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OK Go: The Geekiest Band In America (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

May 29, 2010

Over an 8-year career, the band OK Go has released three albums of absolutely scrumptious pop à la Weezer and The Cars. They have been the source of shout-along anthems like “Get Over It” from their eponymous 2002 debut, the bouncy rock of “Do What You Want” from 2005’s Oh No, and the unabashedly Prince-influenced “White Knuckles” and “End Love” from this year’s Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. The band’s hooks reportedly prompted This American Life‘s Ira Glass to dub them “human catnip.”

Another thing that sets OK Go apart from their peers in pop rock is an unapologetic (or even gleeful) geekiness when it comes to promoting themselves and their music. Singer/guitarist Damien Kulash admits to being influenced by Japanese children’s shows and his own study of art and semiotics at Brown University. The band’s often homemade music videos reflect this geekery. One of their earliest videos, for the aforementioned “Get Over It,” treated us to a moment where the music stops and the band plays doubles ping-pong in slow motion. Indeed, their website at the time had a Flash game wherein you could play ping-pong against a virtual band member of your choice.

Videos from their second album included the now famous clip for “Here It Goes Again” which featured the band performing a highly choreographed routine on eight treadmills. Although “Here It Goes Again” is their most famous video, in this blogger’s opinion it’s not as fun as an earlier clip for “A Million Ways” wherein the band mastered an equally complex (though less gimmicky) routine in Kulash’s back yard. (Watch for the shout out to Matrix-style “bullet time” at 2-1/2 minutes.)

OK Go’s latest album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, was produced by geek-savant producer Dave Fridmann, who had previously worked with The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mogwai, Low, and MGMT. Perhaps as an excuse to use what Kulash learned at Brown, the cover art is one big geekgasm.

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky album cover

Get it? Me neither, really. And since I can’t begin to digest it into a simpler explanation, I’ll let Wikipedia handle it for me:

The image on the album cover was constructed with a list of twenty-five themes (for example “Unfounded or Wildly Broad Claims”, “Wonderment”, and “Light/Optics/Colour”), each representing a specific colour, assigned to each sentence in both the passage and the lyrics. If more than one theme is assigned to the same sentence, the colours are combined with additive mixing. With each sentence being represented by a coloured line, the lines are arranged radially giving the impression of beams of multicoloured light emanating from the centre. Other data collected for presentation inside the booklet includes sentence length, parts of speech occurrences, syllable stress, and words common to both texts.

And the geekiness doesn’t stop there. The band made an eyeball-bending video for the album’s first single, “WTF?” The video was shot in one take using image-delay and various props purchased at a 99-cent store.

But perhaps the pinnacle of their brainy forms of expression is the latest video for “This Too Shall Pass.” After a much publicized disagreement between the band and their label, EMI, over embedding of YouTube clips, OK Go solicited the creative engineers at Synn Labs, along with folks from the California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the MIT Media Lab to build a complex Rube Goldberg machine in a two-story warehouse in Los Angeles. A complex series of gizmos and whatzits make for some impressive visual effects, but it’s the sheer scope of the project that’s really on display here. It really must be seen to be believed:

The video made the usual “viral” rounds and was the talk of the town (in the parlance of our times.) Because of the homemade nature of the machine, which made use of hundreds of inexpensive “found” items, the band and its video are now championed by the online community of tinkerers, hardware hackers, and inventors at MAKE. OK Go performed at the Bay Area Maker Faire in May 2010, get this…under water. Band members were fitted with snorkels, masks, and goldfish-bowl style helmets filled with water. After a few rehearsals they did a couple of songs for the impressed crowd.

OK Go may not necessarily have the juice to garner favorable reviews from various ill-informed Hipster McSnootybritches, but they are clearly having a good time incorporating all kinds of new and noteworthy stuff into their creative output. (A band actually enjoying what they do? You mean…non-ironically? Surely not!) I, for one, welcome our new geeky overlords.

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