted rapidly.  It is ambitious and I sure as hell want to do it: it is all thanks to Lucas With The Lid Off.  The black-and-white video depicts the creative process of recording a song.  The camera never cuts, and everything is one take.  Gondry moves the camera throygh various sets; panning in and panning out, slowly tracking- yet never stopping the movement.  The action moves from a recording studio, through a bedroom set; into a tube station; it goes into a cinema (with Lucas watching a film of himself), ending up back in the studio.  Slant magazine surveyed it, thus:  “Robert Altman and Orson Welles (in Touch of Evil and The Player, respectively) called attention to their film’s opening long takes, and Alfred Hitchcock went as far as to use clever camera tricks to give the illusion that his film Rope was shot in one continuous take. Lucas With The Lid Off represents a fascinating point of departure because Gondry’s goal is to call attention away from his remarkable technical achievement. In the video, Lucas plays a recording artist supervising his own creative process and subsequent success. Though the entire video was shot in one long take, the action presented in the video does not transpire in real-time. A series of numbered frames indicates where Gondry’s camera will need to stop before recording the next movement in the video’s action. More importantly, though, these stoppage points evoke passages in time and call attention to the very nature of the recording process. This rigorous, head-trippy experiment evokes the human mind’s own subjective ability to perceive and edit the world around it with as little as a blink of an eye“.  It is a live performance.  Lucas and the actors run around the back of camera and between sets; ensuring that they are in their mark before the camera comes back around.  The entire video is a huge technical and creative achievement and the originality of the idea is a wonder.  It is not shocking that it inspired me, and I am confident I could not create something nearly as good- but such is the effect of the video, I want to aim for it at least.  No video in the ensuing 20 years has managed to pull of a technical feat such as this; nor grab your attention and mind in the same way.  Gondry has been responsible for a great number of the best music videos of all time, and I feel that this is his absolute peak.  The best videos are those which inspire- even 20 years after their inception- and force generations of directors and filmmakers to up their game, think outside the box and push themselves beyond their comfort zone.  Part of the reason for my negative discourse, is the fact that there have been seldom attempts to make videos like Lucas With The Lid Off.  There has been plenty of songs begging for it, yet no director with Gondry’s brain and imagination, up to the task of making it happen.  This particular video is an example of a piece of work that gives directors and acts food for thought.  It can inspire them to write music that calls for a treatment similar to that of Lucas’, and I’m sure is in the minds and ambitions of many young directors.  It is also a video that did not demand a huge budget- it is something a lot of new acts could afford to stage.  Its genius lies in its genius; and that, after all, is the best thing you can say about any music video.

See the video (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiA6u-w0uZc

Soundgarden- Black Hole Sun (1994)

They were one of the bastions of the grunge movement, and one of the first bands to challenge the genius of Nirvana.  Soundgarden arrived on the scene a few yeasr after the Seattle legends, and were allows subject to fierce competition from Nirvana, as well as Pearl Jam.  The trio of bands were synonymous with intelligent and nuanced grunge music- a far cry from most of the knuckle-dragging idiots trying to make similar sounds.  From the confident strides of Badmotorfinger, the band (led by the huge-lunged Chris Cornell) moved onto Superunknown– one of the best albums of the ’90s.  That album is in my top 5, and is a consistent and stunning L.P.  It moves between genres, covers a multitude of a topics and barely drops its stride over the course of 15 tracks.  Within the album’s gems lies one of its darkest and most reflective tracks, Black Hole Sun.  The first time I encountered the song, was back in 1994- the year it was released.  I was an 11-year-old, holidaying on the Greek island of Skopelos.  One evening, my family and I were sitting in the evening heat outside a beach bar.  Outside was a T.V. showing M.T.V.  I remember watching various adverts; one of which was a bizarre advert for Sprite.  It featured an Eskimo and an igloo and was something Bjork would have dreamt up.  After the adverts had finished, the music video for Black Hole Sun came on.  The fact that this moment has remained in my mind for all these years is that the video scared the bejesus out of me.  Its scenes and sights dropped my jaw, and it was one of the most arresting and strangest things I had ever witnessed.  The video was directed by Howard Greenhalgh, and represents a song with very clear ideals and origins.  Cornell explains the son in these terms:  “It’s just sort of surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song.  Lyrically it’s probably the closest to me just playing with words for words’ sake, of anything I’ve written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you’d begin to take that one literally. The chorus lyric is kind of beautiful and easy to remember. Other than that, I sure didn’t have an understanding of it after I wrote it. I was just sucked in by the music and I was painting a picture with the lyrics“.  It arrived in a year where grunge’s forefather Kurt Cobain had committed suicide, and shocked the world of music.  Grunge has lost its leader and there was a black veil across music’s landscape.  The video itself can be described in these words: “The surreal and apocalyptic music video for Black Hole Sun was produced by Megan Hollister for Why Not Films (London, England), shot by Ivan Bartos, and features post-production work by 525 Post Production (Hollywood, California) and Soho 601 Effects (London). The video follows a suburban neighborhood and its inhabitants which are eventually swallowed up by a black hole, while the band performs the song somewhere in an open field.  In an online chat, the band stated that the video “was entirely the director’s idea”, and added, “Our take on it was that at that point in making videos, we just wanted to pretend to play and not look that excited about it.”  Kim Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with.  The clip mocks and exaggerates our society’s search for truth in television and its gratuitous exploitation of the earth. Soon nature turns itself on the unsuspecting suburb. A tall, thin blonde bakes in the sun as a Barbie doll is scorched on a barbecue. For torturing a cockroach under a magnifying glass, two young boys are burnt under the giant lens of the Black Hole Sun. In the end, the town people’s distorted self-images and general arrogance becomes their end”.  It is quite something to behold.

See the video (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mbBbFH9fAg

Radiohead- Street Spirit (Fade Out) (1996)

Radiohead are one of my favourite bands ever, and have been involved in some of the greatest music videos ever.  Here is a group that require no video director to make them look great: their music does the talking.  In spite of this, the band understand the importance of video making, and have an accompanying film to bring their singles to life.  Their videos for Karma Police and No Surprises are two of the best videos of recent years, and they featured in constantly compelling videos.  Their best video was for the best song, from their best album.  It seems like a perfect storm, but it is just my opinion.  The Bends was a bizarre ababerration of an L.P.  The band’s debut album Pablo Honey, A.K.A. The-One-With-Creep-On-It was a sub-par debut.  Nobody expected anything too superb from the follow-up.  Creep was a Nirvana-inspired anthem, and there were many that felt any future albums would feature songs along the same lines.  The Bends, for many reasons, was a pleasant surprise.  It remains my favourite album because it is such a phenomenal leap forward.  Bands such as Nirvana and Blur have pulled off similarly-impressive musical feats, yet it is Radiohead’s seismic shift that, to me, can be seen as the most impressive in music history.  The likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan had that potential from song one, yet Radiohead could not be considered future-legends on the basis of Pablo HoneyThe Bends not only turned out to be the biggest leap forward imaginable, yet was the beginning of a staggering 1-2-3 that would see them produce two of the greatest albums of the ’90s/early-’00s (OK Computer and Kid A).  In spite of The Bends being my favourite album, I still feel there are at least two ‘filler’ tracks.  The opening track, Planet Telext is purely awful.  If you have just produced a wonderment of an album, and need to win over an underwhelmed public, then you need to make sure the first song from the album captures you.  Planet Telex was recorded after a drunken late-night meal at a Greek restaurant… and it shows.  It is one of few songs from the Oxford boys that I care to repeat- I cannot for a second quote a lyric or tell you what it is about.  The track listing seems odd to me, and that is no disrespect to John Leckie (who produced the album).  The title track is the obvious opener, and if you want to include Planet Telex, it should have been buried in the middle of the album.  Bones, too, comes across, as unimpressive, purely because it is a weaker brother of The Bends, Just and My Iron Lung.  That trio of tracks was a solid set of harder-hitting rock tracks and Bones seems lightweight and disposable by comparison.  Those are my only grumbles as the album is a stonewall masterpiece.  Yorke’s voice is a staggering feat and entrances from the off; the songs are introspective yet staggering and the tracks are tight, focused and hugely accomplished.  The boys ended the album with the finest track: Street Spirit (Fade Out).  When coming up with a video to visualise the song, it was going to be a mighty task.  The track is a dark and foreboding gem and Jonathan Glazer was equal to the task.  Glazer has directed videos for Richard Ashcroft and Jamiroquai.  His finest work was the black-and-white film for Street Spirit (Fade Out).  Filmed over two nights in a desert outside of L.A. it was a pivotal moment for Glazer, whom knew that he had helped the band discover their voice.  The video is notable for its open-ended interpretations as well as its filming technique.  It was shot using a special camera that films slow motion- usually a camera used to film ballistic missiles.  In single scenes it shows one member of the band in slow motion, and the other in normal speed.  Various scenes are shown: Yorke falling from a Winnebago roof; Jonny Greenwood leaping into a Winnebago back- before he completes the movement.  There are images of Yorke breaking panes of glass with a hammer; Yorke running away in slow motion, as a boy- carrying a chair- runs in the other direction (in normal speed).  It is hypnotic and jaw-dropping as it seems to fit the track seamlessly.  You may have your opinions on what the scenes represent, yet seem to marry perfectly the lyrics, which speak of dislocation, fear and dread.  Whatever your view, the fact remains: it is a stunning masterpiece of a video.

See the video (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrTB-iiecqk

Having watched and re-watched the five videos above, I have been compelled to seek out more videos and study them.  They act as a representation of a song, and are an important visual aid.  In the past, there has been huge attention paid to getting it right; making sure that the video is the best possible.  It is not always the case, as there have been some terrible videos, and a lot that are just very ordinary.  The artform really hit it stride- and peaked- in the ’90s and early-’00s.  Honourable mentions go to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA) (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’)- consider by many to be the best video ever.  It is almost a film in itself, boasts a wonderful concept, and is something that- once watched- is not forgotten.  Aphex Twin’s Come To Daddy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-9UvrLyj3k) (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’)gets a mention, due to Chris Cunningham’s ability to in grain image and frightening scenes into your mind.  Final mention goes to the Michel Gondry-directed Hyperballad (by Bjork) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26sP2WsA5cY) (right-click on link and select ‘open in new tab’).  It features Björk as a computer game character who runs through an obscure, two-dimensional landscape of pylons before throwing herself off a cliff.  All of the videos I have mentioned were either made in the early-’00s or sooner.  There is no less money in music, so I am wondering whether the quality of the music is not inspiring creative minds; or whether those minds aren’t out there at all.  I always get excited when coming up with a music video idea, and hope that a chance will come when I can realise them.  It is true that videos can be expensive to make, but if you see videos like Lucas With The Lid Off, The Hardest Button to Button and Street Spirit (Fade Out), these win their stripes by their creativity and originality.  Directors like Gondry employ intelligence and a different way of thinking; one that is not reliant on a huge budget.  I fear that less importance is being placed on music videos, and possibly even towards music itself.  Everything seems to be turning towards a digital reality, and the solid product is in danger of becoming obsolete.  I hate to think that album art and videos will be negated, in favour of something sterile, impersonal, unreal and computer-generated.  It is vital that new music gets more ambitious and fearless, and in turn it will spike the minds of upcoming directors.  It would be interesting to see who else has any particular favourites, as there are dozens of videos that capture your imagination and attention.  Sometimes the music inspires something wonderful; occasionally bad songs can be made epic; classic songs can even be overshadowed by an even better music video.  I am sure that everyone has an idea for a music video in their back pocket, so I am curious as to why so few memorable ones are being made currently.  I hope my cynicism is premature, but I feel eager directors are favouring film and T.V. over music.  That would be a shame, as personally the videos I have mentioned stick in my mind for so many reasons.  I can name several dozen others (from the ’80s and ’90s) which stir something inside me, so I ask this:

WHEN will we see another classic music video again?

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Track Review: Ages and Ages- Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)

TRACK REVIEW:

 

 

 

Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages

Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)

9.6/10.0

 

 

 

Divisionary (Do The Right Thing) is available from:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BAU9mKJjdU

The album, Divisionary is released in the U.K. by Partisan on March 24.

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Oregon gloom-eradicators have a mandate built around consideration and elevation of the human spirit.  Their (seemingly increasing) membership are determined to put a smile on everyone’s face.  You’ll be powerless to resist.

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I am going to begin today’s feature with a couple of charming psychotic rants.

I’m probably being hard on myself, but it may appear that way to the casual outsider.  The first ‘point’ concerns the geographical distribution of new musical talent.  I have postulated before that the music media is remiss in pointing out international flavours and delicacies.  It has been pleasurable helping to foster and aid home-grown talent, and I am always keen to help enable their growth and ambition.  After a while, one looks farther afield and is eager to seek out foreign influence and wonder.  Over last year I was lucky enough to survey some bands and acts from around the world, including Swedish electro-pop; Australian hard rock- as well as plenty of U.S. music.  It is America that is producing some of the best new music of the moment.  Historically-speaking, it has been the U.K. and U.S. whom have produced the greatest musical output of all time.  The previous couple of years has seen this trend continue, yet to my mind I have not heard many U.S. counterparts come forth.  I know that the music being made across the pond is something special, yet I have had to dig for it and happen upon it by serendipity.  It has been a fortunate and somewhat fluke-laden discovery, and it always leaves me asking the same question: why is it so difficult to come upon these acts?  The established music publications and websites seem to focus too wholly on established music, and proffering the merits and plans of the status quo.  If you expand this theory outwards, there is a helix of vague attention in the musical atmosphere.  The likes of The Guardian are dedicated to seeking out great new musical talent, and there are other websites which do the same; yet to my mind there are still too few whom spend very little time doing so.  I have written (in great depth) about the music acts from our shores; concerning the geographical location of the very best; the various sounds one can encounter- as well as the greatest acts to watch for this year.  It is a daunting task when trying to do the same with regards to the U.S.  In the past year I have come across some great talent from L.A.- mainly sunshine pop and intelligent electro-pop.  Within New York, there has been some great and staunch rock acts proffering their gold, as well as fascinating soul movements.  Towards the Canadian border in Minnesota, I have heard some cerebral, pastoral acoustic sounds; and the southern states have offered up a mixed bag of sounds (and genres).  This still leaves a large chunk of territory unaccounted for, and a huge swathe of land awaiting the manifest destiny of the musically ambitious..  If everyone thinks about it for a second, how many can say that they have heard a lot of music from the Midwestern realms of the U.S.?  This is an area that I shall be looking closely towards over the following months; over Kansa and Nebraska- wondering what music is currently being made here.  My featured act emanate and play the western climbs of Oregon.  The state of Oregon is situated in the Pacific Northwest region of America, and has California directly beneath it.  Because of the situation of the state, it is synonymous with a wide and diverse landscape.  Housing glaciers, volcanoes and the Pacific coastline, Oregon has a large proportion of German, English and Irish inhabitants.  The city of Portland is the most populus in the state, and the ‘Rose City’ boasts marvellous skylines and scenic views; as well as a rich heritage and history.  I shall examine our featured band a little later, yet for the moment, I want to switch to a different subject.  This particular topic concerns the audio mood of new music.  When I hear new bands and solo artists come forth, I am often struck by the same feeling: there is a lot of introspection and sadness.  I understand that a lot of artists are writing from a personal perspective, and when it comes to the nature of love and relations, a great deal of what is being written concerns dislocation, fracture and heartache.  This is all very well, yet it seems that over the course of however many years, we have probably heard more than enough of this.  There are few bands or artists whom can offer any new tangent or perspective on the well-trodden themes of love, loss and personal anxieties.  Few take the time to originate something fresh and bold (in terms of musical and lyrical themes).  I have reviewed the likes of NoNoNo and Issimo, whom between them, write songs about jubilation and sunshine; witty romantic by-play, as well as vivid and memorable scenes of city life- and drunken nights out.  Some bands have tempted forth playlets around financial crisis and objective tenderness, yet there is still a huge gap in the market left open.  In a time- and season- that offers little in the way of comfort and positivity, it is crucial that music offers up some respite and escape.  The great artists of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s produced their fair share of uplifting songs, yet the current generation seem to be entrenched in a quagmire of gloom and stress.  It is essential that songs are written concerning the nature of broken love- it provides assurance to many and is eminently relatable to many.  There are plenty of examples that can produce this type of music, so I ask myself why so few are trying to be different and positive.  When you look back at the greatest bands of the previous decades, their catalogue contains plenty of upbeat and diverse music.  If you take a band like Radiohead, for instance.  Many have written them off as masters of the depressive love song, yet if you examine their back catalogue, there is plenty to bully the soul.  Albums such as Amnesiac and In Rainbows contained some lovely and hypnotic music.  The ’90s masters such as Blur and Supergrass were notable for their augmentation and inspiring music, and of-the-moment acts such as Arcade Fire and Daft Punk are going some way to keeping this legacy alive.  It is largely solo artists whom are guilty of penning too many blue tunes, yet the band market is not entirely blameless.  We are comfortably in 2014, and I have examined a few bands and acts that have given me comfort and reason for re-examination.  It is true that constant caffeine-infused Technicolor can be cloying, yet the right amount is tantamount when building music that is inspiring and durable.  This year will make or break quite a few new acts.  I am hoping that the well-known and beloved acts continue to show the world how it is done, but I am equally keen to see new music take a foothold, and challenge the masters of song.  There will be some depressive musings on love; I am confident there will be some fragile tales on broken relationships, and there will be a metric tonne of tracks relating to themes of a darker nature; yet I feel that we shall see some of this: positive and sunshine-infused music that can bring a smile to our faces.

Concerning this previous topic, one of the bands that is most likely to replace rain with sunshine is the Portland ensemble, Ages and Ages.  On their Facebook page, they are described thus: “Ages and Ages is more than a band. It’s a collective of like-minded souls that believe in the power of music to change the world and elevate the spirit. Their music is bright and uplifting, with lyrics, penned by bandleader Tim Perry, that deliver serious introspective messages full of insight and consideration for others”.  That description may bring to mind a scary cult buried deep in the woods of Idaho, yet the band are collective that are determined to re-appropriate any dour negativity; buck and infuse tired minds, and create music of the highest order.  When one looks around for comparative music acts, your mind is perhaps drawn to The Polyphonic Spree.  I admit I was never a fan of the Texan clan.  I found their music to be uplifting and happy for sure, yet I was never struck by the quality they offered up.  There seemed to be a spiritual and almost religious aspect to a lot of their music, and being an atheist, that is perhaps why they never really connected with me.  In addition to the fact that they often wore white robes and seemed to have a crystal meth-level of effusiveness about them, they came across as a little strange.  I am not sure whether Ages and Ages are directly inspired by the group, yet I find that the ‘negative’ elements have been stripped away, and the essential and wonderful core remains: the positivity and consideration for the human race.  The roll call of Ages and Ages takes a while to get through, as at the moment, the core membership contains: Tim Perry, Rob Oberdorfer, Sarah Riddle, John McDonald, Becca Schultz, Annie Bethancourt, Levi Cecil, Jade Brings Plenty.  There is no Polyphonic Spree/White Stripes rigid uniformity and dress code; instead each member has their own distinct personality, fashion and mindset.  The group portray themselves as a close-knit family, whom bond over their mutual respect for humanitarian themes.  The group also have an ‘extended family’, too: Daniel Hunt, Kate O’Brien Clarke, Jay Clarke, Lisa Stringfield, Graham Mackenzie, Wolf Carr, Liz Robins, Tamara Harris, Lewi Longmire, Ben Nugent, Kevin Robinson, Jenn Dolan, Chase Garber, Sharon Cannon, Roberta Gannett, Samantha Kushnick, Teri Untalan.  I am not sure whether this year will see more progeny enter the happy household, yet it seems that there is definitely strength in numbers.  Their album, Divisionary, is released in March, and the band have described it, thus: “When we made this album, we wanted a word to describe how we felt and what we were going through as individuals and a band,” Perry says, “so we made one up. ‘Divisionary’ signifies a group whose vision of ‘right’ is upsetting to the existing power structure. It includes a philosophical, spiritual, and physical ‘breaking off’ from the status quo. It also references the individual inner conflicts that arise as you struggle to make the right choices in life. Visionaries don’t always create conflict, but they challenge the establishment with new ideas and with the threat of change. Where there is change, there is usually resistance, controversy, division“.  The likes of The Guardian are helping to transition the group to Europe; to bring their music over the world’s greatest continent (biased, I know), and help our poor raid-addled heads warm and feel nurtured.  This year and this winter will be made a lot more bearable when the Oregon brothers and sisters come play down my way.  The next couple of months see the band complete a busy itinerary.  They are playing across Germany, Belgium and France- stopping off in London on February 19th.  Whilst the likes of Australia have been burdened by soaring and stifling heat; the U.S. plagued by snow and record (low) temperatures, it is the clement and warmth of Ages and Ages that provide balance, restoration and safety.  Those unaffiliated with the brand of music pervaded by the group, should not see them as a gleeful novelty or saccarine-sweet group of pointless optimists.  Whatever you think about the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, our U.S. wonders are a lot more fascinating and merit-worthy (to my ears).  Their music is positive and uplifting, yet it is not bland and anodyne sunshine and twee merriment.  Nuance and sophistication can be detected throughout their music, and there is plenty to recommend to music lovers of all genres.  The band’s first album, Alright You Restless, was described around “a group of people leaving a selfish, destructive society for a place safe from the madness. That was like starting a band, wanting to establish new rules and a language to put some distance between themselves and the noise outside. Those songs were optimistic, energetic and self-righteous because that’s how a group of people who broke off from society would feel. As the group faces the struggles of actually making their community work, reality sets in and things get more complicated. Divisionary details the second phase of the journey.”  The interim period between albums, did see some spiritual contemplation by Tim Perry.  Reflection and introspection were called for, and the resultant afterglow saw the bandleader in inspired mood.  Together with Oberdorfer, the duo got to work on the focusing and channeling their energies into Divisionary.  The group have been through their fair share of tragedy, and it seems that most of its members have encountered some horrors over the years.  Cancer, suicide and freak accidents have claimed the lives of sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents; it appears that a great deal of adversity has befallen the group.  Whereas most would use this as a pretence to project music of the darkest order, Ages and Ages instead have turned tragedy into joy; overcoming the cannibalising nature of death and used it to create songs filled with positivity and redemption.  Whatever your views of the effectiveness and purposefulness of spiritual mediation, it seems to have at least provided solace and life to the group.  Before I leave to focus on their latest track, I will speak a little more about the band.  They have plenty of humour and bonhomie in their bones and are a group whom are tangible and universal.  Their appeal is not going to come from their music and ethos alone; the personalities and collective weight of the members is of equal importance.  They are essentially real and brave people, coming together, determined to make music to uplift people.  It is rare that a band takes time to consider others, rather than obsessively fulfil their own demons and demands, yet the Portland troupe are a revelation indeed.  The L.P., Divisionary is going to be one of the albums of 2014- I shall assess it more in my conclusion.  I am looking at the title track for the moment, and it is something that the band view as: “a secular gospel song with inspirational harmonies, sanctified piano and smooth violin adding muscle to a simple refrain”.  Without further ado, let us begin…

Upon the witness of the first few seconds of Visionary (Do The Right Thing), the sense of calm is evident.  Beginning life as a gentle acoustic strum, the song infuses the repeated coda of “Do the right thing/Do the right thing“, right from the off.  Our hero leads us gently in, his voice awash with conviction and calm as it is said: “Make yourself bright/Never mind them“.  When additional vocal support enters the fray, there is a hostile element that creeps in.  Although the song has been billed as a “secular gospel song with inspirational harmonies” it is not something that is divine or exclusive to the spiritual or religious.  The messages and words are intended for everyone, and as such, are stronger for it.  The vocal pace and sound has a sense of The First Days of Spring-era Noah and the Whale.  Songs from that album such as Blue Skies and the tile track are comparable tracks, and the vocal sound has shades of Charlie Fink.  When the words “Don’t you know/You’re not the only one suffering” are delivered, it is a sentiment that is designed to introduce context and rationale.  Although it may be axiomatic, everyone has some hidden trouble, and the band enforce this truth.  The mantras and codas are repeated- to great effect- within the first minute of the song.  The sense of doing right and doing it “all the time” are elementary considerations, and the repetition of these lines ensures that they are not easily forgotten- and that their meanings are burrowed within your brain.  There is a feeling that the lyrics are more of a sermon than part of a song; the way in which the vocal builds and multiples puts one in mind of a choir.  After the chorus is delivered, vocal duties are switched, as it is said: “They say formality/This is what they really meant“.  Backing the vocals is a single percussive slam (a tambourine, I think), interspersed between wordless vocal accompaniment.   Before long, the chorus returns, and more vocal elements and additions are built-in.  The combination of male and female voices lends weight and range, and the conjoined effect is one of uplift and melodic harmony.  Whether there is any personal relevance or background to the song’s themes is unsure, yet one feels that personal history from the band enforces lines like: “But we know better than/Not to take them serious” and “Don’t let them make you bitter/In the process“.  A percussive beat tees up another build up, and you get an immediate sense that things are going to become bigger, brighter and more epic.  Vocal backing harmonies adds a blood rush through the veins; the sparse but effective percussion adds a metronome heartbeat, as a forceful and effective vocal core implores: “They say it’s nothing/But that ain’t the reality“.  Our hero’s vocal is effective and direct; when combined with female vocals the lines “If you love yourself/You better get out/Get out” take on different meaning.  It has its roots in inspirational implore, yet almost takes the form of a call between lovers, perhaps.  There is almost a romantic element to the sound and sensation, and not only does the sound and intensity build, so too does the meaning and interpretation of the lyrics themselves.  Again the chorus comes back in, but on this occasion in the form of a round.  The line “Do you right thing” is sung; it is repeated; the line “Do it all the time” comes in so that it is layered and duets perfectly.  Step by the step the song builds, and you always get the sense that something huge awaits.  Again- inevitably- vocal elements are built-in; the chorus is repeated, and new lines are introduced.  The mood lifts even higher, and the dizzying effect intensifies.  It is impossible to forget the central message that is being delivered.  In the way that Hey Jude is synonymous with its infectious and mesmeric wordless refrain, so too is Divisionary (Do The Right Thing).  The final 90 seconds of the track is a slowly building structure.  The vocal rounds are seeped into your consciousness; the bare but stirring musical backing makes its way to the forefront, and the hairs stand up on end.  If you watch the accompanying video for the track, it is built around a story that the band explain: “For the video, we decided to portray this struggle through the story of a bunch of young kids who set out to make things right, but lose a part of themselves along the way. They may have started off on the same path and with good intentions, but their struggle reveals varying agendas and leads them in very different directions“.  It is a compelling and original direction, and it adds an additional weight and merit to the song.  Keeping yourself true and straight in the face of adversity, darkness and struggle is a hard enough thing to do, but the track implores the listener to do so; its simple message and effective delivery goes a long way to making it a reality- for everyone.  In around about four minutes, the Oregon group whip up such a storm of memorable song, that it is hard to forget.  The track builds up from base foundations and grows step by step.  By the closing moments there is a sense of exhaustion and slight wonderment, and the abiding sense of jubilation and redemption is palpable.  It is clear that the ensuing L.P. will be a memorable collection of songs.  The sound and sensations differ, yet the overall sense of positivity and reflection are a constant.  “A stomping, exuberant bass drum pushes the giddy pop vocals of I See More,  as it reassures listeners that, “It’s all OK, I’ll be on your side.” The jaunty folk pop of Big Idea holds a flickering candle up to the darkness with intricate hand clapping, gentle harmonies and the candid admission that, “All of my ins are on the outside. And I want you all to notice, cuz I have no will to hide.” On Over It, acoustic guitars played in open tunings dance across a complex musical landscape to Eastern melodies and counter melodies, leading to the group declaring over a swaying 6/8, “I have no remorse for the way that I am anymore. No, I feel no shame.” The band’s funky hand clapping folk rock rhythms move The Weight Below as Perry and the band belt out a soaring chorus to release the feelings that cause stress and suffering. “And the weight that we left behind, we’re all better off without it, and it ain’t even worth our time, so I ain’t gonna worry about it.” The complex structure of Light Goes Out, bounces along on a stomping bass line, bright, piano shenanigans and the band’s joyously dislocated vocals: “I kept up with the verses in my head, running right along beside ‘em all day. At some point, well I found myself wondering if I was even running or just running away.”

The future will be a prosperous and bright one for Ages and Ages.  The music industry is one that is bustling and constantly evolving.  There is far too much vague imploring and generic sounds out there, and when it comes to distinguishing the best from the most boring, it is a difficult and frustrating task.  I hope that the music press get their act together, soon.  There are more than enough publications and websites operating, yet it seems that there is scant consideration for international new music.  The links between them and social media is tenuous, with poor tensile strength; the link between social media and the general public weaker still.  It has been said:  “The harmonies and intricate instrumental interplay on Divisionary are carefully crafted, but never sound forced, with complex arrangements that are naturalistic, invigorating and free. The clash between the band’s stirring folkadelic sounds and emotionally thorny subject matter makes for a bracing listen, which, according to Perry, it is “if the internal conflict is happening in real-time,”.  Music that offers up this kind of substance and fascination should not be discovered by happenstance.  I always consider myself fortunate if I come about music like this, but angry that I was not made aware sooner.  The band come to Europe soon, and will be enlivening and trying to convert the uninitiated masses.  I hope to catch the group play, and am excited at what is in store for them.  It is going to be curious to see what foreign bands make their way to the airwaves of the U.K., and which remain in the public consciousness.  There will be a smattering of music from Europe and Australia coming this year, but it will be the sounds emanating from the U.S. that will be the most fascinating.  I have already witnessed a few new bands and solo artists offering up some tantalising colours, and Ages and Ages have added their name into the hat.  The Divisionary L.P. will showcase the troupe at the height of their power; songs will feature plenty of serotonin storm; elliptical brilliance, as well as some glorious sounds and orchestrated wonderment.  It is always gratifying and rewarding finding a new music act whom provide temporary appeal.  Those which arrive and offer up sustained quality and appeal are a rarity: yet Ages and Ages do just that.  There is going to be a lot of tough competition when it comes to winning the public’s hearts; those willing to be different and bold are always more likely to succeed.  Our Portland heroes are going to be a name to watch this year.  It is not just because of the music on offer, but the way in which the band think and operate.  It is their kinship, as well as their theories which compels and draw you in.  It is probable best I leave you with some apt words from Perry: “We live in a country where a substantial amount of the population would rather discard science than admit climate change is happening. A culture which, more and more, considers higher education to be some kind of liberal indoctrination. A culture that does not value critical thinking and a power elite that perpetuates misinformation, apathy, and ignorance because it preserves the status quo. I don’t blame people for feeling daunted, apathetic, powerless, and overwhelmed, but I believe that facing the darkness is a necessary step in overcoming it.  These songs reflect that optimism, but they don’t do so lightly or try to dodge the struggles we’re dealing with individually and as a band. It was an exceptionally long, hard road this time around but in the end, we’re all really proud and excited to share this record.”  I hope that people snap up their L.P., and take to heart the examples within Divisionary (Do The Right Thing).  It is only February, yet we have truly witnessed…

THE start of summer.

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Follow Ages and Ages

Official:

http://www.agesandages.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/agesandages

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/AgesandAges

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/AGESANDAGESMUSIC

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/agesandages

YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/davidwardmusic