Little Monster Records released Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World earlier this week. I originally reviewed the DVD nearly a year ago. I've updated the review below -- if you already have the earlier version of the DVD, go to the end of the review for my comments on this new version.
An innocent wandering through the world is hardly an original concept for a story. The Who's Tommy, for example, or countless first novels.
To say that Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World borrows the concept, then, is no knock on this "Musical Moving Book," as it's called. The concept may be borrowed, but the execution is quite unique and wonderful.
Gustafer Yellowgold is the brainchild of New York-based songwriter and illustrator Morgan Taylor. Taylor has previously self-released several CDs but here has combined his songwriting talents with his illustrating skills to produce a concert which combines live music from Taylor and a small band of musicians with illustrations projected on large screens. It's the music and illustrations behind this live "moving book" which are captured here on the 24-minute DVD. There isn't much of a plot; it's more of a series of character sketches.
Gustafer is an alien from the sun who tells his story of life on the sun in the opening song "I'm From the Sun." It's an uptempo number which shows exactly how difficult life can be on the sun. ("No snowflakes on the tongue" is one of the complaints.) It's a jangle-pop tune with bongos, giving it a little Guster-like feel. The best song on the DVD is the concluding "New Blue Star," which is about, well, a new blue star, but could just be easily interpreted as a love song -- it's a gentle midtempo rockersworthy of Matthew Sweet in his less guitar-focused work (think Blue Sky on Mars without all the synthesizers). Another one of my favorite tunes is "Pterodactyl Tuxedo," a friend of Gustafer's who may be exasperating at times but is also a true friend ("He's always had the time / To pick up the phone / When you're calling way too late / He's always been the kind / To help you pickin' bones / When your faith begins to fade.") The music is hard to peg, but besides the bands listed already, there are hints of the Beatles (in the slow songs), World Party (yeah, a Beatles tribute band, virtually), and the Flaming Lips.
The lyrics here make it sound rather serious, and there's an undercurrent of sadness in Gustafer's story. His eel Slim ("Your Eel") will leave one day. The "Mint Green Bee" is sad and cries. But this emotion also pays off in unexpected ways. The new concluding track, "Rocket Shoes," is all about escape, and Gustafer's actions in the video with another character allow Gustafer to repay some kindness he's previously received. It's genuinely moving.
Even within the songs the sadness is leavened by the whimsical illustrations. This isn't really animation; particular animations are moved around the screen to give a primitive sense of animation. It might not sound compelling, but it's quite engrossing. It's used to particularly good effect in the surreal, vaguely They Might Be Giants-like "I Jump On Cake" ("I jump on cake from up above / I step on pie so warm and lovely / It's mine to punt, vanilla bundt / All freshly baked, I'm on your cake"). A picture of Gustafer moves (with blinking eyes) from up above onto a tempting cake. Pies explode like fireworks.
In my original review, I said the following:
"I'm always one to find nits to pick, and the only thing I can come up with here is that it's a DVD only. Perhaps in the future they'll consider bundling the DVD with an audio-only CD. Other than that, it's great."
Sure enough, this release includes a CD of all ten tracks. While the visuals do add something special, the tunes hold their own without the visual. So I guess this makes it great.
The album is probably best for kids age 3 through 8. You can see (and hear) video clips from "I'm From the Sun" and "Your Eel" here. For the moment, the DVD is a Barnes & Noble exclusive. You can also listen to a number of tracks and watch clips of many videos at Gustafer's Myspace page. Of note as well is the ability to sing along with the video, karaoke-style -- not sure how popular that will be, but since the videos all have the words on the screen, it's not inconceivable that it'd be used. (My guess is that the Spanish subtitles might actually get more use.)
Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World is a work of great creativity, visually and musically. It's worth your time to check it out and is definitely recommended.
[To those who already have the (original) DVD, we salute you. And tell you whether or not this new set is a double-dip.]
If you have the original DVD, I don't need to convince you of the DVD's wonder. But is it worth the $12 or so you'll spend to double-dip?
In brief, probably. Depends on how much you want the music on CD, because that's the primary difference between that and the original version. As I note above, the songs hold up well even without the video.
As for the video itself, the new version includes "Rocket Shoes," "Cooler World" (a 1-minute "opening credits" of sorts), and a very amusing "trailer" of sorts. They're all nice, though I doubt that's enough to get you to buy the new video by itself. The new videos are in the same animation style as the original, though the animation does look sharper and a little fancier. More of the same, just ever-so-slightly... better. The eight original animations are unchanged except for the captions, which are redone slightly to accomodate the Spanish subtitle option. You would never notice unless you're obsessively comparing for review purposes.
Oh, and there's a poster. If you care about those things. (I don't, really.)
Of course, you could also get the new version and donate your current version to your local library. That would be a win-win all the way 'round...