Indulge in the Strange Emotions of T.O.L.D.’s Video for “Master of Species”

Introducing the many (visual) iterations of Britain's Dan Smith. Not since Blur has horn-assisted melancholy sounded quite so marvelous.

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19 May 2016, 12:32pm

I was once told that the only two things promised in life are death and taxes. While the latter has proven to be a major motherfucker, I’ve managed 25 years without meeting my maker, and I’m in no particular rush. British import Dan Smith—who also happens to be 25 and working under the name T.O.L.D (The Order of Life and Death)—thinks about the idea of cashing in his chips a bit more than I do, manifesting his intrigue with the cycle of life and death (and human nature as a whole) for artistic inspiration. Sonically, his work embodies a full range of emotions felt during one’s lifetime—his moody vocals investigate melancholy and unanswerable conundrums of the human condition, while minimalist, warming synths speak to the softer, dare I say “happier” feelings. At other times, his hook-laden synth pop tracks seem so milky smooth that we completely forget about the larger, more difficult notions that fuel Smith’s creativity.

Premiering below is T.O.L.D’s incredibly sleek music video for “Master of the Species,” a track that explores how lucky we all were to be born human as opposed to centipedes, mice, or this chick. Director Garrett Curtis worked with Smith and stylist Marta Villalobos—to coordinate the entire production—from its austere, black, grey and white styling to the emphasis on contrast between light and dark. Accentuating the lyric “Paint your heart in grey blue,” they chose to avoid any bright objects or landscapes. About the video, T.O.L.D. tells Noisey:

“The final ‘Hoo Rah!’ of the album. I channeled David Bowie for this one—it came to me pretty much fully formed. Probably the most ambitious track of the album. You’re sitting on your throne looking out at your kingdom, now you have conquered your inner world. Now you must learn to be alone.”

And alone he is, or rather, with numerous clones or versions of himself. We see Smith wondering through the streets of abandoned suburbia, accompanied by nothing but his song and the eerie wind the wobbles signs and shakes trees in the background. Despite having an air of meticulous preparation, the shoot seemed to be a bit more improvised:

“I first met Garrett Curtis at 6 AM outside an abandoned Chinese mall in downtown Los Angeles. We ended up in a cave at sunset on top of a mountain near Santa Barbara. When we finished the shot, it was dark and we had to climb back down. Not once did I question his vision. I could tell he was a genius from our first phone call.”

Curtis elaborates: “I had an amazing phone call with Daniel from T.O.L.D. We had an immediate connection and talked about the meaning of his song and how he sees being human as a species-privileged. But how to wake people up to the special-ness of being alive and self-aware? People live according to the rule of man, and knowledge is god. During our chat, we concluded that we would go against that idea and cut through self-judging worldly wisdom and live in the experience of laughter and warmth.”

Since both of these guys are light years ahead of me in the realms of philosophy and general intelligence, I’ll leave you with that, and the video for “Master of Species,” below.