LCD Soundsystem and Future Islands have a lot in common, despite the indie superstar status of the former and the growing underground cult fame of the latter. They’re both electro/dance projects with a rough, vaguely punk edge and a distinct and dramatic humanity to them despite the heavily synthetic components of their music. Both groups have new records out this year; LCD Soundsystem with This Is Happening and Future Islands with In Evening Air. Today’s post takes a look at the lead singles from both of those albums, in terms of both sound and vision. While the songs and their accompanying videos couldn’t be more different, they are both interesting barometers of the post-MTV state of the music video. It’s recommended that you watch these in HD and full screen, if you can.
“Drunk Girls” is a bit of a departure for LCD Soundsystem. Unusually driving and guitar heavy for that band, the song strongly evokes the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and late 1970s David Bowie. In the video, directed by Spike Jonze of Being John Malkovich and Where The Wild Things Are fame, LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, along with two of his touring band mates, attempts to sing “Drunk Girls” into a microphone while being tormented by actors dressed in humorous, all white animal outfits. The antics of the animals escalate, from caressing and minor annoyance to outright hazing by the video’s end. The heavy themes of torture and bondage, jocular in this video as they may be, are interesting in that they tend to be recurring in several recent videos from artists both indie and mainstream, something which I’ll revisit in a later post.
The vast majority of video actually consists of one single shot from a handheld camera, at least as far as the viewer can see. There seems to be too much activity going on here for this to be spontaneous and improvised, and it would take a good number of rehearsals to get the blocking perfect for one, uninterrupted, flawless shot lasting from the beginning of the video to just over the three minute mark. The way this video is directed is similar to the way groups like Antioch Arrow and Orchid approached their music; the illusion of chaos is created from what is actually extremely orderly and planned. An important decision made here is to use live audio from the microphone seen in the video in addition to the original recorded song. This is the quintessence of the post-MTV music video; an acknowledgement that what an audience sees in most music video is not a musical performance, but rather an impressionistic short film set to music aimed at creating that illusion, and throwing that order into confusion by using an element such as live audio for parts of the song.
“Tin Man” clicks along at a similar pace to “Drunk Girls,” and really it would make a great follow up to the LCD Soundsystem track due to its contrast. Where “Drunk Girls” is all tightly balled, pounding, noisy energy, “Tin Man” glides along in elegiac grandeur and wincing melancholy. There’s a bit of a musical role-reversal here, too. In “Drunk Girls,” synthesizers were part of the rhythm section making way for the unbridled guitar noise, while in “Tin Man” the synthesizers take center stage while a distorted bass reinforces the beat. Where the videos connect visually is in their bright lighting and similar color palettes. Otherwise, Spike Jonze’s “Drunk Girls” video and Jay Buim’s “Tin Man” clip couldn’t possibly be more different. Buim, whose director’s real can be seen here, is in quite cinematic form here. A tribute to Future Islands’ North Carolina beach roots, the video is edited strictly to the beat, and every beautifully framed shot is planned precisely with Buim’s pride and skill showing through. As if that weren’t enough, Buim also makes use of several different types of film stock in addition to the standard HD video. Specifically, some shots of some of Future Islands’ friends that show up shortly after the 1:15 mark appear to be shot on standard def video, or maybe even VHS, and footage of the Interstate coming into Baltimore are shot in black and white on grainy 16 mm film. There are some soft focus and slow motion shots, espescially in footage where the band plays live, and they are used to positive effect.
“Tin Man” is less strictly a post-MTV music video than “Drunk Girls,” but it is still in the sense that the video is not a simulation of a musical performance. In fact, the band barely features in the video at all, it seems to largely assume their point of view. When the band does appear, Buim frames Future Islands as documentary subjects rather than a cause celebre group of pop performers. Additionally I can only imagine the time, energy and care that went into creating this gorgeous video. Both “Drunk Girls” and “Tin Man” are videos in revolt against the form’s conventions, although in the case of “Tin Man” that’s not made as explicitly clear.
One last thought-An interesting notion is the fact that the rough, amateurish “Drunk Girls” clip was directed by a critically acclaimed feature film director while the professionally and lovingly crafted “Tin Man” video was directed by someone with just a few assorted short films and documentaries under his belt and what I assume to be far more limited resources.