Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Flaming Lips: Watching the Planets

If you’re wondering why that screenshot above is so blurry, there’s a simple explanation: It’s one of the few moments of the Flaming Lips’ “Watching the Planets” music video that doesn’t feature a penis.

As this six-minute clip makes abundantly clear, Flaming Lips fans come in all shapes and sizes. If there’s one thing that unites them though, it may be a universal lack of desire to see hairy Lips frontman Wayne Coyne naked. Unfortunately for them – and us – that’s just what happened in September when Coyne decided to shoot a Hair-inspired naked bike ride.

“There’s a difference between pornography and just freaks who are naked,” Coyne told at the time. “This is about unrestricted freedom and a good lawlessness that’s always sort of implied at our shows.”

“Freaks who are naked” does aptly describe the resulting video. Anyone still holding on to the Renaissance notion that the human body is a beautiful thing may be disillusioned watching a bunch of average Joes and Jills riding around the woods or engaging in tribal-like jumping.

“Maybe I’ll even get naked for the video, too,” Coyne said. “I don’t even know how it ends — maybe it ends with them all getting clothed and making me get naked and shoving me back into the giant fur egg. I just came up with that right now.”

The bad news Coyne predicted: he does get naked. The bad news he didn’t: no one gets clothed. Instead the whole band of nude merrymakers hoist Coyne aloft in what looks like the beginnings of the most nauseating orgy ever.

“Watching the Planets” is the second video promoting the Lips’ double-album Embryonic, and watching the entire thing is an exercise in endurance like a Tour de Uncomfortable. Did I mention the enormous fur-covered vagina Wayne gets shoved into at the end? I better not. I just ate.

Verdict: 1/5 stars

Watch The Flaming Lips' "Watching the Planets" here.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Lady Gaga: Bad Romance

Lady Gaga’s latest video has all the hallmarks of a Britney Spears promo. Heavy choreography, bedside seduction, plaintive close-ups, it’s all there. As anyone who saw her blood-soaked performance at this year’s VMAs knows, though, Gaga’s a Tim Burton Britney, freaking us out one Kermit costume at a time.

In her new video for “Bad Romance” this visually-inclined artist goes through more bizarre costumes than a Cirque de Soleil show. First she emerges in an all-white lycra suit that covers everything but her mouth. Later she sensually drags along a polar bear carcass behind her fur coat. Of course, this follows her “Orbit” outfit where concentric metal rings revolving around her.

The song itself comes from Gaga’s The Fame Monster, an expanded edition of her breakthrough debut that features eight new songs. She first discussed the video a few weeks ago for Rolling Stone.

“We worked with Francis Lawrence,” she said. “He's a movie director, and he almost never does music videos anymore…I'm really impressed, even with myself – it's so amazing.”

Her facts are a little off – in the past ten years Lawrence has directed nineteen music videos and only two movies – but the man behind I Am Legend clearly is a catch. With art direction by her collective Haus of Gaga though, one wonders how much of the absurdity is his doing and how much came out of her own twisted mind.

For the fashion (if you can call it that) at least, we know Haus had help from Alexander McQueen, promoting his “Plato’s Atlantis” Spring 2010 line. While it’s unclear that there’s a market for the melting-Barbie look, the buzz is huge. Gaga’s website was supposed to premiere the view on Monday in fact, but so many fans took down the homepage with their frantic refreshing.

Few dispute that this was worth the wait though. Whether she’s surrounded by suspended diamonds or writhing in what looks like a prison shower, you can’t take your eyes off Gaga. This woman may be legally insane, but that may be the main difference between her and Britney. Gaga makes crazy fun.

Verdict: 5/5 stars

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Bowling For Soup: No Hablo Ingles

With Captain OxiClean Billy Mays having left us for that 30-minute TV spot in the sky, there’s a hole in the infomercial world. In their new music video though, Bowling for Soup try to corner that market by pitching not a product, but an excuse: “No Hablo Ingles.”

“Are you ready to take control of your life?” lead singer and “Master Motivator” Jaret Reddick shouts to the studio audience. “I have developed a bulletproof system that will help you get out of any difficult situation you may find yourself in. If life gives you stress…”

“¡No Hablo Ingles!” the crowd responds, mustering all the enthusiasm of folks paid $50 to be music video extras for the day.

With any other band this could be seen as some commentary on non-English speaking immigrants, but Bowling for Soup aren’t that profound. I mean, their previous video promoting Sorry for Partyin’ featured the quartet caressing a woman dressed as a giant penis (song title: "My Wena"). This seems downright tasteful by comparison.

A little girl gets mad when you steal her ice cream? No Hablo Ingles. Your friend busts you peeing into his pool? No Hablo Ingles. Your wife walks in on you in bed handcuffed to a man? You get the idea.

The video was directed by Sum 41 drummer Steve Jocz. Though the concept eventually wears out its welcome, perhaps that’s a sign this infomercial parody is dead on. After all, they’re throwing in a handheld mirror at no extra charge. Act now!

Verdict: 3/5 stars

Monday, 9 November 2009

Grizzly Bear: Ready, Able

Break out the clay – it’s time for another indie-folk video! Grizzly Bear’s the band in question this time, but after the Low Anthem’s brilliant clip for “Charlie Darwin,” we’re beginning to see a trend. Did a Brooklyn Play-Doh factory explode?

The sculpting for Grizzly Bear’s “Ready, Able” comes from artist Allison Schulnik, who crafts some sad clay Sasquatches to accompany the Veckatimest single. One glance at her website shows that these multicolored forest-monsters are her stock in trade, and she has not altered her approach one bit.

There’s no denying that these creations are visually fascination. Like a kiddie-clay Monet, Shulnik putting her medium’s imperfections front and center, never letting you forget you are looking at capital-a Art. The monsters melt, morph, and, in an unwelcome diversion from the clayscape, get abducted by a cellophane spaceship.

As art, it’s both progressive and nostalgic, visually stimulating and meticulously constructed. However, one gets the feeling that this was created independent of the song. Had another band come around looking for their next video, Schulnik may have shipped this footage to them. In fact, the whole thing is basically a less-cogent version of Schulnik’s fascinating “Hobo Clown” clip, available at her website and well worth a look.

By all means, watch this video and be amazed. If Grizzly Bear isn’t your thing though, put on some U2, Slayer, or anything else. It’ll work just as well.

Verdict: 3/5 stars

Friday, 6 November 2009

Marilyn Manson: Running to the Edge of the World

“Sometimes hate is not enough,” Marilyn Manson sings in “Running to the Edge of the World,” the third single off May’s The High End of Low. Unfortunately, in the one-part bloody, two-parts boring mix that concocted the music video, hate seems to be all he’s got.

This video has already started circulating among outraged viewers who don’t enjoy watching Manson beat and murder a naked woman who looks suspiciously like his ex-girlfriend Evan Rachel Wood. Fair enough. After Lily Allen kidnapping Elton John, the singer-attacking-celebrity genre does seem to be gaining steam.

But domestic violence isn't the video’s most objectionable content. Tasteless shock is this goth prince’s stock in trade after all. The true crime committed here is that he’s not even trying. The staged Wood murder is a ploy for news coverage, but filmed in jerky Blair Witch Project, it’s more irritating than it is offensive.

Directed by Manson and Nathan Cox, who previously shot Merry Maril’ in his “Personal Jesus” video, “Running to the Edge of the World” only shows the murder footage for the last two minutes of the six-and-a-half minute video. To get there you have to endure the true savagery of watching four minutes of Manson singing through a translucent curtain. For goodness sake, the man’s mascara seems to be running. Is this guy goth, or just emo?

A few years ago the Onion had a classic article, “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-to-Door Trying to Shock People.” The Manson they portrayed showing up at Girl Scout meetings covered in sheep entrails though exhibits more creativity than the real-life version. This is just the same old Manson gore, but with a whole lot more bore.

Verdict: 0/5 stars

Thursday, 5 November 2009

J. Tillman: Though I Have Wronged You

Any music video that keeps viewer attention for the duration deserves commendation. If the video only does so by being text-based though, this is faint praise indeed.

Enter the clip for J. Tillman’s “Though I Have Wronged You.” We’ve got Mr. Pink Dot and My Green Dot talking about loneliness, ego, and the fleeting nature of fame.

“I feel disconnected,” says Mr. Green Dot.
“How so,” Purple replies.
“I’ve been noticing how the first thing I do in the morning is get on the internet," says Green. "Like, before I even put a shirt on or anything.”

It goes on like for three-and-a-half minutes, running like an episode of Frasier or smarter-than-though web comic XKCD. No info has come out on the director, probably because it was a 9th-grade kid who’d just finished the first chapter of CSS for Dummies. Give the idea a point for inventiveness, but the context’s all wrong.

A video based on DOS-level programming seems like it might work with the 8-bit gitchy tunes of Crystal Castles or their ilk. Indeed, a minimalist approach suits the slow-burn of the Fleet Fox’s song. However, stalks of wheat conversing about the upcoming harvest would fit better than color pixels self-consciously ruminating about web-stalking themselves. Music that sounds 1880s Amish shouldn’t have 1980s Tron thrust upon it.

Verdict: 1/5 stars

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Muse: Undisclosed Desires

Premiering their “Undisclosed Desires” video on MySpace suggests another bid for the American acceptance that has eluded British alt-prog heroes Muse so long. Creating a weird techno-robot studio sequence like some 1984 dystopia suggests they’ll need to keep searching for that a game-changing crossover.

Still, credit this experimental trio with turning the standard in-studio routine on its head for their second single off The Resistance. Spinning guitar wheels, flashing LED lights and a singer who plugs into a wall aptly distract the viewer from the usual tedium of a band standing around. An unsettling series of words from the lyrics flash on TVs surrounding the band. “Pure.” “Violence.” “Exorcise.”

Matt Bellamy rocks the keytar, Christopher Wolsteholme slaps his bass into next month and Dominic Howard thumps out a Timbaland-esq beat on a jet-black drum kit, but it’s one solitary dancer who steals the show. The fact that her outfit consists solely of electrical cables helps.

Muse released little information on the video, leaving who directed it or where it was filmed unknown. However, a behind-the-scenes photo the band tweeted on October 20th suggests this was filmed several weeks ago. Twitter time travel may be afoot though, since this video looks straight out of the future. “Undisclosed Desires,” aka. 3001: A Muse Odyssey. (via MySpace)

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys: Empire State of Mind

When Billy Joel wrote “New York State of Mind,” he indeed meant the whole state, name-checking the Hudson River Greyhound and Riverside. As his “Empire State of Mind” video makes clear though, Jay-Z couldn’t care less about the rest of the state. It’s NYC, baby.

The third video for The Blueprint 3, “Empire State of Mind” ignores the gritty reality of Jay’s Brooklyn upbringing, using black and white cinematography to recall the glamour of ‘40s Hollywood. Times Square, the skyline, the Statue of Liberty…this is the Big Apple as only a tourist would envision it.

Joining the Jigga man in the Hype Williams- directed clip is fellow New York local Alicia Keys (as Bob Dylan sang in “Thunder on the Mountain,” “I was thinking ‘bout Alicia keys, couldn’t keep from crying / When she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line”). In the “Empire State” video though, Keys doesn’t venture far from the Naked Cowboy’s Times Square intersection, pounding on a NY-themed piano like a hotter Jerry Lee Lewis.

"It is a masterpiece video," Keys said in an interview with MTV News. "The way it's put together, it is so New York. You totally get it and understand it. It's artistic. It's hard. It's beautiful. And definitely getting to be in the middle of Times Square on my piano [with] Jay, representing our home city is a triumph. It was unbelievable."

While no one disputes that it was fun to film, constant swooping shots over the city come off like a Department of Tourism promo. Plus, Jay-Z raps in the New York streets in every video he does. For longtime NYC residents Jay may invoke a flicker of pride, but outsiders curious about the city would be better off watching a Woody Allen movie.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

Monday, 2 November 2009

Britney Spears: 3

It takes a special kind of music video to make the prospect of having a threesome with Britney Spears seem unappealing. Yet try as she might to seduce in her just-released clip for “3," the viewer can't help but wonder what's on TV instead.

The video’s back-to-basics approach seemed to have potential director Diane Martel told Life & Style magazine about it two weeks ago. “I think it’s her next sexy video,” Martel said. “It’s a very simple video for her — I don’t think you’ve seen her this much under a magnifying glass. Everything’s really strong and playful.”

Simple, yes; playful, not quite. Zoom-in shots of Britney’s robo-perfect face alternate with vague movements that suggest trying to dance after taking too much NyQuil. The long pull-up bar she hangs off could have immortalized a prop like “Stronger”’s innovative chair sequence did, but instead Brit listlessly dangles while a few other dancers half-heartedly thrust in random directions.

On the other hand, the yawn-inducing video matches the sex-less lyrics of this tune promoting her Singles Collection compilation. “1, 2, 3 / Peter, Paul & Mary”? Out of all the sexy trios in entertainment (Destiny’s Child, Charlie’s Angels), songwriters Max Martin, Shellback, Tiffany Amber decided on the aging family-friendly folkies? That’s like using Bob Dylan to sell lingerie.

If the video displays a lack of imagination, however, the Twitter-ific promo leading up to it is marketing gold. By tweeting out still photos and five-second clips in the weeks leading up to the release, the Spears team generated hype unseen since the days when people actually cared about music videos. If only the end result had matched up.

Verdict: 1/5 stars

Friday, 30 October 2009

N'fa: Cause an Effect

When Heath Ledger died last year, no one disputed his claims as a great actor. Since his passing though, he’s established a reputation as a top-notch music video director as well. His anti-whaling video for Modest Mouse's "King Rat" debuted in August and now he’s back from the grave again with a hip-hop clip for N’fa’s “Cause an Effect.”

While “Cause an Effect” lacks the overt social cause of the Modest Mouse tune, Ledger clearly goes for the activist tunes. “I represent those struggling to pay tax, struggling to eat,” N’fa raps. “Amidst fat aristocrats we can’t make ends meet / I represent the lonely working, searching for more / Suffering at the bottom. I’m here to settle the score.”

The angry outsider rant gets an appropriately aggressive video, with N’fa layered in layers of face paint that can’t help but recall Ledger’s own Joker, with just a hint of S&M on the side. Formerly of Australian hip-hop trio 1200 Techniques, N’fa (short for No Fixed Abode) discussed working with Ledger in a making-of clip he posted on his MySpace page.

"Every day I count my blessings that I got to have him direct this piece of art," N’fa says. "For a song I was very proud to have written but I never expected to have such an immense video made for it. Since I'd known Heath since we were very young, he’s always been a creative kind of guy and, in many ways, ahead of the curve. When he had the idea to do this video, [there was] no question."

The video was shot in the summer of 2006 to promote N’fa’s Cause an Effect LP so the duo made ample use of the Sydney waterfront. Even palling around with his friend down under though, Ledger couldn’t escape the dark underbelly of fame.

“We spent a lot of time…going down the beach, having fun and often getting snapped by paparazzi” N’fa says. “It wasn’t really one of the things he was into.”

Ledger was into the challenge of coming up with a creative way to memorialize N’fa’s call to action on the cheap though.

"We tried to do something on the shoestring budget we had" the rapper said. "The day before we found a few different ideas for clothing, a massive sheet and black curtain, and got in touch with two really good makeup artists… and shot it all in his garage.”

The clip just debuted at the Rome Film Festival this past weekend, but it was worth the wait. The sad fact is that it’s perfectly feasible this may be the second-to-last new Heath Ledger work we see (his final film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus comes out in December). So enjoy it.

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Basement Jaxx: My Turn (ft. Lightspeed Champion)

Kanye West seemed to have the cute hip-hop bear thing locked down, but in Basement Jaxx’s new “My Turn” video the DJ duo create their own memorable mammal who doesn’t drop out, register late, or graduate. Instead, he’s some sort of swimming miner, like the seven dwarves meets Michael Phelps.

Lightspeed Champion – Devonte Hynes to his mother – did the soulful vocals on the third Scars single. In the clip a dapper-dressing Hynes pours out his heart alongside the bears, sometimes literally. The neon tears and hearts that litter the jet-black background suggest the work of an animation grad student on speed, but director Tomek Ducki is no amateur.

“It was a heavy week of working to transform the idea from a live visual to a video promo,” Ducki wrote on his website. “Lightspeed Champion had to be included, so [I] needed to find a way to work together the animation and the live action part.”

The end result is certainly endearing, but the behind-the-scenes green-screen video Ducki created last week might be even better. If dancing wizards surrounded by awkward cinematographers is your thing, of course. The wizard only shows up in the final version for about half a second (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), so the two clips could be seen as hi/low-tech companion pieces.

It’s tough to beat a goggled bear wielding dynamite though, so first check out the official vid below.

Verdict: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Norah Jones: Chasing Pirates

Q: Who’s a pirate’s favorite young jazz singer?
A: Naaaarrrrrrrrrah Jones!

Turns out, Norah Jones likes pirates just as much. On her new video for “Chasing Pirates,” she stops just short of an eye patch and peg leg in her attempt to be the cutest terror the seven seas have known. To helm her swashbuckling adventure Jones enlisted Pirates of the Caribbean special effects man Rich Lee as director. Showcasing the creativity that earns him the big bucks, Lee made the bold choice of dressing Jones up as – get ready for it – a pirate!

“The concept is sort of this fantasy,” Lee says in a making-of video. “It’s like this little escapism dream she has about sailing her building out of the city.”

If sailing a building sounds like a shaky premise, the rooftop-as-ship motif becomes even more questionable in execution. Admittedly, any video where Jones spends so much time batting her eyelashes at the camera can’t be all bad, but what really stings is learning that this silly urban-voyager theme beat out better ideas.

“The first idea we had for this video was to have me go around stalking Johnny Depp…dressed as a pirate,” Jones revealed. “Obviously it was impossible to get a hold of Johnny Depp so we decided to put a ‘Johnny Forever’ tattoo on my arm.”

Surely a Depp look-alike would have sufficed – after all, Lily Allen made excellent use of an Elton John double last week. Truly, stalker-fan Norah sounds more compelling than wistful-urbanite Norah. It all comes off a bit dreary, so perhaps we should end with another pirate joke.

Q: When the pirate killed the jazz fan, where did he send him?
A: Norah Jones’ locker!

Verdict: 1/5 stars

(Via VH1)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Chris Brown: I Can Transform Ya (ft. Lil Wayne & Swizz Beatz)

Chris Brown’s year got off to a rocky start when an argument with the-girlfriend Rihanna turned violent. Ever since he’s been doing his time - legally, professionally and publicly. While it remains unclear whether he'll ever fully drop his domestic-abuse baggage, his “I Can Transform Ya” video presents Brown finally trying to put his past behind him with a silly robo-danceathon.

Any doubt that “I Can Transform Ya” was inspired by the recent Transformers blockbusters disappears in the opening shot, when a zooming hotrod car transforms into Brown himself. If this is all just a brazen pitch for inclusion on the Transformers 3 soundtrack though, it’s a well-executed one.

Lil Wayne makes the scene early on, rapping “I can turn you from a human to a Carter” over Swizz Beatz’ layered production. Dance troupe Rej3ctz also adds extra spice, doing the twenty-first century robot all over a blank space that creates a hyper-masculine version of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” dancing. Brown is clearly looking to wow with slick dance moves and CGI splendor, hoping to sidestep journalistic naval-gazing trying to somehow tie this to Rihanna. The connection ain’t there.

Joseph Kahn took the directorial helm for “I Can Transform Ya,” the first single from Brown’s upcoming Graffiti (out Dec. 15). Kahn continues his string of 2009 hits like Lady GaGa’s ”LoveGame” and Eminem’s “We Made You.” He previously worked with Brown during the happier times of 2008 for “Forever.”

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Monday, 26 October 2009

Tegan and Sara: Hell

Sharing a hotel room with siblings is never easy. As Tegan and Sara show us in their new video for “Hell” though, having your own room can be no better.

“I’ve always wanted to shoot in a motel,” director Jamie Travis says in a making-of video for the Sainthood single. “We were originally going to build a set [but] this location lent itself to doing something in a set-like fashion with the wall in the middle. I’ve always liked the idea of Tegan and Sara having a tug-of-war.”

The tug-of-war takes place through the wall with rope provided by a flower-clad mirror monster. Yes, it’s a trifle confusing, but the twins’ new-wave Elvis hair couldn’t be more right.

“I haven’t had so many bobby-pins in my hair since prom,” Sara wrote on the band’s website. She added that Travis “has a head chock full of absurd and wonderful ideas. Ropes, fortune tellers, paper cuts and pompadours.”

Tegan puts it more simply in the making-of: “I can’t even really tell you what the hell it’s about. It isn’t about anything, it feels like.”

She's right. Unlike Friday’s intricately-crafted “Charlie Darwin” video, plot seems to be a foreign concept here. While it’s tough not to enjoy video of Tegan Sara acting their silly selves, this series of random images seems to form no coherent whole, for the viewer or the artists.

“The video will probably be studied for decades in film school,” Tegan said, “but no one who sees it on the internet will understand it.” She may be on to something.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Low Anthem: Charlie Darwin

Claymation achieved its heyday with Wallace & Gromit, having been pushed aside by Pixar flicks that smack the viewer across the face with their technical prowess. All the technology can become overwhelming, so a return to the simpler pleasures of stop-motion capture has the same appeal of bypassing Whole Foods for the Amish farmers’ market. The heartbreaking “Charlie Darwin” clip End of the Road Films’ Glenn Z. Taunton and Simon Taffe created for the Low Anthem’s latest single shows the bygone genre at its best.

This lonesome clip - Darwin appears the be the only man alive - suits the song’s melancholy mood, avoiding the evolution-creation debate by focusing on the individual, the man who makes a discovery he doesn't understand. The discovery is symbolized by a buried caveman skull, which our hero rescues from an impending flood (a metaphor for religious fundamentalism perhaps?).

Not long ago NPR proclaimed this tune one of the best songs of last year. "I get chills the moment I hear this guy's voice," NPR’s Bob Boilen said of lead singer Ben Knox Miller. This Providence trio induces such chills throughout 2008’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, whether singing an ode to Ohio or covering Jack Kerouac via Tom Waits.

Whether you’re pro-monkey or pro-Eden, this sad tale of a man, a boat and a skull will get to you. Let the chills commence. (via Stereogum)

Verdict: 5/5 stars

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Weezer: (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To

“Welcome to Weezerville, Population: Weezer,” reads the billboard that opens the new “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” video. “Population: Shtick” is more like it.

Long gone are the band’s days of heart-on-sleeve pining over Japanese girls, lesbians and butterflies. With middle age has come a long-absent sense of silliness and the new video promoting the absurdly-titled Raditude is no exception. The Mark Webb-directed clip for “I Want You To” adds a hokey redneck flavor to the classic romantic story. Band members argue, fight, and eventually maim each other over – what else – a girl. As singer Rivers Cuomo describes it, “It’s about that moment where you like her but aren’t sure if she likes you.”

“The concept of the video is this is Weezerville,” says Webb in a making-of interview. “It’s populated entirely by Weezer, or Weezer clones. There’s multiple versions of Brian, Rivers, Patrick and Scott. Everything is going great; they’re living happy little lives. Then one day, a woman shows up and everything goes to hell.”

By “goes to hell,” he may be referring to the mechanic (guitarist Brian Bell) losing his arm to a chainsaw or perhaps the florist (bassist Scott Shriner) getting pierced by a stray arrow. He could even mean the archer (drummer Pat Wilson) getting hit by the distracted truck driver (Cuomo). Yes, the cornball quotient runs high, but this-ain’t-Pinkerton naysayers should ask themselves if this is any different than taking over the Happy Days set for their “Buddy Holly” music video way back in ‘94.

The parallels are not lost on the band. “I really dig the 1950s flavor of this video,” said Cuomo. “Maybe some people might think we’re repeating ourselves ‘cause we did a little bit of that with ‘Buddy Holly,’ but I think it just totally suits this song.”

Webb previously directed the band’s “Perfect Situation” video in 2005, impressing the band with what Cuomo describes as his “sense of drama and storytelling.” For the “I Want You To” shoot he brought Cloverfield’s Odette Yustman on board to play the band’s “femme fatale.”

Check out the “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” video below and see if you agree with Cuomo’s closing summary: “It’s very awkward.” (via Babelgum)

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Fever Ray: Stranger Than Kindness

Halloween may be a week off, but Fever Ray have gotten into the spooky spirit early. When covering Nick Cave, that’s probably the right spirit to have.

The song is “Stranger Than Kindness,” a dark, disturbing glimpse into either a hotel orgy or a sordid murder (or maybe both). Originally appearing on Cave’s 1986 Your Funeral…My Trial, his fourth album with the Bad Seeds, ”Stranger Than Kindness” presents a twisted and ambiguous series of images: “Keys rain like heaven's hair / There is no home, there is no bread / We sit at the gate and scratch.”

Safe to say the video of Fever Ray’s cover gives Cave’s lyrics a run for their money in the creepy-as-hell department. A gypsy ox-woman strolls slowly through a field with her voodoo priest companion. Two boys in blackface peer from a room, all hidden but their darting eyes. Neon green lasers piece the darkness while a yellow-haired bone woman sways eerily.

Said bone woman is Fever Ray’s electro-gothic queen Karin Dreijer Andersson, formerly of the Knife. Her new project Fever Ray just released their self-titled debut in March, but Mute is already releasing the deluxe edition of the album. Hence comes the video, directed by Andersson’s longtime creative partner Andreas Nilsson.

The man behind Fever Ray’s equally demonic stage show, Nilsson has long carried a penchant for the peculiar. As one blog commenter put it, “I think if it was possible to venture inside Andreas Nilsson's head, it would be like the movie The Cell…a far less 'psychopathic-serial-killer-monster' mind yet still be pretty crazy.”

Actually, “psychopathic-serial-killer-monster” still seems apt. Check it out below (via Vanity Fair).

Verdict: 5/5 stars

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Tiësto ft. CC Sheffield: Escape Me

DJs have never been the most visually engaging performers. When you come down to it, you’re talking about a guy (or gal) fiddling around at a turntable. A well-produced techno show compensates for the lack of windmills and stage diving with lights, video screens, and as much bass as the ribcage can handle.

The same goes for a successful electronica music video. Though the cult of personality around club superstar Tiësto may have reached levels unheard of for a DJ, he’s still just a guy standing behind a record player. So for his new music video “Escape Me,” he throws together LED lights, moving platforms and an epilepsy-inducing number of strobe lights to create a typical Euro-club feel.

The difference is, this Dane’s got an ace in the hole: indie-punk chanteuse C.C. Sheffield, former lead singer of La Rev. Dress a gal like that up as a bikini biker cop and give her free reign to strut her stuff and shots of dude-playing-records can be kept to a minimum.

"The concept is an abstract setting and other atmospherics,” said director Matt Nee in a making-of video. “We've got metal particles through the air, LED lights (a hell of a lot of them), three stages, spinning and rotating turntables, walkways, a lot of running…”

This all sounds very elaborate, but Sheffield boiled the concept down to a simpler premise: “I had to dance around in LED lights and shake it like a wildcat.”

Indeed, through the pounding strobes, swirling stages, and churning treadmills it’s Sheffield who holds your attention. Backed by an all-girl band, she swaggers around the effects like she couldn’t care less while Tiësto quietly bops along in the background. Luminescent overload may provide the glitz, but it takes a charismatic figure like Sheffield to give things some soul.

Verdict: 3/5 stars

Monday, 19 October 2009

Lily Allen: Who'd Have Known

Lily Allen’s “Who’d Have Known” video is a love letter to Elton John. If Elton sends a letter back though, it may come in the form of a restraining order. As the clip progresses from mildly creepy – Lily caressing wall-sized Elton photos – to extremely creepy – Lily kidnapping him – one hopes Sir John will take all this in good humor. One also hopes it’s meant that way.

The confusion stems from the fact that Allen and John have, well, a bit of a history. While co-hosting last year’s GQ Men of the Year Awards, a visibly intoxicated Allen went off-script often enough to earn the famed Ire of Elton. The ensuing on-air exchange showed two pop stars at their most Gossip Girls-esq.

Allen: And now for the most important part of the night...
John: "What? Are you going to have another drink?
Allen: Fuck off, Elton! I am 40 years younger than you and have my whole life ahead of me!
John: I could still snort you under the table.

With all that erased from the public memory by the stars’ more recent missteps – Allen starting a blog attacking the very file sharers that made her famous, John recording a duet with Alice in Chains – bringing this all up again with a sordid video seems foolish. For Allen any publicity is good publicity though, and at least this time she seems in control of the situation.

To her credit, it is quite a video. Allen kidnaps John (played by an impersonator), forcing him to eat donuts, read cue cards professing his love for her and, in what seems the most cruel move, watch his own concert videos. The violent abduction provides a cheeky contrast to the lyrics, which describe the silly awkwardness of young love. When Allen sings, “Let’s just stay, let’s just stay / I want to lie in bed all day” next to a tied-to-a-chair Elton, the cute words take on a Silence of the Lambs perversity.

What remains unclear is whether Allen means this as playful apology or follow-up attack. Check out the video below and decide for yourself.

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Friday, 16 October 2009

Frightened Rabbit: Swim Until You Can't See Land

In the Age of YouTube, the performance video has gone out of fashion. With millions of live videos already competing for views, any band that bothers making a live-in-the-studio music video ensures instant condemnation to online obscurity.

To buck the trend, more and more videos are spouting up that turn the genre on its head. LaBlogotheque has amassed thousands of online followers by filming indie groups playing in unusual locations (stairwell, warehouse, Parisian sidewalk). For his upcoming concert DVD, Paul McCartney gave dozens of fans video cameras and compiled the resulting footage.

Frightened Rabbit pulled a similar stunt for their “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” video, but instead of cameras they gave out flashlights. No need to pay for a lighting rig when free labor is just a tweet away. In the video below, the jittery lights that surrounds the Glasgow four-piece turns a quiet performance into a DIY floorshow.

“Swim” is the first single off the upcoming The Winter of Mixed Drinks, due in March. Lead singer and songwriter Scott Hutchinson said the song’s inspiration came while recording on the small Scottish island of Crail.

I would usually come up with the basis for a lyric during my daily walk along the coast from Crail,” he wrote in a post on the band’s MySpace page. “I didn't come back to the house until I had something I was excited about. I got all the way to Anstruther one day, 3 miles down the coast, before I realised [sic] I'd have to walk back. I had only had a glass of lemonade and a Snickers, so on the way home I started feeling a bit faint and weary. I had literally come too far, and that's what sparked the song. Perhaps it ought to be called 'Walk On An Empty Stomach Until You Can't Feel Your Legs'.

Check out the lightshow that is “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” below. Just one original idea can revive even the most tired video format.

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Jemina Pearl: I Hate People

Ok, so you’ve managed to snag Iggy Pop for a guest appearance on your new song but – oh no – he’s busy the day you’re filming the video! Who could possible fill the gnarly old punk rocker shoes so perfectly?

Why, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth of course! When ol’ James “Iggy” Osterberg couldn’t reprise his role for Jemina Pearl’s “I Hate People” video (he duets with Pearl on the track), Pearl roped in her old friend Thurston. The Sonic Youth guitar god and ex-Be Your Own Pet cutie-pie entertain some diner destruction fantasies as the try to serve a group of cooler-than-thou hipsters. Things soon degenerate until awkward-cashier Moore takes shelter behind the bar while snarly-waitress Pearl joins the rumble.

Pearl and Moore have a long history of collaboration. Pearl records for Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label (as did her band Be Your Own Pet) and earlier this year the duo recorded a cover of the Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” for Gossip Girl (which you can listen to here). They enjoy social outings as well – in a recent Pitchfork interview Pearl discussed the duo throwing their sodas at the screen during The House Bunny.

Iggy may be gone, but he’s not forgotten. “I hate people,” Pearl sings, “but I like you!” The “you” in question? Pop himself, as illustrated in a teenage-crush dream bubble and daisy-chain magazine cut-outs. Since Pop’s appearance is the most news-worthy aspect of Pearl’s new record Break It Up, you can’t blame her for keeping the Stooges legend front and center.

Courtesy of Stereogum, watch Pearl, Moore, and an M.I.A. Iggy take down a diner in “I Hate People.” Kind of makes you want a milkshake.

Verdict: 3/5

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

John Mayer: Who Says

He may have the fame, the money and the models, but it’s still the hard-knock life for John Mayer. Or so he tries to convince us in his new “Who Says” video, the latest entry into the fame-is-a-drag genre.

“Who says I can’t get stoned?” Mayer sings in the latest single off his upcoming Battle Studios. “Plan a trip to Japan alone / Doesn’t matter if I even go / Who says I can’t get stoned?” From the sound of his laid-back drawl, it appears Mayer ignored whoever gave him the no-pot advice. Throughout, the swoon-inducing croon chips away his white-boy rebellion – Mayer seems too eager to please his preteen fans (and record label) to really fight the power.

“Who Says” was directed by Anthony Mandler, the man behind recent hit videos like Rihanna’s “Disturbia” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town.” To accompany Mayer’s irony-free sincerity Mandler discards his trademark sex-goth dungeons, phoning in a generic guy-playing-guitar clip instead. Unfortunately, even Mayer’s chiseled jaw cannot hold viewer interest for three-plus minutes on its own and slow-burn shots of him singing, posing, or just staring pensively at the camera soon wear out their welcome.

The video tries to capture troubled-artist alienation, but if Mayer’s got 99 problems, boredom sure ain’t one. Apparently a day in the life of John Mayer involves drinking with friends, performing stand-up, and going skinny-dipping with a bevy of beautiful ladies. And we’re supposed to feel bad for this guy?

If you just want to get stoned all day, John, maybe stop running around an amusement park snapping pictures of your girlfriends. If you do need a break from all the excitement, can the rest of us maybe take your place?

Verdict: 1/5 stars

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Black Eyes Peas: Meet Me Halfway

After dominating the airwaves this summer with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” the Black Eyed Peas could make a music video of them sitting around discussing Obama’s Nobel Prize and be assured millions of YouTube views. However, the quartet spared no expense for crafting the video for “Meet Me Halfway,” the third single off The E.N.D.

While few would criticize any video that features singer Fergie rolling around half naked, locating said rolling in some magical CGI forest seems unnecessary. No viewer’s going to pay attention to the environment around this gyrating temptress, so the almost-lifelike woodlands merely prove distracting. However, even that seems ecumenical next to rapper-producer’s elephant-top joyride or rapper Taboo’s space mission around the sun.

“This is a very different type of video,” has said. “'Boom Boom Pow' was very futuristic and 'I Gotta Feeling' had a party vibe, but this is more artistic video. It's very arty.”

Arty is one word for it, overblown another. Perhaps the group’s well-deserved swagger can be blamed for the video’s excess, but surely someone could have stopped director Ben Mor when he suggested dressing rapper up as some sort of Tuscan Raider and having him conjure a space portal in the desert.

Fergie has said in past interviews that she wrote the song as an homage to Madonna and there is clearly something a bit “Material Girl” about the lavish production. Still, the video seems garish even for the Peas. Maybe it’s time to rethink that Peace Prize discussion after all.

Verdict: 2/5 stars