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C.D. On Videos: Alec Gross – "Strip The Lanterns"

July 27, 2011

This thing of ours is called “C.D. On Songs” and I assume you’re on board with the format. But once upon a time, back in June, we did a special feature called “C.D. On Videos,” and I bet you can guess what happened there. That’s right, my friend Casey Desmond sent over a sweet video, and we reviewed it and shared it with you. Now our buddy Alec Gross has recorded a video for his fantastic song “Strip The Lanterns” that we featured way back in May. Gross is finally releasing his record to the world in less than a week (August 2), and he’s celebrating it with a rooftop record release party on Saturday night in New York City. Wow, it’s just like the opening titles on Saturday Night Live. And it will be Live. On Saturday night. Will Andy Samberg and Abby Elliot be there? Not sure. But Alec Gross will, and that oughtta be enough for anyone.

Alec Gross – “Strip the Lanterns”

[Download The Song!]

A series of high-contrast monochrome shots open up the video, like unfrozen,  not-so-still-life pictures animated subtly by nature. Flags flap in the wind, water shimmers and other bits of subtle motion color these black and white images with life. The initial shots are tasty and cinematic; establishing the video as a bona fide expression of vision. What these initial shots do is provide a demonstration of this video’s unique lens; sort of drawing us in and making us interested in whatever story this lens might have to tell us. Our first glimpse of Alec Gross (via his booted foot on an old couch) demonstrates that this video, much like the Gunslinger, lives in two worlds – or at least depicts two worlds.

I bet this place doesn’t look nearly as cool in color…
…And this one could never work in black and white.

The story of two worlds has a protagonist that travels through both worlds – both the black and white “otherworld” as well as the colorful “real world.” This protagonist is the major character in the video, and he is introduced in what we can only assume is his own native world – the stark, high-contrast world established in the opening shots. We’ll call him Roland. No reason. Roland stands at a river and immediately tosses his stylish hat inside, as if he’s done with this one life and is ready to move into the other one. This grizzly man appears somewhat world-weary. We’d almost be tempted to say he has the thousand-yard stare look to him, but his eyes appear to see everything. We would bet this guy does not miss much.

Roland, practicing his “Get off my lawn” routine.

The video tells the story of this character’s journey, and while he clearly represents his “home” world, he is aware of our own, as if he hears the music through the dimensional void. The music is coming from Alec Gross and his band, set up in front of a colorful wall of graffiti, seemingly to give us more visual reference that Gross and friends are in our own world. Gross perches on the edge of a ratty old couch (in precisely the way we are betting his parents told him not to do), acoustic guitar in hand and cowboy boots on his feet. While his appearance is obviously of this world, the camera’s deliberate shots of his booted feet might lead us to believe that Gross is mobile between the worlds of graffiti and gunslingers as well. The band is also dressed in modern-world garb and sunglasses, even their drummer, who we’ll call Lou Cheech. No reason.

“When not crushing punks, I enjoy a good session on the
old drumkit with my friend, Alec Gross.”

The camerawork in “Strip The Lanterns” seems to keep up with the pacing of the song. As the song’s power grows, so does the energy in both the physical camera work as well as the story. For the most part, it seems to mimic both Gross’s and Roland’s gaze, sort of glancing at times yet very still at others. The pacing picks up in the song’s key moments, such as the big vocal parts in the bridge, as well as the solo sections.

It is also in the solo sections where the director makes the most egregious musically factual error that one might possibly make in a video that would someday be reviewed in this column. It happens during the organ solo. That is (somehow) played on a Wurlitzer 200A. Maybe this is the kind of thing that just bothers guys like myself and maybe Aaron Rosenthal or Joel Simches. Maybe it’s just me. But if you aren’t going to keep us happy, then you’re going to be in deep trouble. Because it hurts my head to see this, so I am going to concentrate on the part of the video (AKA the rest of the video) that does not mortally offend me.

The color/monochrome motif – that you first saw in The Wizard of Oz  – is utilized well at all points in this video, especially as the lines become blurred. We see Roland’s trip from his own world to ours and the challenges it presents to him. Most of his shots are still in black and white, although they are clearly in the “real” world” – this shows us his own dissonance, as he tries to process our world through his lens. We even see inside his head, as he wistfully remembers his own world – and throwing away his cowboy hat, which now seems like kind of a bad move.

“I’m not in this dimension for two blasted seconds and
someone already stole my bike.”

The Traveler finally finds his own colorization when he reaches Alec Gross’s band setup. We can tell he’s there not only by the color, but by the urban artwork in the background. He has a brief moment of respite, before being thrown into a panic of sorts, running away from unseen enemies and finally bowing, defeated on a street corner. He eventually dissolves into the ether; leaving Gross and band to wrap up the final minute or so of the video.

Alec Gross and friends find themselves in the grey world.

They do, but not without a caveat. For its final trick, the video pulls away from the band, desaturating the image as it goes until we (the royal we) find ourselves in a black and white world. This final act of blurring the lines makes us ask if there really are any lines, and if so, are they really straight “do not cross this line”-type lines. From the story of the video, it would seem as if they aren’t really as cut-and-dried as we think they are.

“Strip The Lanterns”  is a success in that it brings the story to silent-movie life. And it doesn’t just “tell” us the story, so much as it “gives” us the story, which is a much more difficult – and admirable – thing to do.

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Want to submit your band’s song to C.D. On Songs?
To be reviewed in a C.D. On Songs column, please:
*Be a Boston-based band/artist.
*Email a single mp3/m4a/etc. (or a download link to one) to cdonsongs (at) gmail (dot) com, with the subject line “C.D. on Songs” (DO NOT send us a bunch of songs and make us pick, we will ignore you). We require a file – not a streaming link.
*Include album cover art if you have any. If you don’t, a band photo or logo is acceptable.
*Tell us when you want to see it! Give us the date of your show and we’ll make sure it runs as close as possible to that day. No kidding.

We will assume that we have your permission to make the song downloadable on Boston Band Crush (readers will want to hear it, after all). If that’s not ok with you, say so and provide us with a link to the song on an embeddable player like ReverbNation – something we can include in the post (and not just link to).

Lose points for a Wurlitzer playing an organ solo.

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