by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Column 289: Government Issue
Paying for Land of Talk’s work of art.
It was at least six months ago, maybe longer, that I stumbled across the video for Land of Talk’s song “It’s Okay.” It was being hyped on Saddle Creek Records’ website, the band’s label.
I grew up watching videos. I remember when MTV was fresh and new and actually played music videos. And though the videos being produced in the late ’80s weren’t exactly masterpieces of cinematic art, they were entertaining and fun and a good way to kill time between classes or hangovers. Well, time, as it’s been known to do, marched on, and videos became passé, especially when the MTVs and VH1s of the world set them aside for plague-like reality-TV programming.
So I’d long ago given up on music videos as being anything more than expensive, dopey commercials. And then along came that Land of Talk video. It opens with a close-up of a masked warrior whose long black hair — more of a mane — is floating overhead as if underwater while the song’s opening notes pulse forward on a cushion of beats. From there, the mini film is a pastiche of slow-motion black-and-white images of gravity-defying science-fiction landscapes, crows soaring above floating mountaintops, flaming wolves darting through misty forests, and always at the center, the masked, horse-mounted warrior with hair flowing for miles overhead, creating a star-specked sky cutting through the daylight. Finally, horse and rider come to the edge of the earth and leap slowly into space before igniting into flames. This wasn’t your typical five-guys-and-a-camera-doing-goofy-shit video; it was a visualization of a nature myth set to a modern beat. View it on YouTube here.
The video blew my mind and made me reconsider not only the song but the album and the band. Sure, I knew about Land of Talk; I’d listened to Some Are Lakes, and thought it was a pleasant, soft-pop indie-rock effort, nothing more. But after watching the video, I dug through my iTunes to find the album and listen to it again with fresh ears. And isn’t that what videos are supposed to do? It turns out I wasn’t alone in my admiration. The 5-minute masterpiece was nominated for “Video of the Year” at the 2010 Juno Awards — sort of the Canadian version of The Grammy’s — and was chosen as one of the five best music videos of 2009 by Time Magazine.
So how did a little label like Saddle Creek, and an under-the-radar band like Land of Talk, afford to make such a video? Its combination of live action and special-effects animation must have cost a fortune.
“Going in, I was very disenchanted with the whole idea of making a video,” said Land of Talk frontwoman Lizzie Powell Monday night while driving to Chicago on a tour that will bring them to The Slowdown this Thursday, Sept. 23. She said videos had become “fast-edited, sexy, nonsensical shit. And I was protective of that song and never wanted anyone to interpret it in video form.”
But when “It’s Okay” was chosen by production company WeWereMonkeys for the video treatment, Powell had little choice but to relinquish control to director Davide Di Saro. “It turned out to be one of the best creative relationships I’ve ever had,” she said, adding that when she saw the final product, “We were floored, we were speechless, it brought tears to my eyes. I was so proud to be a part of it.”
So who fronted the cash to make it happen? None other than the Canadian government through the Department of Canadian Heritage and a program called FACTOR, The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings. Powell said FACTOR and other government-sponsored arts organizations are vital to every independent Canadian band’s’ survival.
“All of these organizations are there to support independent artists,” she said. “Land of Talk would not exist without the government. It’s at the core of our band and most of the Canadian bands touring out there to the states and abroad, from Broken Social Scene to Arcade Fire — any bands that have not signed away their masters abroad.”
Without that government grant money, we probably wouldn’t be seeing Land of Talk Thursday night. “We wouldn’t be able to tour in a 15-passenger van and go out for three weeks,” Powell said, adding that the financial support goes beyond what a record label can provide. “Record labels are screwed now with the transition to the digital age.”
In fact, she doesn’t know how independent bands in the U.S. do it. “What you have in the States is not sustainable,” Powell said. “I feel horrible for bands with talent and skill that can’t get off the ground and get on the road. It’s heartbreaking, and at the same time, it makes me proud that we can afford this, but I’m not completely waxing Canada’s car right now.”
That’s because arts funding has been cut back under Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Powell said. “Harper’s government is spending more money on military than arts and eduction,” she said. “It’s something we’re trying to save and protect; it’s a wonderful thing to defend. Cutting funding for arts and culture is very short-sighted.”
Are you listening State Senator Gwen Howard? Howard plans to introduce a bill in the Unicameral that will suspend Nebraska’s “1% for Art” program. Talk about short-sighted.
Powell said if Land of Talk doesn’t win any more grants, we probably won’t be seeing videos like “It’s Okay” for songs off the band’s new album,Cloak and Cipher. But if it programs like FACTOR are eliminated, we may not see any more bands like Land of Talk.
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Last night at The Waiting Room felt inspired by The Cure. In fact, the opening band, Active Child, sounded so Cure-like that I thought Robert Smith was in the house. I only caught their last two songs (I missed out on the harp solo): the first song was a pure Cure rip; but the last one featured falsetto vocals a la The Temper Trap and was… pretty. Still, just keyboards and guitar. No drums, no bass, and they could have used that bottom end.
School of Seven Bells was a four-piece — a guitarist, two women vocalists (one on keys/synth, the other sometimes adding a second guitar), and real live drums supported by electronic beats/handclaps. The music was dreamy dance stuff, with both girls adding angelic harmonies. Their slower numbers again owed a lot to the Cure’s later lush music. By now Disintegration has become a sort of benchmark album for so many bands. Just a few years ago, it seemed everyone sounded like Pavement. Before that, it was the Pixies. But a certain cadre of today’s bands seem enamored with Smiths, The Cure and MBV (see tomorrow’s interview). And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The best moments came when guitarist Benjamin Curtis was allowed to run wild run free. His tone was amazing; it reminded me of every great soaring guitar solo of ’80s post-New Wave/dream rock era. The Deheza sisters sounded like what you’d imagine Azure Ray would sound like fronting a dance band. Unfortunately, too often the vocals were buried in the mix and sounded limp, like an afterthought. As with the opener, the sound would have benefited from more bottom end (no bass again). The 70 or 80 people on hand spent the night huddled by the stage, but few if any danced, except for one girl who spent the evening with her arms in the air. Maybe that’s why they didn’t come out for an encore after their 45 minute set concluded. A pity. I could have listened to them for another hour.
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So the City Council approved the CVS pharmacy. Goodbye, 49r. Here’s the WOWT coverage.
One last thought on CVS… I can say as a resident of the Memorial Park neighborhood, which abuts Dundee, that other than the cursory walk-through upon its grand opening, I will never step foot in that CVS store. Never. And judging from neighbors and other Dundee residents, I won’t be alone. A hollow threat? You don’t know Dundee very well. Very clannish; very grudgeful; some might say angry. This isn’t like when Wal Mart moved in at the expense of The Ranch Bowl, where people vowed to never shop there. I knew that wouldn’t make a stitch of difference. Wal Mart attracts every bit of human trash in every city it inhabits, people who wouldn’t care if Wal Mart ran a white slavery ring out of its appliance department, as long as they could still buy their 10 cubic foot bricks of toilet paper. CVS, well, that’s another matter. It has zero competitive advantage over Walgreens. It won’t even be convenient to access. And now they’ve pissed off the neighborhood in which it resides, a neighborhood that has a long, long memory. I do not wish them luck.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room, Portland experimental rockers Menomena returns supporting a new album on Barsuk Records. This is what I said about them when they came through way back in June 2007:
Though not nearly as crowded as the prior evening, there was a large draw to see Menomena (pronounced Men-Naw-Men-Naw — like phenomena — not as I stupidly pronounced it, Men-Oh-Meen-uh). The trio featured a drummer/vocalist, keyboard/guitarist/vocalist, and frontman/vocalist/guitarist/saxophone player. Huge sound for a trio. Everything seemed keyed off the drums, which were big and brawny, the kit set up at the front of the stage so all three members could watch each other throughout the set. Trying to think of what they sounded like, the guy next to me said, “Man, it’s like early Peter Gabriel.” Bingo. Especially when the drummer sang the leads, the keyboards were in loop and the frontman added harmonies or played an odd line on baritone sax, it was 1980 Melt-era Gabriel all the way. Other times, when the keyboardist held the vocal spot, Menomena resembled early Death Cab or a more conventional indie band. They were at their best when being unconventional, however, which was most of the evening
Opening the show tonight is Williamsburg band Suckers (Frenchkiss Records) and Tu Fawning. $12, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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