The last two weeks of June were filled with visual delights but there were three entries into one format’s storied history that found ways to stand out. For a few of them, it was about form, for others it was about boundary-pushing subversion. Curiously, two of these three clips were more lyric videos than narrative-driven, while the exception of the three took its askew narration to stratospheric heights. Get acquainted with all three videos below.
Mitski – Nobody
There are a lot of music video directors out there that can consistently find new ways to turn heads and A Year’s Worth of Memories alumChristopher Good has existed comfortably in their ranks for a while now. Still, it’s always heartening to see those types of artists find a collaborator who’s fully up to the task of creating something memorable. Throughout the course of Mitski‘s “Nobody” clip, it’s a joy to watch the two push each other’s creative spirit to stratospheric heights. An oddball collage full of vibrant colors that cloak a despairing center that expounds on searching and reconciling identity, “Nobody” is as eye-catching as it is thoughtful. Far and away one of the year’s most memorable — and playfully bizarre — music videos.
Hala – Sorry
Occasionally, a strong (or strange) narrative isn’t needed to bolster an already strong song. Sometimes it’s simpler to just come up with a straightforward conceit and commit to it with as much honesty as possible. That’s the case in the clip for Hala‘s “Sorry”, which utilizes some framing and presentation tactics pulled straight from Shane Meadows’ playbook. The Ian Ruhala-directed clip is as about straightforward as they come, relying on an engaging central performance, some cleverly placed subtitles, and a great song to carry it to the realms of greatness.
Onlyness – Comfortable
Paring things back even further than “Sorry” is the clip for Onlyness’ “Comfortable”, which effectively utilizes a single image and some light effects work to enhance an incredible song. The lyric placement over that image adds just enough atmosphere to propel this past the normally tepid world that lyric videos tend to occupy. One could nearly make the argument “Comfortable” is more of a visual art piece than a committed music video. The clip makes maximum use out of its minimal construction to lend more depth to an already gorgeous song’s artistry and, more often than not, that’s more than enough.
Moving forward with tonight’s proceedings, the focus shifts from the best songs to have crossed this site’s path over the last three weeks to the music videos that have made that brief hiatus even more endurable. Directors whose works that have been tirelessly praised on these pages in the past are represented as are some of this year’s finest records. Lyric clips, meditative clips, experimental clips, animated clips, and just about everything in between populate this list and, as always, everything on display is worth several viewings. So stop reading this introduction, hit play, and give everything a good look.
Yucky Duster – The Ropes
One of the finest pop bands currently on the circuit, Yucky Duster have made one outstanding move after another and managed to continuously improve in the process. Never anything less than spirited, the band constantly provides reasons to remain optimistic about the future of music. In the clip for “The Ropes” they distill their identity into a singular animated clip and the colorful effect, characteristically, is enough to leave just about anyone wanting more of whatever the band decides to offer.
Deep State – Heavy Lunch
Thought Gardenhas occupied a status as one 2017’s most overlooked records since its release but the clip for “Heavy Lunch” gave it a recent push that helped a few people amend that disheartening oversight. Largely comprised of one man dancing through abandoned industrial complexes, “Heavy Lunch” serves as both a potent reminder of freedom and a subtle narrative about societal oppression. Much like the song (and record) itself, it’s as gripping as it is exhilarating. Hopefully Deep States‘ run is far from over.
Vagabon – Fear & Force
Vagabon‘s been enjoying an overdue — and richly deserved — breakout year thanks to the success of Infinite Worlds. “Fear & Force” was one of that release’s strongest highlights and the project recently provided the song a gorgeous visual treatment that play with the trope of partners arguing in small, effective ways. Avoiding all of the cliches that come with the narrative, “Fear & Force” makes its strongest break at the end, choosing to focus on the optimism that can occur in the aftermath of the worst arguments rather than the dread and despair it so frequently invokes before inevitably fading into regrettable memory.
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lyric videos are a dime a dozen these days so it’s especially difficult to craft one that can posit itself as a genuine standout. Single Mothers‘ clip for the especially raucous “People Are Pets” manages the feat with stylistic aplomb. Using text and imagery that plays into the song’s relentless urgency, “People Are Pets” finds clever methods to enhance its overall effect in surprisingly memorable fashion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the song the clip’s supporting is an absolute monster. Hit play and keep those eyes wide.
Rozwell Kid – Wendy’s Trash Can
SideOneDummy‘s been putting a lot of thought into their music videos as of late, cultivating a snarky streak of tongue-in-cheek clips that are brimming with manic energy and joy. The latest in this run: Rozwell Kid‘s transition-heavy clip for their career highlight “Wendy’s Trash Can”. Originally released as a 10-hour loop, the label was also kind enough to offer up the condensed version. Watching it for the umpteenth time, it’s hard not to think that maybe they didn’t need to- “Wendy’s Trash Can” is infectious enough that most people will probably just keep hitting repeat anyway.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
Cayetana took a major stride forward with their most recent release, the astonishing New Kind of Normal. Everything they’ve released in conjecture with that record has inspired varying degrees of awe but the “Bus Ticket” clip may be the finest of the bunch. Perfectly encapsulating the internal struggles that inform the record’s overarching narrative about coping with mental health, the band’s wound up with a definitive release that shows off all of their colors, remaining empathetic at every turn. Despairing, defiant, overjoyed, resilient, content, struggling, or argumentative, all “Bus Ticket” offers in the end is understanding and acceptance.
Kevin Morby – City Music
Christopher Good has been putting together an unreal run as a director as of late and his frequent collaborator Tipper Newton, whose narration opens “City Music”, has been putting together an impressive streak of her own, ranging from the outstanding powerpop project Color TV to a small part in Love and a recurring role in The Mindy Project (not to mention starring in Good’s excellent short, Brad Cuts Loose). Kevin Morby’s been on a bit of a run himself, releasing yet another strong record shortly after a triumph last year in Singing Saw — which saw him team up with Good for the exceptional “Dorothy” clip, which stood as a career highlight for both parties — a record he may have topped with City Music.
The clip’s full of the hallmarks that have put both the director and the musician on the map, infusing traditionalism with a provocative forward-thinking bent that infuses the proceedings with an unpredictable liveliness that electrifies the whole affair. “City Music”, by the time it comes to its celebratory end, feels like a lived-in fever dream, offering both a reconciliatory warmth and something that feels just alien enough to remain intriguingly alien. An undoubtedly ambitious project that never entirely reveals its hand, “City Music” is one of the most fascinating and investment-worthy clips of 2017.
Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.
As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.
For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.
While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.
Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.
SMALL FESTS & SHOWS
2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.
Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.
Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.
Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.
Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.
There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.
Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.
I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.
The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.
Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).
Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.
As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.
For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).
As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.
To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:
In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.
The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).
I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.
While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.
One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.
For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.
A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allensongs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.
The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.
A STEP FORWARD
By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.
At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.
Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.
I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.
In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.
For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.
It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.
The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.
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.
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 Iwon’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.
Few music video directors working today have cultivated an aesthetic that’s as consistently grounded and visually appealing as Christopher Good, whose work this site’s featured numerous times (and who has been kind enough to join the contributors ranks of A Year’s Worth ofMemories). Good’s most recent work, the freewheeling clip for Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy” saw a confident footing in a fluid approach that’s carried over into his latest clip, Quilt’s heartrending “Padova”.
Guitarist Shane Butler wrote “Padova” as a rumination on the passing of his mother and the wide range of feelings — not just sadness — that event invoked. The music video’s a visual interpretation of that emotional gamut as well as a commentary on mortality and the passage of time. It’s a beautiful video (with some gorgeous lensing, courtesy of Jeremy Osbern) that solidifies Good’s position as a top-tier director for the format and it honors Butler’s mother in a fashion that’s tasteful, respectful, and deeply moving. For more on that count, read the statement that Butler issued in tandem with the video’s release:
This song was written shortly after my mother passed away. It was written in Padova, Italy on a night where we were scheduled to perform there in the courtyard of a beautiful villa-like building on the outskirts of the city. There were old ceramic walls, chandeliers, Italian vines, and horses on the periphery of the property; it was idyllic to say the least. During this period of time, after my mother had passed, I would talk to her every day. Whether it was in imagination or in spirit doesn’t really matter; my experience was the same. That night in Padova my mother and I talked for a long time as I took a walk around the property. I then happened to come across an old busted up guitar in a giant wooden room with a chandelier in it, I tuned it to something that would work, and this song came out.
The experience of my mother’s death has not only been of grief, as our culture often solely represents death being. But, in my experience, death has taken on infinite voices. There are voices of beauty, melancholy, humor, rejuvenation, and freedom located in this experience. When talking with Christopher Good about making this video we talked about making a representation of this experience that involved some of these other aspects of death. Christopher has an incredible eye and mind to make abstract narratives, which is what we decided to go with for this video. This scene is only a detail on the vast canvas of representing life’s transition. As there is no finality to this experience, no static way to understand it, we chose to use abstraction, movement, color, and the elements to play with the ideas at hand.
Whether you believe in ‘soul’ business or not I’d like to leave with this quote of Kahlil Gibran’s that I read shortly after my mother passed. I think it is very beautiful and maybe provides a moment to reflect on another possible voice of death:
Death is an ending to the son of The earth, but to the soul it is The start, the triumph of life.
Watch “Padova” below and pick up Plaza from Mexican Summer here.
Welcome to round four of a series that it’s been an absolute honor and privilege to present. Over the past few months, I’ve been gathering up some of my favorite people in music- emphasizing musicians, writers, label heads, and music video cinematographers/directors- asking each to share some of their favorite moments of 2014’s rich world of music. The responses they generated have been stunning and have, largely, made me indescribably proud of people I’ve admired for some time. 20 people have contributed to this series so far and today, five more get added to that total: Christopher Good (whose work on Saintseneca‘s “Happy Alone” and Perfume Genius’ “Queen“, among others, was inspired), Edgar Durden (whose unrelenting commitment to being a positive force in music and undying support of emerging bands has made him a genuine presence), Ray McAndrew (who’s been making extraordinary music for more years than most realize), Christine Varriale (whose work on Allston Pudding has been invaluable), and Ali Donohue (whose contributions to music continue to be endless). From a Girls Rock camp to the reunion of The Unicorns, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. So, onward and upward, here’s part four of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.
Panda Bear’s Return and A Few More Notable Moments
I think in the end my favorite music moment of 2014 was the return of Panda Bear- according to my iTunes I’ve racked up exactly 200 plays to date of “Mr. Noah“- so the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Also I really like that song “Just Call It” by SUSAN, it reminds me of Lush when they went all Britpop. I guess it’s weird to say you like a song because it reminds you of the trend-chasing version of a previous band but there you go. Part of me wants to say my favorite moment was Future Islands’ performance on Letterman just because the emergence of a unique persona like that on such a large stage feels so rare- but I’m still kind of bummed that they named their album Singles and then “Seasons” was like the only really, really good track on there. Also big thanks to Speedy Ortiz for introducing me to Sibylle Baier, I don’t know where she’d been all my life!
-Christopher Good (Music Video Cinematographer/Director)
A List for 2014
2014 seemed like a musical dream to me. Chris Brown fell even deeper into irrelevance, Beyonce dropped a surprise album, fake revolutionaries Death Grips “broke up”, and Lorde toured with Majical Cloudz. Really great things happened. But sadly, really shitty things did too (mostly Ariel Pink, but whatever). 2014 was a tough year, personally and socially, but it is in those times that music is present to bring us closer to like-minded people- at least ideally. The chances of a couple of Virgos ending up together in a church courtyard in a little town in the southernmost tip of Texas must be one in a million. But that is exactly what music did back in March during the annual Galax Z Fair. Somehow two weirdos with the same birthday sat on a bench and thought about how beautiful certain things were, including chance, including luck, including music. 2014 was a great year. I don’t know if this is a statement or an argument I’m making to myself.
Sam Cook-Parrot is my favorite poet. Sam describes my own feelings better than I ever could. The simplicity of the music, the complexity of the feelings being described, and the combination of the two make a perfect record. Thank you, Sam. There must be something beautiful in heartbreak.
Perfect Pussy created the most sonically challenging and brutally honest works of art of the year. Jenny Holzer meets Sonic Youth meets The Russian Ballet. Perfect Pussy can’t simply be heard, Perfect Pussy must be experienced. The sheer energy that shines through each band member can change a bad day to a great day. There is so much going on, whether Shaun is making light become noise, Meredith is speaking in dead languages, or Ray is beating the devil out of his guitar. There is never a dull moment with Perfect Pussy. They’re the brave band we needed. Perfect Pussy is the band that is ready to take on the world, I worry the world isn’t ready to take on Perfect Pussy.
Disclaimer: Angel Olsen smiled at me the night I saw her perform in McAllen.
The first time I listened to this record I felt an ache deep in my chest that I wasn’t very familiar with. It was a hopeful type of heartbreak. Angel’s voice is that of an actual angel with evil intentions, like she is trying to take you to the darkest room in heaven, like she is whispering your own secrets to you. I hope to be as beautiful as this record someday.
Mitski possesses one of those voices that haunt you; one of those voices that inhabits the deepest, darkest corners of your heart and mind. The effortlessness of this make it that much more devastating. The beauty isn’t the focal point- but neither is the rawness of the music. But, my god is this record raw and beautiful.
6. Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests
A punk band from DC puts out a semi-political record. This is probably the easiest way to write about Priests, but Priests require much more than a simple tagline. Priests are a weird, weird band. They touch on very political themes without ever being political. If anything, Katie Alice Greer seems to be letting us into her mind and her psyche rather than telling us about her beliefs. Katie is a force of nature, and when this record is spinning I am caught in her storm.
Makthaverskan means “the woman with the power/in power.” This record came to me when I needed it the most. It explained a troubled relationship to me through the other side of the coin. After three years of being a really shitty boyfriend, my significant other decided it was time for her to venture out and find something a little bit more tangible and more, well, stable. I wasn’t the one yelling “FUCK YOU”, I was the one being yelled at… and it was kind of beautiful.
I sat in my bedroom wearing some grey sweatpants when I saw David Letterman introduce Perfume Genius on The Late Show. What happened next was incredible and so goddamn powerful. There stood a beautiful man in beautiful red lipstick wearing his heart on his sleeve. This wasn’t the usual performance. This was broadcasted to Middle America, to all the bigots, to all the racists, to all the homophobes, and to all the assholes too. And Perfume Genius stood victorious. And we knew our queen.
A song about the anxieties that come with modern life; a song about living in the modern age without the privilege that your peers have; a song about doing what it takes to live an actual life; a song about living in a police state; a song about Tuesdays. This song is as silly as it is profound, as it is poetic, as it is perfect.
The Unicorns have played a key part in my life this past year in subtle and not so subtle ways. The first time I remember them being mentioned this year was in March, when I had the opportunity to meet Nardwuar. He had a theory that without The Unicorns, the Arcade Fire would be nothing- entirely due to the fact that The Unicorns (at the peak of their popularity 10 years ago) brought their friends in The Arcade Fire on their first national tour. This made sense to me at the time but- since The Unicorns weren’t very relevant at the time of the conversation- I gave it no other thought. I was 13 when they broke up and listened to their album many times throughout the years thanks to two older brothers’ music libraries. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone had always been an album I associated with my brothers and one that brought back memories, but I hadn’t listened to them in a while. Nardwuar never came out and said it but I think he may have been hinting at the idea of a Unicorns 2014 reunion tour.
The second time I thought about The Unicorns this year was when Alden Penner released a solo album that, in all honesty, I listened to half of and decided Clues was better.
The third time, The Unicorns created a Twitter account and announced a string of reunion shows with who else but The Arcade Fire? The Unicorns 2014. The prophecy had come true! Except I am 22, not 13. I thought about going but when I saw ticket prices I X’ed out of the internet tab, laughing.
The fourth time I thought about the Unicorns was unexpectedly, in Nuremberg, Germany. I was playing a show with Perfect Pussy that was part of a festival, I went outside for a cigarette (at that time I hadn’t quit smoking) and heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Jamie Thompson. I knew Jamie only through being a member of The Secret Unicorns Forum (and later we would become Facebook friends), although we didn’t talk that much. It turned out the festival had booked a puppet show that Jamie was a part of a few years ago. He seemed as confused by the whole thing as I did. Jamie saw we were playing the same night he landed in Nuremberg and came to the show to meet me for the first time. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the night until I had had too much to drink and needed to go back to our hotel. This was the highlight of tour for me, having an accidental run in with the drummer of one of my favorite bands during my pubescent years. Some forgotten dream of mine had finally been realized. After that night I rediscovered The Unicorns’ music and began my retrospective that all would lead up to one night at Pop Montreal.
I didn’t know I was going to see the Unicorns until a day before their reunion show in Montreal. I was visiting my partner in Cleveland with the intention of seeing, coincidentally, Islands for the first time when she posed the idea of driving to Montreal the next day to see The Unicorns. Tickets weren’t sold out and we had no responsibilities that weren’t cancel-worthy to prevent us from seeing their final reunion performance in their hometown of Montreal- so why not?
The show played out in a way that I can only imagine a show curated by The Unicorns could have played out. It was hinted at throughout the show that The Unicorns had selected all the bands that played. Of the bands playing I had only heard Each Other– who played second of four. The first band was an embarrassing joke of a bar rock band not even worth mentioning beyond this point.
Each Other were great. I had heard a tape of theirs that a friend reissued through his label, Prison Art, but they didn’t play any songs from it. The shock for most at the show, or at least the bearded bro standing next to me, was Light Fires. A MTF transsexual who stole the stage the moment she stepped onto it. Armed with only an iPod, Light Fires high kicked, sexy danced, and punched her way through her set. Between songs she bragged about the multiple celebrity musicians she knew and about how amazing she is- and I believed her. I believed every word. The bearded bro let out a brief chuckle at everything Regina said. After the 10th or so time it became obvious how uncomfortable he and some of his friends were. These bros would later turn out to be the same bros that repeatedly elbowed me and my partner with half-mosh-half-dance moves during the Unicorns set. They were a mild annoyance on an overall great night.
The Unicorns performance was more subtle in its flamboyancy, but it still held true to a lot of the theatrics that I had seen in their videos. Alden Penner had his eyes darkened and wore a tight pink tanktop and black pants. Nick Thorburn wore a completely yellow outfit, slightly resembling a banana. Jamie Thompson, the only one who wouldn’t have gotten a side eye walking down a busy sidewalk, wore a Brooklyn jersey and had his hair in a bun. The three of their clashing styles were brought together by old Microsoft Windows screensavers that were being projected in the background. The moment the Unicorns began to play the crowd jumped into a frenzy. I don’t remember all the songs that were played but I know they were all from their LP as well as a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocketship”.
The Unicorns had three encores. They are a band that’s known for their wry humor on stage, in recordings, and in interviews and that came through in their encores. Their first encore consisted of a stick click count in and a single quarter note played by each band member. The second encore was quite similar to the first encore. Finally the third encore, which only came after a hand from behind a curtain told the crowd to beg for it, was the infamous “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”. Their set was short, sweet, and felt like it went for the perfect amount of time. The songs were slightly more deconstructed than how I imagined they’d be live but I wasn’t disappointed. It was just nice to see a band I adored as a kid and never had the chance to see when they were initially active.
I knew 2014 would be my best year yet the moment midnight on New Year’s Eve passed and Krill broke into the most passionate performance of “Theme from Krill” I’ve heard them play to date. The crowd at Pizzeria Regina in Allston, MA (yes an actual pizza place Allston Pudding threw our New Year’s Eve show at) yelled “KRILL KRILL KRILL FOREVER” like we wouldn’t hear this song over and over again throughout 2014.
Allston Pudding has been a part of my life for three and a half years now but 2014 was when it became my family. All of the people I work with at Allston Pudding mean the world to me and becoming a managing editor is the only promotion I’ve ever received- but it will always be the best one. When I started in 2011, I was this unconfident writer and photographer with no idea what good music was, to be honest. Then I discovered Pile and my life was forever changed. Through Pile I discovered all of the other bands that make the Boston/Massachusetts music scene the powerful force it is: Speedy Ortiz, Kal Marks, Sneeze, Girlfriends (now Bent Shapes), Fat History Month (now Bad History Month), and countless others. I grew to love these bands; they grew to be my friends. It’s hard to go to a show in Boston and not feel as comfortable as I would never leaving my apartment (an oft-chosen alternative in my life), because I know people at every show.
Through these bands, I got to learn the other people in the scene not only in Boston but beyond. Writers and other music people like Liz Pelly and The Media, The Le Sigh, Perry Eaton, my fellow Allston Pudding writers, Ethan Long, Steven Spoerl, Dan Goldin, Amy Leigh, Ellen Kempner, Michael Falcone, Aurore Ounjian, Maura Johnston, and Sadie Dupuis, who inspire me and help me strive to be more present and aware of all of the great music and movements happening right now in 2014.
Some moments can’t be tied to a specific show or event. Some friendships churn over time and these people I’ve blossomed with in 2014 have become some of my favorite people I’ve ever met. To call them my friends is weird and amazing. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in 2014- and if I could relive this year over and over again, that would be my a-ok fine with me.
-Christine Varriale (Allston Pudding)
//GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON// //AKA the coolest thing I did this year//
It is hard to look back on this past year and pick out a single moment to share. I went on my first full US tour, had more than a few bandmates/friends move, started new projects, watched friends play sets in different pockets of the country and felt like I never stopped moving around, constantly chasing whatever was waiting ahead. If I had to pick a single music-related moment from 2014 to share with the internet volunteering at Girls Rock Boston is the thing that stands out. Girls Rock Campaign Boston is a volunteer-run summer program for girls that fosters collaboration and confidence using music. I initially heard about Girls Rock Boston from Hanna, my bandmate in Tomboy, who volunteered at GRCB the summer before. This past summer Fleabite played one of the lunchtime performances to an auditorium of young girls and badass volunteers, and I taught guitar and coached a band of tweens.
It was awesome and uplifting working with the campers and working alongside so many inspirational women, especially because at the time I was volunteering my life felt like a soggy mess. The week of camp happened to overlap with many other endings. Summer was ending, the pizza place I had been working at for two years closed for good, a bunch of friends and bandmates moved across the county, and I was about to leave for a three week tour. I remember crying a lot but I also remember laughing a lot, smiling, and feeling inspired by the people around me. By the end of the camp I felt a little more together, especially when I watched the group of girls I helped coach take the stage, chant their band name (R.U. IN?), rock out, and have fun.
I can’t relate to the anxiety and sadness I was feeling that week even though I remember that it was there. Summer ended, I found a new job, my friends are still my friends even if they live far away, tour happened and I returned. Looking back I’m glad that my time at GRCB overlapped with those polar experiences because it served as the perfect reminder of the things that are truly important: supporting one another, creating community, and putting your shit aside for a moment to be a part of something larger than yourself. I highly recommend finding a way to support your local Girls Rock chapter and consider starting such a thing if it doesn’t already exist in your community. If you want to find out more about Girls Rock Boston please check out their website and consider donating:
Some other 2k14 highlights include // playing Liz Pelly’s b-day bash on the 4th of July at the Silent Barn, Smash it Dead fest raising $5,800+ for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, playing a very weird show on Martha’s Vineyard, Tomboy playing a college show in central mass that devolved into a karaoke party, Up Yours Fest @ SUNY Purchase, and a Ramones cover band.
In all best-of coverage, there’s no room for any objectivity positing (“Best” is usually just shorthand for “most admired”), which is why this site’s long-held first person restriction will be dropped to allow me to speak more personally in an effort to better explain the contents of this list’s (and all of the lists to follow) personal effect on myself. In 2014, I watched (and covered) more music videos than any year of my life- allowing an intake of genuinely great content that made compiling this list a dream and a nightmare. After spending weeks reviewing old clips (while keeping up with the videos enjoying December releases), I settled on the selections below as the 14 that hit me hardest over the past 12 months. This list will be the first entry in more than a week’s worth of year-end coverage that I’m beyond excited to share with everyone. So, with all of that said- it’s my privilege to present Heartbreaking Bravery’s 14 of ’14: The Best Music Videos of the Year.
14. Left & Right – Low Expectations
A few months ago, Left & Right released this absolute gem of a music video. Imbued with a DIY irreverence, a purposeful sense of direction, winningly off-beat humor, unabashedly committed performances, and some genuinely great cinematography, “Low Expectations” became an unexpected standout; a clip that came out of the gate swinging and (somehow) landing every single blow. Easily one of 2014’s most unexpectedly charming (and ridiculously enjoyable) clips.
13. Saintseneca – Happy Alone
Saintseneca’s Dark Arc was one of 2014’s most deserved breakout moments and nothing punctuated that shift more than the Christopher Good-helmed clip for “Happy Alone”. Emphasizing the song’s central themes by providing a bubble that practically forces isolation onto bandleader Zac Little, it’s a visually striking clip that got harder to shake as the year progressed. By grounding its elements of surrealism with an abundance of naturalism, it provided an artful counterpoint to something like Perfume Genius’ “Queen” (which, incidentally, was shot by Good). Importantly, it also proved that Saintseneca were officially on their way to bigger and better things.
12. Angel Olsen – Windows
I’m not sure there was a music video to come out of 2014 that was more startlingly gorgeous than this Rick Alverson-directed clip for Angel Olsen’s heart-stopping Burn Your Fire For No Witness highlight “Windows”. By incorporating Southern Gothic Americana style rural imagery into Olsen’s plaintive folk-leaning sensibilities, Alverson managed to create an evocative portrait of one of this generation’s finest songwriters. Leading up to an oddly moving (and admittedly eccentric) climax, the whole thing’s so artfully rendered it begins to feel as complete as some of the year’s best films. Delicate and aggressive in all the right places, “Windows” more than earned a spot on this list.
11. Beverly – Honey Do
“Honey Do” was my introduction to Beverly, just as it was for many others, so when news broke that they’d shot a music video for the song, it felt worthy of anticipation. Most of the expectations I had were exceeded in the first few frames and as the video progressed, so did my appreciation. Eschewing any kind of image-building, this was the first in a string of Beverly clips that largely eschewed celebrity in favor of celebrating artistry. Shot in crisp black-and-whites, “Honey Do” is a tender portrait of Los Angeles and its inhabitants and a promising mission statement from one of 2014’s more engaging new acts.
10. S – Losers
Initially just a clip that came and went with very little fanfare (from a great record with a similar reception), “Losers” immediately felt deeply personal and genuinely heartfelt. Ostensibly a reflection on perception, self-esteem, and harsh reality, the thematic elements in the lyrics get brought to vivid life in a lovingly shot clip that somehow brings them to devastating proportions. DIY in spirit with a focal point on self-expression and identity, it’s become legitimately unforgettable; a long, heavy sigh of acceptance with only the faintest glimmer of hope reverberating throughout the weary cynicism. While “Vampires” was a great deal of fun, it’s “Losers” that deserves the lion’s share of attention for being one of 2014’s strongest buried treasures.
9. Iceage – Against the Moon
Honestly, “The Lord’s Favorite” and “Forever” both could have made this list but it felt more appropriate to limit bands to one entry apiece. With that being the case, it’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love highlight “Against the Moon” that gets the nod; all of the reasons for its inclusion were previously detailed pretty extensively here.
8. Anna Calvi & David Byrne – Strange Weather
Soft saturation. An autumnal palette. Digital film. One of the most delicately directed cinematography performances in any visual medium this year. An implicitly tragic narrative arc that suggests internal (and possible external) suffering. All of these come together in the sublime clip for an equally sublime cover of Kareen Ann’s “Strange Weather”, courtesy of Anna Calvi & David Byrne. One view was all it took for this to become one of the most difficult to shake clips of the year. Masterfully composed and brilliantly executed, it’s nothing short of an emotionally intuitive masterpiece.
7. Diarrhea Planet – Babyhead
I got to use “diaper skull flume explosion” while writing the tags for this one in the initial write-up; what more explanation do you need? “Babyhead” was pure madcap glee on a level not too dissimilar to Wrong Hole’s equally shameless, equally deranged lyric video for “Wrong Hole“. There are times when total insanity can be kind of beautiful. I’m not sure this is one of them but it’s still ridiculously fun.
6. Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer – Museum Motel
No music video kept ricocheting around the corners of my brain more than this deeply unnerving clip from Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer. Operating on a visual level that rivals what was achieved in Under The Skin, it uses waters, shadows, and contrast in a darkly seductive fashion that burrows its way into any brain fortunate enough to find its way over. An ingeniously subtle use of superimposed imagery on a lone snare drum drives up the feeling of unrelenting loneliness and palpable loss. It’s a deeply alluring and deceptively minimal visual representation of a stunning song. One that’s worth putting more than halfway up a “Best of 2014” list.
5. La Dispute – Woman (Reading)
Since this was the last one of the last non-list features to be posted here, it’d seem redundant to simply retrace everything that’s already been said.
4. Girlpool – Plants and Worms
Catleya Sherbow created this unbelievably stunning clip for Girlpool, 2014’s best duo, and touched on a number of pressure points- namely, acceptance and doubt. In the end, it’s about acceptance, and while that message does come laced with a visual that could potentially double as suicide, it still somehow manages to come off as comforting. “Plants and Worms” hits with the force of a world-stopping realization and echoes long after it ends, providing a staggering moment of beauty for Girlpool and a warm reassurance for just about everyone else.
3. clipping. – Work Work
Yes, the video for “Never Gonna Catch Me”- the Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar collaboration- was incredible. Not a lot of people are going to dismiss that claim. However, it’s another destined-to-be-iconic clip from that genre field that made a deep(er) impression on me; the video for the clipping. and Cocc Pistol Cree collaboration “Work Work”. Tracing a narrative arc that uses a laser-sharp focus on the act of curb-stomping, enhanced by some thought-provoking visual surrealism, it immediately became one of 2014’s most arresting clips and its status hasn’t let up. If there was a tracking shot more provocative than the one at the start of “Work Work”, then I’d love to see it. Until then, I’m just going to keep returning to this one.
2. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
No clip from 2014 came imbued with more unwavering passion than the Crosshair-starring clip for “Warning”. All anyone needs to see is the thumbnail shot for this video to see a glimpse of how unfailingly heartfelt “Warning” winds up being. Matthew Reed tapped into a transcendental kind of magic that collapses a variety of bridges (age, taste) with a near-shocking ease. Ever since this was first released, I’ve been revisiting it with a great frequency because, like most great art, it pulls the viewer back in and rewards investment. Breathtakingly lensed, brilliantly edited, and furiously paced, this was a perfect accompaniment to one of the year’s most emotionally-charged records. Cymbals Eat Guitars may have intended the song to be a warning about love and loss but, backed by the video, it becomes one of the year’s most life-affirming moments.
1. PUP – Guilt Trip
Back in 2013, I had the honor of naming PUP’s “Reservoir” the best music video of 2013 for PopMatters. While that video was a cathartic release that was a near-perfect representation of the maelstrom of a particularly rowdy live show, their video for “Guilt Trip” (once again speared by the creative team of Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux) was a much more serious affair. Weirdly attuned to my own childhood experiences probably lent it a few small favors in terms of my esteem but, doing my best to separate myself from that strange fact, it boasts a series of career-bests from Levack and Schaulin Rioux: cinematography, editing, the performances they elicited from an impressively talented young cast, narrative, and overall direction among the list. “Guilt Trip” also includes one of the most genuinely heart-stopping moments I’ve seen in any clip, infusing it with a sense of brutal reality (if only for a moment), emphasized by a single shot that drives the point home. My initial claim that it could have a shot at carving out a spot for “Video of the Decade” still doesn’t seem so far off- but it’s worth keeping an eye on Levack and Schaulin-Rioux to see if they can keep repeating a ridiculously impressive pattern.
Between the streaming of Terrestrials the behemoth of a collaborative album between Sunn O))) and Ulver, the announcement of a Bad Banana reunion show, John Dwyer releasing his first material post-Oh Sees hiatus, Big Air publicly unveiling their excellent debut tape, Buds, Fear of Men releasing a very promising sneak peek of their upcoming debut full-length Loom, a surprisingly punchy new track entitled “Any Wonder” from Yellow Ostrich, Mary Timony’s newest project, Ex Hex, offering up a hard-charging sample of their upcoming Merge debut, the cleverly constructed first music video to come out of the pairing of Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws and Julianna Hatfield for their Minor Alps project, an NPR Tiny Desk Session from The Pixies, the energetic black-and-white music video premiere of The Orwells’ “The Righteous One“, a live performance video of an all-acoustic run through of upcoming Drive-By Truckers track “Made Up English Oceans“, and Angel Olsen‘s absolutely stunning smoky, seductively noir-ish music video for upcoming Burn Your Fire for No Witness track “Hi-Five“, it’s been one hell of a Monday. Then, to top it all off, there’s the video that managed to edge out all of this to become today’s focus piece; Saintseneca‘s extraordinary clip for upcoming Dark Arc track “Happy Alone”.
Dark Arc, at this point easily one of the year’s most anticipated albums, should officially herald the arrival of Saintseneca, a band that was previously best known for being a conglomeration of two excellent Ohio basement punk bands; All Dogs and The Sidekicks. They’ve been maintaining an entrancing (and incredibly effective) rollout campaign for Dark Arc, their Anti- records debut, and seem poised to continue rewarding the investment of anyone who’s paying attention. “Happy Alone” has officially elevated their art form even further. The Christopher Good clip is clearly indebted to a vast array of arthouse influences and features stunning handheld cinematography, a gorgeous (magic hour-infused) color palette, inspired editing, yet another great song from the band, and band member Zac Little’s head in a giant bubble as he makes his way through everyday tasks.
It’s borderline dadaism and dips in and out of some Warhol-level pop art as it goes along to the most weirdly entrancing effect. It works as a surface level piece and as a light commentary on the nature of loneliness. There’s really absolutely no reason for any of it to add up to the inexplicably powerful whole that it is but it manages to do that and a little more. On its own, “Happy Alone” is definitive enough to act as a perfect introductory piece to the uninitiated while being singular enough to plausibly rank as one of the bands most important moments in their continuing evolution during this much-deserved groundswell of success. Above all else, though, it’s just a beautiful piece of art. That’s something that will always be worth rewarding. Watch it below.