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