Severed Heads has always been an electronic band that has used video as a major aspect of their art. Since the 80s, Severed Heads performed with live videos behind them: Tom Ellard performed all the vocals and electronic music and Stephen Jones performed the videos.
Fast-forward to 2003, Severed Heads now only consists of Tom Ellard, an Australian who is helping to move music into the next century. He is the man behind Sevcom, an independent label where he has released new LPs and re-issued most of the older Severed Heads albums on his own CD-Rs. These special edition CD-Rs have different remixes, additional tracks, and even different covers. Ellard also created “Music Servers”, ambient instrumental albums that were made for office work. Through the years, the handmade CDs have become more and more professional.
Recently, Severed Heads released “Op”, their most accessible album since “Rotund For Success”. Even though “Op” was just released about a year ago, it has been discontinued and a complement CD “Op 1.2” has been released with 12 brand new tracks. (These “Op 1.2” tracks were available to download for free if you had the passwords from the original “Op” booklet.) While “Op” had tracks with Ellard singing and catchy hooks, “Op 1.2” is completely instrumental with only vocal samples.
Throughout these confusing releases, Severed Heads have been performing in Australia using a myriad of videos behind them. On their website, some of these videos have been available for download. And finally, Severed Heads have released their first DVD filled with these wonderful videos.
“Robot Peepshow” is a collection of wild videos from Severed Heads’ past and present. Many of the videos are from the “Op 1.2” collection, but there are some older ones from “Rotund For Success” as well as “Gigapus” and “Haul Ass”. While many music videos are made just to sell records, Severed Heads make videos that actually add to the quality of the song. The videos are always weird, always extremely colorful, always computer-generated, and always entertaining.
The best videos are for ones where Ellard sings. “All Saint’s Day V.2” is one of the best songs and videos on here. Originally from the late 80s LP “Rotund For Success”, this new clip was created in 2002 for the dArt/Sydney Film Festival screenings. It features a ballet where architects dress up as their buildings. The Australian Opera House, The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, and more all dance around over a checkered floor. It is funny, cool and just plain weird. While it may have nothing to do with the song, the video breathes a new life into the older track.
“Heart Of The Party” (from the “Gigapus” LP) is another wonderful video about a pinball machine where a man and woman are partying. The man sings, “Who will tell my drunken friend that she will die and go to hell?” The silver ball shoots around the pinball machine over pictures of pills and syringes. The effect of the ball, along with the mirror image, is especially beautiful and unique. This could have been (and should have been) on MTV. Finally, the woman dies an inebriated wreck.
“Kittens” (from “Op” LP) is also wonderfully bizarre. Again, it does not tell the story of the song, but aspects of the song are in the video.
There are a couple of older songs that do not have vocals but have still amazing videos. “Choose Evil” features Satan with a Mohawk (representing evil) and a little woman in a gentle snow flurry (representing good) on the shoulders of boy. Unfortunately, while Satan speaks, there are two tiny sections under his nose that disappear and the inside of his mouth can be seen. It’s a minor graphic problem… he is Satan, not human, after all! Dancing skeletons and the fire add to the effect, but the beauty of the video is not only the details but the ending with the message if you choose evil, you burn in Hell. The vocal samples on the original track were very drowned out, but in the video, the Mohawk-sporting Satan character mouths the words, making the song and the lyrics easier to understand.
“Dollarex” (or “$ex”) is a clever take on the media, using different TV channels all at the same time. Fake magazines are shown that display Ellard’s twisted sense of humor.
“Dreamsong” (from “Haul Ass”) is a hidden bonus video that is not listed. Basically, it is Disney on acid. The trails and psychedelic effects are added to older footage of Disneyland. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy have never looked so trippy.
“Funky Pervert From Des Moines” is a colourful, funny video. As the audio samples talk about praying for “pervert”, a rather chubby man dances around with a car on his head.
“Oblique Firefly Overlocker”, one of the catchier songs on “Op 1.1”, is another example of the video making the track better. The video features a man talking nonsense, while a woman agrees and repeats it. They are in love!
Some may think that the Severed Heads songs are just silly or are simply a cacophony of vocal samples, but they could not be more wrong. Each song is about something or tells a story. For example, all of the “Op Upgrade” tracks are inspired by speeches. In the downloadable PDF sleeve for “Op 1.1”, Ellard writes liner notes for each song. For example, “Song Of Sam” is about The Son Of Sam, and uses a speech by a policeman, after the capture of Berkowitz. “The Wing Of The Plane” is about the 1940’s airplane crash into the Empire State Building. The themes go on and on. Ellard could make entertaining (and bizarre) educational videos that would make learning history fun.
While all of the videos have an odd beauty to them, there are some that are boring, such as the opening video, “Soundtrack Of ‘Fold’”, perhaps the most boring video in the compilation. It features a man made up of monitors or TV screens. The man in the original video from the website could be controlled by moving your mouse, but the DVD guy just moves aimlessly.
Ellard’s “Music Servers” consist of ambient instrumental tracks that have ethereal melodies and thick keyboard atmospheric sounds and are reminiscent of Brian Eno. The two videos “Walrus Guitars” and “Starts With K” are beautiful but are also extremely slow, particularly when compared to the other, more energetic, videos.
“Robot Peepshow” is a unique collection of wild, colourful, computer generated videos. Even though the videos were designed to complement Severed Heads’ live performances, the majority of them can stand by themselves. The trippy visuals make this DVD ideal to play during a party. It makes me want to do acid again!
Although you can download the videos from the Sevcom website, the sound and quality is so much better when played on a big screen television with a good sound system to back it up. The visual aspect of Severed Heads has always been extremely important to the music. Just like the music, the videos are unique, bizarre, and wonderful. The “Robot Peepshow” DVD is definitely a feast for your eyes and ears. Take a peep.
Robot Peepshow (2003)
Genre: Electronic, Experimental
Record Label: Sevcom