No modern band has done more with the music video medium than OK Go. With its genius use of things like treadmill choreography, Rube Goldberg-like mechanisms, paint, and other artsy accoutrements, the L.A. (by way of Chicago) group has managed to make a name for itself as a viral video factory of sorts…and successfully distract millions of listeners for its middle-of-the-road musical talent. The band’s last seven music videos have garnered more than 100 million views on YouTube, numerous Web-oriented awards, and ample acclaim in the world of fine art.
Friday, OK Go will come to Turner Hall, much to the delight of almost anyone who has dicked around enough on YouTube to stumble upon the band’s very specific genius. While OK Go has the art of the viral music video down to a science, artists everywhere have the ambition to expand upon their sonic output with killer visual representations of their music. Milwaukee acts are no different. Though none of these homegrown clips have amassed anywhere near 100 million views, Milwaukee Record wants to upvote 10 area artists who overcame financial limitations to make especially ambitious music videos.
1. Altos – “Sing (For Trouble)”
The word “cinematic” gets tossed around too easily these days, even in the world of music videos. Basically, if your video isn’t named “Thriller,” chances are it isn’t as movie-like as you’d like to think. Happily, director Sean Williamson’s video for Altos’ eight-minute “Sing (For Trouble)” easily lives up to the “cinematic” tag by eschewing a simple performance approach and embodying the aesthetics of a short film. And what a short film it is: gorgeous and brooding, and featuring bleak winter landscapes, dusty desert vistas, and everything in between, the clip is a visual feast. Williamson follows the enigmatic and possibly interconnected dramas of the individual members of the expansive group, and builds to a finale that’s literally explosive. Toss in some lovely aerial footage, and you have an ambitious video that puts most indie films to shame.
ALTOS, ALTOS “SING (FOR TROUBLE)” from Sean Williamson on Vimeo.
2. Direct Hit! – All of Brainless God
After enjoying moderate success (mostly outside their native Milwaukee), pop-punkers Direct Hit! really found their footing—and Carson Daly-level of notoriety—with their 2013 hook-laden apocalyptic concept album Brainless God. If the already-focused effort that national music publications dubbed a “punk rock opera” wasn’t already ambitious enough, Direct Hit! re-arranged the tracklist and drafted a new comprehensive plot for a video component that covered the entire album. Brainless God (the film) combines B-minus quality cinematography, a violent plot rife in religious overtones, and a small budget that almost exclusively went to cover fake blood, plastic eyeballs, and ingredients to make vomit.
3. The Fatty Acids and Sat. Nite Duets – “Riverwest Side Story”
The Riverwest besties and consistent collaborators in The Fatty Acids and Sat. Nite Duets are both known for making some of the funniest, most unique, and all-around best music videos in the city. To mark both bands accounting for 50 percent of 2012’s Torrential Zen split 45, the Milwaukee indie rock heavyweights joined forces again for a near-10-minute shared music video called “Riverwest Side Story.” The outstanding effort features West Side Story-esque choreography, a rumble, and a basketball interlude that inspired a real life band basketball tournament.
4. Hello Death – “Settlers”
A Milwaukee Film Festival selection, Hello Death’s video for “Settlers” is a chilling work of gorgeous morbidity that earned attention in this year’s Milwaukee Show. The Nathanial Heuer-directed period piece has a simple concept and next-to-no budget (save for pioneer-era wardrobe and flour), and its collaborative bread-making shows that a great video doesn’t require special effects or a lot of money. You just kneed a little dough.
“Settlers” by Hello Death from hello death on Vimeo.
5. Justin Heron – “Rag Doll”
Singer-songwriter Justin Heron seldom plays out, and has managed just one EP during his time in Milwaukee. But his one and only music video is a quietly ambitious affair. Heron’s downtrodden and barren “Rag Doll” has life breathed into it in the visual format as illustrator David Leiberg’s animation fleshes out a detailed image as the song progresses. Leiberg’s drawing skills are also on display in a music video for Mike Mangione & The Union.
6. Kane Place Record Club – “Sunshine”
Some music videos are content with simply having an attractive lady cavort in front of the camera for three minutes; other videos, like the John Roberts-directed clip for Kane Place Record Club’s unhinged “Sunshine,” take things a bit further by having an attractive lady dance with some animated birds, be torn to pieces by a group of dancing surgeons, fall into an M.C. Escher-esque underworld, and beat herself to a bloody pulp. The video for “Sunshine” is a wonder of digital effects, makeup, and choreography, and just as outsized and animated as KPRC.
7. Sat. Nite Duets – “Three Wisemen”
When they’re not getting fancy with The Fatty Acids, Riverwest mainstays Sat. Nite Duets usually stick to absurd, low-budget, and delightfully crummy green-screen music videos—some involving poorly attended Leroy Butler autograph sessions. But the clip for “Three Wisemen”—from last year’s excellent Electric Manland—deserves special mention for some especially non-crummy green-screen action (in the beginning, at least), as well as some nice shots of singer Andrew Jambura goofing around with a horse. It’s the little things.
8. Sugar Stems – “We Only Come Out At Night”
It’s somehow fitting that the video for “We Only Come Out At Night”—a standout track amongst standout tracks from Sugar Stems’ terrific Only Come Out At Night—should see the band members animated as adorable nocturnal forest creatures. But what makes the clip fall into the “especially ambitious” category is the amount of work put into it. Spearheaded by Micronic World Studios owner/operator Mark Peterson, the video for “Night” is made up entirely of construction paper figures and backgrounds. Everything from the smoking, keyboard-playing bear to the trio of drumming possums is created by hand, giving the video a delightfully quirky and personal vibe.
9. WC Tank – “Demigodz (Of Tha Law)”
Beyond rapping, Wes Tank is also a skilled filmmaker and an inventive visual artist. The avant-garde emcee’s most ambitious work to date is the universe-hopping music video for his song “Demigodz (Of Tha Law).” Directed by Tank’s frequent collaborator Kurt Raether, it combines secluded Milwaukee locations with striking use of color and dramatic overtones that combine to make something special—especially given the bargain basement budget. It wasn’t lost on the local film community, as it was selected to be screened during last year’s Milwaukee Film Festival.
10. WebsterX – “Renaissance”
When WebsterX isn’t playing shows at a clip that would make Vic And Gab dizzy, the Milwaukee rapper is busy creating new material. He’s hard at work on a follow-up to his encouraging debut record, Desperate Youth, with an anticipated late winter release. In the meantime, WebsterX held over his quickly-expanding fan base with a new song and accompanying music video for “Renaissance.” In the Charlie Koss-directed video, Webster (along with Lex Allen and D. Bridge) tower over a CGI Milwaukee, with green-screen technology highlighting clouds and eyeballs.