Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: music video of the year

17 of ’17: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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Arriving fashionably late, the Heartbreaking Bravery year-end lists kick off in earnest with a celebration of the visual medium. There were incredibly strong visual efforts put forward by the people that could afford to have lavish budgets for just about any facet of their creative output (with Kendrick Lamar having an especially fruitful year) but this space wasn’t designed to celebrate those artists. Instead, the 17 selections featured below represent some of the finest works that flew by at a quieter pace, whether they came from storied veterans or exciting upstarts.

The format established last year will continue on this year, with one (or several) item designated the top spot and the remaining selections featured with no discernible ranking. Both the songs and albums list will follow this format as well. So, dive in, pick your poison, and try to guide yourself to a fate no worse than spending an hour or more playing the world’s most audacious interactive music video. Here are the 17 best music videos of 2017.

Hazel English – Fix

Throughout Hazel English‘s first few releases, the songwriter’s proved adept at crafting memorably beautiful clips and “Fix” stands proudly as English’s current best. A romantic, softly-lit tone poem “Fix” consists of little more than two people at an undefined stage in their relationship traversing some beautiful scenery together. Superbly directed and masterfully edited, “Fix” carries a subtle emotional resonance that propels it from being simply good to something masterful.

Jay Som – The Bus Song

The artist responsible for last year’s Song of the Year returned to set 2017 on fire, breaking out in momentous fashion. The highlight of Jay Som‘s ascent came by way of this House of Nod-produced (and Michelle Zauner-directed) clip for “The Bus Song”. A joyous celebration of music, friendship, and the intertwining link between the two, “The Bus Song” is teeming with affection, wearing its heartfelt sincerity not on its sleeve but as a badge of honor, displayed proudly on its chest.

Zebra Katz – Blk & Wht

One of the most haunting clips to come out of this decade, Zebra Katz‘s “Blk & Wht” is a harrowing recreation of the experiences its actors endured as refugees attempting to clear border security. As grim and stark as the song itself, “Blk & Wht” takes on a nightmarish sheen of realism that’s fully elevated thanks to the people involved in the project. It’s hypnotic, it’s terrifying, it’s unbelievably well-executed and transcends the form of music video and tips towards effective activism (something that’s incredibly hard to do without coming across as ham-fisted or cloying) by proving immensely hard to shake.

Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade

Directing Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” wasn’t the only impressive feat Michelle Zauner completed this year. Zauner also collaborated with House of Nod again for this meditative clip tinged with tragedy for her own project, Japanese Breakfast. Beautifully combining archival footage from her past with the present state of being, “The Body Is A Blade” paints a complex and deeply human portrait. Empathetic, poetic, and laced with an abundance of warmth (in tonality, coloration, and emotion), “The Body Is A Blade” immediately stood out as one of the year’s best upon release and looks even stronger today.

PUP – Old Wounds

It’s not often that this site prints obscenities but “Old Wounds” warrants the following: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux is a fucking maniac. The director’s been instrumental in guiding PUP to claiming Music Video of the Year honors for 3 of the past 5 years and — with this entry included — has been included in the “Best Of” lists for the other two. Even with that track record, it would have been difficult to predict Schaulin-Rioux would go off the deep end to create a choose your own adventure video game masquerading as a music video in the form of 73 separate clips (many of them containing accessibly esoteric jokes from prominent music journalists) to form a cohesive whole for the shortest — and fiercest — song on the band’s triumphant sophomore effort The Dream Is Over. Click play and lose yourself to a rabbit hole that you’ll never want to leave. You’ve been warned.

Fog Lake – Rattlesnake

Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” was one of 2016’s most captivating songs and 2017 gifted it the kind of visual it so richly deserved. Lacking any sort of traditional narrative allowed for something far more thoughtful and moving, as the Forest Erwin-shot clip paid tribute to both environment and inhabitant in mesmerizing fashion. Tender, intuitive, and impalpable, “Rattlesnake” follows a filmic imprint that’s served auteurs like Terrence Malick and Shane Carruth well over their best works. That “Rattlesnake” would fit comfortably alongside their finest stretches is a minor miracle.

Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal

A bizarre satirization of televangelism, Open Mike Eagle‘s Sammus-featuring “Hymnal” stands out immediately. Comfortably drawing the viewers in from an easily-identifiable vantage point, “Hymnal” then proceeds to reveal itself as a meticulously-constructed and perfectly executed piece of oddball humor that falls more in line with Tim & Eric than just about any other clip that’s come out over the past few years. Boasting an incredible amount of specificity, “Hymnal” plays out like a fever dream that’s impossible to escape. Thankfully, for all of us, it’s wildly enjoyable and rewards investment tenfold.

Julia Louise – Brat

One of a handful of videos on this list that mark a perfect distillation and representation of the artist responsible, Julia Louise‘s “Brat” also acts as an engaging introduction-at-large. Both a minimalist portrait of Louise and a vehicle to convey the frustrations and realizations of “Brat”, the clip finds life via honesty. A series of small, everyday moments stitched together through some compelling photography and anchored by a winsome central performance, “Brat” is a clever, tongue-in-cheek testament to Louise’s already formidable talents.

Craig Finn – God In Chicago

Likely the biggest name on this list thanks to a position as the bandleader of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has still found a way to slip through the cracks. Finn’s solo material, while exceptional, has gone largely unheralded. The spoken word, narrative-driven “God In Chicago” ranked as a career high before the video and the Kris Merc-directed clip elevated it even further on Finn’s considerably long list of achievements. A gorgeous illustration of a significant relationship doomed to slowly erode over time, every inch of “God In Chicago” should be felt in full by the millions of people who have lived that experience. It’s a miniature masterpiece.

Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low

2017 proved to be intensely difficult for a cavalcade of reasons so any time anyone married a similar intensity to nonsensical joy provided a welcome escape. Enter: Pissed Jean‘s “The Bar Is Low”. Easily the furthest the band has embraced their buried comedic leanings, the clip earns its place here by virtue of the commitment everyone lends their performance as underachieving-but-desperately-trying gym rats. The deadpan stares, the intimidating glances, the absolute absurdity, and the off-the-charts aggression combine for the year’s most memorably fun clip.

Anamon – Fast Car

While Pissed Jeans took the comedic escapism route, Anamon offered something a little more grounded: a hangout clip that was unwavering in its sincerity. Delivered with conviction, “Fast Car’ consists of nothing more than the band taking their dog on a day out to some open spots to relax and enjoy a beautiful day. The photography direction throughout “Fast Car” provides a sweeping sense of freedom that accompanies those exact trips. There are no stakes and any lingering fears wither in the presence of good company and picturesque scenery. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs and “Fast Car” captures that essential truth to perfection.

The Last Dinosaur – Atoms

Comprised of nothing but discarded Super 8 footage gleaned from storage units and yard sales, “Atoms” quietly establishes a sense of history through its visuals as the song fixates on the full implications of mortality. When a project’s intent is to convey the entirety of life, it’s not often that it can actually manage to achieve something that resembles a complete understanding but The Last Dinosaur have carved out their spot in today’s music by subverting and/or challenging expectations. “Atoms” is a moving reminder of their penchant for coaxing out things that are as empathetic as they are beautiful.

Protormartyr – A Private Understanding

Following a blueprint established and reinforced by some of cinema’s most antagonistic filmmakers, Protomartyr‘s clip for “A Private Understanding” manages to tap into the same type of sinister energy as its forebears. An inexplicably nerve-wracking sequence set at what appears to be either a meticulously designed retirement home or a grossly exquisite restaurant attempting to pass itself off as a “home experience”, “A Private Understanding” creates and mercilessly attacks that cognitive dissonance while employing film techniques popularized in Greek and Korean cinema. As hypnotic as it is baffling, “A Private Understanding” demands consideration long after its closing seconds.

Deep State – Heavy Lunch

Deep State‘s kinetic clip for its equally kinetic “Heavy Lunch” follows an exceptionally minimalist formula: one person dances their way across the screen to a song. It’s a trope that’s reached a point of over-saturation in recent years and seems to have lost some of its merit. However, when one so exceptionally joyful and energetic comes into focus, its myriad pleasures are impossible to deny and the Ethan Payne-directed “Heavy Lunch” finds an abundance of meaning in its gleeful sprint.

Palehound – If You Met Her

Crafting a clip for songs that register as immediate standouts for reasons of a clearly personal nature will always prove a challenge. When those challenges aren’t just met but diminished to the point of evaporation under the final product, that music video will likely stand the test of time as one of the greats. Palehound‘s “If You Met Her” — created by a group of teenagers attending Real to Reel Filmschool — finds itself in a position where it can already form a solid case for that type of longevity. While Kempner’s project allowed itself to be guided by the ghost of Heatmiser for the song itself, the video grapples with other spirits. The religious imagery, the sense of being stuck between haunting and being haunted, and the quiet, tragic desperation at the heart of both the song and the video render “If You Met Her” one of this decade’s finest efforts, on both counts.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Over the course of this site’s existence, Charly Bliss emerged as a coverage staple. 2017 was the first year that afforded the band a true reckoning and they responded in kind, dropping one of the year’s best records, touring relentlessly (both as a headliner and opening up for enormous names), and releasing a string of fun music videos. No clip the band’s released can hold a candle to what they managed to create for “Westermarck“, which strips away any perceivable artifice in favor of something that served as an effective antidote to 2017’s grim climate. Pure, unbridled joy drives “Westermarck” to stratospheric heights, contagious in its own effervescence and committed to its convictions. A perfect distillation of the band’s identity and something to point to as a symbol of hope for the future. “Westermarck” deserves to be held up as an example of how to effectively translate the giddiest of emotions for years to come.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:

IDLES – Mother

No video landed as hard, reflected the times as well, or demanded attention as well as the snarling behemoth that was IDLES‘ clip for “Mother”, a seething call to action against sexual predators and the conditions that allow a surprising percentage of them to be excused so easily. Not just one of the most hypnotic clips of this year but of this century, “Mother” contains little more than IDLES’ vocalist Joe Talbot smashing a table full of ceramics in front of a portrait of his deceased mother — whose ashes were slipped into the vinyl pressings of the band’s latest, -BRUTALISM — as he rails against an economically unjust system that essentially forces poverty onto the lower classes, heightening their exhaustion under the guise of production for the benefit of the upper class.

It’s a commanding performance and Talbot’s anger is palpable and barely containable as each individual piece gets smashed to bits as the camera lens nearly disintegrates under the weight of his piercing stare. Wearing an opened pink blazer and pink pants, the opening image of “Mother” is arresting enough but what carries it to the realms of being genuinely unforgettable is the clip’s closing moments where the song ends and the video continues in silence, Talbot making sure every last piece is hurtled towards a ground already covered in shards of plates, cups, and figurines.

When everything has suffered the brunt of Talbot’s wrath, he pauses, walks back to the poster of his mother hanging pointedly in the background, puts his hand to her lips and walks off camera. There is still smoke. There is still fire. And there, in that conclusion, as the anger lingers, is where “Mother” stakes its place as one of the great music videos of our time.  

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Honorable Mentions:

Cayetana – Bus Ticket
Kevin Morby – City Music
Single Mothers – People Are Pets

14 of ’14: The Best Music Videos of 2014

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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.

PUP – Guilt Trip (Music Video)

They did it again. Emphatically. It’s been a while since a band made music videos this consistently great that were so separated stylistically. First, there was the relentless, cathartic bloodshed of “Reservoir” [which I named the best music video of 2013 over at PopMatters]. That was then followed by the one-shot video for “Lionheart” that undoubtedly hit a personal nerve for a lot of people. Somewhere along the way, PUP was finally released internationally and the band started picking up the wider recognition it deserved. Even with all of that taken into consideration, the band may have outdone themselves with the utterly stunning “Guilt Trip” music video.

Enhancing the cinematic elements of their previous clips tenfold, it tells an unlikely origin story that’s as visceral as it is bleakly compelling. Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux take the helm as the directing team and fill each frame with a sense of purpose to the point that it’s almost jarring, as that’s a style that’s increasingly fallen out of practice in the format as of late. Additionally, from the gorgeous first shot all the way through to the last, this is some of the best cinematography to have emerged this year in any format. From bullying to underage drinking to blood pacts to a dead cop to the most perfect conflict resolution imaginable, every single new scene and development lands with as much impact as the visuals themselves (keep an eye out for the images that happen in a silent, tension-filled interim, they’re among the most arresting of the past few years).

By the time the brilliant epilogue shot hits, acting as both a summary and a metaphor, it’ll be easy to feel absolutely spent. An entire adolescense, from the most harrowing moments to the most zealously joyful, can be found in these three minutes and 50 seconds. The way these images are presented resonates so profoundly that it’s almost difficult to separate them from real memories. Perfectly realized and featuring four unbelievably strong performances from its young cast, “Guilt Trip” doesn’t just have a shot at being the best video of this year- but one of the best of the decade.

Watch “Guilt Trip” below and relive the highs and lows of childhood all over again.