Delta Rae, the local folkies gone major, have long been an INDY favorite—favorite punchline, perhaps, or favorite means by which to troll our beloved commenters, maybe? Still, a favorite! Their next big move dropped yesterday via MTV. It’s an ambitious video for “Scared,” the new single from their upcoming second album, After It All.
Given that record’s cover, you may think they would have stocked the reel with CGI-skull-faced Minotaurs, brooding amid slo-mo silk swoops, like a Madonna video from when she was getting into Kabbalah. But no, Delta Rae leaves behind the dodgy Old South signifiers of earlier clips, taking us instead to the mean streets of … is that the skyline of Charlotte? Maybe it is New York, but it’s all a bit mystifying, really.
The plot of “Scared,” such as it is, will feel familiar to anyone who spent time in the sub-Tarantino, straight-to-DVD trenches of the late ’90s. Band members Eric Holljes and Liz Hopkins are low-lifes in over their heads. They run afoul of even more colorful low-lifes, and everything quickly goes to shit. Poorly suggested menace comes from Brittany Holljes’ turn as a kung-fu-quirky, imperious-lady crime lord. She’s a knit-circle killer, able to garrote a fool or play a round of cat’s cradle with the same dentist-numb facial expression.
Her weirdly non-threatening entourage includes a Jenga-playing juicehead, a crooning jean-vested hipster goon, multiple fedora bros and a piano player with the nimble fingers of a boxer who has yet to remove his gloves. (That Delta Rae didn’t know anyone who could convincingly play piano on screen for three seconds is … troubling. Seriously, watch the dude’s hands.) A briefcase of cash is produced in exchange for a scam painting of, well, uhh, yeah, Grumpy Cat? The deal sours before any real tension builds, so the protagonist gal bolts. Her dude takes a beating; he’s dragged to his death as she skates free.
“Scared” pulls from a jumble of flicks that seem badass to 13-year-old boys—a little bit Boogie Nights, a little bit True Romance, a little bit Only God Forgives. The disco-collared douchiness of the main characters’ wardrobe desperately wants to channel Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, but no one else on screen sticks to that period kitsch. So instead, our heroes look like they’ve taken a seedy detour on their way to the American Hustle-themed kegger already underway at Delta Rae Epsilon. The early title card, “Directed by Law,” suggests that the job was assigned as punishment for some high crime or misdemeanor.
The clip depends on at least three distinct tones, warring as if confined to a newly shook hornet’s nest. There’s the would-be-cool, video-clerk-makes-a-heist-movie vibes of its pillaged clichés. But there’s also a mugging jokiness and Internet meme-referencing thirst that negates any possible aspiration to hip, stylized cinema. It wafts in the unmistakable scent of suburban parents waking the kids up early to make this year’s YouTube Christmas card for Nanna and Pop Pop: “This one could go viral, kids!”
We close with a meaningful glance from Eric Holljes’s beautiful face—only lightly bruised from his savage, baseball-bat beatdown—to the woman who left him to die. It’s the only bit of the video that truly acknowledges the heartfelt lyrics, which fret over a romance slowly losing the spark. “I’m sorry, I love you,” he offered earlier, with almost-Adam Levine levels of soul. This lingering note of sadness is spectacularly unearned.
Try it from the trunk, buster, try it from the trunk.
Warner Brothers will release After It All April 7. The band plays The Ritz in Raleigh Saturday, May 9.