Music Video Relapse: "Frontier Psychiatrist" (2001) by The Avalanches

Posted by Adam Fairholm on July 30, 2013 in Music Video Relapse

Staff Post


Whenever I hear someone talk about clearing a sample, I think back to the 2001 The Avalanches album Since I Left You. The Avalanches were was an Australian eletronic group that basically created an album almost entirely out of samples, not really thinking it would be an issue since they didn't think their album was going to get a very wide release. When it proved to be a popular album, releases were continually delayed and altered because of the insane amount of samples that needed to be documented and cleared.

Part of the reason for the succes of Since I Left You was that the lead single, "Frontier Psychiatrist", was not only an amazing song, but an amazing video that made the rounds on TV as well as file-sharing networks like Kazaa. So today, we're watching 2001's "Frontier Psychiatrist", directed by Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire.

As previously mentioned, "Frontier Psychiatrist" is made up on samples (Probably the most recognizable is a sample from a version of "My Way of Life" performed by the Enoch Light Singers - the same basic structure can also be heard in Frank Sinatra's 1968 version). They aren't just music samples, either - there are segments lifted out of films, instructional videos, and comedy routines. The song itself gets its name from an old Wanye and Shuster comedy routine actually called "Frontier Psychiatrist". So this is a little different than rapping over "Forever Young" and calling it a day. Here's a YouTube video that lays out some of the samples and their origins:

The music video follows through on the random elements concept by creating a stage where samples are acted out by people and objects. The whole video is presented as some sort of stage show, complete with a curtain and spotlights.

This is one of those concepts that is so simple that it ends up being all in the execution, and this is where "Frontier Psychiatrist" really shines. Each "performance" of a sample doesn't just act it out - it adds a new, stranger dimension to it. My favorite is the "what does that mean line", spoken by an old man in the song, and performed as an old man's head attached to a turtle in the video. The man that plays the turtle head performs the line with a ridiculous amount of conviction, making it almost seem like the answer to his question has some serious implications for the turtle man.

The performances are strange, but it's also a little unsettling to see a seemingly random collage of audio cues be translated into what essentially amounts to a stage show. These performances aren't isolated - they are all happening together on the same stage with the implication that they somehow belong together and part of the same story. The video brings together random pices and makes them a cohesive whole in the same way the song does with samples.

"Frontier Psychiatrist" also pays a lot of close attention to the details which end up being such an important part of a video like this. I still laugh at the monkey playing the drumset that stops his cymbal after his short performance, and the old man in the dress playing the drums that seems genuinely happy to be there. The reveal of the giant bird next to the girl is also fun, and I'm still pretty amazed at how well the role of the the "pour juice on your chin" girl was cast. This is a video that bears many repeat viewings.

The Avalanches only released one record, and chances are if you remember them you rememnber them for this song and for this video. If you're going to be a video one hit wonder, however, it might as well be for a video like "Frontier Psychiatrist.

the avalanches

Adam Fairholm is the co-founder and lead developer of IMVDb. You can find him on twitter at @adamfairholm.

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