Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Andrew Dominik

16 of ’16: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).

For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.

Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.

Kevin Morby – Dorothy

Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.

Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator

After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues

Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)

Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.

LVL UP – The Closing Door

The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.

Potty Mouth – Smash Hit

There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band.  An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.

Vagabon – The Embers

“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.

Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You

Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.

Dilly Dally – Snakehead

Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.

PWR BTTM – West Texas

2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.

Hazel English – Never Going Home

Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.

Mitski – Happy

Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films,  Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Trio

While Angel Olsen, The Avalanches, and DJ Shadow (ft. Run the Jewels) were among some of the bigger names making genuinely outstanding music videos, what filmmaker Andrew Dominik accomplished with his clips of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds playing a trio of clips (“I Need You“, “Jesus Alone“, and “Girl In Amber“) from the band’s shattering Skeleton Tree simply can’t be ignored. This is both performance and performance filmmaking of the highest possible level.

Minor Victories – Cogs (Orchestral Variation)

Only one band could rival what Minor Victories achieved in the music video format in 2016 (but we’ll get to that band in a moment). Minor Victories aggressively established an arresting visual aesthetic and turned in an incredible number of clips that could have very easily wound up in this spot. “Cogs“, “Folk Arp“, “Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)“, “A Hundred Ropes“, “Breaking My Light“, and “Give Up the Ghost (Orchestral Variation)” were all gripping in various ways, making the most of crisp black-and-white cinematography. Their finest moment, however, came with the release of “Cogs (Orchestral Variation)“, an expansive, intimate character study and the band’s most ambitious offering to date. It’s harrowing, it’s riveting, and it’s easily one of the best clips of 2016.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

PUP – Sleep in the Heat

In 2013, PUP‘s “Reservoir” topped the year-end music video list I contributed to PopMatters. In 2014, PUP’s “Guilt Trip” topped this site’s very first year-end music videos list. In 2015, PUP managed to crack the year-end music video list once again with “Dark Days“. This year, the band continued an unprecedented run of dominance in the format with no less than three legitimate year-end contenders, each wildly different from the other.

From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.

Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.

Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.

In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.

As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know I won’t.

The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer. 

Watch This: Vol. 150

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As stated in the preceding post, a lot’s been happening in the world of Heartbreaking Bravery (both in its interior machinations and mitigating exterior factors). Its public upkeep has been largely neglected but behind the scenes, the work continues to be ceaseless. Watch This, the typically weekly series that celebrates the greatest live videos of the given week, has been on somewhat of a hiatus. To amend that, for this 15oth installment, this will extend far beyond the series’ usually confined scope.

In the previous 50 markers for Watch This, Heartbreaking Bravery’s original live videos have been featured. With matters of scheduling, it’s been impossible to keep that pace but bookmark the site’s YouTube channel for upcoming clips of acts like LVL UP, Alex G, Nobunny, The Hussy, and more (with a few long-archived clips finally making their way to air). So, instead of personally-generated footage, this will celebrate not five but 50 of the finest live clips to have appeared since the last Watch This ran at the end of October.

Single song performances, full sessions, individually-helmed efforts, and professionally-captured studio takes all appear. With this amount of material featured, it’d be a hyper-herculean task to take everything in all at once. The best route may simply be to bookmark the page, the clip, or fast-forward at will (though everything featured is more than worth the effort). So, as always, sit back, grab a drink, adjust the settings, focus, and Watch This.

The tracklist for Watch This: Vol. 150 can be found below the embed.

1. Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Driver/Killer Whales (Fallon)
2. Monica LaPlante – Hope You’re Alone (The Current)
3. Cymbals Eat Guitars (KEXP)
4. Casper Skulls – Love Brain (Exclaim!)
5. Um Are – Dark Entry (Boxfish Sessions)
6. LVL UP (KEXP)
7. Jack – Blue (I Like It Session)
8. Islands – Fear (Do512)
9. Jeff Rosenstock – Wave Goodnight To Me (Radio K)
10. Mercury Girls (WKNC)
11. The Peep Temple – Constable (3RRR)
12. Total Slacker – Don’t Ever Fade Away (BreakThruRadio)
13. And The Kids (WKNC)
14. Special Death – Perfume (DZ Records)
15. Spit – Days In Dreams (The Loft Sessions)
16. Drive-By Truckers (NPR)
17. Daisy Chains – Prove It (Radio K)
18. Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim (La Blogotheque)
19. Bellows (Audiotree)
20. The Just Luckies – Conventions (DZ Records)
21. Lady Lamb – Spat Out Spit (Buzzsession)
22. Fraternal Twin – Big Dipper (Allston Pudding)
23. Pinegrove (NPR)
24. John K. Samson – Reconstruction Site (ANTI- Records)
25. Small Houses – Telling It Wrong (Sofar Sounds)
26. Wilco – If Ever I Was A Child (La Blogotheque)
27. Sad13 (PressureDrop.tv)
28. Sidney Gish – Hexagons and Other Fun Materials (Boxfish Sessions)
29. Julien Baker – Rejoice (KVRX)
30. Snail Mail (Michael Andrade)
31. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Nobody Dies (NPR)
32. Swimsuit Addition – Uptick (DZ Records)
33. Frankie Cosmos – What If (Allston Pudding)
34. Cayetana (Audiotree)
35. Courtney – Going Out Tonight (DZ Records)
36. Bethlehem Steel – Figure It Out (I Like It Session)
37. Atlas Crash – V.O.L.E. (Sofar Sounds)
38. Kishi Bashi (KEXP)
39. Ben & The Saints – Gold Rush (Sofar Sounds)
40. Wrekmeister Harmonies (Audiotree)
41. MASZER (KEXP)
42. Field Mouse (Audiotree)
43. Mall Walk (PressureDrop.tv)
44. Hovvdy – Problem (KVRX)
45. Purling Hiss (PressureDrop.tv)
46. Fufanu (KEXP)
47. Bear Vs. Shark (Audiotree)
48. Okkervil River (KEXP)
49. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Magneto (Andrew Dominik)
50. Explosions in the Sky (NPR)

Watch This: Vol. 144

To ease Watch This back into its regularly scheduled rotation, the following will focus on the two weeks that occurred after the last installment was published. In that time, Acapulco Lips (x2), Wasted On You, Chain of Flowers, Pinegrove, Peter Bjorn and John, Sunbathe, Good Personalities, Bad Cop / Bad Cop, Claire Cottrill, The Brokedowns, Kississippi, Haley Bonar, Billie Marten, Bayonne (x2), Entrance, Lush (x2), The Blank Tapes, JFDR, The Frights, Teleman, The Districts, Doe, Marissa Nadler, Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk, No Honeymoon, Aaron & Bryce Dessner with Ben Lanz and Boys Noize, BlackGlass, The Minders, Super Furry Animals, Kristin Kontrol, Tenement, Queen of Jeans, Michael Kiwanuka, Breanna Barbara, Corbu, All People, Boss Fight, Margo Price, Titus Andronicus, Brass Bed, Somos, Oliver John-Rodgers, Foxing, The Wombats, and PWR BTTM all found themselves at the center of outstanding performance clips. Competition that strong says more about the strength of the five featured clips that could be conveyed with mere words. All five bands have been featured on the site in the past and the performances range from genuinely exhilarating to utterly devastating. So, as always, sit up, lean in, adjust the volume, block out any excess noise, focus, take a deep breath, and Watch This.

1. Never Young – Soap (Prisma Guitars)

Immediately kicking things back into the highest gear possible is this Prisma Guitars session from site favorites Never Young. Easily one of the most explosive single-song performance clips to ever be featured throughout the 140+ installments of this series, the quartet careens through an adrenaline-inducing take on “Soap” that sees them giving the session their everything. Beautifully shot and presented with an enormous amount of conviction, this is exactly the type of clip that Watch This was built to celebrate.

2. Greys (KEXP)

Greys have made several appearances throughout this series’ run and touring on their recently-released Outer Heaven‘s allowing them even more opportunities to be featured. The band recently stopped by the KEXP studios for a full session that features songs from their past three releases, including their most recent work, Warm Shadow. As always, the band plays with a barely-contained energy, an incredible amount of tenacity, and a deep-seated passion that makes this another vital document of one of today’s most exciting acts.

3. Heliotropes – Primates (BreakThruRadio)

For a few years now, Heliotropes have been quietly carving out an impressive name for themselves, earning the respect of both critics and their peers. Creatively restless and endlessly intriguing, the band continues to impress with this BreakThruRadio performance of “Primates”. It’s a glimpse towards the future the band’s angling towards and it’s impossibly tantalizing. One of their finest songs to date, “Primates” keys in on the band’s wiriest post-punk tendencies and sporadically cuts them to shreds. If this is indicative of the rest of the band’s forthcoming material, start bracing for something genuinely explosive.

4. The Coathangers (KEXP)

The second KEXP session of this installment features The Coathangers, who have been touring hard behind their excellent Nosebleed Weekend. Celebrating both that record and the 20th anniversary of the label that released the record, Suicide Squeeze, finds the band in exceptionally high spirits. All of that culminated in an unshakable, infectious joy that drives this session, making it both immediately accessible and surprisingly memorable. The trio remains in fine form throughout the session, playing with ramshackle glee while maintaining an impressively tight grasp on the songs, creating what could be considered a definitive portrait.

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Girl In Amber

After enduring unspeakable loss, Nick Cave allowed filmmaker Andrew Dominik into his creative process to create One More Time With Feeling, a documentary that follows both the creation of Skeleton Tree and Cave’s battle with grief in the wake of his youngest son’s tragic death. It’s excruciatingly heartrending from an outsider’s perspective and Dominik elegantly underscores how unthinkably difficult it’d be to be in that situation. In the third studio video to be released from the project, Cave continues to look completely lost and withdrawn, as if perpetually trying to wrestle his thoughts down.

“Girl In Amber” also expertly incorporates Dominik’s inspired direction and the technical wizardry that went into the 3D, black-and-white filming of One More Time With Feeling. The overall effect’s equal parts haunting and haunted, creating an unforgettable impression. This is a staggering work of bravery and artistry, each colliding with the other to produce something as singular as it is captivating. As the camera circles Cave, surveying his every movement and placing him at the center of swirling uncertainty, Cave repeats “don’t touch me” as the video cuts to black, providing one last breathtaking moment of a miniature masterpiece.

Watch This: Vol. 139

Last week, from Monday morning to Sunday night, there were an over-abundance of incredible live clips. Fear of Men, Black Mountain, The Brokedowns, Thunderpussy, Peter Bjorn and John, Esme Patterson, Dott, and Yael Naim were responsible for several notable entries. Five more acts that made their mark with single song sessions will be featured below, while five acts who unveiled outstanding full session installments will be featured in this series’ forthcoming volume. All but one of the artists featured in the 139th edition of Watch This have been featured on this site in the past. From genuine, wrenching sorrow to authoritative command to biting tongue-in-cheek humor, there’s a lot to admire in these clips. So, as always, take a deep breath, lean in, turn the volume up until it can’t go any further, and Watch This.

1. Angel Olsen – Shut Up Kiss Me (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert)

“Shut Up Kiss Me” was an unforgettable track from the moment it debuted and it’s actually gained strength over the time that’s elapsed since its release. It marked a new era of Angel Olsen and saw the songwriting brimming with newfound poise, confidence, and a healthy dose of attitude. Here, the song gets an additional injection of fire and fury for Colbert’s studio and the performance leaves everyone outside of the stage in a haze of smoke.

2. Greys – Blown Out (BreakThruRadio)

Greys have been one of the most intense bands on the live circuit for several years now and they’re continuously finding ways to top themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re playing to ten people in a basement, a peak festival slot, or a radio studio, they’re constantly dead-set on total annihilation. This year’s excellent Outer Heaven was a small triumph for the band, highlighted by tracks like “Blown Out”. Here, the band runs through that track for BreakThruRadio with abandon, doing everything to make sure they leave a permanent imprint.

3. AJJ – No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread (The Trundle Sessions)

There are few people who have put in the kind of dogged effort AJJ’s Sean Bonette has all but exemplified for over a decade. All of that work’s culminated in the project’s finest moment, The Bible 2, which confidently stands as one of 2016’s best records. “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread” is the record’s breathtaking centerpiece, a nakedly emotional ballad that doesn’t pull any punches in its introspective wishing. Bonette’s solo performance of the song for The Trundle Sessions is arguably more powerful, stripping away the excess instrumentation to elevate the song’s inherent humility. It’s an unforgettable turn from a songwriter worth celebrating.

4. Fiji-13 – Mainsplain It To Me (Radio K)

An uptick in exposure for unabashedly feminist bands has opened the floodgates for more acts to follow suit and Fiji-13 has taken up that mantle with relish. “Mansplain It To Me” is about as snarky as they come but the message isn’t lost in the comedic riffing (which hits an apex in the song’s unbelievably perfect bridge). For just under two and a half minutes, Fiji-13 unleash a rapid-fire series of self-deprecation and surf-tinged basement pop. It’s not difficult to see this band hitting a point where they influence a whole new crop of kids to pick up some instruments and take some determined stabs at the patriarchy.

5. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Jesus Alone

There are few things more unfathomable to most than the loss of their child. The unimaginable anguish that accompanies that moment can turn every second of every day into a waking nightmare full of doubt, second-guessing, self-loathing, and seething resentment. It takes a special kind of bravery to allow a camera crew to intrude on that grief and document it in full, especially when that intrusion occurs mere months after that passing. Nick Cave has proven himself to be, again and again, an atypical creature with the kind of singular artistic vision that leaves behind a legacy.

Filmmaker Andrew Dominik crafted one of the best films of this century in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — a film that was scored by Cave & Warren Ellis — and, by all accounts, has created another masterpiece with his portrayal of Cave in the forthcoming One More Time With Feeling, which follows the songwriter as he navigates his grief and writes the band’s soon-to-be-released Skeleton Tree. In the first extended preview, the band runs through “Jesus Alone”, which is shot in crisp black-and-white emphasizing Cave’s vocal recording session and intercutting them with additional footage studio.

The cinematography is masterful, the editing is exquisite, but the sense of overwhelming despair is unshakable. Throughout everything, it’s clear that the creative team behind One More Time With Feeling have their hearts in the right places. The tragedy that brought all of this about is treated with enormous respect and virtually nothing comes off as exploitative. It’s a jarring experience due to an emotive power to leave just about anyone shell-shocked, providing the most minuscule of windows into Cave’s emotional state. His sense of loss and longing is felt at every second of one of the most harrowing songs in some time. In short: this is a masterpiece.