Oakland band DRMS' (pronounced "dreams") latest release American 707 is many things -- a suite of songs, a soundtrack, and a video work. Clocking in at a little over 17 minutes, the video, which is more like an extended experimental film, was produced in collaboration with Elia Vargas, an Oakland-based filmmaker currently studying Conceptual Information Arts at San Francisco State. The video features scenes of band members Emily Ritz and Robert Shelton on the road and ranging across various California settings, including desert and ocean landscapes. For Shelton, the title of the piece, American 707, "calls to mind movement and change and planes. It also feels nostalgic in a really mysterious way." These ideas are present in both the sound and the visuals accompanying the new release. The listener often drifts with the music into a daydream state, carried off by the band's ethereal arrangements and Emily Ritz's wistful vocals.
DRMS released the video yesterday (February 18, 2014) on their website and will be playing a release show at Rickshaw Stop on Saturday, February 22. Take the time for a "first listen" by watching the video (below). Drawing on a number of San Francisco experimental film traditions and harkening back to the earliest music videos, Vargas buries American 707 in dense layers of evocative texture, sometimes projecting images onto rock formations, with Ritz and Shelton moving in and out of a shallow focus plane. The band describes its music as "Noir Pop," and that idea is reinforced through the visuals here, which tend toward a darker, more mysterious and somewhat searching feeling.
In general the imagery in American 707 feels distinctly Californian or American West. Ritz and Shelton drive down a two-lane highway, no cars in sight, or can be found standing on the edge of a mountain overlooking the dry and vast desert below. There are surprises however. At one point, we encounter Shelton and Ritz wandering the desert in white spandex-like body suits. They move in an unnatural way, wobbling as if a shock has pulsed through their otherwise complacent bodies. The feeling is a bit sci-fi, drawing on the sometimes robotic and outer-spacey sounds found in the music. When asked about these visuals and whether or not DRMS intended to provide a story for the suite Ritz responded, "I think the music itself is open to multiple narratives or interpretations, depending on what the listener brings to it. We intended for the film to reflect that openness. There are definitely themes and re-occuring patterns in the film that are intended to create a loose plot."
With recent releases by Bon Iver and -- most particularly -- Beyonce, video albums are becoming noteworthy. On Beyonce's self-titled "visual album" released late in 2013, each track was accompanied by a video that reinforced the song's narrative. By contrast, in 2011 Bon Iver released a deluxe video version of his own self-titled record nearly 6 months after the album's initial release. Bon Iver's images are high definition visuals of nature, landscape, and weather and accompanied the songs in a much more impressionistic way. These themes play a role in his interests as an artist, but do not inherently tell a story specifically tied to the music. DRMS' American 707 falls somewhere between these two extremes, making a video that is cohesive and derives its inspiration and content from the music, without providing a specific narrative or moving too far off into the abstract. With the addition of moving images, the possibilities to add meaning to the music is endless, so why go this route? Shelton explained that he "was looking to create a piece that set its own pace and occupied its own world, presenting more of a challenge to engage with."
To see and hear American 707 join DRMS at the Rickshaw Stop on Saturday February 22, 2014. For tickets and information visit rickshawstop.com.