Tag Archive: music video

  1. Great Caesar dreams big

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    Calling a band “ambitious” isn’t necessarily a compliment; It was, after all, the word critics used to describe U2 in the 1980s, when Bono claimed that God wrote his songs. Bands like fun. and Foster the People face charges of skipping basement shows to play Madison Square Garden without first paying their dues. It offends a critic’s sensibility when a band blatantly aims high and then gets there. But it’s safe to say that Brooklyn’s Great Caesar, featuring frontman John-Michael Parker ’10 and saxophonist Stephen Chen ’09, couldn’t care less.

    “I think we are ambitious people,” Parker says. “Dream big, dream boldly and jump at it. We think that if people live that way, they can live lives of integrity and” — he searches for a word — “consequence.”

    Great Caesar have taken their`  own advice, and it’s already paying off. Tackling homophobia in the video for their new single “Don’t Ask Me Why,” released on MLK day, the group has racked up close to 150,000 Youtube hits and kudos from the likes of singer Wyclef Jean and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons. Juxtaposing scenes of interracial and homosexual couples, the video compares the African-American civil rights movement to the current LGBT struggle for equality. The power of its message and its instant success are no accident.

    “‘We can do better than that,’” Chen remembers thinking while going over early ideas for the video, among them a hipster love story set in Brooklyn. “Let’s do something that’s actually going to change the world.”

    Such aims might seem surprising for a band that only a few years earlier wrote a song called “Sweet Banana,” and Parker admits with a laugh that the themes of their first music video, shot on Old Campus, “couldn’t be further” from the messages of “Don’t Ask Me Why.” But band members say the change isn’t as drastic as it might seem. They never wrote throwaway songs, “Sweet Banana” included (“I could give you an hour-long dissertation on that song,” Parker tells me.) They wrote what they knew, and when they wrote “Sweet Banana,” they knew they wanted to have fun. But today, surrounded by people making their mark on the world, the band strives to keep up.

    Chen recalls the thought process that led to “Don’t Ask Me Why:” “How can we actually make this impactful? And why would we settle for anything less?”

    It’s apparent from the first frames that questions like these led to the video’s lofty ambitions. Great Caesar’s in-your-face, danceable rock is toned down and honed into something tighter and more professional. The music has shifted to the background, Parker’s lyrics taking center stage. Unlike other indie bands, whose words are sometimes hard to parse, Great Caesar make no effort to be obscure: The song is a love story. The lyrics are ambitious and unafraid, their ambition and boldness impossible to miss, and the song oscillates between refreshingly frank and distractingly literal as a result. The video is similarly uncompromising: as McGill, the song’s other protagonist, endures a brutal beating, a rope of blood hangs from his mouth. Great Caesar pulls no punches, but this bluntness can lead to peculiar results. With the song’s narrative represented directly onscreen, one sometimes gets the feeling of watching a play rather than a music video. Great Caesar’s Bandcamp even credits guest singer Rebecca Ryskalczyk “as Marie”; the singers have become actors .

    The first half of the video mirrors the song’s narrative, but it departs from the lyrics to call for equality and civil rights. It’s here, where the visuals are distinct from the lyrics, that the two work together most powerfully. It’s tough for a music video to be more than the sum of its parts when those parts are the same, when the images onscreen are a verbatim representation of the music. And early in the video, it seems that Great Caesar have bit off more than they can chew. But as the song and the video move apart, they become complements instead of components. And while the final shots — of the video’s cast frolicking in a field with their arms outstretched — might not be your cup of tea, the video’s overall effect is a powerful one.

    It’s fitting, then, that the band is named for Caesar, because power is what they were after. They came, they saw, and while they might not have conquered homophobia yet, they’re doing what they can. The important role of music in the cohesion and propulsion of social movements is no secret, and few social movements today have the immediacy of LGBT rights. Macklemore’s “Same Love” garnered a Grammy nomination for its willingness to address the issue head-on, but Chen thinks music still has much work to do.

    Thanks to that song, “You can hear [a statement for LGBT rights] in your car across the entire nation,” Chen says. “If our video can help those conversations, then I think we’ve done our job.”

  2. REVIEW: Michael Blume '13, Soul Man

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    For all the buzz artists like Mayer Hawthorne and John Legend have created about the so-called “soul revival,” true crooners remain a rare breed. It’s a delicate sound and a risky one, but done well, it’s the red wine of music: When Frank Ocean broke into falsetto on last year’s Channel Orange, we all went a little weak in the knees.

    Knee-weakening seems to be the effect Michael Blume ’13 is looking for with his recent release of a trio of videos on YouTube. Blume is a Whiffenpoof who wowed in his senior recital last semester and whose skinny-tie-and-glasses look recalls a certain other white soul singer. He boasts a Motown-ready baritone and a sensitive affect to match. Despite some forced moments, Blume navigates covers of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” and John Legend’s “Ordinary People” with impressive skill, and shows serious compositional and vocal chops on the original “I Won’t Be That Guy.”

    It’s at once obvious and suicidal to tackle modern classics the way Blume does. The instant “I love this song!” reaction can easily dissipate with a performance that doesn’t do justice to the sublime original. But Blume doesn’t fall into this trap. “Ordinary People,” featuring Julian Reid ’13 on piano, poses no problem. Blume takes on the challenging vocals without flinching, although the lower register can muddy some of his numerous vocal runs. His voice fits his mellow take on the song, which is somehow even more low-key than the original. At times, though, his liberal vocal flourishes sacrifice soul for accuracy, and the song’s dynamic doesn’t vary much from its baleful starting point, making for stiff moments. Blume owns the song, but he doesn’t make it his own.

    “”Thinkin Bout You” has Blume backed by guitar rather than piano and somehow much more in his element. He’s more comfortable and more genuine in an excellent, emotive rendition of Ocean’s ballad. Playing off Paul Leo’s fretwork at the song’s restrained beginning, Blume belts out the second verse before breaking into some falsetto of his own. Where “Ordinary People” was an impressive interpretation of someone else’s work, “Thinkin’ Bout You” feels like Blume’s song. Vocal showmanship is applied tastefully, and Blume’s dynamic interaction with the guitar makes the song’s peaks and valleys stand in energetic and arresting contrast. You can forgive the overly earnest looks he shoots the camera for the heartfelt performance he gives.

    It’s tough to be soulful when sitting down, as Blume is for the first two videos. He compensates with doe-eyed looks and sometimes exaggerated hand gestures, but these can come off as a little overblown. But this effect evaporates once Blume can get up and move, as he does for the original “I Won’t Be That Guy.” His involvement in the song makes it a more energetic effort than the two covers. Still, Blume’s band seems to be there only as backup, not as an integral part of the song. With some exceptions, the foundation they lay for the singer solid but uninspired. Blume pulls the band together for a catchy — albeit not too inventive — chorus that showcases his jazzy voice at its best.

    Blume doesn’t seem to be going for innovation, though: he and his all-acoustic accompaniment all wear suits and ties in a neatly coordinated effort for a certain stylistic niche that’s much more Calhoun Cabaret than 216 Dwight. When Blume sings, “I won’t be that guy,” it’s a reminder to himself not to fall for predictable pitfalls, to break the mold. It’s a piece of advice that he might want to contemplate, because, for all his skill, he’s walking a beaten path. True, it takes a while to develop one’s own sound, but it sometimes appears that Blume has emulation as a goal rather than a waypoint. It’s the cover of Frank Ocean that has Blume sounding most like himself; he makes the song his, rather than aiming for a sound that’s already out there. But if he keeps aiming for the likes of Frank Ocean and John Legend, I’ll listen.

  3. Yale LGBT alumni association releases music video

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    Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association (GALA) has released a colorful new video in an effort to promote its second reunion this February.

    The music video — which was arranged by Ben Wexler ’12 — features an a cappella medley that includes a range of songs associated with the gay rights movement, including “Over the Rainbow,” “I’m Coming Out,” “Like a Prayer” and “Prove It On Me Blues.” The video was directed by Charlie Polinger ’13 and includes nine segments, which each showcase a different song and dance.

    “I wanted to make something that celebrated how far Yale has come in accepting and celebrating the LGBT community,” Polinger wrote in a Saturday email. “We did a lot of research into the aesthetic, genre, tone of each of the songs Ben selected and then found ways to apply those to the Yale campus.”

    The segments were filmed in varying locations around campus, with “Love on Top” filmed on the roof of The Fence Club and “Like a Prayer” filmed in an archway. In total, the video featured 39 performers.

    The video has already exploded on the Web, with over 19,000 hits on YouTube by Nov. 10. In addition, it has been picked up by BuzzFeed and the popular LGBT blog Towleroad.

    “I’m so glad so many undergrads seem to be enjoying the video, but it is especially rewarding seeing that alumni, those perhaps most affected by the content of the video, really love it as well,” said Katherine Nelson ’13, the video’s producer, in an email.

    If the music video’s fabulously over-the-top choreography and brightly colored costumes are any indication, GALA’s reunion should be, as Towleroad dubbed it, “a gay old time.”