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The Drums - Let's Go Surfing

by Brianne Mueller

 

After Obama won the 2008 presidential election, a wave of hope for the future swept across the country unlike any in recent memory. It was the kind of historical moment where everyone knows exactly where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing. The band members of The Drums remember that moment well; so well, in fact, that the joy it created inspired them to write their summertime hit, “Let’s Go Surfing” released on their appropriately titled EP, Summertime! (2009). Nowadays, at least 40% of the American people are singing a different tune. But as things are certainly bleak in today’s political and economic climate, a wonderful feeling of bliss and inspiration is still in tact within the Drum’s Obama-inspired melody and its corresponding music video.

The Brooklyn-based band’s semi-surf rock tendencies accentuate the song’s natural cheerfulness, while a sense of whimsy is particularly maintained within the song’s original score and lyrics. The entire second verse in particular is a great example as it is a direct narrative of Obama taking office in the White House: “Wake up, there's a new kid in the town / Honey, he's moving into the big house / Remember when I was so very hopeless / Darling, he's gonna make it all better…”. The Drums teamed up with director David Fishel to create this idealistic music video, which was not without its own set of unexpected challenges. Although recognized as great musicians, the most common criticism of the Drums is their apparent lack of enthusiasm while performing. Unkempt hair, graphic tees, as well as constant fumbling and mumbling onstage are their M.O.s as performers (not entirely uncommon in Brooklyn). Through wonderful combination of creative narrative and performance, with some creative filming and editing, Fishel creates an entertaining and visually catchy music video to accommodate an equally entertaining and catchy song. The success of the video is in its ability to enliven the performers through constant forward motion and accentuation of the song’s synesthetic qualities.

 

While keeping the visual focus on the performers, director David Fishel addresses the primary issue of featuring performers that aren’t particularly engaging, save for the tight pants and farmers’ tans, of course. He carefully and briefly pulls the viewer’s attention in slightly different directions and then redirects the attention back to the performers. It’s perfectly executed within the chorus of the song; “…I wanna go surfing…I don’t care about nothing”. Just as the viewer’s mind wants to wander from watching skinny and awkward hipsters running, suddenly white, bold typeface jumps out as you, declaring the word, “SURFING” in large letters, nearly taking over the entire frame with a slight flare of comedic timing that cannot be ignored. It also gives the video a cheesy and retro feeling that adds to the videos lightheartedness.

 

This imaginative editing would not be as effective without the fluidity of movement that is created through the camera work within the video. Filmed at night at Rockaway Beach in New York, Fishel used a steadicam in the back of a moving vehicle, a technique known as an ‘onride shot’. The movement is so fluid in fact that many mistake it as a tracking shot, which requires the use a dolly or wheeled platform, which is frequently used in scenes using long, fluid movements such as in this scene from the film Atonement (2007). This nearly seemly shot of forward motion acts as the bedrock on which the rest of the video’s technique rest. Additionally, the consistent medium to medium-tight shots frame the action even more with the use of a spotlight. With absolutely no close ups on instruments or band members, the camera never strays too far, but never manages to lose the viewer’s interest either.

 

In terms of visual connections to lyrics in the song, they are minimal. The most obvious being the beach and surfing element present, as the music video was shot at Rockaway Beach and the word ‘surfing’ is sung about once every verse in the song. A thematic connection exists, however less obvious, is the exclamation “Oh Mama!”. Whether intentional or not, this lyrics is quite often heard by listeners as “Obama!”. This semi-mumbled word ends up working in the video’s favor as it alludes to the songs’ inspiration, and, at the time of the video’s release, added to the romanticism of the Obama administration and hopefulness maintained within the United States. Another contribution to the song’s catchy summertime quality is repetition. The lead guitar chord progression is just as repetitious as the lyrics themselves, and as it is in a major key, it automatically perks up the listeners’ ears. Additionally, combined with some reverberation and lightly synthesized guitar and vocals, it mimics the waves, which obviously contributes to the video’s most visually relevant topic.

 

Although direct lyrical connections to the music video are lacking, the musical composition itself evokes lyrical associations without the words actually being present. Also, despite not having groundbreaking filming techniques or even an ass-kicking performance by the band, the video is a success because allows the song to speak for itself. By not relying on the band as an animated character within the music video, the song’s carefree nature is enhanced and brings it to life in a way that listening to the track on its own is unable to do and doesn’t compromise the band’s rather unenthusiastic performance nature. As you watch the video, I hope feelings of hope and joy surface as they did after the election in 2008. I can only hope that future political action and grassroots movements, such as Occupy Wallstreet, will be able to recharge our nations spirits. And if all else fails, at least we got a catchy song out of the whole thing.

 

Bri Mueller is a life-long music enthusiast with a recent passion for film. An aspiring music video director, she is a theatre arts major (Psychology minor) from Lawrence University, currently employed as a Marketing Coordinator. Bri enjoys gluten-free brownies, parenthetical phrases and rock 'n' roll. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Daniele Teodoro. Contact Bri at bri.mueller[at]theinclusive.net.