A man in a suit is seen walking down a barren path in the desert. There is not another human in sight. The man suddenly stops, walking over to what we discover to be a dead body lying on a pile of garbage bags, with a small satchel on the ground by its side. Is this man good or evil? We don’t know. Checking first to ensure that the coast is clear, the man takes the satchel and goes on his way.
This sounds like the start to an action thriller, not a four-minute music video – but you’d be surprised by how much plot director Keith Musil can squeeze into (and out of) the course of a song. Rainbow Arabia’s “Modern Contemporary” music video is compelling and moving, a visual novella whose vibrant colors and breathtaking imagery keep viewers’ focus from start to finish.
Listen: “Modern Contemporary” – Rainbow Arabia
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering the music video for “Modern Contemporary,” the album opener for Rainbow Arabia’s third and latest record, L.A. Heartbreak (released 11/11/2016 via Time No Place). Danny and Tiffany Preston, the husband and wife duo of LA’s Rainbow Arabia, take synthpop to the next level on “Modern Contemporary,” a blissful celebration of love’s reverie. Shimmering synths evoke the best of 1980s dance pop, crafting a dreamy landscape that Tiffany Preston’s fiery voice glazes over with passionate conviction: “It’s always been you and me,” she sings proudly to her love. “We’re living in our destiny. Time will tell, it’s gonna be you and me.”
This is the music of a magical moment – of two people utterly and hopelessly in a strong and binding love. The great juxtaposition between the utter joy of Rainbow Arabia’s song and the horror/thriller nature of the “Modern Contemporary” music video puts the power of music on display, giving us a new way to look at both the aural and visual mediums, as well as something new to consider about their marriage. “We wanted a narrative that strongly contrasted with the poppy tone of the music, and also felt like a 4min montage pulled from the middle of an angsty horror feature,” explains director Keith Musil – whose previous works include Twin Shadow, Grizfolk and Tennis. “The narrative is relatively straight forward, but hopefully allows the viewer to base his or her conclusions.”
We soon learn the mystery satchel of the opening scene to be seemingly full of some supernatural force. Meanwhile, the music video’s main character turns out to be a merciless hit-man/serial killer, who goes about the city with his slicked-back hair and his nail gun, killing his victims in cold blood. It’s the perfect contrast to the song’s carefree union. “The hit-man character tasked with retrieving unknown supernatural commodities throughout the Mohave desert is played by Johnny Basil, who in real life is a Southern California cult personality with the ability to tap into cosmic energy fields!” explains Musil. Johnny Basil’s height, build and hair make him a dominating force; at one point, he actually dances (as if to the song itself) next to a fresh corpse.
Rainbow Arabia’s cavalcade of joy engorges our ears whilst murder fills our eyes. We see the hit-man hunt down people one by one. Musil has somehow found a way of turning even the darkest of subject matter into a beautiful art, capturing intense colors that quickly make us forget that this is not, in fact, a full feature film. Musil’s influences come from all over, but he recognizes the impact of one in particular: “The big inspiration for this video has to be the hundreds of hours I spent this year listening to “The Last Podcast on the Left,” a hilarious show that covers everything from big hitter serial killers to chaos magic.” (Link Here)
How will the man with the satchel fare? You’ll have to watch to find out! A video that mixes bliss and horror so seamlessly feels very modern contemporary indeed. Without suspenseful music to back him up, Basil’s slashing might feel as harmless as a night at the ballet. The way we consume the gruesome and grotesque is transformed thanks to intervention from another medium, thus it is incumbent upon us, the audience, to ask ourselves: How does the interplay between visual and aural stimuli impact our ability to react to individual prompts? Does one stimulus overwhelm the other? Enjoy these questions with your friends over a warm campfire or cold drink; they may or may not keep you up all night.
And therein lies the brilliance of Rainbow Arabia’s “Modern Contemporary” music video. Keith Musil outdid himself this time, painting a full story that allows us to embrace the music and cinematography, both for what they are individually, and for the impact they have together.
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cover © Keith Musil