Daniels – Selected Music Videos Part 2

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Foster the People – “Houdini” (2011)

Daniels seem to have a very positive working relationship with the band Foster the People, with this being their second video together. Here the band plays themselves getting killed second into the video. They are turned into elaborate puppets controlled by the music studio. Very quickly they turn into a late 90s style boy band and everyone involved in the production couldn’t be happier.The marionette motif would turn up again in Swiss Army Man as part of Paul Dano’s education on life to Daniel Radcliffe.

The human body is a durable and pliable object. Slow motion is mixed with explosions and violent movement by the human body. The narrative is not overly complex but does have a clear structure. It should be noted Daniels are characters in the video but played by actors.

The Shins – “Simple Song” (2012)

Very overtly comedic with some sentimentality woven through it, Simple Song is probably the most complex video and my personal favorite of Daniels. Once again, the band are characters in the fiction of the video. A family gathers to watch the video of their deceased patriarch played by band frontman James Mercer. The story cuts between present day, where the adult children violently search the house for a deed, and the past, where we learn why these children have such a strong hatred of their late father. The line between past and present is blurred and eventually characters meet their past and present selves. In some moments the past is represented through home video footage, which I believe is standard film footage digitally filtered to appear like the older style of media complete with tracking line and static.

As always, and becoming more frequent and honed in their work, are the explosions of debris and dust with bodies flailing through the air. We briefly glimpse a singing corpse, tying back to the animation of the dead in “Houdini” and looking forward to Swiss Army Man. The video’s themes are heavily influenced by the work of director Wes Anderson, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited.

Tenacious D – “Rize of the Fenix” (2012)

While there are the touches of Daniels’ personal style in this video, it is more heavily influenced by Tenacious D’s established comedic tone which was developed alongside their longtime collaborator, Liam Lynch. The premise of the video is that of a rough cut, not intended for public viewing yet. The video starts out normal enough but about a minute in we begin to see unfinished special effects, placeholder effects & art, and exposed green screen. Some images even have their stock photo watermarks stamped on them. Digital crowds of fans are obviously cut and pasted.

The lyrics and visuals of the video emphasize the slight negative aftermath of The Pick of Destiny’s poor performance at the box office. Tenacious D, having a very good sense of humor about themselves, don’t shy away from playing it up as if they are desperate for a comeback. The grand finale of the video where finished effects begin to return reminded me strongly of the work of digital animator Cyriak Harris. A music video where Daniels bring together technique and narrative in perfect synthesis.

Passion Pit – “Cry Like a Ghost” (2013)

Return to the woods and the nightmare of the aftermath of the party. The female protagonist exhibits spontaneous dance and movement. Reality blurs as the intensity of the party increases. Much darker, very little humor in this video. The focus is balanced between the dance of the character and the tragic story around her.

Right away the tone of this video stands in stark contrast to the majority of Daniels work at the time. It seems to go back to pieces like “Underwear” and “Pigeons”, but with more refined technique. Thematically the video deals with the dark side of the late night party atmosphere. A young woman has somehow ended up in the woods and reflects back on what brought her here. She engages in a series of meaningless one-night stands and consumption of alcohol. Her emotions are volatile and erratic. The exact chronology of her encounters becomes more blurred as the video progresses. Daniels never seem to pass judgment over her and the ending of the video leaves her next steps a bit ambiguous.

The story of the video is expressed through two modes. First, the central figure is overwhelmed with the sense of dance and gives into her body’s commands. She dances through scene after scene which is the second element. Through both practical and digital effects, the bars, clubs, and bedrooms erupt from all directions and form around the dancing young woman. Eventually, it culminates with three of her encounters acting as backup dancers to her central performance.

DJ Snake + Lil Jon – “Turn Down For What” (2014)

Likely the most iconic and well known Daniels music video. Here we have the core elements of what most viewers associate with the duo: Powerful and destructive human bodies, sexuality as a dangerous weapon, and lots and lots of dance. The central figure is operating outside societal norms and people react with real terror. However, they become infected with the same frenzy. The dark humor of the video places it as a funnier compliment to Daniels exploration of the dark side of the party scene.

Joywave ft. Kopps – “Tongues” (2014)

Daniels inverts some of their tropes in this NSFW video. We return to the woods where a group of people shed their clothes and dance about in the woods. They are stalked by hunters whose weapons launch clothes onto their victims. The nude revelers manage to turn the tide and begin stripping down their assailants. There’s even a star-crossed romance between a hunter and a nudist which turns into a B-horror film to bring the video to a close. A very interesting divergence from Daniels’ work up to this point. However, the explosion of clothes harkens back to the performance of Daniel Kwan in “Underwear”.

The Daniels – Selected Music Videos Part 1

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While not a comprehensive look at the music video of work of Daniels, my attempt is to touch on the key points in an effort to show the common themes and ideas that pop up throughout their work. In particular, I am looking at what led to Swiss Army Man, both from themes and technique.

 

FM Belfast – “Underwear”(2010)

This early Daniels video is very simplistic in its setting, characters, and concept but is already seeding the larger ideas and themes that will populate their work up to this date. In an interview with Motionographer, the duo explains their emphasis on casting “people who didn’t mind being ugly”. The video is lit very dimly with a harsh spotlight/flashlight shone on the central figure in each scene, with the light levels oversaturated. This creates a very creepy home movie feel. It looks like the characters are being filmed by some unscrupulous figure off camera. There is also the presences of dust particles floating throughout every scene. In the interview, Daniels explained this effect was from smacking a dusty shoe and an old copy of The Godfather. That footage of dust was then overlaid on the footage of the characters dancing.

One particular effect stands out as something Daniels won’t return to and they even hint is a bit amateurish. The bartender character goes through sequences where his legs become like rubber, bending back and forth. The directors explain that this is called Slit-Scan Photography, an old school effect made easier with modern filters and technology. This effect will not appear in this way for the remainder of the videos and it signals an effort to push for more advanced and complicated special effects.Stop motion technique is used in the sequence where Daniel Kwan violently thrusts the clothes off of his body and onto the wall.

The key effect that will come up again and again in these videos will be Daniels’ use of zoom focus. This is the instance where we begin to zoom in on the figure while shifting the camera in multiple directions. This is typically a signal that the figure is about to lose control of their body in an even more extreme way.

Thematically, we have the loss of control of the body. An unseen force appears to possess each figure on camera and they look with shock, and sometimes acceptance, as they perform convulsive like dancing. Characters appear to be visibly uncomfortable or not at ease with where they are. The movements that overtake them definitely have a sexual nature and most of the figures eventually give into this uncontrollable force. The scenes have a distinct after hours motif and convey a sense of the discomfort “after the party is over”.

 

The Hundred in the Hands – “Pigeons” (2010)

The techniques are refined a bit more in this video than the former. We still have the after-hours setting. Claustrophobia is induced with tight close up of our female protagonist squashed between partygoers. The young woman is teetering between her enjoyment of the party and collapse. The video kicks in with her suddenly vomiting, transitioning into an explosion of sparkler fire from her mouth. Daniels will not shy away from bodily fluids or functions in their work and here the expulsion is turned into something beautiful, subverting our expectations from experience and the look on the central figure.

Here we have a character losing control in front of other and the crowd reacts with realism. Screaming and clearing out space. Our protagonist flees the party but finds the laws of reality falling apart. Here dancing is forced by the very frame of the video twisting and turning, and her body following the movements. At first, she fights against this, but over the course of the video she finds herself in sync with the world’s movements around her and appears to almost feel euphoria.

 

Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math” (2011)

Unlike the previous two videos, here we have a full-blown narrative. The techniques continue the mix of practical and digital effects and reminded me a lot of the practical work of Michel Gondry. The premise is essentially a man’s life flashing before his eyes after swerving to avoid a deer in the road. The video uses a series of symbols to link moments from his past to this moment in the present. Reality crumbles even further than the previous two videos in some clever ways. It’s the most introspective music video so far. Also important to note that this moves Daniels into a rural, wooded environment instead of an urban one.

Again we have more distortions in time and space as the protagonist moves from his accident in his car, back to his childhood, and then into a mishmash of past and present. There is also the body as a force of destruction when the protagonist as a child tears through trees and people with an explosive fury.

 

Chromeo – “When the Night Falls” ft Solange Knowles

This is the first of the overtly comedic videos. While previous videos listed had funny moments, the entire premise of “When the Night Falls” hinges on a ludicrous concept. As the band plays, the power of their music impregnates the women in the audience. The tone of this video feels very much like a cross of A Hard Day’s Night and Michael Jackson productions of the 1980s. There is also a lot of power in these women. They become pregnant with such force they explode tables in the bar. They are an unstoppable force. The reveal at the end that this is the nightmare of an apprehensive new father feels a touch maudlin for Daniels other work.

 

Battles – “My Machines” ft. Gary Numan (2011)

Returning to a more simplistic setup, the action in “My Machines” is confined to two shots of a mall escalator that track from the first mark to second mark then concluding with the first mark. There’s much less narrative here and more technique on display. In an interview with Pitchfork, Daniels explained the idea came from as simple inspiration as possible: they thought the music sounded like a man falling down an escalator.

They expand on this, though. Daniels refer to the experience of the protagonist as a nightmare and that part of the nightmare is that while people are all around him, no one helps. Kwan stated, “That’s one of the grossest things about malls– everybody gets together and buys things and doesn’t talk to each other. It’s what makes malls so scary.”

 

Foster the People – “Don’t Stop” (2011)

This video has more in common with Daniels work on “When the Night Falls”. A very light narrative that incorporates the band into the story. Zoom focus plays a critical role in establishing character mindset. The video begins with fairly standard camera shots, but when the action begins we have a zoom focus on the protagonists as a nod that the energy of the video is about to explode. There’re more plays with reality, more concrete and grounded. The driving instructor wears a fake mustache, the driving student is apparently a bank robber. We also have a character getting bloodied and banged up as seen in “My Machines”. The biggest change to Daniels work is the addition of small scale car stunt work.

The video was originally made to be viewed on the Nintendo 3DS. Inspired by Jackass The Movie, Daniels filled the video with stunts and action. In an interview with The Creators Project, they discussed the difficulty of filming with two cameras in sync and need to keep both stabilized and focused together. In this interview, they address the melding of humor and violence that permeates their work.

“[…] we’re pessimistic romantics. We are lighthearted fun-loving guys who think the world is pretty fucked up and crazy. And there’s a philosophy under that. Learn to laugh at life, ‘cause then you can stare life’s challenges in the face more objectively without crying as much. Making movies is our therapy. Sorry, you guys have to watch it all. And we’re very sorry to the folks we’ve tricked into paying for it.”

Digital Mix – 30 Years and Counting

A mix of songs that have been soundtrack-ing my life lately via iPod. Download here.

1. Midnight City – M83
2. D.A.N.C.E. – Justice
3. How Deep Is Your Love – The Bird and The Bee
4. We Rule the School – Belle & Sebastian
5. Colours – Calvin Harris
6. Our Deal – Best Coast
7. The Body – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
8. Go Outside – Cults
9. Life in the D – Brendan Benson
10. Everytime – Oi Va Voi
11. We Are Walking Out – Little Scout
12. Big Red Machine – Bon Iver
13. Did You See the Words – Animal Collective
14. You Came Out – We Have a Band
15. Quand on n’a Que L’amour – Jacques Brel
16. Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff

Winter 2011 Mix

Here’s a digital music mix for Winter 2011, songs to fit snowy days shut in.

Tracklist

1. We Are the Sleepyheads – Belle & Sebastian
2. Fallen Snow – Au Revoire Simone
3. Union Hall – Foreign Born
4. Cold World – The Electric Soft Parade
5. Kids – MGMT
6. Til Dreams Come True – PG Six
7. Nomenclature – Andrew Bird
8. Empty Room – Arcade Fire
9. Big Louise – Scott Walker
10. Terrible Love – The National
11. Too Dramatic – Ra Ra Riot
12. There Are Many Of Us – Aska Matsumiya
13. Hold It In – Jukebox the Ghost
14. When They Fight, They Fight – Generationals
15. Day Is Done – Nick Drake

Tune-age: End of Summer Mix 2010

Here’s a mix for your downloading pleasure. It features songs that I first heard this summer, or have some sort of connection to a mood or tone during this season for me. Enjoy.

1. Money – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
2. City With No Children – Arcade Fire
3. The Happy Goth – The Divine Comedy
4. Lady Luck – Richard Swift
5. Teenagers – Department of Eagles
6. God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl
7. Airplanes – Local Natives
8. Kim & Jessie – M83
9. Flash Delirium – MGMT
10. Crash Years – The New Pornographers
11. Melectric- Ramona Falls
12. Sleep All Day – The Rural Alberta Advantage
13. Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

Click here to download

Tune-age: Arcade Fire – "Suburbs"

Arcade Fire – Suburbs (2010, Merge Records)

To try and define the Arcade Fire’s sound is an impossible task. When I first heard “Wake Up” in Brent Hamric’s car in the spring of 2004 I immediately thought of The Flaming Lips. One track later and that was changed. Three albums later and they are still too eclectic to pin down. A lot of music critics wait like vultures for the bands they love or others love to slip up, so that they can pounce and claim that the grandeur that once was is lost. Arcade Fire seems to dare them to try it, by dropping the dark gloom of Neon Bible and adopting a more pop-folk vibe. There’s some familiar sounds to bring you back in, but then suddenly things change up and we hear some arrangements and instruments that show the band is still testing its limits.

It seemed a natural fit for Arcade Fire to score a film, and they did so last fall for Richard Kelly on The Box. While the music there resembled Bernard Hermann more than any of their typical music, they still have a cinematic sound in this latest album. It’s a very West Coast, bouncier collection of songs. Every few tracks there’s that dark underscoring that comes through, but for the most part this is a pop-ier album, very much music you could dance to. Like all their work, the cinematic qualities come from the story being told in the lyrics. Each album has felt like a dystopian novel, touching on themes of the end of our civilization. It sounds like heavy material to be working with, but they manage to make tracks that you tap your foot to. The voices in these song stories are typically disaffected twenty-somethings reflecting on the desolation around them.

The opening track “The Suburbs”, has a bouncy piano underscoring the song which came as quite a jolt when I started the album. For the first time on their albums, I find lead singer Win Butler sounding like a spiritual successor to Neil Young. And this opening song, like a couple others, have a folk-rock element to them. “Ready to Start” is the track you expect to hear on an Arcade Fire album, there’s pounding drums and alt-pop guitar riff. References are made in the lyrics to “the kids”, a recurring noun in all their albums, that seems to represent youth in general who has an awareness above the adults. “Modern Man” is back in Neil Young country, but also made me think of some of The Talking Heads’ work in the early 1980s and is a song I would not have guessed was an Arcade Fire song if I didn’t already know it. “Rococo” seems to be a mix of expected elements and this new West Coast folk sound being incorporated now. “The kids” are back again, a force of apathetic destruction, constructing massive pillars of junk to burn down. “Empty Room” begins with some wonderfully light strings and then turns into a classic right out of the standard playbook, with some very Kate Bush like vocals led by Chassagne Butler. “City With No Children” evokes thoughts of *gasp* Bruce Springsteen, a comparison I never thought I would make. There’s a strong of sense of small town nostalgia woven through the song and even the arrangement feels like a track off Thunder Road.

“Half Light I” and Half Light II” continue the nostalgia trip, and I have a feeling the band made this album as homage to their own youths growing up in the 1980s and the music that filled their lives during that time. It is a good explanation for how the album is able to evoke memories of so many different artists of that time, yet is still able to not go off the rails. “Suburban War” comes back to Springsteen but not as heavily, its much more Arcade Fire gloomy. “Month of May” is yet another splash of ice cold water as the band is backed by the unceasing guitar of what could easily be a Ramones song and more mentions of “the kids” as a defiant force of purity. “Wasted Hours” is back to folk pop guitars and continues the themes of adolescents tooling around the desolate wastes of Southwestern small towns and looking back on this time as something to be missed. “Deep Blue” is one of the few tracks where Win stands alone, his voice turned into an echo-y voice mourning the past, but also makes use of that same bouncy piano rhythm from the first track. “We Used to Wait For It” continues on from “Deep Blue”, now talking about the time spent by youth in anticipation of the future, only to look back on their youth as adults and want to somehow return to it. “Sprawl I (Flatland)” is Win Butler returning to his childhood home, singing out from open landscape and becoming lost looking for it. This is a track so full of narrative elements, it makes you want the band to compose an opera. And where that songs leaves us mournful, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond) is a chorus of angels beyond the hills that surround this small town lifting our protagonist up and away. The album wraps up with a short and haunting track, reprising the opening song, where Win states that if he could have the time back he wasted as a child, he’d simply waste it again.

Arcade Fire proves that they are about revisiting the same ideas thematically, but constantly experimenting with their sound. This by far the most listener friendly album they have released and every track could easily find a place in the radio rotation. They take a lot of chances and flirt with mainstream sounds, only insomuch as they hearken back to brothers Win and Reg Butler’s youth in the suburbs outside of Houston. For all its slightly dark atmosphere at times, there’s a revelry in being a kid without responsibilities or being forced mete out time as a valuable commodity. A great album from one of the best bands of the 21st century.

DocuMondays – loudQUIETloud


loudQUIETloud (2006, dir. Steven Cantor, Matthew Galkin)
Featuring The Pixies (Charles Thompson, Kim Deal, David Lovering, Joey Santiago)

Kelly Deal, sister of Pixies’ bassist Kim Deal, sums up the nature of the band in very simple terms. She tells her sister, “You are four of the worst communicators I have ever seen!” And she is most definitely correct in this summation of the group. Throughout their 2004 Pixies Sell Out tour, the bandmates communicate with each other the barest minimum, retreating into their individual solo projects when not on stage in front of fans. What the documentary confirms is that there is no new Pixies material coming any time soon, and that the band simply got back together because, like most of us, they have bills to pay.

The Pixies were formed in the late 80s and fell apart in the early 90s, particularly from in-fighting between Charles Thompson and Kim Deal. As the film opens, Deal has recently come off a rehab stint for alcoholism and is accompanied by Kelly on the tour. They travel in a separate buses from the guys in the band because Kim must stay away from alcohol. Drummer David Lovering is also dealing with issues of substance abuse, though he hasn’t come to that realization. The rest of the band is visibly uncomfortable in his presence and eventually confront him about his constant cocktail of booze and Valium. The film is a meditation on what happens when a group of people who produce great art end up absolutely hating each other.

The most telling aspect of the picture is Kim Deal and her sister in this separate bus, following the guys. Even on the guys’ bus, Charles is caught up in negotiation a switch to a new recording label, Joey is working on the soundtrack for his documentary film, and David is unnatural chipper from the drugs in his system. These were the twentysomethings of the 1990s, now in their late thirties and completely self absorbed. Kim plucks away on demos for the new Breeders album, writing songs for it, never once thinking about new songs for the Pixies. At one point a reporter from Rolling Stone interviews Charles and asks about new material. Charles says he’s been keeping his solo demos around and letting the band hear them to hint about getting some new stuff together, but from seeing the rest of the film he seems disinterested, and often times annoyed to work with these people.

It’s interesting to see the enthusiasm of the high school and college aged fans who became aware of the Pixies years after the band fell apart. In their eyes the Pixies are a single unit and unreal. One girl brings a sign reading “Kim Deal is God”. She manages to slip Kim a copy of Brave New Girl, a novel whose protagonist is an obsessive fan of the Pixies. The camera is on Kim later in her bus as she thumbs through the book. Her reaction is one of distress, she quickly puts the book down and lights a cigarette. These people are simply that, people. Nothing more. They are in the middle of divorces, struggling with addictions, and trying to get by.