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November 15, 2004
WarpVision // Rating: 9/10

Set adrift on a lazy, meandering river of blue-eyed soul, Jimi Tenor is out fishing for the catch of the day: his ever-elusive lady love. He has no pole, no can of worms for bait. But he does have a cape, and when Tenor puts it on, he can walk on water and conjure up a seaweed-covered organ from the murky depths. Sporting spiky bleached blonde hair and thick, black-framed glasses, Tenor plays it as if his life depended on it, making it groan and wheeze like a dying animal. She doesn't take the hook, though she swims by every so often wearing a gauzy, see-through gown. And so, he goes home empty-handed and alone. Tough luck, kid.

It's the same old story about the one that got away, only Tenor tells it better than most on the video for the Marvin Gaye-inspired "Midsummers Dream", a song I can only describe as suave, seductive and delicious - you'll know what I mean when you hear it. If you've never heard of Tenor, relax. Your indie cred is safe with us. I'd never heard of him either until I watched WarpVision: The Videos 1989-2004, an exhaustive video collection culled from the Warp Records archives that comes with an amazing remix CD that cuts up songs by label artists like !!! and Boards Of Canada to make a sound collage that can change moods at the snap of turntable twisting fingers.

The best part about WarpVision is discovering for yourself the hidden genius of artists like Tenor or Plaid or Jamie Lidell. But, it's Tenor and his partner, Sökö Kaukoranta, who steal the show on WarpVision with their humor, their deft use of color filters to almost imperceptibly change mood, and most importantly, an instinctual gift for short-form narrative. "Total Devastation" is another Tenor video on WarpVision that starts out in a drugstore, with Tenor sitting on the floor obsessing over the distorted sounds emanating from a stuffed children's toy. He gets up, walks outside and gets into a car with a guy who could be related to Steve Buscemi's silent, psychotic partner in Fargo. Driving on roads covered with ice and snow, they get caught up in a demolition derby, before heading home to take shotgun blasts at the carcass of a dead pig and spray blood all over a blank canvas behind the strung-up animal. Their "work", including the hung pig, is picked up by a gallery and shown as an exhibit. A crowd gathers, gesturing and talking excitedly about the piece. Then Tenor's collaborator loses it and starts throwing pig guts at the audience. It's a funny spot-on satire of what passes for modern art these days, and another highlight on a DVD full of them.

Then again, what else would you expect from Warp Records, a label that consistently produces imaginative, oddly affecting electronic music that captures all the tension, all the anger of everyday living in a modern society while holding out hope for a better, more peaceful tomorrow. It doesn't matter if it's the hardcore techno assault of LFO or Nightmares On Wax, or the calm grooves of Prefuse 73, Warp's artists can soothe your soul, like Tenor does in "Midsummers Dream", or rattle your cage, like in LFO's "Tied Up" - the video of which shows a man bound and gagged and a dominatrix alone in a spartan prison cell engaged in a harrowing S&M struggle for power. WarpVision isn't always easy to digest, but it is just as intense, scary, wickedly funny and achingly beautiful as the music it's designed to accompany.

A lot of the artists you know. There's Aphex Twin, of course. "Come To Daddy", still the most terrifying, unsettling video I've ever seen - never totally got over seeing Richard D. James' smiling face on those weird, fierce little children or that evil, disembodied voice on the TV howling the words, "I want your soul" over and over - is here. So is the hilarious hip-hop video parody "Windowlicker" - all tits and ass, and James' weird mug on every girl's face - and "Donkey Rhubarb", with its Teletubby-like creatures dancing to a wild mix of steel drums and frenzied computerized beats. Autechre's calibrated industrial nightmares make you want to scream for something human to touch, while Prefuse 73's "Half Of What" and "Opto-Scientific" cut a completely different modern figure, one with a longing for the innocence of youth encoded in its cool grooves and wistful beats. And Broadcast's "Papercuts" gets coldly analytical about the group's detached, sterile take on French pop.

Hip-hop represents with the Antipop Consortium and Beans' "Mutescreamer", one of the few performance videos here. "Perpendicular" is one of two Antipop Consortium contributions. Filmed in black and white, it starts with a radio newscaster, sort of an Edward R. Murrow type, reading from copy that he cuts out and pastes together from a number of disparate sources. It's set to spacey rhythms and programming, which give way to the tight, frenetic flow of tricky rhymes - perfect for the herky-jerky dance of a woman on a telephone who appears to be shocked by what she's hearing.

If it's illustrations you want, it's illustrations you shall receive. Plaid's "Eyen" is a crudely drawn story cycle that represents the progress of mankind, from the dawn of time to the space age. Characters are faceless and dark, as if their clothes are full of soot and ash, and day after day they work to build towers that reach for the heavens but never quite make it. Then, man builds a
rocket ship and the quest to colonize space begins. It's an ambitious work reminiscent of videos for Radiohead - the point being that we're all replaceable in the modern industrial age, and perhaps we always have been, and that maybe none of us who has ever walked this earth has ever really had a distinct identity. The concept piece is the brainchild of director Jean Luc Chansay and it's got a lot to say, but Chansay's telling feels like an epic story or a legend Native American tribes hand down from generation to generation.

Perhaps that's a little too cerebral for your tastes. If it is, there's always Luke Vibert's "I Love Acid", with its drug humor and cartoon cat hero that's always looking to get high. Or, there's Lidell's "Daddy's Car" and "The City", a smart-ass kiss-off video to some woman who's played him for a fool. Like Tenor, Lidell's music is soulful, but the distorted vocals give it a modern edginess that makes it a little less fun, but still makes you grin.

WarpVision never settles for the lowest common denominator. It produces a sensory overload of sights and sounds so fantastic it makes you believe that the art of making music videos hasn't been lost, that the artists who work in this medium can still make something vital and thought provoking. It's too bad MTV forgot how cool it was to show unusual, creative videos, and it is too bad today's teen is so wrapped up in the juvenile soap operas - both real and fictionalized - of Fox and the WB to fully appreciate the art of making videos. Those sound like the words of an adult, don't they? Well, they are, and if I had any say in what goes on at MTV, I'd make WarpVision required viewing for all executives and I'd run it in full one day, just to see if the kids would take to it the way I did when the network first hit the air. Chances are though, they wouldn't understand any of it.

---
SEE ALSO > www.warprecords.com
SEE ALSO > www.warprecords.com/vision/

--
Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other articles by Peter Lindblad.

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