Silkken Laumann: "On the Mend"
By Calum Marsh | 23 March 2012
With apologies to aspiring filmmakers everywhere, it’s next to impossible for anybody not named Michael Mann to make consumer-grade or even low-end professional-grade digital camera footage look as good as 35mm. Attempts to look cinematic on a budget tend to look, at best, like primetime TV, and at worst like someone’s failed film class opus. Musicians face the same problem when recording, but there’s a very common workaround: make it sound as shitty as possible deliberately, so that its badness becomes an active stylistic decision rather than an unfortunate mistake. Lo-fi music always sounds like we sense it was intended to sound; “professional”-sounding independent music, on the other hand, often appears to have missed the mark. Given the usual limitations, its surprising that more independent filmmakers don’t make self-consciously lo-fi films. The style is used ironically, of course—Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! runs on outmoded formats and tropes, and its badness is the punchline—but it’s nowhere near as popular an approach in film as it is in music.
The appeal of Silkken Laumann’s video for “On the Mend” isn’t just that it looks “bad,” but that its particular kind of badness isn’t overtly jokey—shot on an old analog camera, it highlights what’s beautiful about its own imperfections, and the end result is both serious and surprisingly impassioned. Your instinct might be to describe it as “‘80s-style,” but that’s sort of an anachronism, because music videos during the ’80s were still usually shot on film rather than video and in any case didn’t look quite like this. A more accurate comparison might be educational videos from the ’80s and early ’90s (especially those science ones the Boards of Canada claim to have been inspired by) and certain kinds of public-access TV, but even those strained for professionalism in a way that “On the Mend” sidesteps entirely. (Actually, the closest visual analog I can think of is Jean-Luc Godard’s experimental video essays from the mid-‘70s, but I might just be projecting.)
It helps that the song, a sonambulant chillwave track reminiscent of early Nite Jewel, is every bit as dreamy and nostalgic as its music video. A relatively new band based out of Ottawa, Silkken Laumann features both CMG-approved ambient musician Adam Saikaley and former Acorn leading man Rolf Klausener, and the combination has yielded unsurprisingly spectacular results. From playing gigs with YACHT and CFCF to assembling baile funk mixtapes to releasing songs and videos as good as “On the Mend,” Silkken Laumann are sort of spoiling Ottawa’s otherwise barren cultural landscape lately, and at this rate I’m concerned that our city will implode when these guys finally drop their debut LP. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.