18 of ’18: The Best Music Videos of the Year
by Steven Spoerl
Just under a full week into 2019 doesn’t seem like much but it affords time to go over what all of 2018 has to offer, right up until midnight on December 31. It’s a method that also provides room for close examination of the year’s finest releases in each major category (songs, music videos, and albums). While it’s literally impossible for any one person to hear or see every single release in those formats, a focus should be given to the best of what’s been experienced. Thousands of music videos made their way through the Heartbreaking Bravery channels, these 18 selections found ways to stand out from the pack.
Anna Burch – With You Every Day
Ever since the music videos for Anna Burch‘s gorgeous Quit The Curse started rolling in, there was a unified visual aesthetic. It’s a point that was strengthened with the release of “With You Every Day”, which finds Burch eschewing some of the sunnier palette tones to lean further into a ’90s art world sensibility. More than that, “With You Every Day” wisely refocuses from underlining Burch’s carefree tendencies to zero in on the sheer joy that’s evident in the emergent songwriter’s live performances. Tied together, those elements make for a mesmeric video that comes off as unabashedly honest, leading to another quiet triumph for Burch.
Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans
It’s next to impossible to talk about Car Seat Headrest‘s “Nervous Young Inhumans” without mentioning that the song’s chorus is a fucking monster. A reworked full band version of one of Will Toledo’s most celebrated solo releases, the video was used — and used extremely effectively — to tease the total overhaul of Twin Fantasy. Visually striking and teeming with meaning, the side-by-side widescreen clip lays out everything you’d expect from one of the decade’s more discussed breakout acts: tongue-in-cheek humor, wry witticisms, a clear level of self-awareness, and enough artistry to dispel any notions of being effete. While some might find the act cloying, the self-directed “Nervous Young Inhumans” video goes all in on just about every one of the band’s aspects and winds up as one of the band’s most definitive individual release to date.
Phoebe Bridgers – Scott Street
Phoebe Bridgers‘ Stranger In the Alps proved to have quite a bit of staying power through 2018, with the record spawning a few widely-circulated music videos well afters its initial release. Far and away the most moving of that selection was the restrained, lovely clip for “Scott Street”. The premise of the clip’s simple enough: several people dress up as Phoebe Bridgers and enjoy a day out together, riding mechanical bulls, taking to a trampoline park, and taking a bus to some unknown destination. All of it’s lensed tenderly, letting a palpable sense of affection become the clip’s defining element. When Bridgers herself finally makes an appearance in the clip’s final stretch, there’s a surreal emotive heft to the gesture that propels “Scott Street” from being great to being unforgettable.
Sean Henry – The Ants
“The Ants” stood out on Sean Henry‘s latest release, Fink, and was rightfully tapped for a music video. The visual treatment the song’s given plays into the song’s enigmatic nature, positioning Henry front and center, following the songwriter’s trip through NYC in costume store vampire teeth. Nervous tension and general mischievousness collide in an unexpected way, rendering the core narrative of “The Ants” oddly gripping. Aided by some stunning cinematography, “The Ants” becomes a fascinating journey on multiple levels that pull the viewer deeper into a world that’s more concerned with presenting questions than providing answers outright.
Casper Skulls – Colour of the Outside
From a beguiling, extended introductory sequence, “Colour of the Outside” takes great pains in comprehensively immersing its viewers into the world it places Casper Skulls. Softly lit and bathed in ghostly blue hues, the first half of “Colour of the Outside” provides a tug-and-pull between competing sense: familiar comfort and an unsettling tension that grows in small increments. Eventually, that dichotomy detonates as a huge portion of the set falls away and the band’s revealed to be playing in a basement. The light increases, objects get smashed, and the spell manages to find a route to amplification, lingering as the song dissipates amidst a haze of feedback. A deceptively clever clip, “Colour of the Outside” also manages to be strangely powerful.
Haley Heynderickx – No Face
Haley Heynderickx’s “No Face” is one of a handful of clips on this list that took a simple premise and executed it with panache by Evan James Atwood, leading to surprisingly memorable results. A stop-motion video that puts Heynderickx in full silhouette, “No Face” uses static framing to perfection. Consisting of no more than Heynderickx miming along to the song and another pair of hands for some additional meaning, “No Face” is a testament to what anyone can achieve with a shoestring budget. A million frames can make up an incredible picture, even when the images barely differ. An inspired — and inspiring — work from a deserving breakout artist.
Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost
One of the most heartening things about a year that didn’t always have a lot of those on hand was the return of basement pop legends Swearin’. Select orders of their first record after reuniting came with a version of 3D glasses that’d been relegated to a curious footnotes in the annals of film history. A fun gimmick on the surface was provided some extra weight with a pair of videos with “Grow Into A Ghost” becoming a genuine standout. Embracing a ’50s aesthetic and the stoic sensibilities of the era, Swearin’ have all sorts of fun with the animation integrated into a modernized strain of an updated technology. “Grow Into A Ghost” was the perfect reminder of what we’ve been missing.
Lucero – Long Way Back Home
Jeff Nichols is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. His collaborations with Michael Shannon have yielded countless accolades and an overwhelming amount of acclaim. Nichols’ brother, Ben, also happens to front Lucero, who have provided a few songs to those films. The brothers Nichols and Shannon team up once again for this short film set to Lucero’s “Long Way Back Home”, teeming with the quietly desperate rural lyricism that’s flickered away in the core of the trio’s work for years. A few more notable actors make appearances in a narrative that keeps the viewer in a vice-like grip up until the ambiguous final moments. While there’s no clear resolution, “Long Way Back Home” is a ride worth taking.
Mitski – Geyser
While the Christopher Good-directed clip for “Nobody” makes appearance after appearance — and deservedly so — on The Best Music Videos of 2018 lists, it’s also worth taking a look at the clip that preceded that one, “Geyser”. A gorgeous tracking shot on a desolate beach follows Mitski as the songwriter mimes the words to “Geyser” before abandoning that conceit entirely, fleeing the camera and collapsing onto the shore, writhing around in a place between catharsis and desperation, pointing to the sheer nakedness of the work on Be The Cowboy. A huge moment for both Mitski and filmmaker Zia Anger.
Iceage – The Day The Music Dies
Iceage and Graeme Flegenheimer teamed up for “The Day The Music Dies” video, which finds the post-punk act tapping into a strain of Southern Gothic visuals once again, producing a series of visuals that immediately register as formally classic, bringing to mind cinematographer Robert Elswit’s work on There Will Be Blood. “The Day The Music Dies” is flooded with iconic imagery but for all its formality, there’s a very evident sense of playfulness coursing through the clip. Tongue-subtly-in-cheek — check out those borderline nonsensical breaks for the car commercial shots — and fiery as hell, the clip’s a very strong example of how abandoning reservations can significantly elevate the material.
Noname – Blaxploitation
A cutting, socially conscious work from Noname, “Blaxploitation” leans hard into metaphor and film history. Taking its cues from the monster film genre, “Blaxploitation” depicts a young black child navigating a model set. Framed as a towering monster, the subject explores the small neighborhood, clearly innocent despite striking an imposing figure, relative to the setting. Tragic for all of the typical, endlessly frustrating reasons, Alex Lill’s video for “Blaxploitation” is every bit as thoughtful as the record on which it resides. Hypnotic and incredibly pointed, “Blaxploitation” is very clearly not just among the finest music videos but the visual format as a whole.
Lonely Parade – Night Cruise
“Night Cruise” was the first of Lonely Parade‘s releases to get a huge push and that attention couldn’t have come at a better time. Released in advance of one of the year’s best records, the clip ably demonstrated the band’s identity. Soft strobes of neon hues, softer saturation levels, and some clever one shots cut to the core of the band’s confrontational sensibilities. “Night Cruise” showed that Lonely Parade know exactly who they were and exactly what they were about while still managing to be visually hypnotic. Easily one of the year’s best hangout clips, “Night Cruise” marked the arrival of a band whose career promises to be worth following.
La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
La Dispute made a return in the year’s final month, unveiling the startlingly intense animated clip for “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I“. A fever dream narrative plays out in the clip, which centers around a car colliding with a deer on the road. Psychedelic imagery swirls around this event, which plays out more than once, lending additional meaning to the event. There’s an impact, things are altered, objects are wrecked, but there’s a beauty that undercuts the despair, reminding the viewer of life’s fragility as much as its inherent tenderness. “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” is an astonishing work that may just be the band’s finest release to date.
Mozes and The Firstborn – Hello
For all the serious subject matter that tends to dominate these types of lists, there are moments of lightness to be found and celebrated. For instance: Mozes and the Firstborn‘s humorous, lighthearted clip for “Hello“. It’s an exceptionally simple premise that’s executed to perfection and imbued with genuine joy. One tracking shot keeps guitarist/vocalist Melle Dielesen front and center, surrounded by a marathon that was taking place in real time. Layers of clothing are shed, several with song-specific message scrawled or printed on them, a cigarette gets smoked, and the song is mimed while runners react to Dielesen’s tongue-in-cheek antics. Easily 2018’s most outright fun video.
Dusk – Leaf
Finn Bjornerud has long been Tenement’s go-to music video director and continues to work with the members’ other projects. As good as some of the Tenement clips have been, Bjornerud hits a career high by some margin with the breathtaking video for Dusk‘s “Leaf“, which remains one of the best songs of the present decade. The song itself lends an additional potency to Bjornerud’s signature camera movements but also forces the camera to stay relatively still, fixating on the mundane details of winter life in the upper Midwest: the boots in the snow, clothing layers being shed, a flock of geese taking off from a snow-capped field. Tethering in a quiet, loving relationship between two people finding ways to celebrate their continued survival gives “Leaf” another empathetic layer that’s strong enough to ensure its rightful place on this list.
Fog Lake – Push
Some of 2018’s most brilliant editing work in a music video came courtesy of Noah Kentis’ twisting, multilayered visual for Fog Lake‘s “Push“. The first of a series of intentionally blurred smash cuts hits at just after the minute mark and every time is startling and powerful enough in its execution to warrant chills. No matter how many times its replayed or used, there’s a singular perfection to the framing and implementation that’s enough to knock a viewer out. As the Charlie Kaufman-esque narrative of “Push” unfurls, there’s a deepening sense of mystery inextricably tied to the ambiguity that characterizes the clip’s final moments. A masterclass in composition and editing, “Push” also stands tall as one of the most mesmerizing videos to have come out over the past handful of years.
IDLES – Danny Nedelko
For some reason or another, white supremacists started using the okay sign as a “covert” way of communicating their reprehensible ideology. Since they’re terrible at everything, the general public discovered what they were doing right around the time it started happening. Enter: IDLES, the band who made 2017’s best music video and missed that title this year by a hair. “Danny Nedelko” a standout track from Joy As An Act of Resistance was a song explicitly about their friend, an immigrant. The black-and-white video follows Nedelko through a series of vignettes, meeting up with other immigrants while dancing, laughing, and flashing the okay symbol with a sheepish grin. It’s a pointed missive of reclamation that’s framed with a welcome level of affection for its subjects. Joy As An Act of Resistance indeed.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR
Hop Along – How Simple
Every publication told its readers the same thing at the end of 2018, which was destined to be a certainty from the moment of its release: the music video that defined the year was Hiro Murai’s astonishing clip for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America“. While that video more than deserves all of the praise its received, the aim of this site is to shed some more light on what’s flickering away in the shadows, which brings us to Hop Along‘s incredible video for 2018 highlight “How Simple.”
The first image of Derrick Belcham’s video for “How Simple” is a spotlight, centered on an unopened door. As a visual cue, it’s deceptively striking and open to many valid interpretations but it’s an image that only lingers for a few second as guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan seizes that spotlight and turns in a tour de force performance as the clip’s central subject. Exuding classic Hollywood charisma, bringing to mind the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, and Jean Simmons.
Quinlan’s an inherently magnetic presence on stage (and in studio) so it’s not a surprise the wildly gifted songwriter dominates nearly every frame of the “How Simple video, which is perhaps a calculated outcome for a narrative so heavily centered on personal identity. There’s an incredible emotional spectrum on display here with Belcham leaning hard into Quinlan’s facial expressions, which tell a story all their own.
“How Simple” is an incredible journey that’s gifted an incredibly appealing setting as its story unfurls, navigating everything from shame to resentment to anger to acceptance to celebratory self-reconciliation. Wisely making its home in the mundane nature of every day existence, “How Simple” cuts to the root of several hard-won realizations. By the clip’s purposeful resolution is revealed, Belcham’s ensured a moment of appreciation for a quiet triumph of perseverance, putting one last piece of finite punctuation on the best music video of 2018.
Further Watching: Peach Kelli Pop – Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness | Lemuria – Kicking In | Advance Base – Your Dog | Dilly Dally – Doom | Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike | Vundabar – Acetone | Hala – Sorry | Free Cake For Every Creature – Be Home Soon | Slothrust – Double Down | Onlyness – Comfortable | Deaf Wish – FFS | Spirit Was – Golden Soul | Harry Permezel – Wax Man | Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me | The Magic Gang – Getting Along | Shame – Lampoon | Clearance – Had A Fantastic | Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season | illuminati hotties – Cuff | Snail Mail – Heat Wave | Courtney Barnett – Charity | Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want? | Tomberlin – Self-Help | Homeboy Sandman & Edan – The Gut | sewingneedle – Feel Good Music | The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me | Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone | Flasher – Material | The Glow – Beamer