Looking back on the year 2012, I’ve realized that you, as you read this, and I, as I write it, we are both survivors. We have averted forces which no doubt would have colluded to destroy us. The Mayans, the Fiscal Cliff, or Honey Boo Boo Child. And the fact that our national anthem has not been replaced with “Call Me Maybe” should alone be proof that someone up there likes us.
And yet, as I finalized my list of the best videos by Portland bands, I noticed the recurring themes of birth, death and rebirth or afterife. So while we now have the luxury of sitting on the Internet, rather than starting a new civilization out of the ashes of our old one, we can still contemplate endings and new beginnings, and appreciate how Portland bands and directors have further advanced the art form of the music video.
The Alialujah Choir‘s video for “A House, A Home”, directed by Portland’s Daniel Fickle, has won thirteen awards at international film festivals, and has been chosen as an official selection of another thirteen festivals, continuing on into 2013.
Despite all the thirteens associated, there’s nothing unlucky about this video—in fact, luck has nothing to do with its success. It’s entirely based on its beautiful and whimsical interpretation of the song’s lyrics, which imagine the lives (and post-lives) of two of Dr. J.C. Hawthorne’s patients (for whom Hawthorne Blvd is named), many of whom are buried at the Lone Fir Cemetary.
Another video which draws on some spooky Oregon history is Laura Gibson‘s “La Grande”, directed by Portland’s Alicia J. Rose. The Hot Lake Hotel, just minutes away from La Grande, was once a hospital, and later a mental sanatorium, and is believed by the Internet to be haunted.
In Rose’s video, Gibson enters the hotel as a Hitchcockian Mary Poppins, and discovers that her next destination may be further than her train ticket indicates.
2012 saw the release of Moms, Menomena‘s first album since the departure of co-founding member Brent Knopf. In the video for “Plumage”, New York director Trevor McMahan imagines a rivalry dynamic of the two remaining members, Danny Seim and Justin Harris, portraying the two as Spaghetti Western phoenixes, continually regenerating themselves in ever-escalating plumage.
And speaking of Brent Knopf, his new band Ramona Falls released their second album, Prophet, also in 2012. For the album’s first video, Chicago director Thom Glunt imagined a woman, driven by grief over her dead wife, who creates a machine in her garage, capable of making contact with her in the afterlife.
Portland director and animator Stefan Nadelman has created memorable videos both for Menomena and for Ramona Falls in the past. In 2012, he made the video for “Wonderful World” by Lost Lander, which shares members with Ramona Falls, including front man Matt Sheehy; Brent Knopf also produced their debut album, DRRT.
Nadelman usually invents characters for his animations, but this time limited himself to geometric shapes which are composed of ever-multiplying particles in prime numbers. The shapes are surprisingly lifelike, and the overall effect feels like watching the beginning of the Universe as seen through a microscope in a 1960s educational film. It feels as though these are more than just shapes—that while the smaller ones die as they are absorbed into larger shapes, they ultimately mean something beyond themselves.
The Shins released three great videos this year, which included a stop-motion treatment of “Rifle’s Spiral” and a creepy post-apocalyptic exploration of childhood innocence in “It’s Only Life”, both of which deserve recognition and praise. Here, I’ve chosen to highlight the first video released from Port of Morrow, for “Simple Song”, directed by LA duo DANIELS. It imagines James Mercer as a dysfunctional, alienated father, now deceased and, via VHS cassette, pitting his children against one another in a battle for his entire estate. The result is like an ‘80s comedy that Wes Anderson was too young to direct.
For Sean Flinn & the Royal We, first-time Portland director Tucker Wysong created an exquisite portrait of an man obsessed with his magical ability to collect the right objects to bring to life a woman he has idealized in his mind (possibly a dead lover—we aren’t told specifically, but Wysong hinted at it when I spoke with him).
Mean Jeans make the best Ramones-inspired songs about partying on the planet. But what if they left our planet? Portland director Brett Roberts imagines this very scenario, in which humanity, in the band’s absence, forgets how to party, and, like with New Coke in 1985, the formula for Sparks has been altered. A messenger, deliberately reminiscent of George Carlin’s character Rufus from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, informs the band of the death of partying, and urges the band to return and set things right, Indiana Jones-style.
Portland director Sean Pecknold gave us a debut video for Pure Bathing Culture‘s “Ivory Coast”. In it, lead singer Sarah Versprille is cast as a trailer-dweller, whose uneventful existence is swept up by bandmate Dan Hindman, who plays an other-worldly guitarist whose music renders her putty in his hands. But this was not a romance built to last, and, eventually, everyone involved must be on their way.
Finally, we have Portland director Andrew Sloan‘s video for the most summery song of last summer, Onuinu’s “Happy Home”. Onuinu, aka Dorian Duvall, is an alien being, cruising around Portland, eating hard-boiled eggs, buying aluminum foil from an Alia Shawkat doppelganger (you know, the girl who played Maeby Fünke in Arrested Development), which will ultimately aid him in transcending space and time.