Shynola are taking huge leaps and bounds in animation and music fusion that is unbridled
Shynola a twist on the late 60’s shoe polish of a similar name ‘Shinola’, is an apt name for such a talented group of visual artists. The self-implied dig at their work goes wholly unmatched as anyone can plainly see in their productions. Since the late 90’s the art collective Shynola has been generating art installations of all types, but the most recognizable are the animated videos they’ve produced for bands such as Radiohead, Beck, Coldplay and many others high in the ranks of the rock pantheon. Taking a wide array of simple and more complex imagery to convey the deep seated emotions of such a vast catalog of different genres of music is no easy task to undertake, but Shynola has consistently delivered. In more recent years they’ve slowed production, perhaps due to the recent loss of one of their founding members, Gideon Baws, who tragically suffered a case of viral myocarditis.
In an interview with KMag, Shynola addresses the genesis of their animation roots “…Coincidentally, when we started in music videos there was a fresh wave of faceless geeks making music in their bedrooms, and videos were quick to follow suit. At the same time, the internet exploded…” The quick fusion of these incidents and the cheapness of the medium at the time led Shynola to thrive in a virtually untapped market, blossoming into something much bigger today.
With this they’ve gone on to do so many great things with musicians and for themselves as well. A short film they’ve released fairly recently, ‘Dr. Easy’ showcases animation, real world actors and the complicated relationship we share with technology. “[…] suggests that these machines function perfectly but have an impossible task…humans are faulty machines.”.
Let’s dial it back a bit and take a look at some of the music videos that make Shynola what it is, a true gem in the world of visual arts/music representation. Here are four videos that showcase some of Shynola’s beautiful works of integrated art:
BLUR: GOOD SONG
Blur, first musical endeavor of Gorillaz front-man Damon Albarn, gaining popularity for their Britpop alternative musical stylings, meld well with Shynola on their video for “Good Song” the single off their 2003 album, “Think Tank”.The search for love is sometimes a long, often complicated one, the subject of the video is no stranger to the chase. We see a couple, ugly, pawing at each other, mid-make out session for all to see. Flowers, sparse and withering; a pair of dogs not only making love, but leaving their refuse behind.
Our silent unseen narrator blacks out his list of things to ‘Love?’ These have been deemed unworthy. I can relate instantly, finding so much of the narrator in myself is a bit jarring. I’m not one for total reform and solid perfection, but how I see many conduct themselves rubs me the wrong way. Why are you being so naive? Why are you acting so bluntly? I may be right, I may be wrong, but please at least hear me. The lyrics break in as we first see our fairy-type hero, almost giving up hope when he spies a squirrel “Waitin, got no town to hide in, country’s got my soul…” Their eyes meet, and it is instant. Exchanging pleasantries and the gift of an acorn as Albarn croons “….you seem very beautiful to me.” Such potential in the union and the gift, a seed which can blossom into a beautiful tree, providing much more than a just a home and nourishment. Hearts fly as the light music floats on and we see how it all develops, growing closer and more affectionate. This does not last for long however. Albarn sings “I may be sleeping on an atomic bomb…” as we see the squirrel bite into the head of the fairy, killing it, immediately full of regret. Life does not always work out as we’d like it to, it seems to say. Some very amazing things can turn sour by a simple mistake or just because and life moves along silently indifferent.
it is the happiness, sadness, odd whirling flow of life, unending and ending all at once
Shynola invokes such a quick change in tone, full hearts to emptiness in a flash. Revenge is quick as the fairy armies fly in to right the wrong and slay the squirrel for it’s accident. Again showing the speed at which which things shift for us so frequently. A moment can flip a lifetime on its head, giving way to different perspectives, viewpoints, or merely push one into a new state of being entirely. “The rest of life is rolling on, rolling on…” Albarn’s voice reaches highs and we watch the furry creature bleed out, subjected to a leaf-blowing, switched from “normal” to “Dangerous” The leaf-blower man investigates other items, a dandelion shatter by wind, a flip-flop, the dogs mating, a man golfing and a house of cards. Each disrupted by the leaf-blower to catastrophic results, as if to say “Huh, well that sucks, doesn’t it? Oh well.” This leaf-blower could be seen as the intervention of circumstance, just the strange minutiae that is life, or an attempt at levity, a counter-balance to the previous intensity. David Shrigley’s co-direction and art-style bleed through all over this video, and especially here, a laugh in the face of the horrors of lost love.Though life can be rough and sometimes unforgiving, you’ve got to laugh over spilled milk or a blown flip-flop. Much like the chance meeting of the squirrel and fairy, it is the happiness, sadness, odd whirling flow of life, unending and ending all at once.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: GO WITH THE FLOW
Josh Homme sings the opening lines “She said I’ll throw myself away…” looking directly into the camera, spitting a white stream, eyes widening and teeth flashing, just as he tosses a can over his shoulder. They tear through the landscape passing payphones off the hook, vultures, abandoned places in an arid landscape. As they roll on, they crush a beetle in a spray of blood. “Outside the frame is what we’re leaving out, you won’t remember anyway…” Josh sings as a bikini-clad faceless lady dances seductively over the dead bug and on the hood of another pick up. The lyrics seems to evoke images of a secret affair, or the failing of a once decent relationship and a general disregard for what once was for how things are now. Though it was good at a time, the carrying on has made it more of a burden than a pleasure.
“I can go, with the flow.” He explains, coolly. He can accept the situation for what it is and is tired of it seeming like something it is not. The image then shifts to the pickup carrying the Queens directly into the crotch of the lady seen previously. Overly sexualized imagery permeates with the obvious implications, and perhaps a shift in the perspective. I know this is bad for me but I don’t care it seems to emote, I’m doing you anyway.
“I can go, with the flow.” Darkness. An opposing pick up appears, driven by two face-painted menacing bald men, possibly of a gang affiliation, a personification of the deep dark emotions Homme is feeling toward this faceless seductor? Perhaps. The dirty embodiment of the debauchery she implies? The two draw closer, images flash of the girl being doused with oil from an oil can, exposing herself on the hood of the pick up, Homme walks up, now in all red and white, a stark contrast to his previous appearance, now aflame with his uncouth desires, ready to give in, he does. Tossing aside his guitar, mounting her and doing the deed. Just as we see this, the crash happens, contrasted with the image of Homme and the nameless woman about to lock-lips and perhaps more than that. The implication is furthered by the art on the hood of either car interlocking in amorous entanglements, the pitchfork, on the Queens car penetrating the yonic scorpion-like image on the opposing hood.
entering an abyss, drawing back to the initial scene of the band rolling along, wheels aflame into the sunlight
“I can go, with the flow.” So he does, and swimmingly. Immediately ghostly sperm burst forth from the scene bright pinks and yellows coloring the desert landscape. The sperm leave the car-wreck over crowded cacti, wooden fences and the like, speeding out over the bright skies fading into an image of the woman, now purple, green and all sorts of color, the union finally met, as it always turns out. The color of this new momentary world is bright and full, the feelings finally sated, the release found inside that which is forbidden. More images of the pitchfork ,which is prominent on the album cover, entering an abyss, drawing back to the initial scene of the band rolling along, wheels aflame into the sunlight. Shynola here again shows excessive skill not only in animation, but in the conception of the song and it’s themes. Incorporating the album artwork for Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf, not only locks brand and entertainment, but it also furthers the songs overarching sexual nature. The intensity in which the opposing forces unite and shatter into sexual release is undeniably clever. The dark, dreary coloring of the majority of the video with the final burst of rainbow variety in the end only to return to the darkness solidifies the themes further. I want you even though this is wrong and dirty, now I have you and all is bright and beautiful only to return to the pursuit again. Queens and Shynola are well matched mediums fusing almost organically.
RADIOHEAD: PYRAMID SONG
The video opens with a glitch distorted image of moving water, perhaps an ocean. The cool dark chords of the song permeate the scene giving a sense of false comfort, not quite brooding, but something welcoming and sinister. I shouldn’t be here, but I want to be. The faceless character we see traipsing the rooftop of a submerged building descends with his air tank. “A moon full of stars and astral cars, all the things I used to see…” Yorke sings as we go deeper into the cool abyss of days gone by, lost to catastrophic weather damage.
There is no redemption here, only comfort in the things that remain of what once was.
The juxtaposition and mingling of the lyrics, somber tune and downbeat music gives an air of sadness at loss, but also a gentle reflection. There is no redemption here, only comfort in the things that remain of what once was. The flooded empty streets and abandoned cars, superimposed images of city layouts only reflect the narrator’s state of being. I know this place but it no longer knows me; I am apart from myself as well as a part of myself. “All my lovers were there with me…” Yorke croons as the figure comes upon what once was his home, now a flooded museum to his former life and host to new creatures, just beginning to swim. The memories of the past are hard to be rid of, but perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is a certain fondness for the pain that memories can sometimes draw from us, a pain we almost yearn to obtain to revel in better times or at least something familiar in an ever changing world.
[…] nothing you can change and nothing can change you. Resigned, like the diver to his new found knowledge
Our faceless character finds a comfort in resetting the dining table he once frequented and retires to the living room to sit on his easy chair and contemplate his new surroundings and maybe how much air is left in the tank. How much air is left in our tanks it seems to ask of us, how much are we willing to let go of? Is there room for all things experienced, is there room for our personal shrines to one another and the shiny things that catch our attention? “There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt…” Yorke finishes with a striking line, let go of all that was is and could be, for this is where you are now, he seems to say, nothing you can change and nothing can change you. Resigned, like the diver to his new found knowledge. The final image, almost in direct opposition to the bittersweet sadness of the song and finality of the blue sunken city imagery is one of light.
A reddish orange sky inhabited by swirling points of light. New life? The souls of those perished onto the next plane of being? Either way this invokes in me a reiteration of that final line, ‘Nothing to fear and nothing to doubt…’ Nothing but hope in the next moment, or what comes after, if anything. Complete freedom from any bonds, physical or mental. A simple video with simple animation paired with such a deeply felt song packs quite the emotional punch. Here again Shynola shines through with a perfect union of emotion, understanding, music and imagery. This perfectly encapsulates the song’s low-key, sullen tone with cool washed raw imagery.
UNKLE: EYE FOR AN EYE
The video calls up images of a story book, ala the Brothers Grimm, as the record scratches in the background, the pages flow open, a sample of classical music begins to play. These opening shots remind me of similar images, very light and happy, uncaring in a safe and sound world of pleasure and discovery. We see a bumble-bee like animal flying over orange and yellow trees, fluttering around and arriving in what appears to be a a park. Faceless yellow children are playing here, picking flowers, enjoying each others company, nature and the Summer day as it unfolds before them. The sun catches the eye of one of the children, who drops his fruit in awe as guitars creep in and the image of black war planes litter the sky.
A fast drum accompanies this as they rise to see the masses of menacing planes fly in overhead. Already the songs title strikes me ‘An Eye for an Eye’ what is to come can only be filled with a trouble unmatched, perhaps all out war, perhaps the general fear of change we all face daily. The planes carry this large bulbous faceless being, similar to the children. It is lowered, towering over all others, crushing some of the plant life, blackening the screen. The small ones begin to tentatively mount the multi-nippled mammoth, motherlike creature, suckling for implied nourishment.
there is no option, one can keep on all they like, but eventually the game is won
“An eye for an eye….run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide.” The sample intones, letting us know there is no option, one can keep on all they like, but eventually the game is won, and now by you. ” Does our run benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow?” This sample, borrowed from the film “The Thin Red Line”, asks the all important question, as the music breaks. Do we act upon our needs and feelings only? Or are we acting for the benefit of the many? Where do our loyalties lie, and are they even worth it? What seems like thousands of bugs pour out of the once thought safe being and they begin to chase and spear the yellow faceless with scorpion-like stingers. An eye for an eye indeed. The large creatures continue to attack and molest the yellow faceless as the lyrics seems to come directly from a place of confusion. “This great evil, where has it come from?” Again, ‘The Thin Red Line’ is borrowed to bring the heavy-hitting questions “Who’s killing us? Mocking us with the sight of what we might have known.” They were drawn in with comforts as we all often are by things unfamiliar. A politician, a new drug, that late night commercial.
Shynola is pummeling us with the images to activate this quietly suffered revolution
UNKLE is calling us to wake up and see the damage being done, Shynola is pummeling us with the images to activate this quietly suffered revolution. We are the faceless yellow and something needs to be done. Deformed now with human teeth in black faces, wings and legs sprouting like growths from all angles, the faceless yellow become one with the darkness imposed upon them. Images of body horror come to mind, great gross transformation ending in terrible new creations, shells of what they once were and so much more than that. A fusion of the evil and good within all things. Shedding what made them light and now ready to destroy all that is left, they march fully black and flashing, erecting a flag to their new Trojan God. “Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all?” Sampled here again, ‘The Thin Red Line’ asks the tough questions. Why are you acting as you do, is it because you are told to, or do you believe in the good of fighting on? Whether it is war, famine, or just getting through a day of your life, are you acting on your emotions and beliefs or the imposition of your situation? The black creatures now board their Trojan leader and are enclosed in darkness. The planes return, lifting the large mass of evil only to lower it onto another peaceful society, a war machine in it’s own right. Leaving behind a broken war-torn landscape. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…what are you to me?” The sample closes out with the most important question. Not are you my enemy or friend, but rather, how can I use you to my benefit?
What Shynola does here edges on sheer brilliance, as the image closes out into blackness, leaving the chilling implications of war and it’s effects. The way it can seep into a culture and fully override any other thought pattern. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” flashes across the screen before a final image of the chattering biting dirty orange teeth of the creatures. What are you to me? UNKLE paints an honest often unspoken emotion so vividly and Shynola backs it up with what might be one of their best works.
As we can see from these simple examples we’re not dealing with just any medium and not just any artistic talent. Those at Shynola are taking huge leaps and bounds in animation and music fusion that is unbridled. With skilled eyes for animation styles that never trump, but enhance and enchant the music, Shynola has delivered the goods for so many musical acts for so many years. Understanding ones medium, even though they themselves are not terribly fond of animation, they sure know how to tame the beast well. Here’s hoping they continue to do so.
Written by Anthony Wetmore
Further Reading: The original pitch for the Blur video. The original animatics for the Radiohead video. The original animatics version 1 and version 2 for UNKLE’s video. Shynola’s official website which includes a selection of their work.