British band Alt-J’s new music video for Pleader is less video and more cinema. It’s only six minutes long, but the sweeping short film captures not only the transcendental qualities of the track from the group’s third, most successful album Relaxer, but also the source of the song.
The track, according to the band, was inspired by Welsh writer Richard Llewelyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley, a story set in 19th century Wales, in a small mining town. The song was recorded in a cathedral with an organ and a boys’ choir – of which the band’s keyboard player Gus Unger-Hamilton was a member as a child – and the London Metropolitan Orchestra.
For the video, the band apparently just sent a one-line brief to the director, Isaiah Seret, saying, “A Welsh mining love story; a tidal wave of earth.” Joe Newman, singer and guitarist for Alt-J, told NPR, “What Isaiah came back with was an epic short-film inspired both by the song’s source material and (Andrei) Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. A family must pit their desire to have a child against the knowledge that this would destroy their community. The hypnotic, hymnal quality of the song binds the video throughout, hinting at redemption while destruction takes place.”
The epic (in a literal sense) music video weaves the story of a community who believes the birth of a child could save their valley from destruction, while the child – blessed with a magnetic force, according to Seret – survives to preserve the institutional memory of the land. Crafted as a “short film musical”, the video was shot over three days in South Wales’s Rhondda Valley. It also includes footage from an experimental film, Window Water Baby Moving, by Stan Brakhage from 1959.