The Top Ten Music Videos:
10. Wilco – “Dawned On Me”
Wilco has always had a knack for turning the simple into the sublime – as dexterous a live band they are, they also write melodies so pure they feel ageless. Recasting the band as players in an old school Popeye cartoon is so on the nose that it’s impossible not to smile at the charming results.
9. Bon Iver – 4AD/Jajaguwar Session
4AD has been recording eye-popping live sessions with a lot of hip artists over the last few years, but this stripped down, simply filmed in-studio with Bon Iver proved to be the most rewarding. If many songs on “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” felt like they were hiding beautiful melodies under overly fussy arrangements, this session rectifies that – all the songs are beautiful, but the live version of “Beth/Rest” is a revelation.
8. Dinosaur Jr. – “Watch the Corners”
“Watch the Corners” by Dinosaur Jr. is an old-school video that’s fully aware of its anachronisms but is nonetheless satisfying in a very retro way. Starring Tim Heidecker of “Tim and Eric” as an overprotective father of a teenage daughter who is hooking up with the skateboarding “bad boy” working at her grocery store, the video gets right what many music videos these days seem incapable of doing – it tells a complete, succinct, fully entertaining and engaging story. And anyone who remembers back when Snoop Dogg wore flannel to backyard barbecues will appreciate the video’s blocky blurs over faces, shirts and offensive fluids.
7. Battles – City of Music session
Pitchfork, whose video content has always been hit or miss for me, recently acquired MPLS.tv’s “City of Music” series, a crazily ambitious live music web series based in Minneapolis. The best of their sessions features art-rock instrumentalists Battles tearing through a live version of “Africastle.” The studio session mixes solid but standard live video camera work with DIY “Matrix” style zooms around the band, mirror effects, and a haunting car trip through deserted downtown Minneapolis. City of Music’s visual approach perfectly matches the anxious, driving forward momentum of Battles’ music, and proves that a live studio session can look truly unique.
6. Yuksek – “Off the Wall”
Not to harp too much on “back in my day” platitudes, but… back in my day, there would be a lot more music videos like Yuksek’s “Off the Wall” – a simple but deliriously effective concept for a band you’ve never heard of – but nowadays videos like this are few and far between because upstart, underground bands usually can’t even afford a DIY budget, let alone a proper video budget. That being said, “Off the Wall” is wickedly entertaining by any measure – it’s funhouse mirror effects have been done before, but not often this audaciously and seamlessly.
5. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
There are few video types more rote than the “tour footage” video, but “The House that Heaven Built” manages to transcend cliché with gritty, excellent cinematography and masterful editing. Following Montreal duo Japandroids across the country, the video’s evocation of life on the road – along with the song’s “make this night special” lyrics – are a perfect match of form and content. The band sets up, plays for hundreds of excited, sweaty fans, breaks down, drinks beers and starts all over again. In four minutes, you can really understand the last-day-of-summer vibe that musicians experience every night on the road – the constant chasing of that perfect moment, just slightly out of reach.
4. Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Ni**as in Paris” Live
A supremely strange but brilliantly executed hybrid of live video and music video, Jay Z and Kanye West’s massive single “Ni**as in Paris” is depicted in heightened reality. Yes, the duo is playing to a massive crowd with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from two of the biggest hip hop stars ever sharing the stage, but the live footage is manipulated with kaleidoscopic effects and slow motion shots of impossibly gorgeous women dancing in the crowd, giving the video a heightened sense of reality – not just the visual but the visceral feeling of being in a huge crowd bombarded by a huge song.
3. Odd Future – “Oldie”
Odd Future, the Los Angeles hip hop collective comprised mostly of teenagers and college age kids, are divisive to say the least – their lyrics are simultaneously sharp and stupid, offensive and incisive – but it’s hard to argue with the group’s raw talent, both musically and visually. This 10 minute video may seem like a toss-off, with several members flubbing their verses, but what really shines through is the group’s amalgam of winning personalities – from Tyler the Creator’s unloosed id to Earl Sweatshirt’s loopiness to critics’ hero Frank Ocean’s impossible cool, the video for “Oldie” makes you wish for a group of friends this much fun to hang out with.
2. Bat For Lashes – “Laura”
Previously known for her glitzy, sonically adventurous songs and brilliantly weird videos (“What’s a Girl to Do?” may be the best video of the last ten years), Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes) strips down her sound and aesthetic for “Laura,” and the ensuing video – a minor key reflection on fame and aging – is grandly beautiful and its haunting simplicity. The narrative is nothing more than a wisp, but the luscious cinematography and the dance performance by the actor playing the song’s titular Laura verges on heartbreaking – both the life giving power and the brutal judgment of living and aging on a stage.
1. M.I.A. – “Bad Gurlz”
M.I.A. is certainly one of the most polarizing figures in music – her mixture of genres and cultures into a smooth hip-hop sheen thrills as many people as it irks. And, there are few artists as outspoken, for better or worse. “Bad Gurlz” falls right in that nexus of fascinating and appalling, but it’s never less than thrillingly entertaining – simultaneously a deconstruction of and a brilliant example of a big budget hip-hop video. Exporting wholesale the worn out tropes of American hip-hop videos – the cars, the dancing, the girls, the bravado – to a Middle Eastern setting gives the clip a surreal feel and a cutting satirical edge. Not only have we exported our wealth to the Middle East, but apparently we’ve sent them our music video budgets as well. M.I.A. performs in front of a cast of women in burkas and rich looking sheiks (and in front of a burning oil field), but the real astonishing aspect of this video is the car stunts, which reportedly are 100% real. M.I.A. sits atop a car that’s perched on two wheels with a too-cool-for-school look that’s hard to believe. Add whip-crack editing, lush cinematography, outstanding choreography, stuntwork and direction by Romain Gavras, and you’ve got the type of video that they don’t make any more – ambitious, technically marvelous, and button pushing.