Does video art sap the life right out of musical lyricism, stifling imagination? I begin today’s Radio Dick with my simplistic and probably naive assertion that one ought to still read words and not dive too heavily into visual culture. My thoughts have been weighing pretty heavily on this idea lately; my 9th grade class is moving through Romeo and Juliet with me and I can’t help but notice the dwindling patience with the text, the lack of analysis without strong coaching from my end with visual stimuli. The largely thematic aspects of the play still garner interest, and this is hugely important because it grounds my point. Kids haven’t changed and people still are the same underneath. The same things interest us and forge discussion. My worry is that the avenues for finding meaningful dialogue are becoming restricted. In other words, the things that make us TALK are not as plentiful as they once were, primarily because of the language and imagination-restricting nature of our visual dependence. The central conundrum is that today’s media TELLS us what to think and feel. We lose imagination. We limit dialogue. In fact, media today may be serving to decay our ability to think critically and evaluate our surroundings. If someone SHOWS me what a cheeseburger should look like, I tend to take their word for it; proof’s in the picture, right? I don’t question or evaluate the cheeseburger. I simply move on to the next piece of concrete visual stimuli I can find. We still crave knowledge as humans; visual media just tricks us into a catch-22. If we can see it, it must be truth. If this is the case, why look elsewhere for understanding?
The problem is that we must have a language first, in order for the visual stimuli to make any sort of sense. If visual stimuli restrict our ability to discuss and think critically, then what is happening to language? That is my key question. Many of the points I just made aren’t prophetic or hugely philosophical. The question I just posed is, however. Meaningful dialogue and discussion requires words, and our ability to critically evaluate VISUALS requires words, too. In a toppled world where everyone is focusing on the visual truth of things, language is bound to take a backseat. I see it everyday with my classes. Reading is just not philosophically appealing to many children. Is a stalemate on the horizon somewhere in the future? Will we one day simply have nothing to talk about, and no ability to even understand what we’re SEEING either?
I think somewhere in this mess of unanswered questions and poorly constructed arguments I’ve just posed lies the importance of visual art. Not visual media, but critically latent and complex artwork of the visual nature. Nobody tells me what to think when I watch a Kubrick flick and that’s what I love about it. Likewise, nobody does an op-ed video snippet about how I’m supposed to interpret Picasso’s Blue Period. Visuals have a place, but only if they allow for critical thought. This is important, I think. Obviously as many of the indie bands we discuss on this blog march onward in popularity, the inevitable music video always gets attached to the song. My opinion is that the visual representation of music deafens the lyricism, and runs the risk of telling me what I’m supposed to gather from the lyrical tilt of a particular track. I hate this, and that’s why I normally detest music videos. I embrace a song’s lyrical nature before I address it’s musical qualities. It’s how I roll as a poetry guy. To take a very childish approach, when music videos tell me I’m wrong or that I’ve misconstrued meaning, I’m pissed. I suppose it’s similar to the same feeling many take home after watching the film version of their favorite novel. I worry about that whole idea flip-flopping, to where as a culture, we’ll value the interpretations of originals more than the originals themselves because they make it easier for us to understand. Remixes, Cliff’s Notes, Harry Potter movies, Insert This For Dummies, Wikipedia, PR Posters, Pimp My Truck, etc. We want desperately to think and evaluate, but we want speedy routes into understanding.
Sometimes, I can get behind music videos, however. Maybe it’s when the visual art matches my original interpretation of the song lyrics. This would be mildly arrogant on my part, but easy to explain. I do think, though, that when artists pair up with effective visual artists, magic can happen. When the visual artistic representation can stand alone for its visually artistic merits, we’re usually in a good position to see an effective music video. It absolutely cannot mar the original, or I come out ready to throw down.
To kind of express my point, regardless if it’s been out for a few weeks, The Low Anthem’s new video for “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” blows my mind. This song is on my favorites list for 2009, and the album of the same name is top five for me. The song is ultimately a melancholy statement on the cyclical nature of life and a bleak reminder of how we’re essentially helpless when tumbling through the largeness of nature. Imagery of a broken man, tossed around the relentless sea runs throughout the song, and while incredibly gorgeous harmonies and swirling pump organs pin the song down, it’s the lyricism that strikes me the most. Of course, visually, the band has put together an excellent representation of the track, clay-mation and all. I can rally behind the visual art, but not for the thematic representation. That remains between my brain and the lyrics of the song. On it’s own, however, a thought provoking, visually important piece of art unfolds. Enjoy.
This is a trite argument to mask my laziness, or possibly it alludes to my busy schedule; I don’t have videos for any of the tracks below. I do, however, think it’s a great list. “Black Smoke” by Tindersticks and “October Fires” from Jajaguwar’s own Wolf People are on constant repeat. The recently disbanded Harlem Shakes leaves guitarist, Todd Goldstein, enough time to work on his own solo project, ARMS. The demo “Homelife” is intriguing, as have most of the tracks he’s released out into the ether recently. Avi Buffalo’s track “Whats In It For?” has been out and about for awhile, and it’s grown on me recently so I’ve included it. “Stillness is the Move” is one of my favorites off of Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, so the Solange cover is worth a listen. Memory Tapes mixing Yeasayer’s “Ambling Alp,” some Atlas Sound, and a kickass psychedelic surf anthem in Happy Family’s “Going To” give you the meat of today’s list. Check out more on these bands, as many have releases hitting the shelves in early 2010. It’s going to be a good year for music next year. The early part of the year is already shaping up to be mindblowing.
The Bravery – The Spectator
Sambassadeur – Days
Midnight Masses – Walk On Water
ARMS – Homelife (Demo)
Wolf People – October Fires
Solange – Stillness Is The Move (Dirty Projectors Cover)
Cloud Nothings – Hey Cool Kid
Avi Buffalo – Whats In It For?
Happy Family – Going To
Atlas Sound – The Screens
Blessure Grave – Stranger In The House
Yeasayer – Ambling Alp (Memory Tapes Remix)
The Mary Onettes – Puzzles
Tindersticks – Black Smoke