“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” directed by Jake Nava
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” doesn’t really have verses or even a chorus, it’s all-hook, moving from one high-energy Beyoncé shout to another, never really letting up. The titular hook’s rushed through in the same double-time as that keyboard line on-speed and Jake Nava’s video similarly starts and doesn’t stop. It’s all performance on basically no set at all, Beyoncé kinda lip-syncs, instead focusing on her and the other two dancers’ Bob Fosse “Mexican Breakfast” walk-it-outs with minimal lighting tricks with minimal cuts.
Usually, cutting’s employed to give the kinda subliminal effect of the action, and that’s generally, necessary because the untouched version of a performance, action, whatever feels inert; manipulation’s apparently necessary. When a director chooses not to cut, to create a single-take, long take, or even, the feigned single-take—a recent music video trope and the best way to describe the editing in “Single Ladies”—the aim’s usually for elegance and cohesion.
Not so much here, where some rarified mix of performer exuberance and directorial subtlety meet up to create the feeling of a single-take while fitting-in all the visceral thrills of quick-cutting. Slow, patient zooms, cuts hidden by lights going to black or flashing to white, and 360-degree dolly shots actually keep-up the energy and immediacy of the routine (a term more apt than, really, calling this a video).
Then, there’s the single odd, surreal element: Beyoncé’s robo-claw. This is part of her half-interesting, half-retarded “Sasha Fierce” persona that she’s working for her new album and the millionth example of rap and R & B’s flirtation with retro-futurism, but it also makes sense in some Herzog-ian “ecstatic truth” way. It fits the subliminal brilliance of the video overall, even if it’s hard to point you finger on a singular “meaning.”
“Weekend,” directed by Tim Sutton
Tim Sutton’s video for The Sea and Cake’s “Weekend” is the kind of off-the-cuff—or seemingly off-the-cuff—video that doesn’t even happen too much anymore, even in the “indie” world. The video recalls Gus Van Sant’s work of the past five years or so, or the sort of thing, say, Kelly Reichardt or a less obsequious David Gordon Green might make if handed a copy of The Sea and Cake’s latest album Car Alarm.
Despite keeping Car Alarm on repeat since it’s release almost a month ago, I’ve yet to decipher more than a few lines of the lyrics and so, what the song’s about or how it directly fits the video aren’t clear, but the song’s title and the infectious joy those dance-punk drums and Detroit techno synth squelches bring just make sense accompanied by a naturalistic narrative of teens hanging out.
Early on, one of the boys is shown playing a video game with one hand and slapping his annoying brother with the other. A jump-cut removes the annoying brother and brings the boy’s mom—Peanuts or Muppet Babies style—into the room, hands on her hips, the boy motioning that he isn’t sure what’s wrong. It’s adolescent inability to accept blame and it’s the sort of thing that, when you’re fifteen, sends you out of the house and onto your bike to go fuck around with friends. Later, a quick, hand-held shot captures both the shyness and shamelessness of adolescence: One of the other boys sneaks a peek at a girl diving into the water between conversation with friends.
Sutton punctuates “Weekend’s” hazy realism at just the right time, with a striking shot or editing choice. The sped-up diving of the kids, tangled up in a series of quick cuts, is the perfect visual accompaniment to Sea and Cake’s mix of dance music signifiers. And then it’s followed-up by a ready-for-postcard image of sailboats. It’s the same contrast between controlled chaos and obsessive formalism that the group itself has been mining since the mid-90s.
“Weekend” captures the uneventful rebellion of being fifteen where the stuff you do isn’t really bad and certainly isn’t against the law or anything, but would upset people over thirty: Skateboarding, dicking around in a convenience store, carving your name in a railing, bottle-rockets in the woods, etc.
“These Days,” from AOL Sessions
This performance by Glen Campbell from AOL Sessions isn’t a typical music video and it’s the kind of live, “exclusive” performance every music website has, but Campbell really sells it and its simple existence sets-up a weird contrast for how music performance has changed since, well, a lot more people gave a shit about Glen Campbell.
Campbell performs a cover of the Jackson Browne-written “These Days”, best known as being performed by Nico—and used expertly in The Royal Tenenbaums—from his album of covers Meet Glen Campbell released in September. Lazy critics immediately compared it to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and the similarities are obvious but superficial. Meet isn’t stripped down or spare: it’s as obvious and show-boaty as all of Glen Campbell’s work, and filled with the same amount of longing too.
While everything’s changed since Campbell was playing lush, slow-burners like “Wichita Lineman” on The Smothers Brothers in front of incredible, art-directed sets, Campbell, at a cold and ugly AOL Sessions set, sings with sincerity and gives Nashville grins and grimaces all the same.
Those American Cash albums always felt icky because Cash exploited his age way more often than he played off of it and it all seemed aimed entirely at an audience that wouldn’t touch genuine country music outside of Cash. Campbell’s fascinating on the maybe-album-of-the-year Meet because he’s basically making music that sounds like his old music, sounds close enough to the country music that’s selling right now, and never falls back on meta-commentary about old-age and stuff.