words by Jacob Zlomke and Chance Solem-Pfeifer
Last week was a landslide of videos and singles from Nebraska musicians. Catch up on big news and new music videos from artists including The Faint, Digital Leather, UUVVWWZ and more.
As always, Hear Nebraska is interested in premiering songs and videos from our state's artists, as a way to help their reach and tell their story. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and future possibilities.
See the videos and new releases below:
“Log Cabin Home” — Kill County
From a red sofa in a homey living room, three members of the sometimes-Lincoln country band Kill County sing a rendition of The Incredible String Band’s “Log Cabin Home in the Sky.”
It’s the band’s submission to Couch by Couchwest, an online music festival from March 9-15, aimed at all the fans “too broke to go to Austin” for the city’s South by Southwest festival. CXCW organizers curate video submissions from musicians anywhere in the world, then post them on their website during the week of the festival. There are few restrictions placed on submissions —the main caveat is that the musician not be performing from a stage.
Video submissions range from self-serious to half-joking, elaborate to stripped-down.
Kill County opted for the spartan approach. Seemingly organic as any Kill County album or song, “Log Cabin Home” in their hands evokes images of three men huddled together against the cold, telling tales and sharing sorrows against their better judgement, just trying to eek out a little more warmth. Here, as always, Kill County is the believable voice of the blue collar. In the Incredible String Band’s original version of the song, with, of course, stringed instruments, guitar and harmonica, there’s some sunshine peeking through the harmonies. The singer looks forward to visiting “the log cabin home in the sky” when winter comes.
In the voices of (left to right) Jon Augustine, Josh James and Ringo, the song resounds more like the final reflections of a doomed man, hoping for a better way to go than as a frozen corpse. He’ll take solace in imagining a warm, safe log cabin. That’s where he’d be had things worked out a little different, and maybe that’s where he’ll be when things end.
"Lately" — Digital Leather
From a forthcoming split with The Hussy due out May 6, Digital Leather returns with a bouncing bit of electro pop in "Lately." The split will be released on Southpaw Records.
Found on this new track on his lonesome, Digital Leather creative force Sean Forree supplies bulbous vocals in the (very small) nooks between the omnipresent buzz of his synth and some of its more melodic right-hand keywork.
"I've been living like a dog / I've been living the fog / lately," he sings. "Lately" is the lyrical cap on each pop-structured musical phrase, all proclaiming the strangeness and the intimidation of the world as we might've come to know it just yesterday. And yet the song's energy, its inherent pop values, gives a rare nightclub multi-dimensionality
As the song closes, Forree looses a few canine howls as the synths wind down as though their batteries are draining and then dead. He is a lost dog in the loveless city.
“Help in the Head” — The Faint
In anticipation of their April 8 album, the Faint released the lead track from Doom Abuse, “Help in the Head,” with a music video and dates for a two-and-a-half-month tour.
It’s been six years since the electro-punk outfit’s last release, Fasciinatiion, after which the band took a creative hiatus of sorts. But with “Help in the Head,” it seems they haven’t traveled too far from where they left off.
The track, wrought with synthesizers of paranoid sirens and ceaseless snare drums, in true Faint tradition, feeds on faithless capitalistic anxiety. Where other post-millennial musicians address a discontent for a failing system, The Faint is at once actively terrified and inspired by that system, if this music video is any indication.
Directed by Tim Nackashi, who’s done videos for Neon Indian and TV on the Radio, a man is chased through a dark suburban hellscape while those around him carry-on, apparently ignorant of approaching menace. The man runs from place to place, nightmarishly tripping over the smallest obstacles, until he’s cornered, and possibly forced into Orwellian complacency while Todd Fink and company chant about a judgement day.
Taking place against a purposefully bland setting and the main character in his white-collar shirt and tie, there’s little nuance to Nackashi’s work here. But with lyrical references to neck-tie nooses and capitalistic chokeholds, subtlety need not be a primary concern.
"Hold It Together" — HERS
"Hold It Together" poses a logical question about the endgame of HERS' music. What happens when it tiptoes past pretty into eerie? And then what happens when it stops tiptoeing entirely?
The new song from the Portland-based pop quartet begins to carry out the delicate trespass on the soft breeze of a clarinet, singer Melissa L. Amstutz's filtered lilt and a glockenspiel so sparse you could lose count of the beats between mallet strikes.
"Hold It Together" is the first release from HERS' forthcoming LP Youth Revisited, set for a June 4 release. Formerly Omaha's Honeybee & Hers and now just one quarter Nebraskan — accounting for Rachel Tomlinson Dick (Manic Pixie Dream Girls) — HERS here sees Amstutz standing solemn in the grayscape of an abandoned beach, alternately staring headlong into the camera and constructing a sort of knee-high shrine.
She sings of waiting and self-preservation, starting in lullaby tones and exploding into punk vocals when the song does the same with screeching guitar. Like an "I Spy" book of archaic-looking novelty items, a key token in the shrine (turned pyre) is a model ship. When Amstutz sets it ablaze at the climax of the song, it rings as an updated version of a sailor's wife theatrically giving up on any safe return.
And if the unhinged pieces of the song weren't enough of a tonal experiement, cheers to director Lindsay Trapnell who shades the music video with Darren Aronofsky-esque levels of disorientation.
“Sparky + Mittens” — Millions of Boys
Maybe Millions of Boys don’t have the best luck with pets?
“Sparky ran away,” vocalist Sara Bertuldo sings in the new video for “Sparky + Mittens.” “My cat Mittens ran away,” begins the second verse.
At one time or another, Sparky or some other dog was perfectly content. The 65-second video watches a dog lounge lazily on a bed, blinking tired eyes. Millions of Boys plays distorted guitars, heralded by feedback, while Bertuldo sings, at first nonchalantly, about her missing animals. By the end of both verses though, she’s wailing for their return.
While the song and video may clock-in at just more than one full minute, “Sparky + Mittens” builds like any proper Millions of Boys single, with structural tendencies lifted straight from the ‘90s indie music: the walking guitar and sparse percussions of the verses under casual vocals, cranked into a wall of noise for the chorus.
Being good pet owners or bad pet owners — or this being a totally un-autobiographical track — doesn’t matter so much as the track’s ability to succinctly give a faithful impression of what the band wants to do: make fun music.
“Broad Sky Blues” — UUVVWWZ
The heart of UUVVWWZ’s recently released music video for “Broad Sky Blues” is in another language.
“Broad Sky Blues” appears on the band’s 2013 release the trusted language, and if the track’s video is any indication, one of those languages is American Sign Language.
The video depicts a character experiencing a dream then teaching the dream to a group of her friends in sign language. Her signs translate the song’s chorus into gestures. For UUVVWWZ’s vocalist, Teal Gardner, who conceptualized the video with director Harrison Martin, the sign language approach serves both form and function.
Gardner said she was attracted to the use of sign language for its activity.
“You gesture at these ideas rather more than saying word for word what you’re trying to get across.”
The chorus, which Gardner calls “kind of anthemic,” posits that “there must be something we can use outside of power, that we can do, that we can say: I beg you, I’ll help you, I’ll listen to you.”
Gardner said in the band’s approach to music videos, they aim to “complement and amplify the song through visual reference," thus the attraction to physically activated modes of meaning.
In practical terms, the video literally depicts the main character, Gardner’s friend Chelsea Richardson, teaching the sign language to a group of actual friends. She describes a certain closeness to the shoot, calling it a more “authentic experience.”
“It’s not like we did a casting call and a bunch of strangers showed up,” Gardner said. “We just kind of filmed Chelsea using sign language to teach our friends these words.”
Moreover, where a music video’s primary aural function is to relate the song, sign language seemed to fit the purpose as a mostly visual language. The language can be conveyed in gestures, connoting action, without interrupting or detracting from the song itself.
Gardner said shooting the video with a group of friends also worked to complement the song’s message.
“It’s cool that this is a very visibly Omaha-centered video,” she said. “The song is about being in the Midwest and trying to make a change in a place that can sometimes feel vacant. Within our closest groups of people, there are notes for change, working together in these small communities of friends.”
“Everyone can feel powerless in our crazy world. The song is just trying to see an opening in the clouds a little.”