Mannequin Pussy‘s guitarist/vocalist (and the director of “Drunk II”), Marisa Dabice, was reported to have set one goal for the clip: to make it “look like the saddest dream.” In an open casting call, there was a need for “people comfortable making out on camera” and the arc of the direction, the song’s own narrative, and the stylistic flourishes throughout “Drunk II” tie together into what’s easily one of 2019’s best videos to date. Everything from the soft lighting to the marquee archway to the repeated returns to central framing with blurred edges (ostensibly playing into the narrator’s state of being) combine to create something indelible. In short, it’s a masterpiece delivered in a minor key. Hit repeat when it’s done.
Watch “Drunk II” below and pre-order Patience here.
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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume.
House of Nod Productions has earned a lot of praise from this site in the past and their incredible winning streak continues with their latest effort: a rapidly-paced clip for Bellows‘ outstanding “Thick Skin”. One of the many highlights that comprise the Oliver Kalb-led project’s most recent release, Fist & Palm, “Thick Skin” gains even more strenght in its incredible visual presentation.
Combining time lapses, archival footage of nature, nods to the French New Age movement, live captures, and some ridiculously impressive Edgar Wright-esque hyper-editing, the Rob Kolodny-directed clip underscores the swirling, colorful aspects that define Fist & Palm, Bellows’ most exceptional work to date. It’s been a monumental year for the project, which saw their visibility steadily increasing (and included a very gracious contribution to the A Step Forwardcompilation that marked this site’s 1000th post) and the project’s sound growing increasingly more refined.
“Thick Skin” capitalizes on that chaos with an extremely acute accuracy while still managing to ground the proceedings enough to keep the clip strangely relatable. “Thick Skin” is a constantly shifting whirlwind that never loses a sense of overwhelming poetry, even as it continuously expands outward. Maintaining a remarkably consistent tonality through something that relies that heavy on extremely varied imagery is no easy feat but Kolodny continues to make it seem effortless, coaxing an impressive amount of magic out of an enchanting tapestry.
Watch “Thick Skin” below and pick up a copy of Fist & Palm from Double Double Whammy here.
As good as all of those were — and they were all quite good — the focus here, for the second time this week, falls to another gorgeous music video from the House of Nod production team. Robert Kolodny’s at the helm for this venture, an absolutely beautiful clip for LVL UP‘s sprawling “The Closing Door”. Easily one of the darkest songs in the band’s formidable discography, “The Closing Door” went through a revamp from its first iteration on last year’s inspired Three SongsEP and now stands proudly as one of Return to Love‘s finest moments.
Presented in a classic 1.37:1 ratio, Kolodny immediately establishes that “The Closing Door” is going to be heavily informed by a nostalgic bent. Even in the most minuscule of details, there are stories to be told and the ratio presentation here is an expertly played tactic that also emphasizes the clip’s tonal quality. The color palette’s soft saturation similarly invokes memories of a past age of film, nicely complementing the song’s narrative, which pays careful attention to transitional elements.
Sean Henry — an artist who resides on the excellent Double Double Whammy label, which is run by LVL UP’s Dave Benton and Mike Caridi — stars in the clip and spends the majority of “The Closing Door” wandering a scenic patch of woods, stuck in a state of wide-eyed wonderment. It’s an endearing central performance but, more importantly, it’s an incredibly effective one. Even with all of the sublime flourishes that elevate the clip’s considerable sense of style, Henry grounds the entire affair with an everyman’s charm that suffuses “The Closing Door” with a lived-in feel.
That’s not to say all of “The Closing Door” is straightforward, as there are exquisite splashes of magic realism and pure artistry that further enlivens the proceedings. Bits of classic animation litter the woodland landscape and shots of small animals taking flight punctuate the clip’s measured pace to great effect. To top everything off, “The Closing Door” hits the peak of its subdued strangeness with a climax that sees Henry tenaciously scaling a tree only to throw open a door to reveal a host of warm, familiar faces in a living room (among them, FORGE.‘s Matthew James-Wilson and Yours Are The Only Ears‘ Susannah Lee Cutler).
That final reveal’s a transcendental payoff in an immensely compelling clip that never makes a false move. In a clip that’s driven by the past, it’s ultimate destination points towards the future. It’s an elegant metaphor and Kolodny handles it with an astonishing amount of grace. As the song’s monumental final section soundtracks the moment, “The Closing Door” breaks from familiarity to provide a gentle epilogue that winds down to contentment and acceptance. That closing scene is one final grace note in a series of brilliant maneuvers that all but guarantee “The Closing Door” a status as an unlikely classic.
Watch “The Closing Door” below and pick up Return to Love from Sub Pop here. Watch the band playing the song live last year beneath the music video.
Director and cinematographer Adam Kolodny is once again at the helm, controlling the action with a deftness that plays up the narrative’s lyrical quality. Michelle Zauner, who started Japanese Breakfast as an outlet for more personal work, joins Kolodny as a co-director. The results of their creative partnership are spellbinding. The emotional resonance of “Everybody Wants to Love You” goes far past the formidable sense of style and hinges on one heartbreaking detail: throughout the entire clip, Zauner’s wearing her mother’s wedding dress, tying together two important elements of the devastating final section of her piece for this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories series.
Even with that shattering detail, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is imbued with a liveliness that makes it endlessly compelling. Littered with references to Eastern cinema, the clips also becomes a rapidly-shifting playground of influences that are worn proudly on the sleeve. Zauner’s central performance is suffused with the kind of effortless magnetism that continues to draw people to the Japanese Breakfast project.
As is always the case with House of Nod, everything is gorgeously lensed and treated with a sense of careful consideration. Every element of “Everybody Wants to Love You” ties together with the kind of precision that makes even the strongest visual flourishes feel like they’re part of an incredibly comprehensive whole. A host of familiar faces and locations enliven the proceedings even further, allotting “Everybody Wants to Love You” a communal, celebratory atmosphere.
\In pairing one of the year’s best songs with exhilarating filmmaking, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is precisely the kind of clip that artists and directors should be looking to for cues years down the line. Dive in and get lost in its magic.
Watch “Everybody Wants to Love You” below and pick up Psychopomp here.
Psychopomp, one of this year’s most pleasant surprises, put Japanese Breakfast — a project spearheaded by Little Big League‘s Michelle Zauner — on the map. The record was partially born from a tragedy that Zauner wrote eloquently about in the very first entry for the A Year’s Worth of Memories series. “Jane Cum”, another in a string of impressive videos from the record, continues to perfectly match Japanese Breakfast’s most cinematic sensibilities with House of Nod’s very specific vision, anchored once again by the deft directorial touch of Adam Kolodny.
Kolodny imbues “Jane Cum” with a B-grade slasher flick aesthetic, centering in on a narrative that involves a mysterious coven, ambiguous motivation, and unerring commitment. As always, it’s a beautifully lensed clip, elevating a continuously progressing tension to heights that near the unbearable. Appropriately, the clip never once loses a sense of mystery, even in its ultimate reveal a host of questions remain. All of the actors involved (including photographer Stephanie Griffin and Cadet Kelly’s Gabriela June Tully Claymore) give nuanced performances.
Beautifully paced, undeniably driven, and spectacularly composed, “Jane Cum” manages to easily climb the scope from notable to genuinely memorable. It’s a startling clip full of vivid imagery that owes debts to not just horror sub-genres but to classic film noir as well. At the center of it all is Zauner, injecting the affair with a sense of eerie calm that winds up being the clip’s definitive trait. Deeply compelling from start to finish, it’s a music video that provides a fine example of what can be achieved within the format under the right circumstances (and with the right collaborative partners). Take a deep breath and let its spell take you under.
Watch “Jane Cum” below and pick up Pyschopomp from Yellow K here.
Before we begin on this list, it’s worth noting- once again- that this publication isn’t one that’s overly concerned with the artists that already have received major levels of exposure (it’s also worth noting that “best” is a formality and a pale reflection of lists born out of subjectivity that are constructed around a fairly rigid set of rules). That said, I’d be remiss to not mention that what I personally believe to be the three most important clips of the year (Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright“, Vince Staples’ “Señorita“, and Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)“) all used multifaceted black-and-white presentation to haunting, startlingly effective- and extremely pointed- levels. While those acts may have had access to expanded resources, the artists that made this list were able to find ways to flourish on technical and artistic levels. These clips are only scratching the surface of an extraordinary year for music videos but still managed to find ways to stand out from the crowd.
15. Fraser A. Gorman – Shiny Gun
Was there any narrative-driven clip as lighthearted as Fraser A. Gorman‘s “Shiny Gun” in 2015 (or 2014 for that matter)? Operating with a freewheeling sense of camaraderie and a genuine sense of fun, it’s a nearly iconic clip for an artist that deserves to be recognized on his own merits rather than just as an associate of label boss Courtney Barnett (who has a delightful cameo in the video). From the dryly comic premise to the impromptu guitar solo session that acts as its resolution, “Shiny Gun” is pure entertainment.
14. S – Remember Love
Last year, S appeared on this list for the heartbreaking “Losers” clip, which was teeming with genuine emotion and presented in bare-bones, DIY fashion. “Remember Love” sees S continuing to succeed on both of those accounts in instantly memorable ways. Ostensibly a parable about the metaphorical ghosts and skeletons that accompany the dissolution of relationships, “Remember Love” pulls off providing them with a physical form. By all accounts, the provided costume should feel too on-the-nose yet the video somehow finds a way to humanize its characterization to a point where the clip’s climax- and surprisingly profound final moment- feels genuinely devastating.
13. Diet Cig – Scene Sick
Over Easy, Diet Cig‘s immediately likable debut EP, established the duo as a fount of brash youthfulness and sheer joy, even in songs that dealt with some weightier issues. Even in a strong year for the band that saw the release of a few more clips and a tremendous 7″, nothing captured their aesthetic more than their video for “Scene Sick”. A simplistic concept maximized to an absurd level of success, it finds guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gleefully dancing next to a stone-faced Noah Bowman (the band’s drummer) before a brief rest that sees them both exploding into a frenzy of completely carefree moves over the most apt of refrains. No stakes are ever present and the duo dive into their roles with ecstatic abandon.
12. Dilly Dally – Desire
In December, no band was mentioned more times on this site than Dilly Dally, whose Sore has been in near-constant rotation here since its release. While the clips for “The Touch” and (especially) “Purple Rage” made strong impressions, it was “Desire” that managed to cut deepest. A visual realization of the record’s most central themes, “Desire” also managed to capture the band’s defining dichotomy: exploring the inherent beauty of what’s generally perceived as ugliness. The willingness to explore what makes us human so boldly resonated loudly when it was confined to the record but seeing a depiction of our mundane flaws married to a celebration of our sensuality and sense of wonder turned “Desire” into a staggering experience.
11. Eskimeaux – Broken Necks
Eskimeaux‘s O.K. was a watershed moment for Gabrielle Smith’s project, striking a perfect balance between somber reflection and a prevailing sense of closeted optimism. “Broken Necks” focuses most heavily on the optimistic side of that equation, bringing the song’s more twee elements to vibrant life as Smith and a cohort of friends walk and/or dance their way through a host of familiar locations scattered around New York. Smith turns in a charismatic central performance, flashing impressive depth as the video progresses through a variety of distinctive modes (deadpan, ethereal, meditative, etc.). Visually, it’s mesmerizing and finds ways to incorporate a few quick tricks into something that winds up feeling like one of Eskimeaux’s most defining moments.
10. Denai Moore – Blame
Every so often, a music video comes along that boasts enough firepower in its technical elements to prove unforgettable. In Denai Moore‘s clip for “Blame“, everything is firing on all cylinders. From Moore’s turn as a detached passenger to an inspired performance from an antagonized outsider to the gorgeous icy landscape and breathtaking cinematography, it’s a surprisingly moving piece of work. Tapping into a noir-ish narrative that focuses heavily on loss, unfettered emotion, and our capacity for empathy, it’s a striking vision. From its layered worldview to the video’s elevation of the song that acts as its driving force, “Blame” is an uncontested triumph.
9. Alex G – Brite Boy
Another clip that focuses heavily on loss, Alex G‘s “Brite Boy“, found a way to excel in its attention to implicit detail. Using only black outlines on a white background, “Brite Boy” infuses its classic-leaning animation with a palpable sense of longing. As its two protagonists adventure their way through bouts of surrealism and moments of clarity, a divide begins to emerge and deepen in heartbreaking fashion. It’s an emotionally crippling tour de force cut from a fairly unique cloth that’s already starting to feel more than a little timeless.
8. Bandit – The Drive Home
Easily one of the most stunning turn-in’s from a cinematographer working in this format in 2015, Bandit‘s “The Drive Home” benefits from the evocative framing that heightens the song’s cinematic inclinations considerably. Easily Of Life‘s most blinding highlight, the Derek Scearce-helmed clip elevates the emotional heft of “The Drive Home” via cold color palettes and sweeping, majestic presentation. Open roads, snow-capped mountains, and jaw-dropping visuals combine and culminate in a memorable final moment that completely removes the clip’s lone human element, ultimately revealing itself as an ego-less appreciation of our surroundings. It’s a powerful decision that cements the status of “The Drive Home” as one of the finest music videos of 2015.
7. PUP – Dark Days
In 2013, PUP‘s vicious- and viciously entertaining- clip for “Reservoir” earned a spot at the top of the music videos list I co-authored for PopMatters for that year. In 2014, the band followed suit with their unforgettable origin story video for “Guilt Trip“. Both were directed by the creative team of Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who once again crack this year’s list with the animated clip for “Dark Days“, extending a remarkable run of success with aplomb. Here, the gears are switched from relative bleakness and shocking moments of violence to a modest animated presentation of the decidedly unglamorous lives of touring musicians in a mid-level band. A sense of realism informs close to every step of “Dark Days”, from its unfettered highs to its most crushing lows. By providing what also effectively functions as a distillation of the band’s manic energy, Levack and Schaulin-Rioux have crafted yet another gem.
6. Courtney Barnett – Kim’s Caravan
One of 2015’s more unexpected commentaries came via Courtney Barnett‘s commendably bleak clip for “Kim’s Caravan“, which honed in on Australia’s most ravaged landscapes while simultaneously providing an unflinchingly intimate portrait of the inhabitants of those areas. Not too far removed from the works of John Hillcoat, “Kim’s Caravan” finds strength in its most somber tones. As the clip progresses, a foreboding sense of doom gets amplified to successively higher levels before culminating in some of the most startling and unforgettable shots of any music video to have been released in the past five years. As shattered glass rains down upon Barnett’s body and a trailer gets abandoned as it burns, the disappointment and anger fueling the clip crystallize. As Barnett walks offscreen in its final moments, it comes across as an impassioned plea and provides a fitting end piece to one of the more effective message videos in recent memory.
5. Girl Band – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?
Did any other band find a foothold in definitive visual representation as Girl Band in the past 12 months? It’s doubtful. One of the more difficult decisions going into this list’s ultimate ranking was whether to include “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” or “Paul”, as each operated on a singular playing field that’s paid massive dividends for the band. Ultimately, the former was selected for being both the introduction to the band’s distinctive approach and the meticulous, surgeon-like precision required for it to work. Playing like one of David Lynch’s wet nightmares, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” focuses on the removal of a corpse’s internal organs before taking a sudden left turn into one of the more nightmarish dance parties imaginable, shattering an enormous amount of tension and providing the rest of us with a glimpse of the arsenal of deranged imagery Girl Band had in store for their breakout year.
4. Hammock – In the Middle of this Nowhere + My Mind Was A Fog… My Heart Became A Bomb
While it’s likely this pairing functions more as a short film than a music video, it succeeds on its own merits to a strong enough degree that the cumulative result felt like an appropriate candidate for this list. Astounding on a technical level, both “My Mind Was A Fog… My Heart Became A Bomb” and “In the Middle of this Nowhere” also succeed in eliciting an emotional response from their high-concept proceedings. Centering on a narrative where a virus has all but wiped out the world’s population, a survivor returns to his now-desolate home that he’d built with his family to try and rebuild his life by any means necessary. Another intimate portrayal of a character whose fate is all but doomed, the setting of these clips allow them to grasp at weightier themes than usual, where things like abandonment are amplified considerably by the circumstance. As the protagonist’s resolve rapidly deteriorates with each subsequent attempt at rekindling his past, Hammock‘s lilting ambient score propels each of the clips towards being modern classics.
3. Bent Denim – Good Night’s Sleep
It’s difficult to think of a clip that commanded more force with its synergy than Bent Denim‘s aching “Good Night’s Sleep“. A pained examination of the psyche after the loss of a child, its a wrenching, empathetic character study that captures the feeling of being directionless to heartrending effect. In presenting the narrative through the lens of home movies, it imbues the narrative with a discomforting notion that it’s a tragedy that many of us will have to face and find a way to reconcile. The video’s soft tones enhance the intuitively maternal characterization of the clip’s lone performer and adds untold depths of heartbreak to the shot that lingers on a sign that simply says “Momma tried”. Whether “Good Night’s Sleep” deals with death, miscarriage, custody, or abortion is up to the perception of the viewer but any way it’s spun, the video retains its gut-wrenching emotional impact and its level of care for its protagonist. It’s an astonishingly moving portrait rendered with the care it deserves and it’s also one of the finest DIY efforts of this decade.
2. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
An extraordinary amount of work and hyper-meticulous planning has to go into pulling off a successful tracking shot, which is why a few of the finest examples (Children of Men, Hard Boiled, The Shining, etc.) are considered some of the most iconic moments in cinema. In 2015, there were three of these that genuinely stood out: the entirety of the German heist thriller Victoria, the electric second boxing match in Creed, and Sabyn Mayfield’s clip for the extraordinary title track from Julien Baker‘s masterwork Sprained Ankle. It’s a record that’s predominant theme is our mortality, a fact laid bare by the opening lines of “Sprained Ankle”, and Baker conveys the weight of that obsession flawlessly throughout the course of the video. Appearing onscreen as a battered athlete surrounded by a decrepit gymnasium, the imagery drives home the somewhat tragic fact that everything is constantly aging from the moment it’s born into this world. Eventually, the camera pushes past Baker to explore the tattered walls and fading ceiling insulation before circling back to the ground and providing one last look at a now-abandoned gym, haunted by what’s no longer present.
1. The Fjords – All In
2015 was a deplorable year in terms of senselessly violent acts that were carried out on scales both grand and miniature. From school shootings to accidental bombings, there was barely a reprieve from the damage. It seems fitting, then, that the clip at the very top of this list would offer some sort of commentary on today’s excessive levels of heinously shocking violence. Here, though, the clip in question gains intrigue because of how balanced it manages to be in that commentary, touching on both the displacement that can drive those actions and the childlike mindset that goes into their execution. Nostalgia also plays a factor in “All In“, which is a monumental first effort at a narrative-driven music video for The Fjords (“Almost Real” was granted a compelling lyric video), connecting the thread of media influence to its sudden, unexpected bloodshed. Heightening the disconcerting events that inform “All In”, is the fact that the protagonist is a young child, whose played with a steely commitment that’s nearly as jarring as the clip’s climactic confrontation in front of a hot dog stand. All at once, “All In” manages to succeed as a pointed commentary, a revenge fantasy, and one of the most startling pieces of magic realism in recent memory. Timely and timeless, it’s a towering achievement by any measure and its message lingers long after its first shot rings out.
I don’t know how this site has gone 650 posts without ever giving a headline slot to Eskimeaux, whose phenomenal 2015 effort– the coyly titled O.K.— has been in near-constant rotation over the course of the past few months. Gabrielle Smith’s Epoch project has appeared on this site a handful of times and even led off the recently published fall mix. Sooner or later something was bound to crack the feature-less streak and today it arrived in the form of a casually brilliant music video. While the medium did have a fairly strong week, it was the clip for “Broken Necks” that wound up here for reasons that skewed both objective and subjective.
Objectively, it’s a work of technical brilliance from House of Nod, who continue to impress while operating on an exceptionally high tier. Crisp editing (the stop motion is particularly enjoyable), gorgeous visuals, measured pacing, & committed performances all heighten an intentionally loose narrative that capitalizes on the song’s curious exuberance while still carving out space for its inherent bleakness (something that’s punctuated by Smith’s surprisingly capable deadpan moments). Accentuating that whimsicality are the several mini-sequences that play out like gifs, a move that could have proven too twee had it not been effectively balanced out by some astoundingly graceful long shots.
On the subjective side of things, this is a video that illustrates several of the things I love about the place I’ve come to call home for a little over a season. As run-down as it can seem, New York City (and especially Brooklyn) readily facilitates art. It’s evident in everything from the structural layout of the buildings to the graffiti that adorns their walls. For the lack of a better term, there is a strange sort of magic that the area carries, something that’s been heightened by its residents. A lot of the locations that were used in this video have come to have very significant meaning to me and I consider myself fortunate to know a handful of the people involved in the project on both sides of the lens. In that sense, not only does it succeed on its basic functions but it also operates as a living document of a specific place in time.
With all of the reasons listed above infused into one 207-second presentation, “Broken Necks” can’t help but feel (almost excessively) vibrant. It’s the perfect companion piece for O.K.‘s dueling emotional modes and a strong showcase for both Eskimeaux and House of Nod. By virtue of being so thrillingly alive and refreshingly original, “Broken Necks” surpasses merely being notable and draws closer to being unforgettable. A charming and remarkably endearing showcase of wit, composition, and genuine talent, it deserves as many views as possible.
Watch “Broken Necks” below and pick up a copy of O.K. from site favorites Double Double Whammy here. Beneath the music video watch a live performance of the song. Underneath both clips, explore a list of other great music videos to find release this week.