Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: The Avalanches

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

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

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

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

Kevin Morby – Dorothy

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

Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator

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

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

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

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

LVL UP – The Closing Door

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

Potty Mouth – Smash Hit

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

Vagabon – The Embers

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

Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You

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

Dilly Dally – Snakehead

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

PWR BTTM – West Texas

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

Hazel English – Never Going Home

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

Mitski – Happy

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

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Trio

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

Minor Victories – Cogs (Orchestral Variation)

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

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

PUP – Sleep in the Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Week and a Half’s Worth of Material

Over the past week and a half there was a vast arsenal of material that found release across all three major formats. All of the titles that made a sizable impression will be linked to below and all of them are well worth exploring. Over the next few days there will be a laundry list of individual items to find small features but that in no way should deter from the immense value of the songs listed below. If there was enough time to provide each and every one of these entries features of their own, a regular day would have to be well over 24 hours. As it stands, the best approach is to simply bookmark this page and peruse these selections at a preferred pace. Keep an eye out for more updates from this site very soon and enjoy the incredible offerings that are available below.

Streams

The Raveonettes, Coaster, Puerto Rico Flowers, Beachtape, Sad13 (x2), Small Wonder, Two Houses, Floating Room, Hooton Tennis Club, Communions, Monster Rally, Mark Sultan, CRX, Dama Scout, Lady Lamb, Maria Taylor (ft. Conor Oberst), The Cinematic Orchestra (ft. Moses Sumney), Frank Weysos, Parlour Tricks, JD Werner, Del Water Gap, Invisible Boy, Magic Magic Roses, Hand Habits, The Breaks, Tyvek, clipping., Flower Girl, Mark Eitzel, Soft Lions, Cosmonauts, Desperate Journalist, Sonnyskyes, Tyler Daniel BeanSløtface, Cory Hanson, Sinai Vessel, Will Johnson, MOLLY, The Olympian, Boon, Emily Reo, Joanna Newsom, War Nurse, Ramonda Hammer, Sundayman, Yeasayer, Gummy, Sacred Paws, Enemies, BROS, Dead Leaf Echo, Mo Troper, Jarrod Milton, Dante Decaro, wrtch, Miya Folick, and Frankie Cosmos

Music Videos

Flasher, Honeyblood, Gland, Black Marble, Matt Kivel, Emilyn Brodsky, Peacock Affect, The Soonest, Alpenglow, Peder, Peeling, Worms, Girl Ray, Communist Daughter, Moonheart, The Superweaks, Sara Jackson-Holman, Andy Shauf, Monomyth, Victoria + Jean, The Avalanches, Purling Hiss, Tanukichan, Lou Barlow, Pity Sex, Froth, Allison Crutchfield, Strange Relations, Berwanger, Hazel English, Nada, Mayflower, Jess Williamson, Brunch, The Cavemen, Ray & Remora, Busman’s Holiday, Matt Costa, Muncie Girls, Soaker, and Oh Pep!.

Full Streams

Slothrust, Eric Schermerhorn, Tony Molina, Perfume-V, Silent, gobbinjr, Thick, Sam Kogon, Soft Pyramids, Max, Suntrodden, Loamlands, Nocturnal Habits, Choir Boy, Twiga, Angelic Milk, Realms, Parlour Tricks, Skye Wallace, Saba, Dead To Me, Teen Suicide, No Nets, Kevin Morby, Bloody Death Skull, Tournament, King Dude, Spectral Fangs, Communist DaughterSpeak Into My Good Eye‘s The 3rd Annual 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge, and Brown Acid, a joint-effort compilation from Riding Easy Records and Permanent Records that explores some of the heavier music of the ’60s and ’70s.

IAN SWEET – #23 (Music Video)

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Over the past several days, there have been excellent music videos to surface from Caspian, DJ Shadow, The Hairs, Clipping., Pleistocene, WL, Pop & Obachan, Donovan Wolfington, Chromatics, Matt Kivel, Dogbreth, Hiss Golden Messenger, Joyce Manor, The Cradle, The Avalanches, Barren Womb, and Walker Lukens. A few of those will undoubtedly be appearing on some year-end lists but that doesn’t mean that the rest should be ignored. All of those titles are worthy endeavors that deserve a certain amount of investment.

As good as all of those clips wound up being, this post’s feature was secured by IAN SWEET‘s endearing, Michael Jordan-influenced “#23”. Tenderly shot and directed by Eleanor Petry, “#23” imbues the subdued tone of the song into a clip that jumps, seamlessly, back and forth from a pick-up game in a park to a varied romp through Coney Island. There’s a lyrical poetry to the imagery that winds up complementing the best song of IAN SWEET’s emergent career.

In four minutes, IAN SWEET (and Petry) conjure up a narrative that feels alternately introspective and fearlessly outgoing, demonstrating a range of humanity that should serve the band well down the line. There’s a keen awareness to the entire affair that’s infused with a heavy amount of empathy, allowing “#23” to radiate a kind of warmth that’s been increasingly rare in the landscape of the punk-tinged basement pop genre. Should the rest of their forthcoming Shapeshifter live up to this precedent, we may very well be looking at — and listening to — one of the finest records of 2016.

Watch “#23” below and pre-order Shapeshifter from Hardly Art here.

Tenement – Feral Cat Tribe (Music Video)

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Sat. Nite Duets, Field Mouse, Voir Voir, Spook the Herd, FRIGS, Cool Ghouls, Kiss Concert, Conveyor, Pill, Death Valley Girls, Mikey Erg, and The Veils constituted one of the most impressive days for standalone streams in recent memory while Yucky Duster, Oneirogen, and Faithless Town made sure the full streams weren’t too far behind. There was also an impressive slate of music videos from the likes of Happy Accidents, High Waisted, Pkew Pkew Pkew, The Avalanches, Stefan Welch, Wand, and PJ Harvey. All of those releases deserve a hefty amount of investment but the band that snagged today’s feature spot — probably unsurprisingly at this point — was Tenement.

Few bands, if any, have had more words written about them in these spaces and I haven’t pushed any band more than Tenement. I’ve written about the trio at literally every opportunity over the past eight years and the band keeps providing reasons to sing their praises. Somehow, despite their lengthy history, “Feral Cat Tribe” stands as the band’s first official video. Featuring guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s Dusk roommates (Colin Wilde, Matt Stranger, and Julia Blair), “Feral Cat Tribe” also heavily promotes Tenement’s own ethos (stay true to what works on a DIY platform and elevate the talented people that surround you in the process).

The video itself is a dizzying, disorienting run through a relatively nondescript building as the band (and their friends) mime their way through “Feral Cat Tribe”, a highlight from one of last year’s best albums. “Feral Cat Tribe” is a shot in a way that evokes the 360-angle video trend without ever succumbing into gimmickry or egregious pageantry, opting to make a slight statement on the nature of art: no matter how it’s dressed, if the material’s core maintains its convictions, it’ll more than likely be worthwhile.

Swooping camera angles, quick edits, and constantly, continuously moving pieces are also reflective of the commendable principles the band’s endorsed since their beginning. This is music and filmmaking that’s tethered to the earth and openly embraces all of its cracks, flaws, and bruises. For Tenement’s entire career, the band’s been finding ways to find beauty in damage and the clip for “Feral Cat Tribe” continues that trend on the visual spectrum. There’s a certain level of courageousness that’s required to even attempt what Tenement’s been doing lately and they’re continuing to make it look effortless.

Whether the band’s evoking classic Americana art forms or simply building their own identity, they’re doing it with uncanny precision and a wealth of feeling. “Feral Cat Tribe” — what’s said to be the first of many music videos for Predatory Headlights  —  suggests the band’s grasp extends even further than what they’ve previously shown. A fascinating clip from one of the best bands currently going, “Feral Cat Tribe” further cements their status as one of today’s most trustworthy acts; everything the band delivers is battered gold.

Watch “Feral Cat Tribe” below and pick up Predatory Headlights from Don Giovanni here.

Pitchfork Festival: Day 2 (Review)

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Days 2 and 3 of the Pitchfork Festival were spent seeing the festival shows themselves, rather than the after shows. Who needed after shows when the lineups for both days were so unbelievably stacked? Day 2 started with Cloud Nothings laying into a very frantic set that recalled their recent High Noon Saloon appearance. Drawing entirely from Attack on Memory and Here and Nowhere Else, their set translated well to an outdoor festival setting. With the additional benefit of good weather, the day was off on the right foot. Before their set ended, it was off to catch Mas Ysa ending his, an impressive display of eclecticism and eccentric electronic work. It was a decided change of pace from Cloud Nothings’ assault just moments before- but it kept the audience just as engaged.

Pusha T was forced to play a shortened set after a late arrival but no one seemed to mind; there were more than a few people on the verge of losing their minds during his short time onstage. My Name Is My Name, one of last year’s stronger highlights, was well represented (predictably, “Nosetalgia” received the biggest reception- no surprise Kendrick appearance, though) as was his back catalog. Pusha handled the lion’s share of the performing himself and showcased the dazzling skill and charisma anyone that’s been paying attention to him since Clipse knows that he’s capable of. It was a standout set, even if it didn’t take up the full time slot. tUnE-yArDs played to another very packed crowd that proved to be just as entranced and receptive as Pusha T’s. Merrill Garbus and company played  off of each other expertly, offering up enviable displays of both percussive and vocal prowess. It felt appropriate in the setting and completely of the moment. Their last two songs drew two of the loudest cheers of the festival.

Next up on the schedule was Danny Brown, green-tipped hair and all, who absolutely invigorated what was starting to feel like a lull in the day’s actions. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves was also on hand to watch this set and talked about punk, energy, unpredictably, danger, catharsis, and how Brown’s set embodied just about all of it. Brown’s last two records (XXX and Old, respectively) are two of the finest entries in hip-hop for the decade-so-far and his live show lived up to- and possibly surpassed- that recorded output. At this point he’s no longer a star in the making- he’s a bona fide star. Look out for whatever comes out of his camp next (fingers crossed on what seems to be a possibly impending collaboration with The Avalanches) because it’ll be more than worth paying attention to.

After Brown’s rousing set, it was back across the grounds for St. Vincent, still riding his on this year’s outstanding self-titled record. Annie Clark led her band through a set that leaned heavily on that record while occasionally glancing back (“Cheerleader“, in particular, was awe-inducing), always leaving at least one foot planted in her increasing fondness for futurist aesthetics. When she broke from that mold, though, the effects became staggeringly visceral. One of the most unexpected (and aggressive) moments of the festival, for instance, came when Clark led her band down into a free-for-all noise jam that bordered on chaos as it became increasingly heavier. Towards the end of this, Clark threw her guitar to the stage and started abusing it before crawling over to the bass drum, headbutting it repeatedly, rhythmically, before retreating and staying down, holding her head, clearly in some anguish. She would stay in that position for some time before a stagehand came and draped another guitar over her after receiving assurance that she was okay. It was a moment driven by pure, total feeling– and it was spectacular.

Neutral Milk Hotel put on some extraordinary shows after their surprise reunion last year (their Covington, KY show was particularly memorable) and they haven’t really stopped since. True to their wishes, the display screens for the festival were temporarily killed for their set. No cameras, no footage, just music and a shared experience. And what an experience it was. Literally thousands of people sang along in unison to personal favorites off of the band’s landmark achievement, In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea, and several jaws dropped when they went for their relatively deep cuts (“Ruby Bulbs” was as emotional as ever and “Ferris Wheel on Fire” remains transcendent in a live setting). It was mixed well, the band played with as much force as they did meaning and everyone in the audience was smiling, enjoying a moment that would have seemed impossible just a year and a half ago. It was the obvious choice to end the evening and felt akin to magic. Day 3 would have a lot to live up to.

Below watch a video of Cloud Nothings playing “I’m Not Part of Me” that was recently posted by the hosts of the festival themselves.