O PIONEERS

Levi’s wants you to feel that there’s something American about denim, and something deeply American about theirs in particular. (The Marlboro Man has done his part.) The company makes a poetic case in their recent Go Forth campaign, launched around July 4, with the help of Portland ad legends Wieden + Kennedy, who enlisted rising stars Ryan McGinley and Cary Fukunaga.

The “O Pioneers” spot is exuberant, full of activity. Not only does the camera whip around with Scorsese speed, dropping with the waterfall or sailing over the meadow, but the bodies twirl and careen forward, too, in explosions of motion that do call to mind some kind of pioneer restlessness. Using old Smithsonian wax cylinder recordings of (what we believe, want to believe, is) Whitman’s own voice reciting “Pioneers! O Pioneers,” the union of text and image stirs up an excitement that winningly connects the wild-hearted, hipster Generation O back to the Lincoln-era rhetoric of self-reliance and awe at nature.

The “America” spot draws its text from Whitman’s likewise titled “America.” It is night, again, and we’re out among the trees and lakes. The city doesn’t exist in this world, the daydream nation of country-boy turned metro-artiste Ryan McGinley, it seems, not in the form that we know it. The black and white photography, like the light of the fireworks, is a kind of equalizer: it finds visually common denominators. Against the hanging tension of the Final Fantasy song in the background, the vitality of the subjects—shirtless kids and suited businessmen, backflipping and flexing and chasing through waves of grain—is even more obvious. The snap of the final firecracker silences the violins, breaks the tension, and concentrates our attention on the handwritten go forth at the end. A great ad.

I cursed these legs I walked on

We are fans of Department of Eagles (featuring Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen). We are also both fans of Marcel Dzama, who, with Patrick Daughters (the brain behind the Two Weeks video) directed the video for Department of Eagles’s song “No One Does It Like You.”

The new work, which premiered recently at the Museum of Modern Art, is animated by Dzama’s alternately sweet and dark preoccupations.  A clash between Eastern Front snowman infantry and ninja ballerina terrorists, bearing AK-47s and baring thighs, forms the centerpiece of the video. All the visuals are familiar: the uniforms, the flags, the skirts and stockings, the rifles, the leafless clawlike trees, the bedsheet ghosts, amputations and arterial sprays. Steeped in a palette of blood red and cloudy root-beer neutrals, the frame full of eerie blurs and grainy textures, the whole thing feels pitched halfway between reverie and nightmare. A skewed meditation on death. An apocalyptic fairy-tale that, in weaving a childish innocence with tokens of the past and images of violence, stands up as quintessential Dzama.

Meet the soft-spoken artist. Below, you can catch some behind-the-scenes glances at the choreography and costumes. Blue-screen tricks and handmade props abound.

musikraphics

I bought Musikraphics for my digital graphics kiddos, but I happily found tons of inspiration for my other classes. The cover was enough reason to buy the book, but the inside is just as sweet. Yay, for solid reference books!

birdcage1

Birdcages on sale at grocery stores!? So many possibilities for July.

Another Two Weeks

SFJ describes the Grizzly Bear song (on Veckatimest) rather masterfully:

“Two Weeks” is a big fat ice-cream cone of a song. The piano part sounds a little like “Chopsticks” expanded into something more robust, with Bear merging a shuffle and a straightforward backbeat as the boys sing “Oh-ooh-oh” up into the air—a doo-wop quartet launching into orbit. Droste sings about a “routine malaise” but pledges, “I told you I would stay.”

“Chopsticks” or this? Sasha thinks Ed’s chorus is sweet, but I can easily read it, given the troubled relationship touched on throughout the song, as a sort of backpedaling. A lack of backbone in the face of an imposing lover, perhaps. Anyway, I wanted to take a look at different ways that this song has been translated into the music-video medium.

Very recently, Gabe Askew made a fan video for Grizzly Bear’s lovely “Two Weeks.”  Gabe’s interpretation: “A relationship where one person is uncertain of the others loyalty. You get sucked up into the daily grind and forget to tell the one you love how you feel. They get insecure and worry that you aren’t committed. ” Instead of taking a literal route, Gabe relies on a kind of cardboard diorama aesthetic, to craft a low-tech dreamworld populated by fish and highways and people that flip up from the ground or hang from the proscenium. We enter through a dark hole into what seems like a memory. Two guys make up the cast, mechanically pulling each other heart’s out, sharing sushi, suffering arrow-wounds, in this surreal drama of love in tatters, knitting itself back together.

Before Gabe’s, my favorite fan video trophy belonged to JT Helms, who spliced together chunks of Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 La Ballon Rouge. (Digression: while in Providence with Chau, I had the good fortune to view Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film inspired by Lamorisse’s classic. Binoche was brilliant as ever.) In this version, instead of a relationship between lovers, we have a boy and a mysterious balloon. When the song’s harmonies lift off into the sky, in a nice parallelism, so do the balloons. It kind of echoes the rise of the hot air balloons and anti-gravity flowers in Gabe’s video. Caught up in the sighing vocals, one can’t help but feel a sort of vertical motion of the spirit.

And finally the real one. A creepily poetic masterpiece from Patrick Daughters, the mind behind Feist’s videos. There is a tension in the song between beauty and darkness that is reflected indirectly in Daughters’ video. In the song it’s the ethereal voices vs. the subject matter. For the video, shot inside a “defunct boys’ penitentiary chapel outside of L.A,” it’s the serenely colorful interior vs. the pyrotechnics and digitally warped faces. It makes me think of Freud’s concept of the uncanny, uniting the strange and the familiar, as Daughters does here, in one emotionally unsettling vignette.

Which one’s your favorite?

strawberry swing

strawberry_swing strawberry_swing2

Check out this awesome music video for Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing, directed by Shynola. So imaginative & inspiring, not to mention time consuming. I’ll never get tired of stop motion animation. via drawn.ca

AHH just spent 2.5 hours sitting in the dentist office. Not in the greatest mood.

Chicago Pt. 2

Chau and I saw a lot of posters over in the little village of Flatstock tents on the far end of the Pitchfork festival.

And here are the posters we bought:

Here are some of the impressive talents we stumbled across, including links to old favorites:

Aesthetic Apparatus
The Small Stakes

Alana Bailey
Boss Construction
Landland
My Associate Cornelius
Weathermaker Press
Spike Press
Doublenaut
The Half & Half
Delicious Design League
Vahalla: did the Feist poster, in something like 6 or 7 passes
Hero Design Studio: did the Grizzly Bear poster
Diana Sudyka
Strawberryluna
Crosshair: uncannily mimic photos
Mat Daly: the wizard behind two of our prints
Decoder Ring
Methane

While browsing for the list of poster artists, I found some other American Poster Institute members. Makes us want to silkscreen. Maybe we need to pick up equipment.

Now that’s what I call music, Vol. 1

I recently wrote a few reviews for Pitchfork. Here are some tidbits.

Ekkehard Ehlers / Paul Wirkus, Ballads
Scientific order and detail abounds, but it is balanced by both members’ free-jazz passion for chaos (in, for one, the lost-in-space tumult of “Ruchy”) and drift (perfected in the soothing tremolo of “Wiem”). This constant motion between precise blitzkrieg and restorative détente sums up the partnership of Ehlers and Wirkus.

Harlem, Free Drugs;-)
Even without clever language or arrangements, their elemental yearning for teenage kicks makes up for that. They may not be adding much to the neo-Nuggets formula, but their channeling of those fuzzed-out relics of rock history is so painstakingly slipshod, so studiedly aggressive, and so exuberantly ominous, that listeners won’t give a fig about the lack of novelty

Isis, Wavering Radiant
For more than a decade, the Los Angeles five-piece has maneuvered between cries and whispers, dirt and polish, bruising noise and narcotic subtlety, repeatedly redrawing the borders of the one genre that accommodates them, metal, as they annex more sonic territory beyond it. This means trading metal’s usual symphony of downtuned riffs for a broader set of digressions and moods

B.J.

While You Wait for the Others

This masterfully arranged Grizzly Bear track is wonderful on several levels. First, there are those ghostly vocals, which come from all four members, gently melding together their very different voices. You have Chris Taylor’s high notes, you have Ed’s lower register, which also seems to have a faraway quality. In particular, the wavering, wordless harmonies on the chorus pack in plenty emotion without leaning on language. Second, there is Christopher Bear’s understated drumming that, with nary a peep from the bass drum, whispers only on the upper frequencies, carrying that unbearable lightness even higher. Third, there are the great instruments: the Guild T-50 SB and the toy sampler Yamaha VSS-30. Fourth, the whole crazy architecture: the guitar’s flowing melody, the odd tuning, Dan’s chord changes.