Sound: Before you think you know what to expect on a music DVD, you might have to catch a glimpse of Death Cab For Cutie's Directions. What the band has done is an admirable artistic endeavor that feels more like a cinematic experience than your usual music videos. In fact, at times it seems the band is the composer for 13 mini-movies' individual musical scores. A statement on the back cover of the DVD declares the ultimate intention of creating a visual companion to the band's 2005 CD Plans. Death Cab For Cutie (Ben Gibbard on vocals, Chris Walla on guitars, Nick Harmer on bass, and Jason McGerr on drums) has always played intriguingly dreamy music, but Directions allows the sound of the band to take on a new life.
The music from Plans possesses an atmospheric quality to it and is strong enough to go without any images at all. But you almost feel like your hearing a new version of a song like Stable Song altogether when played on a home theater system. It should be noted that the primary focus is not necessarily on just the band and it's music, but rather the visuals that go along with it on Directions. But even with all the creative ideas that are seen on the DVD, the songs don't ever get too overshadowed. // 9
Content: For the MTV generation, who are accustomed to bands who makes themselves the main focus of their music videos, the Death Cab For Cutie DVD may be a shock to the system. The band is only seen in one video -- and in an unusual setup -- throughout the entire compilation. Instead, the songs are accompanied by visual tales of sorts, with many of the stories being told through a series of images. Stop-motion animations, models, and time-lapse are all techniques featured on the DVD, 11 primary videos and 2 bonus additions.
The package does not contain what you might expect from a music video, i.e. the boy-girl story of heartbreak and the eventual reunion at the climax of the song. No, Directions weighs heavy on simplicity, even in the most complex visual pieces. One such track, Soul Meets Body, displays a series of home-movie type scenes, all of which feature people who could be your next-door neighbor, filming glimpses of their Thanksgiving celebrations. The scenes appear mundane at times, but these common images become almost haunting when put against vocalist Ben Gibbard's airy vocals.
For a DVD so dedicated to the artistic direction of the 13 directing teams, it was extremely satisfying to find that Directions gives each video time in the spotlight. By clicking on a song like Summer Skin, you can choose to hear a statement from the director, the video's original treatment, lyrics, and a full bio of the director -- in the case of Summer Skin, a team called Lightborne would give the scoop on how the video was made. For the videos that feature more animation or sketches, you also have the option of taking a glimpse of initial images that helped to form the end product. // 10
Production Quality: With so many hands in the project, each video provides the viewer with something completely unique. There are so many different visual styles and viewpoints from the 13 directors that it's fair to assume that not every video will be embraced by every viewer. But the very fact that Death Cab For Cutie took a chance and did not stick to MTV's book of video recipes is to be admired.
If you are a fan of innovative videos and artistic creativity, Directions will be a godsend. One of the videos that utilizes a variety of video techniques with a downright cute story is Crooked Teeth. Director Rob Schrab combines cardboard cutout and rubber band puppets with stop-motion animation to tell the tale of a band composed of a pirate, a robot, and a dragon -- all three of which daydream of grander schemes. You could almost imagine the Foo Fighters playing out the scene instead of the puppets -- it's just that refreshingly silly. Schrab gives a life to the characters that you really don't get much these days with living actors.
These directors had a variety of budgets and the higher-end ones will be immediately obvious. But creativity in this DVD goes way beyond the dollar sign. The band's collection of moody songs provides a beautiful backdrop for both the lapse-time camera work and the home movies seen in Directions. The production value ultimately comes through the storytelling aspect, and luckily the directors did not just create neat pictures. They also told stories that would likely have been emotionally moving without a big budget. // 10
Overall Impression: While the 13 cinematic videos are definitely the main attraction, viewers are likely to be curious as to how all these directors were selected and why they chose their respective themes. Thankfully, this curiosity will not go unsatisfied with bonuses that do explore all the what's, hows, and whys of Directions. There is also time allotted to a band interview, but you come away wanting to know more about the videos than the band this time around -- and that's pretty refreshing in this case.
For audiences who are not fans of laid-back, soft rock, Directions may be a little too much to take on all at once. Death Cab For Cutie's purpose, however, seems to be more about the directors and their interpretation of the music. This act of artistic courage definitely is a rarity in the rock world today and the result this time around is a series of fascinating images that are too good to be called just videos. // 9