Why Videos Matter Again: A Postscript

In perfect treadmill-like timing, shortly after our “Why Videos Matter Again” piece went live, OK Go released their latest video for song “All is Not Lost”.  We thought it only fitting to also post their latest innovative creation as an epilogue.  Though this spandex-clad “ass on the glass” video has us scratching our heads a bit, we won’t deny its ingenuity.  Though the standard YouTube version is certainly worth a watch, if you use Google Chrome, you can check out the cool interactive version here.

by Adrienne Panveno

Why Videos Matter Again

There was a point in time a few decades back, when music videos were still relevant.  Before MTV was nothing more than regurgitated reality shows, they actually featured music instead of talentless faux celebritwits.  Suddenly, people had access to bands they never would have otherwise heard; they could see them, hear them, get a feel for their creativity and sense of style.  It changed everything about how we consumed music.

Back when music television was still relevant.

But as MTV changed their format in the 90’s so did the video world.  Top 40 artists could still show their videos on countdown shows and special features, but unless you were lucky enough to have MTV2, less mainstream acts were lost to most of the viewing public.  Today in a world where cable companies are losing customers to the interweb, videos have suddenly made a major comeback.  Going viral is what it is all about, and any media savvy performer knows it.  Gone are the days of big record labels spending millions on a video shoot; with a little imagination and a digital video camera, bands are producing videos that push the boundaries of creativity on their own.

It is safe to say that Chicago band OK Go paved the way for truly viral musical videos.  Their video for “Here it Goes Again” was a basic, DYI concept; a dance routine [choreographed by the sister of one of the band members] is performed by band on 6 treadmills in a garage.  The result is ridiculously simple and simply ridiculous – and pure internet gold.  Shortly after it’s release on YouTube, it caught on like wildfire, and not just with music fans.  It was featured on every news outlet from Good Morning America to Nightline, and chances are even your parents know about it.  Parodies and copycats flooded the internet  solidifying their place as pop icons.

But more than just a one trick pony, OK Go realized they could reach out to a lot more people with social media by cutting out the middle man – their major label.  So they left EMI and went on to form Paracadute, their own company suited for releasing records, video producing, publishing, and well, whatever else they feel like doing.  Though their treadmill video may have been their biggest hit to date, they have continued to create unique and highly watchable videos including one animated completely with toast and another featuring dancing rescue dogs, but their pièce de résistance has surely been the second video for “This Too Shall Pass”.  Shot with corporate sponsorship from State Farm Insurance, this huge Rube Goldberg machine will leave your jaw hanging.  Fun and Quirky and imaginative, just like OK Go themselves.

But where treadmills broke new ground, many indie artists have followed, and a surge of imaginative new videos.  While movie magic isn’t out of the picture entirely, it has been taken down a notch, instead using older effects, that given a modern touch, can be just as fun as anything high tech.

Even though it involves some basic special F/X, like the treadmill video singer/songwriter Diane Birch‘s video for “Valentino” is all about clever choreography and timing.  The song and its matching video are both fun and lighthearted, but it’s the “behind the screen” video that you will have you truly impressed.  At the beginning of the video they state the final cut was take number 57, but in the end Birch’s timing was near perfect and the result is highly entertaining.

Another example, it the stripped down video for “Lessons Learned” by Brooklyn indie act Matt and Kim.  The premise here again is fairly simple.  Matt and Kim walk through the crowded streets of Times square while stripping off their clothes.  The video is in no way distasteful or lewd, and is in fact quite powerful with the musicians themselves [Kim especially] acting out the scene with intensity.  With the exception of the surprise ending, this video could have been shot on an iPhone; and that is exactly the point.  Even though videos have made a comeback, they are no longer the same animal.  Allowing their creation to be accessible to real artists, and not just corporate executives, elevates it to a true new art form; an extension of the band’s artistic vision and another way to reach out to those who would listen.

by Adrienne Panveno

Gillian Welch : Orphan Girl

Two disclaimers. I loathe what passes for country music. I am a fan, in the fanatical sense, of Gillian Welch, her band, and her collaborations with David Rawlings.  Here’s why.

While country music now is passably decent pop music, it resembles true hill country music as much as Christians resemble Christ. With unfortunately few exceptions, it has divorced itself completely from the source, and flies the flag out of some kind of guilty reverence to something long ago abandoned.

On the other hand, this unlikely duo of college music students has managed to inhabit the spirit and traditions of forms dead long before they were born, and have made them live once more. This is neither slavish reproduction nor fawning supplication, but rather revival and nurturing.  If you didn’t know better, you would never have known the passing. They have managed, against all odds, to allow what this kind of music has always, and can still, do. They have been ignored by the industry and chastised by purists who believe these forms died and went to heaven, and that evolution is blasphemy.

In its essence, country music was cheap, portable, and organic. Using borrowed and inherited traditions from European ancestors, the tunes were a truly American extension of the spoken word in music. It was both news and entertainment; politics and mythology, emotional and spiritual wondering, as well as an historical record among people for whom literacy was a luxury.

Gradually, musical modernizations bought it to the the point where money could come in and steal the life from it. Gillian Welch has both turned back the clock and fast forwarded it at the same time. While it sounds old-timey, and mines all those classic harmonies and style, it is thoroughly modern. The writing is both historical and timeless. The playing, especially by Rawlings, is as complex as is possible in standard three-chords-and-a-minor. It is genius. His playing, as well as her rock-steady rhythm and workman-like banjo playing always serves the song first, last and foremost.

But to understand how special this all is, one must see them live. Their set-up is a few choice microphones and a sewing case of picks, capos, and extra strings. They really could perform, exactly as they have recorded, in your parlor, and nothing would be lost. The almost trance-like interplay between them is impossible to describe. This semi-conscious state never fails to seduce even those who find themselves at the wrong venue. There are others who toil in these fields, and there is much love and respect among them, but these two up-starts have transformed the idiom, and made it their own.

Rawlings and Welch

From the down beat they are gone. These two somewhat shy and friendly folk one might meet in the market suddenly morph into a single being; he all contorted and searching for the notes no one else can find, and she beautifully feral, hunched and brow-furrowed; driving a slow freight train of rhythm.

And then the voices. Voices you might hear on the porch Saturday evenings when barns were made to dance in. Except that this is deadly serious, for there is a song to be served, and they are faithful servants. The audience slowly disappears, and the sounds close in. They are not so much listening to one another as to the music between and around them. They are inhabiting this circle of song, which grows smaller and tighter until even they have ceased to exist. And when the music stops, and the spell is broken, they seem almost embarrassed, as if unsteady for a moment after awakening from the reverie.

This older performance of one of their more popular songs, nicely makes the point. Of the journey from the here and now into the timelessness. But the intimacy of physical witness is lost.

I have seen them perform this bit of magic on four occasions, and am looking forward to my next transformation this September in Los Angeles, on the occasion of her latest new work in eight years. Make it a point to see them if you are anywhere near one of their performances. You will not be disappointed.

by Michael Merline

Thao + Mirah : Indie’s Perfect Storm

The artist simply known as Mirah as been a lo-fi staple of the Pacific Northwest’s indie music scene for over a decade and has produced some of the most beautifully interesting music in the industry.  Her voice matches as well with grainy electronic beats and reverb as it does with the minimalist sound of a single instrument.  Lyrically, she is just as strong, being able to wax poetic about everything from simple lost love to the emotional yearnings of a fruit fly.

Mirah

While her 5 solo albums have reached much acclaim, Mirah has never been afraid of unique collaborations and challenges.  Her first major collaboration came in 2006 with Joyride: The Remixes.  Taking tracks from her first three albums, several renown Djs and producers changed her lo-fi sound into something danceable, a juxtaposition that shone Mirah in a brand-new light.

Her next collaboration in 2007 with the Spectratone International is possibly one of the highlights of her career.  Much to the joy of entomologists everywhere, Share This Place: Stories and Observations is an insect lovers dream world taking inspiration from the writings of French scholar Jean Henri Fabre.  The inspiration is apparently contagious, as the album went on to inspire a multi-media performance piece by artist Britta Johnson.

Fast forward to San Fransisco 2011, when the planets aligned and Mirah’s schedule  synced up with friend Thao Nguyen of the Get Down Stay down.  Since being signed to Kill Rock Stars in 2006, Thao has proved herself to be quite the singer/songwriter with her in her own right, and her band has received much critical praise.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

Together, Mirah and Thao with the help of friend and colleague Merrill Garbus [Tune-Yards, 4AD] went in to record a series of tracks that would become the pair’s debut album.  Mirah’s ethereal sound shines through on some songs, while Thao brings a sense of funk to others.  The two bounce off each other like the hot indie chick version of Abbot & Costello.  While Thao + Mirah runs the emotional gambit, the cohesiveness of the record as a whole is undeniable, and the overall result is pretty gosh darn great.

by Adrienne Panveno

The Harlequins – Vitamin Water/Vice Magazine Party – July 14

Nothing like the promise of free booze to bring the kids out on a hot Thursday night, and boy howdy, were they out!  When my compatriot and I walked in the door of MOTR shortly before 10pm, we found ourselves 10 minutes shy of the end of open bar and it was complete pandemonium.  Four deep at the bar.  We elbowed our way to the front only to be told, “no more free drinks”.  I ordered anyway, paid for two beers and we immediately took off for the back patio.  Nearly missing being punched/kissed/thrown up on by a myriad of drunken hipsters within 10 feet, I was already stressed out and in need of a cigarette.

The patio was as packed as the bar, and it was at least twenty degrees hotter.  As I scanned the crowd, I can safely and respectfully say that this event brought out just about every scenester in Cincinnati.  It was kind of amazing.  On a Thursday no less.  We mingled and drank and became antsy as we were promised music.  Aside from the Harlequins, two other bands were set to perform, Sacred Spirits and The Weakness, but I saw them neither playing nor setting up.  But our anticipation was soon answered when the Harlequins finally went on shortly after eleven.  It felt like the crowd had thinned once the free alcohol ran out, but upon reentering the building, it was a pleasant surprise to find quite the packed house still, and The Harlequins giving the crazed rock and roll fans exactly what they came out for.

The thing about the Harlequins is that they are consistent – as in they consistently put on a good show.  Cincinnati has a lot of great bands, but some perhaps spend too much time on the extracurriculars of rock and roll preventing them from giving a satisfactory performance on a regular basis. The Harlequins never disappoint.  I have seen them play in some strange locations and over some rough sound systems, and they still manage to take it to town every single time.  They figure out a way to use these variables to their advantage, and make it part of the show.  The enthusiasm they have for their own music is contagious, and it is difficult to resist the groove.

Corporate sponsorship of shows in becoming unavoidable [the Vitamin Water branding was everywhere last night], but this time it was merely more than a small annoyance against the backdrop of a really great Summer party.  Sure, it was packed and hot, and sure, there were quite a few people who had obviously been over served during the open bar portion of the night,  but the music was loud and rocking, and people were in high spirits.  The city of Cincinnati was well represented, and Vice Magazine chose the right band to do it.

by Adrienne Panveno

Songs of Summer Series – The Seedy Seeds

#5  Verb Noun – The Seedy Seeds

The darlings [no pun intended] of the Cincinnati music scene, The Seedy Seeds are the very ultimate in feel good music.  Using electronic beats to back traditional folk instruments they create a sound that is truly their own, resulting in what has been dubbed “Appalachitronica”.  Their latest release Verb Noun keeps everything that makes them so great – sing-along lyrics and fun musical arrangements- but spotlights their continued growth as a band.  Their sound is more mature, and the songs are a bit dreamy while still keeping a beat you can tap your toe to.  The title song and accompanying video portray one of the best parts of Summer – hanging out and doing silly shit with your friends- which makes it the final installment of our Songs of Summer Series.

Songs of Summer Series – Girls

#4 Lust for Life – Girls

Summertime. The end of December generally gets credit for the turning of the year, but the middle of Summer, and the cauldron it creates, is really when things change. The pause it gives school, work, and responsibility in general determines what will then follow. This track by Girls nicely summarizes the point, without any hint of responsibility. Both song and video combine to supply the anarchy of spirit needed for the season.

The song is trashy, loose, disjointed and, well, fun. It mines all of the style and lack of substance of any pop song or drive-in movie you have ever been exposed to, and is completely in-your-face silly.  The video, all grainy, cheap quick-cut and hurried, only requires that you let go of your insufferable class-ism and chill the fuck out.