Last year’s Sound Mirrors was an outstanding album. Coldcut have long been among the best producers/DJs/whathaveyou, and while Sound Mirrors was quite a different turn — I often described it as a record by a band with the same guys as Coldcut, but a completely different band that just happened to have the same name — it’s an excellent turn. It’s more pop-based — similar to things folks like Dangermouse have been doing — and just as good, if not better in some cases.
Coldcut, too, have long been into the video scene — after all, they programmed their own software to do the type of video DJ work they wanted to do. So, the DVD version of Sound Mirrors shouldn’t be much of a surprise. (Likewise, remixing has also been a huge part of the Coldcut aesthetic, both of their own music and them doing other folks’ remixes, so, the added Remix CD isn’t a shock, either.) And, well, when you’ve been doing video work as long as they have, you get a pretty good eye. If you don’t believe me, check out the Zen TV DVD complation of the videos from their Ninja Tune label.
Coldcut didn’t make any of the videos on this time out, though they did choose all the directors and commissioned them. (And worked with them as well, particularly in the case of Clay Lipsky’s two videos — “True Skool” and the outstanding “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” — the former features the two Coldcut guys and the latter uses photos and videos from friends and fans provided by the band… but not in a lame “THIS ONE’S FOR YOOOOU!!!” way.) Because of this — there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Plaid’s similar release, Greedy Baby was also good, but a bit more uneven; while I enjoyed the bulk of the videos, I found “The Return Of Super Barrio” nigh-unwatchable.
There aren’t any similar misfires on Coldcut’s release, however. If there WAS a weakest video it might be Dianne Harris’ “Colours The Soul”, though that one doesn’t have any real problems — it’s just more of a collection of images to float along with the song without much real connection, either in theme or in beat. But they’re outstanding and beautiful images, so you can’t really complain. This is one of those cases where the weakest work isn’t because it is actually weak, but because it’s in such good company. (And, lest you get the wrong idea, Harris definitely BELONGS in this good company.)
My favorite track on the CD version of the album was “Mr. Nichols”, Saul Williams‘ utterly moving monologue about a suicidal man with Coldcut’s subtle and perfect musical backing. The video is likewise one of my favorites on the release; more about evoking a mood than imitating the actual lyrics 100% — which was an excellent decision. To have a “Mr. Nichols” video taking place on a window ledge would be trite. It’s better to allude to than underline something.
Another favorite is “This Island Earth” by Joel Trussell, a animated take on Around The World in 80 Days… with a few other things thrown in that I’m not going to spoil. The animation and story are equally charming, and go along very, very well with the outstanding song. Likewise, “Sound Mirrors” by Up The Resolution is a beautifully animated piece to go along with an instrumental track that invites you to let it wash over you (much like the aforementioned “Colours The Soul”).
There is a bonus cut on the DVD (perhaps to make up for the two songs, “Man In A Garage” and “Boogieman” that don’t appear on the DVD — and “Boogieman” doesn’t even appear on the remix CD) not from the original album — “The State We’re In”, directed by Ne-O, whom you may remember as the folks who did the VW commercial with the breakdancing Gene Kelly from Singin’ in the Rain. Their video takes a photographic collage approach that is not only charming, but also very amusing — I particularly like the way they handle the song’s scratching. Again, I’m not going to spoil it for you.
As for the remixes — they’re a very good bonus feature. To be honest, none really blew me away, but that’s at least partly due to the fact that the original album was just about perfect, and it’s very hard to improve on perfection. The remixes are pretty interesting, however. The album is titled to give both the DVD and CD equal footing, but it seems clear to me that the real star is the DVD… though it’s nice of them to let the CD tag along for the ride, particularly so we don’t have to pick up the otherwise-inevitable Sound Mirrors Remixes CD. (For which, I would have suggested the unfortunate title of Sound Mixxors. Thank you, Coldcut, for not unleashing that title upon the world.)
The best thing about this DVD is that, like the work of Michel Gondry & Co., it shows what can be accomplished in the medium of music video. (The ZenTV disc likewise does. And the Warp Vision: The Videos 1989-2004 from Warp Records does pretty well also.) Music video is an interesting genre, and when done well can be exquisite. This is music video done VERY well.