Tancred – Pens (Music Video)
by Steven Spoerl
This Wednesday came fully equipped with exceptional new tracks from Shere Disraeli, Iansucks, Really Big Pinecone, The Exquisites, Ex-Cult, Nocturnal Habits, Joyce Manor, La Sera, AVAKHAN, Jenny Hval, Kevin Krauter, Warehouse, and Catch Prichard. On top of that impressive haul, there were incredible new music videos that came courtesy of Connections, Chris Staples, Luxury Death, and Hoots Hellmouth. A pair of full streams from Totally Slow and Sunjacket rounded everything out in memorable fashion.
This post’s feature spot was claimed by Tancred, a project that was all but guaranteed extensive coverage since the release of Out of the Garden, a 2016 highlight. “Sell My Head” was the first glimpse at what the project could achieve and now, a gorgeous Adam Weinberg-directed video for “Pens” has pushed the envelope even further. Masterminded by Now, Now member Jess Abbott, Tancred’s been growing exponentially more fascinating since String & Twine‘s release in 2011. The growth Tancred’s achieved over that time period’s remarkable and fully evidenced by “Pens”.
Opening with a slow-drip ink spill, “Pens” immediately sets a tone that keys in on its atmospherics, conjuring up a sense of tension, dread, and intrigue. In addition to directing, Weinberg also lensed and edited “Pens” and enlisted Nicole Kugel (who served as assistant director and art director on the clip) to bring a comprehensive vision to life. From the brooding, palm-muted opening to the euphoric eruption of the defiantly triumphant chorus, “Pens” is provided a haunted visual accompaniment that sways the narrative toward a darker subtext in surprising ways.
Helping matters along is Speedy Ortiz‘s Sadie Dupuis — who recently unveiled a new project called Sad13 — appears in “Pens” as Death, casting an increasingly foreboding shadow as the clip hurtles towards its climax. Dupuis and Abbott have recently emerged as sharing a spiritual kinship in their work, so Dupuis’ appearance here is both sensible and heartening, solidifying a connection that’s only grown stronger over the past few years. Abbott, in the central role, and Dupuis, as Death, both deliver committed performances in “Pens”, injecting their characters with a barely-contained mischievousness that pays off in an explosive ending.
Following a steady build, the clip hinges on that aforementioned ending, which finds Abbott and Dupuis hooking up in a way that feels more symbolic than exploitative. There’s an intense amount of sexuality, yes, but that moment also cements what the narrative had been driving towards (which expands on the lyrical subtext). Abbott lets excessively dark impulses take hold and merges with them while still retaining an identity. It’s provocative but it’s also incredibly powerful. In a lesser director’s hands it may have felt cheap but Weinberg grounds the moment with a surprising amount of gravitas which elevates the moment far past an easy angle.
The unforgettable final shot, which hints at the thesis shot of “Pens”, finds Dupuis’ death in complete control as Abbott secretes a black liquid that runs out of her lips. It’s the last moment of small-scale horror in a clip that uses the genre as a propulsive function, providing one last gorgeous shot before cutting away to black. A perfect epilogue to a tremendous music video, the moment also secures “Pens” a spot as one of this year’s most memorable clips. Utilizing an economic setup to complete perfection, “Pens” makes its mark with its own brand of dark magic.
Watch “Pens” below and pick up a copy of Out of the Garden from Polyvinyl here.