A group of UCSB students recently released a project titled “Isla Vista: A Visual Album,” a vibrant 15-minute piece which combines Jack Johnson’s feel-good music with visually impressive scenes to tell the interwoven stories of four students navigating the last day of a spring quarter. Featuring emotional development, bittersweet decisions, and hurried bike rides, the visual album delivers relatable moments throughout.
The soundtrack of “Isla Vista: A Visual Album” comprises five of Johnson’s songs which originally appeared on his albums “On and On,” “In Between Dreams,” and “Sing-Alongs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George.” On top of Johnson’s personal connection to Isla Vista as a UCSB alumnus, his relaxed style and soothing vocals make him the ideal artist to accompany this beachside college-town narrative.
The visual album starts off with “Staple it Together,” a fast-paced song which sets a spirited mood. Picturesque shots ranging from the glistening ocean to the distinctive brown “Welcome to Isla Vista” sign on Los Carneros Road establish the lively setting by providing a visual tour of the town as viewers meet the protagonists of the story.
The plot begins with a young woman applying her makeup and sipping on a warm drink before leaving her apartment for class. It’s juxtaposed with a young man awakening in a panic in the Santa Catalina dorms, immediately sprinting down the tower’s stairs with a stapled assignment in hand. The images of this fellow over-sleeper making his way to class vividly transmit a feeling of stress, and the contrast between these two characters creates a captivating start to their story.
Completing the cast is a young couple sharing a laugh in the Dome House, one of the architectural-standout structures of Isla Vista. This young woman has news for her male companion; she holds an acceptance letter from New York University. The pair celebrates, but then realize the implications that a cross-country move could have for their relationship, creating a poignant moment and powerful shift in mood.
As the music transitions into Johnson’s 2006 single, “Talk of the Town,” the story further unfolds as characters begin to flourish in their respective motivations. From romantic development to the prioritization of independence, this visual album captures facets of young adulthood which characterize the experiences of many students during their time in Isla Vista.
“Better Together,” “Rodeo Clowns,” and “Do You Remember” round out the soundtrack to the visual album, each enriching the laid-back atmosphere of the album as a whole, while still adding depth through Johnson’s earnest lyrics.
The narrative ends in some ambiguity instead of providing the concrete resolution that viewers would expect of a standalone film. A common occurrence in popular music videos, this artistic choice complements the project’s purpose by simply providing a beautiful snapshot of an Isla Vista day.
Connor Haines, a fifth year film and media studies major and the director of this student-made visual album, spoke on his intentions for the album in a press release for the project. “Our little town has been through a lot in the past few years, and to be able to do a project like this, is something we feel really passionate about,” said Haines. “It was a dream come true to have Jack gift us with his music and to have our other alumni get active in funding the visual album.”
“Isla Vista: A Visual Album” is likely to revitalize appreciation in all people who know and love the youthful spirit of Isla Vista, and evoke nostalgia in those who have moved on from this unique place.