“Innovator”—Plains (Link)

At first we think it’s a requiem; the minors chords on a solo guitar, “ROOSEVELT DIES SUDDENLY” as the featured headline. The women weep as Truman kisses the Bible, then as shadows descend over the mountains the soldiers don their goggles with resolve. Grief is somehow implied in their faces as they set out on their mission. As the first bubble pops, the guitar descends into distortion; the beautiful multi-colored atomic mushrooms implode and explode. The requiem seems to begin again with a solo guitar, and a voice comes in: “I wanna be in- novative.” Images of scientists appear followed by soldiers, further establishing the World War II context. The return of the distortion is accompanied by fire and kamikazes, followed by a solo plane. The message is rather explicit: “The war is already won. You’re flying high with the savior.” As the pounding 4/4 rhythm of the theme returns once more, the images of destruction are breathtakingly beautiful: purple-tinted pines sway with the beat of the bass, haze envelopes the screen, and a magnificently textured mushroom of gray ascends slowly. As a sort of bridge, the music quiets, and the viewer is confronted with destruction; the faces looking out over the barren landscape. They are not grieving, and on some level the music conveys a glimmer of hope in their neutral, pensive expressions. The swaying trees come back into view, now with an orange-reddish hue that gradually morphs into fire, and we are again reminded of the beauty. A treaty is signed and the Japanese surrender. As the music fades purplish swirling debris appears and finally the barren landscape once again. Yes, it is provocative; “innovation” led to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians. But as the mesmerizing mushrooms of smoke bellow slowly into the air, the beauty begins to justify: a sort of guilty pleasure. Can we enjoy beauty that is rooted in utter destruction?

Plains vaguely reflects the recent trend towards surfer rock revival; this Miami-based band seems to have some connection with Surfer Blood, the Florida surfer rock group, who also played Terrace last week. But in contrast to the banal, Kafka-esque, cos- tumed hipster/hoodlum-ridden wild goose-chase through Manhattan that is the music video for Surfer Blood’s “Swim,” the “Innovator” music video presents a rare depth in a genre that can often tend toward the superficial.

“DIRT” – SALEM (Link)
(Not for the faint of heart)

Silence. An empty, dark Chicago alley. The shot is blurry and the dim light in the alley is dispersed in various directions. A sedan slowly approaches, Illinois plate in front, its headlights un- dergoing a similar dispersive effect. The video continually goes in and out of focus; as the car pulls into the garage, the camera is shaky, giving an almost Blair Witch aspect to this admittedly dark video. At one minute and three seconds, the camera focuses on the license plate (633 6967) and there is finally sound: a syncopated bass drum beat, then after three drum machine snare eighth-hits, multiple eerie synth sounds round out the song’s ambience. The garage door closes, the car is still on, and smoke fills the space. The driver is seen: a middle-aged white woman with shoulder-length hair sobbing against her steering wheel. Her blatantly generic features lend themselves to a sort of emotional rawness, which in turn is a sharp contrast to the song’s synthesized and processed electro-goth. While she wails in despair, she is illuminated by an inexplicable source of light. Her lipstick is bold and some mascara appears to be smearing. The lyrics belong to an electronically manipulated male voice, singing about “lost in / lots of time” and “mesmerized.” The bridge sets in to reveal a higher-pitched major melody that is played over the milieu of dark electronica and, simultaneously, a dark figure begins to take shape among the pixilated haze. As this melodic phrase repeats itself, the song takes on a less somber mood, and in the video the gravity of the potential suicide is mitigated by the gyrating naked woman who emerges from the ephemeral dark pixels amidst the smoke. The fantastical nature of her presence meshes perfectly with the otherworldly nature of the unintelligible, mumbling voice. The dancing woman places her hands on the windshield, and the driver looks out terrified, like a child going through the car wash for the first time. The eyes of the dancing woman peer into the car, as if meeting the eyes of the driver, and she darts away, as the driver rests her head against her hand placidly.

The mystery of SALEM exceeds the mystery of the music video. They are split across Chicago, Traverse City, and New York, having only released two LPs and various tracks intermittently through online blogs. For this video, both women were hired from Craiglist; the driver was an aspiring actress and the gyrating woman was a prostitute. The surrealism of the video reveals a beautiful aspect of the music, its unique ability to make sense of the impossibly bizarre juxtaposition of a generic suicidal middle-aged woman and a gyrating hooker in a Chicago garage while maintaining its fantastic, emotional, and intimate nature.

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