The video: This clip captures both the whimsy and the pain of childhood in its brief three-minute runtime. We know from its opening, exasperated “hurry up!” that our protagonist, a cherubic little girl in a school uniform, is a drain and an afterthought to parents whose marriage is dying or already dead. Dyspeptic dad (former Luna guitarist/now Elk City axe man Sean Eden) and his suburban glamorpuss wife (frontwoman, Renée LoBue) can only either bicker through gritted teeth or sit exhaustedly resenting each other’s presence. But the real toll of their toxic relationship is excised on their daughter, who is left alone on their stoop or ignored in the back of their car to dream of a place where she’s the center of attention. When she’s finally able to slip away under the dinner table to a world populated by beloved stuffed animals who have come to life, it feels like she’s finally reached heaven—only maybe, judging from the horror and sadness on her parents’ faces when they discover her, too literally.
The song: Many tracks on 2010’s House of Tongues explore the seductive, jazzy sounds of French cabarets and coffeehouses, but the heart of “Jerks on Ice” beats with an American pop pulse. The jittery piano vamp is married to soaring guitar reverb that creates a propulsive yet hazy bed for LoBue’s smoky, restrained voice. Her dispassionate delivery somehow manages to wring every drop of emotion from the understated yet wounded lyrics about how we never really know our parents and they never really know us.
The director: Matthew Buzzell, a filmmaker who has made documentaries about Jimmy Scott, Daniel Johnston, and Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, is probably beyond the proving-himself-by-making-music-videos portion of his career. (He even worked on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno.) But perhaps the fact that he knows Eden — he directed the documentary, Tell Me Do You Miss Me, about the end of Luna — helped lure him to the project. For “Jerks on Ice,” he brings lonely, suburban ennui alive with dreamy, Sophia Coppola-like shots of passing scenery reflected in a window against a little girl’s face, but also films the plush, nostalgic world of the stuffed animals with the heartbreaking specificity of Wes Anderson. “In designing the narrative for this little film, I spent a great deal of time with the lyrics,” says Buzzell. “To me the lyrics portrayed a sort of duality. They seem to be one part parental advice, and one part childish resentment. This pointed me to explore the isolations that parents create and the mysterious escape routes their children might stumble upon.”
No one will ever accuse Elk City of rushing into anything. The 15-year-old band waited three years to follow up 2007’s New Believers with House of Tongues, the already-two-year-old album from which “Jerks on Fire” comes. In this lighting-fast era of anticipation-building pre-release singles and rushed, YouTube-ready videos filmed on cell phones, 700-plus days between album release and video premiere feels absurdly glacial-paced. But when the result is this striking, perhaps it means that, even in our on-demand world, some things are worth the wait.