When Rocks Off wants the lowest of the lowdown on good new music that isn't centered here in the Lone Star State, we always turn to Mick Cullen at Subterranean Radio. His three hour program has become a Thursday night ritual with us as he guides us through some of the most exciting indie and underground music somehow managing to thrive in this century.
We got a hankering to start re-exploring the art of the music video again, and Cullen was quick with a comprehensive list of brilliant ones. Today we tackle the first of that list, Erland and the Carnival's video for their song "Map of an Englishman."
Erland and the Carnival is the current project of Simon Tong, who you may remember from The Verve, Blur, Gorillaz and a host of other great British acts, joined by folk guitarist Erland Cooper and David Nock of The Cult. Though they've gotten a lot of notoriety for their modern arrangements of Scottish and English folk songs, it's original tracks like "Map of an Englishman" from this year's release Nightingale that truly stand out as brilliant.
To be legitimately great indie music a band must be able to balance the catchy with the unnerving, and Erland and the Carnival does that in spades. It's always a thrill to snap and hum along with a track while at the same time feeling as if you might somehow get in trouble for it. That's where the edge is, the frontier, and that's where Erland and the Carnival has built a home.
The video for "Map of an Englishman" is a terrifyingly beautiful affair directed by Marco Sandeman who has also tackled videos for Molotov Jukebox and Villagers. In the stark black and white cinematography he takes us through an anatomy lesson detailing in which organs and blood vessels exactly are centered our greed, our love, and our apathy.
True to the song's title, it's important to view the exploration not in terms of dissection, but in terms of cartography. Maps exist for the purpose of a journey or for statistical necessity. Anatomy sketches exist in order to understand what may go wrong in a human body and how to correct it.
When we're faced with the bald truth of our own composition in the video we're meant to accept the features as fact, that misery is located just below the lungs and fear just above the left eyebrow. You may avoid these areas if you wish, but they are there as securely as Buffalo Bayou runs through Houston.
Erland Cooper sat down via Internet with us for a little discussion about the video.
Rocks Off: Would you say that anatomy you detail in the video represents just an Englishman, or is it the basic makeup of most humans?
Erland Cooper: I suppose every race and culture has its own idiosyncrasies and neuroses. Some cultures feel more shame about certain things or pride of others. A nation's history can really shape how it views the things. I heard some one say that in Russia it's seen as being stupid to smile- people will think you are an idiot. The English have many complex hang ups ingrained in their make up- mostly about sex and subconscious superiority.
RO: When you wrote the song, were you trying to explore the make-up of a person, or was there a totally different story behind it?
EC: The song is based on the artwork "Map of an Englishman" by artist Grayson Perry. His description of an Englishman is much more detailed than ours. We only had three minutes to fill.
His artwork is exploring the make up of an Englishman where as our song was originally going to be called "Map of an Orcadian" as I am a Orcadian from the Orkney islands which are situated in the ferocious Atlantic ocean off the tip of Scotland. Quite literally on the edge of the world!
We were persuaded by our label that this was too confusing and strange a title for the radio listeners to take in so were persuaded to call it after Grayson Perry's original artwork. We really regret that decision so maybe from now on it will be known as "Map of an Orcadian."
RO: Do you believe that personality aspects can be centered in certain parts of the body? Like, you feel your envy in your lungs or stomach? That sort of thing.
EC: Not literally but you certainly feel different emotions in certain areas of your body. I always feel psychotic in my little toe.
RO: The only good map is a treasure map. Where is the X and what is buried there on the map of an Englishman?
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EC: I was brought up on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island so treasure maps hold a special place in the psyche. In Treasure Island the treasure itself wasn't where the X marked because it had already been removed by old Ben Gunn.
That's a good lesson for life in general - that the good stuff isn't always where you expect it to be, because some crafty sod has already found it and pinched it for himself.