Pinegrove sings in primary colors with absurdist music film ‘Amperland, NY’

Image of Amperland Cast

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

Lincoln S. Rothko has gone missing.

This is the avant-garde conundrum of alternative Americana band Pinegrove’s newest art project, titled “Amperland, NY.” Released on YouTube Jan. 15, the film serves as a cohesive visual accompaniment to the band’s discography, tying ludicrous scenes into flawless musical performances of anything from 2015’s classic Everything So Far to Marigold newbies. 

“Amperland, NY,” created and written by lead singer Evan Stephens Hall, feels like a close cousin of the prerecorded livestreams we’ve been seeing pop up all over the internet recently, but it’s also much more than that. The movie is a pioneered fever dream wrapped in thesaurus pages and garage sale fabric rolls. It’s not necessarily about the songs, yet the film integrates them naturally. It’s like “Mamma Mia!” except not at all. 

The first moment opens on two well-dressed gentlemen strangers sitting ominously in a candlelit room. A bolo-tied fellow on the right (Hall) glances over a newspaper with headlines reading “Moon to appear unusually sized” and “Hydration, good posture linked to vertigo in opossum youth,” paying subtle homage to beloved Pinegrove tunes of the last few years. 

But center to this spread is the caricature of a wide-eyed sloth with the words “Missing” and “Last seen in DC” strewn along the photo’s borders, sparking interest from the mysterious protagonists. With the events that follow, “Amperland, NY” mimics the Western genre’s adventurous tropes: Two suited men ride horses through a picturesque landscape to begin their search for the unaccounted. While fans’ priority focus may be on the band’s scattered live performances, the film manages to carry an eccentric narrative that also perfectly exaggerates Pinegrove’s indie-modern aesthetic.

Although the storyline breaks for musical sessions, the film is otherwise without spoken conversation. When our two unnamed main characters stumble upon the band’s cottage studio, all dialogue is presented on intertitles like a 1920s silent film. These and other details — grape jelly dripping dramatically onto polished wingtips, the embroidered punctuation on Hall’s lapel, the post-credits script roll — show that “Amperland, NY” was given layers of creative attention, from sound design to costuming and set decoration.

The live performances themselves are expectedly outstanding. Camera movements trace the band from a 360-degree perspective as the members play against backgrounds matching their individual monotone outfits, propelling occasional feelings of nausea but otherwise enhancing the gradual tailspin into applesauce.

Every movement feels incredibly intentional: A long stare or the angle of a light builds atmospheres of awkwardness, but sometimes suspense. It’s both ridiculous and paradoxically refined with some upbeat folk music on the side, as the band plays in various settings but occasionally pauses to ruminate on the last place they may have seen Lincoln.

“Amperland, NY” also thematically frolics with the concept of spectatorship. We watch our main characters watch a band who is likewise looking for Lincoln — no one seems to be finding anyone, yet everyone ends up present in different senses of the word. In one particular scene, the mustachioed leads partake in a short game of badminton, seemingly for no reason other than for viewers to purely and organically observe. 

In this way, the film bends spectatorship into an art form — a challenging feat now elevated in these days of remote existence. In “Amperland, NY,” it’s unclear who is the audience. Is it us, watching the film? Or the men watching the band? Or Lincoln, elusively watching all of this chaos unfold from an unknown location?

Pinegrove makes viewers yearn for lighthearted confusion with “Amperland, NY.” Here, we learn that Lincoln S. Rothko (who is also credited as an executive producer of the film) is more than a stuffed sloth. Lincoln is a reflection of all of us right now: not trying to be perceived. It’s some combination of delightful and bewildering.

“Amperland, NY” is available to stream on YouTube.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.