When it works, the relationship between a band and its video director can bring out the best in both parties. When it’s really good, filmmakers and music-makers alike don’t just amplify each other’s strengths. They show each other things about their artistry that might elude a cursory glance or a casual listen. That’s exactly what’s happened to Houston indie rock band The Wheel Workers and their frequent collaborator T Lavois Thebaud. The director has highlighted the dangerous, offbeat, and playful parts of the group’s personality. And in return, The Wheel Workers have pushed Thiebaud to get weirder, more stark, more story-driven, and more compelling.
“Harbor,” the latest joint project from The Wheel Workers and T Lavois Thiebaud, is a strange, colorful, high-contrast ride — a sexy, scary, thrilling exercise in surreal, short-form narrative. It’s the perfect accompaniment for a weird, intoxicating song that foregrounds the punk, the prog, and the experimental elements of the Wheel Workers sound. The clip builds on the success of last year’s “S.O.S.,” a masterclass in stop-motion animation and visual provocation in which Thiebaud conjured a dreamscape to match the otherworldly quality of the music. While every bit as catchy, “Harbor,” by contrast, is a bit more terrestrial, angular, and confrontational. Steven Higginbotham’s lyrics pledge fidelity to a lover (or a friend) going through hard times, and his delivery is sincere and quietly passionate. But the turbulent guitars and synthesizers leave little doubt that the wolves are at the door.
Thiebaud’s own projects have been similarly complex — and similarly entertaining. The director is a poet, designer, and performer, as well as a filmmaker, and all of those talents are visible in the “Harbor” clip. The video looks fantastic: full of radiant color, dark recesses, and excellent threads, too. Thibaud knows just what to focus on, what to ignore, and how to capture and frame kinetic activity and extreme facial expressions. The director also stars in the clip: Thiebaud appears as one of a pair of lovers on the run, robbing banks, rolling around in their purloined wealth, and upending convention at every turn. Yet, as exciting as their lives are, one miracle is beyond them. They can satisfy their cravings but cannot rescue each other from despair.
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