Posts Tagged ‘video’
28 Apr

Week 207: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams



Since last summer, this song has been everywhere. Movies. Commercials. The grocery store. I’m pretty sure I even heard it in a funeral home once.

And yet, I’m still not sick of it. Somehow, it’s still able to deliver on its promise of genuine, uncomplicated happiness.

I think Pharrell has managed to strike the delicate balance between all the ingredients of a song about happiness. For the visual types out there, I will try to explain what I mean with the following homemade (and hastily made) Venn diagram:

Through scientific research, I found that Pharrell Williams has balanced all the ingredients of a good happy song. I also found that drawing circles is harder than I thought.

Through scientific research, I found that Pharrell Williams has balanced all the ingredients of a good happy song. I also found that drawing circles is harder than I thought.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Everything’s understated. The drums aren’t huge. Pharrell never belts out the vocals. And the bass and keyboards are just poking their heads in, like someone who’s tip-toeing in late for a meeting.

2. The backup vocals. Especially when they start to cascade at 1:50.

3. The 24-hour video. A great concept, nicely executed, and not obsessed with its own coolness.

Recommended listening activity:

Whatever makes you happy.

21 Apr

Week 206: “Mono No Aware” by Hammock



I have to admit, I was a bit confused by the title of this song at first. Was the band making a statement about how people who have mono are so tired that they don’t know what’s happening around them? Was it a warning that unless you listen to their music in stereo, you won’t get it?

As it turns out, I was reading the title in the wrong language. It’s not English, but Japanese. After a brief moment of feeling like a total idiot, I looked up the meaning of the phrase, and found it pretty interesting.

It’s a term coined in the 1700s, during Japan’s Edo period. Roughly translated, it means “a sensitivity to ephemera”. In other words, if you understand that everything is impermanent, that all experiences, all feelings, all things are temporary, you will appreciate their beauty more fully.

I like that. And now that I know the title’s real meaning, I can appreciate the song’s beauty a bit better, too.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The main piano loop, played in reverse, has no reverb, as compared to the distant echoing noises that layer themselves on top of the piano as the song progresses.

2. The video, which features images of impermanent things, particularly handprints left on windows.

3. The cello, added when Hammock remastered the song in 2013.

Recommended listening activity:

Watching a whirlpool form as water drains from the sink.

16 Sep

Week 175: “Four Feathers Few” by Orla Wren

Record label.

On Orla Wren’s Soundcloud page, he is listed as being “nomadic”. I’m not sure if that means he’s a perpetual couch surfer, a permanent camper, or if he follows the migrating buffalo for food, but his music certainly evokes a wandering, meandering, carefree feeling.

It makes me think of Canadian nomad/blogger Jeremy Goodwin. In 2009, Goodwin sold most of his belongings, moved into his van, and roamed the country, documenting his experiences. His blog is an interesting look into the idea of being homeless by choice, and the stigma associated with the word “homeless”. According to his most recent updates he’s still at it, though he now splits his time between Vancouver (where he does occasional social work) and Halifax (where he’s at school, studying…wait for it… architecture). And if the idea of a nomad designing houses isn’t awesome enough for you, Goodwin has also applied for the Mars One project.

If you’re not familiar, the Mars One project is a Dutch not-for-profit foundation that hopes to beat NASA in the race for a manned mission to Mars. Although they lack the resources of NASA, their advantage is that they don’t have to worry about bringing people back; the trip is one-way. So in other words, in applying to take part, Jeremy Goodwin is taking nomadism to the next level.

I wish him luck. But I do so from the comfort of my own home. While I have the utmost respect for the freedom that nomads like Goodwin and Orla Wren have decided to pursue, I don’t think it’s for me. Although it might not hurt if I purged a few belongings myself; the more I count my possessions, the heavier they look.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The video, as you’ve probably already realized, is gorgeous. Created by Joey Bania, the video, with its suspended figures, gives the paradoxical effect of moving and staying still all at once.

2. The piano, right up front in the mix.

3. The cello, way back in the mix. Somehow, the spatial separation between the song’s two main instruments gives a wide-open feeling that almost makes me want to get on the road with no plan. Almost.

Recommended listening activity:

Spinning a globe and stopping it with your index finger.

04 Mar

Week 147: “Undiscovered Colors” by The Flashbulb



My favourite thing about the camera I had as a kid was the flashbulb it came with.

The camera was a Kodak pocket instamatic, and it was designed to be compatible with a crazy contraption called a “flip flash”. The flip flash was almost as big as the camera itself; a clunky, wasteful hunk of plastic that allowed you to take just ten washed-out photos before it joined the junk pile. I remember even as a kid wondering how humans could be clever enough to invent strobe lights, but still have trouble coming up with a re-usable flash.

Anyway, knowing that my flip flash would die after ten flashes made me very selective with the photos I took. You didn’t want to waste one on a lousy picture. And then, after taking a photo, you could tell which of the ten bulbs had been used, because it went from being beautifully transparent to a cloudy gray in a split second. Sometimes, a faint sulfur-ish smell would linger after the flash, and I kind of got it into my head that I was mercilessly killing a family of bulbs one by one. It was very dramatic.

Modern cameras have eliminated the need for such bizarre 20th century technology, of course. And besides, today’s point-and-shoot cameras are so good at compensating for a lack of light that flashes are rarely necessary anyway. But I would like to thank Chicago’s Benn Jordan, aka The Flashbulb, for two things: reminding me of my beloved flip flash, and creating the wonderful track “Undiscovered Colors”.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The glitchy percussion that starts at 1:38. “Glitch” is an interesting subgenre of electronic, and it’s worth exploring if you like the energy of dubstep but don’t like migraines.

2. When the percussion cuts out at 2:33, we’re left with an interesting cross-rhythm between the piano and violin.

3. The official video is exactly what I would have suggested for a song that seems to combine fast-forward and slow-motion.

Recommended listening activity:

Hand-making a card for someone.

12 Nov

Week 131: “Settle Down” by Kimbra


Southern Hemisphere Month here at BSOTW continues with New Zealand’s eccentric Kimbra. You may remember her from her contribution to this song, but there’s much more to this fascinating pop songstress than body paint and partial nudity.

In fact, she reminds me of Janelle Monae in a lot of ways: she’s pop enough to be catchy, but different enough to be interesting. Her videos often have a 1920s esthetic, and her musical maturity is incredible, given that she’s barely in her twenties.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. She uses her voice in wonderful ways. At various points in the song, her voice does the job of percussion, bass, strings, and a horn section.

2. She proves that pop doesn’t have to be fluff. While other singers her age contemplate what words rhyme with “baby”, Kimbra deals poetically with relationships, domesticity, and the gap between childhood fantasy and adult reality.

3. She gave it a video that’s as interesting as the song. It’s got creepy dolls, imagery straight out of Mad Men, and kids who can do the Charleston. What more could you want?

Recommended listening activity:

Predicting your future by playing MASH.

02 Jul

Week 112: “July Flame” by Laura Viers


Where I live, the seasons are so extreme that when you’re in the middle of one, it’s impossible to imagine that the other ever existed.

In the depths of winter, when you walk in a permanent shrug to keep your scarf pressed up against your cheekbones, you look up at the bare trees and it seems ridiculous that they ever had leaves. You know they looked green once, but it’s difficult to picture it.

But a few weeks of summer is all it takes to experience the opposite effect. You see your comically bulky winter coat tucked in the closet, and you can’t believe there will ever be a time when you will need to wear it. You can’t understand why you ever wore so much clothing.

So to help you enjoy another endless summer that will be over before you know it, here’s a wonderful song by Laura Viers.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Her voice is doubled. Lots of singers do this (John Lennon did it all the time) and for some reason, the resulting sound makes me think of the optical illusion of heat waves rising from the street.

2. The drums. They never really break out into a standard rhythm, sticking instead to a steady heartbeat on the toms.

3. The video. It’s done in stop-motion and it features all your favourite summertime animals. If you still need convincing, it’s also got fireworks made of peaches. And what could possibly say “summer” more than fireworks made of peaches?

Recommended listening activity:

Making a drink with a 1-to-1 ratio of liquid to ice cubes.

14 May

Week 105: “Wishery” by Pogo

Name your own price here.

Pogo, aka Nick Bertke, makes music that burrows into your ear, opens the part of your brain labeled “nostalgia”, and throws a belated birthday party for your inner child.

Much like Kutiman, Bertke is a master remixer. But rather than using YouTube for source material, he cuts and pastes from (often but not always) old Disney movies, creating songs that are at once completely original but strangely familiar. Many of the music and accompanying videos found on his website are worth your time, but this one, made of bits and pieces from Disney’s 1937 classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, is easily my favourite.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Despite being composed of split-second sound clips, it doesn’t sound choppy or disconnected.

2. It’s the only song I know of that uses a turtle biting a stair as percussion.

3. It emphasizes the simultaneous creepiness and beauty of that iconic 1930s style of singing. There’s something about the way she sings “I’m wishing…” at 2.21 that makes me a bit scared that if I look at Snow White the wrong way I might end up at the bottom of a well myself.

Recommended listening activity:

Staring into the night sky and inventing your own constellations.

05 Mar

Week 95: “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye


In the same way that Erato enjoyed 15 minutes of internet stardom by putting a creative twist on Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”, the independent band Walk Off The Earth made a clever video cover of this song that you’ve probably already seen via every one of your friends on Facebook, or possibly attached to an email with the subject line: “I don’t usually forward videos, but this is *amazing*!!!”

While I appreciate the creativity of the Walk Off The Earth version, I think the original (which has a pretty creative video of its own, by the way) wins out.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The xylophone. Everything about the first minute of the song is delicate- the voice, the guitar, the percussion –but the xylophone is the best part. And I can’t help singing “baa-baa black sheep” in my head whenever I hear it.

2. The verse sung by Kimbra. I find that when songs follow the he-sings-she-sings format they either turn out being poignant or supremely lame. For me, the “she-sings” verse of this song is effective because you don’t see it coming. It interrupts what you thought was going to be a brokenhearted rant and reminds us that there are two sides to every story.

3. The sudden ending. Perhaps Gotye’s way of implying that the best way to end it is with a clean break.

Recommended listening activity:

Cleansing your inbox by deleting messages you’d rather not read again.

16 Jan

Week 88: “My Favorite Color” by Kutiman

I’ve already rambled on about sample-based music and remix culture in previous posts, so I won’t bore you with it again, but I would like to take a moment to introduce you to Ophir Kutiel, aka Kutiman.

Kutiman is the 21st-century extension of the DJs who, in the early days of hip-hop, would dig through crates of old funk and soul records to find the perfect break, the perfect beat, upon which to build their music. A graduate of the jazz program at Rimon Music College in Israel, Kutiman rose to internet fame in 2009, when he spent two months sifting through hundreds of YouTube videos people had posted of themselves playing instruments, found snippets that caught his ear, and pasted them together to create a series of songs called ThruYOU. The results are as incredible to watch as they are to listen to.

He’s posted several other songs using the same method in the years since, and they’re all worth a listen, but this one, to me, stands out.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The singer. Sounds like a combination of Billie Holiday and Bajka.

2. The light drums that come in at 1:23, giving the song its groove.

3. The fact that none of the people in the video had any idea that the clip they were uploading would become part of something like this. It’s this kind of unintentional collaboration that makes the internet a beautiful thing.

Recommended listening activity:

Using clippings from old magazines to make a birthday card for someone.

07 Nov

Week 78: “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn (as covered by Erato)

If there was ever proof that less is more, this song is it.

A charming re-working of a decidedly mediocre song by pop star Robyn, this song, performed by Swedish vocal group Erato, does what all good cover songs do: it takes the original song, strips it down to its basic strengths, and fills the gaps with something completely new.

A clip of Erato (well, three of them anyway) singing the song became internet wildfire a couple weeks ago, and the simplicity of the video just adds to the song’s charm. Shot in black and white on a cheap camera in their cramped Swedish kitchen, it proves that beauty doesn’t need a big budget. (Robyn’s video, in case you were wondering, is an awkward combination of Flashdance and Napoleon Dynamite. You probably don’t need to see it, but if you’re curious and you enjoy feeling slightly uncomfortable, go for it.)

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. Erato trades in Robyn’s highly produced sound for used cottage cheese containers. No word yet on whether the success of the YouTube clip has boosted cottage cheese sales in Stockholm.

2. The three-part harmonies. Okay, this might contradict my “less is more” argument, but Erato’s vocal arrangement is gorgeous.

3. The lyrics. To be fair to Robyn, she gave Erato some good lyrics to work with. This is an interesting take on the break-up song; a plea for compassion from the “other woman”, making her case that honesty is the only approach to a complicated situation…that’s good stuff. Robyn’s come a long way since “Show Me Love”.

Recommended listening activity:

Building a castle out of Tupperware.

15 Aug

Week 66: “Be Good or Be Gone” by Fionn Regan


When I found out that Irish folk artist Fionn Regan cites Neil Young and Bob Dylan as influences, I thought, “cool, so he’s got great lyrics and a really annoying voice. No thanks.”

Thankfully, those two icons have had a bigger influence on Regan’s heart than his vocal cords, so I put aside my folk prejudices and got to know his music better. And with a brand new album out this month (the beguilingly-titled “100 Acres of Sycamore”) this might just be the perfect time for you to get to know him too.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The lyrics. The Irish are so good at drinking that we often forget their remarkable ability to produce more poets and authors per capita than probably any other country on earth. Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Swift, Wilde, Seamus Heaney, C.S. Lewis…the list goes on. Regan does his countrymen proud with some great lines in this song. My favourite is, “I have become/An aerial view/Of a coastal town/That you once knew.”

2. The backing vocals. They first appear at 0.47, and they’re so timid-sounding that the line “be good or be gone” sounds less like a threat and more like a meek request.

3. The video. If it were up to me, this would be the new video for Ireland’s board of tourism. It also supports the song’s message that being good is important, no matter who or where you are.

Recommended listening activity:

Ordering a coffee and tipping gratuitously.

11 Oct

Week 22: “Dayvan Cowboy” by Boards Of Canada


If you are Canadian, chances are you have seen the work of the National Film Board of Canada at some point in your life. Perhaps your 4th grade teacher had 20 minutes to kill on a Friday afternoon and popped in a VHS showing an aerial tour of the Rocky Mountains…or maybe the episode of “Sesame Street” that you were watching was interrupted by a pledge drive for public television featuring an animation of birds flying over a field to the music of Neil Young. There’s something about the atmosphere of an NFB film that is instantly recognizable.

How awesome is it, then, that a Scottish electronic duo known for its highly atmospheric sound decided to name itself in honour of that humble little Canadian institution? Very awesome is my answer. And the fact that this beautiful song, “Dayvan Cowboy” comes from an album called “Trans Canada Highway” (the Canadian equivalent to Route 66), is enough to make just about any Canadian burst with that wonderful pride we feel when someone from another country recognizes our existence.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Floating static noise. The song opens with classic Boards Of Canada audio-mush, which is to say, a melody buried deep beneath layers of static and distortion.

2. The tremolo guitar. The clarity of the guitar that hits at the 1.40 mark is the perfect contrast to the AM-radio-like static of the song’s first section.

3. The video. Saying that feels a bit like cheating…after all, I could have picked out a third thing about the music itself that makes this a beautiful song, but the video really is worth watching. It uses footage from American military officer Joseph Kittinger’s 1960 parachute jump from a record-setting 31 kilometres above the surface of the earth. To say that Kittinger had guts is an understatement: during the fall, his body reached speeds of up to 988 km/h, and due to a malfunction with his pressurized suit, his right hand swelled to twice its normal size. On a previous jump, a different malfunction made him lose consciousness, and his body went into a flat spin at 120 rpm. And you thought your job sucked.

Anyway, the video captures this amazing achievement and gives it the soundtrack it deserves: equal parts beauty and other-wordliness. When Kittinger cuts the parachute and plops into the ocean, the footage cuts to scenes of surfer Laird Hamilton riding peacefully on the waves, giving the illusion of a single man having fallen from space into the ocean and enjoying a nice afternoon’s surfing.

Recommended listening activity:

Lying in a hammock looking at the stars, and being grateful that you’re not falling towards the earth at 988 km/h.