At least two interesting things happened to popular music in the 1980s. With the rise of MTV, a band’s image and its sound became forever intertwined. Also, with the debut of the compact disc and the era of digitized music, listeners became acutely aware of a song’s length. CD players had digital displays that kept track of every minute and every second of every song. MTV has famously moved past music videos, while the compact disc has become obsolete, but YouTube has kept both of the traditions alive. The video sharing site has become the new home of music videos. So musicians still have to worry about image, and there’s still a little counter in the corner keeping track of the minutes and seconds in each song. All of these factors come into play while watching “Radio,” the latest video from indie dance pop duo Sylvan Esso.
Neither singer Amelia Meath nor producer Nick Sanborn appears in the low-concept clip for “Radio.” No one does. The only star of this clip is a digital display in the center of the screen that counts backwards from 3:30, reminding the viewer how much time is left in the song. In the background, various colorful abstract shapes wiggle and undulate, all of this filtered through VHS-style tape glitches. Meanwhile, Meath sings of technology and consumerism and how those things collide with creativity. “Gimme a new single,” she sings. “Make me a new baby.” The chorus is an artist’s lament: “Slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio.”
In a way, the video hearkens back to “Bastards Of Young” by The Replacements. Forced to make a video for one of its singles, the Minneapolis band chose to point a camera directly at a stereo speaker for three minutes and 41 seconds. Like “Radio,” it’s a stubborn anti-video.
“Radio” will be released on a 12-inch vinyl single in November. A new Sylvan Esso album is coming in 2017, Meath and Sanborn promise.