There’s an ongoing renaissance in animated music videos these days, probably owing to COVID making it much less practical to just do the straightforward thing of getting a band together in a room with a few props and a hotshot videographer. Even before the global pandemic encouraged musicians to look for alternative art forms, though, there had been a steady stream of ambitious collaborations between songwriters looking to stand out from the pack, and indie animators eager for a chance to work with a bit of a production budget.

Released in 2018, Caleb Wood’s video for Richard Reed Parry’s “River of Death / On the Ground” (co-directed by Parry, who is also known as a member of Bell Orchestre and Arcade Fire) was one of the first videos to twig us onto just how great videos were getting. Wood has long been one of our favourite animators—we brought him to GIRAF in 2015 to share some insight into his loop-weaving techniques—but as beautiful as his work is, it’s usually confined to shorter pieces. Even shorts like the lovely Goodbye Rabbit, Hop Hop and Little Wild, which are at least partly built around the freedom and spaciousness of nature, are still compressed and condensed, packed tight with Wood’s playful energy. None of them feel quite as grand as “River of Death / On the Ground,” which makes the most of its 10-minute runtime in giving every image its due.

Like Parry’s song, Wood’s video begins in open territory, using imagery of tattered flags and foreboding landscapes to quickly establish the film’s scale. A leafy creature roams the wasteland, a lone figure of life and warmth gathering its energy and releasing it in flame-like bursts, which eventually spread through the land, urging new growth from old roots.

Backed by a roster of talented figures like Brian Smee, Jonathan Djob Nkondo and Charles Huettner, Wood’s animation is beautifully textured, in all senses of the word. The film itself is overlaid with swathes of crackling texture, sometimes recalling decaying film, or close-ups of finely veined leaves, or light refracted on the surface of a lake. But the fine details of the animation are what really stands out, from the fluid motion of the elemental’s hands, to the light-creatures wandering like living honey, to the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the film’s climax.

It wouldn’t be right to say that the more languid pace of “River of Death / On the Ground” reflects a truer version of Wood’s aesthetic, since the loose linework of Goodbye Rabbit, the frenzied abrasion of “Blow to the Head,” and the pure playfulness of Plumb are all just as reflective of his unique, restless approach to creation. Let’s just say that it’s nice to linger in one of his worlds a little longer than usual, to be able to tease out a few more of its idiosyncrasies and admire its ambition. The scale of it certainly suits him.

Richard Reed Parry – River of Death / On the Ground

dir: Caleb Wood and Richard Reed Parry

Animation by:
Caleb Wood
Charles Huettner
Brian Smee
Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Masanobu Hiraoka
Sonnye Lim
Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi

Backgrounds by:
Caleb Wood
Charles Huettner

Post Production by:
Caleb Wood

“Sai No Kawara (River of Death) / On the Ground”
Written and Performed by
Richard Reed Parry
Laurel Sprengelmeyer
Stefan Schneider

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