best of 2014: music videos

as the years tick by, the music video seems to become an increasingly insignificant form of consumption.  though youtube is a powerful streaming source, lyric videos and static images accompanied by audio have largely become the norm.  amidst the changing landscape lies a handful of artists (check the output of honorable mentions fka twigs and perfume genius for further examples of consistently stunning work) and videographers still dedicated to enhanced storytelling through visual representation; we’ve compiled our five favorite offerings of 2014 below.

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5. lorde – “yellow flicker beat”


single-handedly curating the soundtrack to an assured universal blockbuster is no easy task for anyone, let alone a seventeen year-old.  lorde went two steps further, shouldering responsibility for the soundtrack’s monstrous lead single, “yellow flicker beat,” and its accompanying music video.  numerous comparisons were made to the aesthetic of david lynch, but the video particularly excels at showcasing lorde’s ownership of her artistic identity; her singular form of dancing becomes synonymous with the song’s anthemic chorus, further cramming a very natural artistic expression down the throats of detractors who expect something different from female pop stars.

4. pillar point – “dreamin'”


the surreal implications of the song’s title are aptly accentuated in the music video for “dreamin’.”  an early staple of pillar point’s career and the centerpiece of his self-titled debut album, “dreamin'” is forcibly reworked – in its introduction, anyways – to accommodate the contorted dancing style of the video’s protagonist, who seems to be a projection from the mind of the older man who appears at the beginning and end of the sequence.  yet despite the jubilance and dedication conveyed in the dance, “dreamin'” retains an incredible amount of poignancy, as the dancer’s feats go largely unnoticed.

3. caroline smith – “half about being a woman”


caroline smith tried her hand at r&b last year and wound up with half about being a woman, one of our favorite albums of 2013. nearly a year later she delivered a music video for the album’s title track that is at once heart-wrenching and uplifting, as smith’s monochromatic character traverses from utter despair to hardened confidence with a bit of help from her döppelganger.  raw emotions are rarely captured so effectively.

2. st. vincent – “digital witness”


a wes anderson color palate meets annie clark’s frazzled grey mane in st. vincent’s music video for “digital witness.”  clark has to be shortlisted as one of the best artists to emerge in the past decade, and the depth offered by her latest album only strengthens her claim to that exclusive club.  social commentary has often been a covert operation throughout st. vincent’s discography, but her views on the strong grip of modern technology are readily apparent on “digital witness.”  the martial rigidity of the song’s synthetic horn staccatos is mirrored by the nonsensical militaristic marching in the video, and the uniformity and repetitive acts performed by the cast is a metaphor for the enslaving power wielded by digital technology.  even clark, portrayed as a wary outsider, doesn’t seem to be fully free of its grasp.  just like the bulk of st. vincent’s output, both “digital witness” and its music video are beautiful at surface level and absolutely compelling once the outer layers are peeled away.

1. vince staples – “nate”


vince staples will be a key player in the immediate future of hip-hop, largely in part due to his visceral storytelling contained in songs like “nate.”  the video that accompanies the focal point of staples’ fourth mixtape, shyne coldchain vol. 2, is just as jarring: a domestic dispute played out in slow motion seen through the eyes of an unfazed child.  through association, one might assume that the autobiographical material from staples’ childhood directly correlates to the video’s protagonist, but said protagonist encounters staples while en route to a convenience store.  the fact that the video’s plot line may exist outside of staples’ personal narrative is critical, as it showcases a cyclical epidemic of violence and drug abuse in urban southern california.  it’s not a long stretch; staples has already proven he’s one of the most hyper-aware young minds in the rap game.

best of 2013: albums

good things come to those that wait, right?  does this phrase even really apply to this situation?  probably not.  it may be a bit delayed, but my albums of the year list is finally done.  i’ve written long-form essays on my favorite fifteen records of 2013 over at playground misnomer; you should definitely head over there and check it out, along with lists from the other contributors to that site.  if you don’t feel like reading, below are some quick and simple pictures of my top five albums of 2013.  enjoy.

5. milo – cavalcade

chvrches4. chvrches – the bones of what you believe

daughter if you leave3. daughter – if you leave

2. caroline smith – half about being a woman

majical cloudz impersonator.jpg1. majical cloudz – impersonator

best of 2013: new artist

the title of “best new artist” sometimes confuses and is misleading to me.  i frequently see bands that have two or three albums already under their belt pop up on various round-up lists, and sometimes a band releasing their debut full-length constitutes as a “new artist,” even if they’ve been together for a few years and have released a string of singles and eps.  the big to-do events like the grammy awards are always the best; i’ll never forget how amused i was to see bon iver take home the award for “best new artist” at the 2012 ceremony, despite for emma, forever ago being released to critical and commercial acclaim four years prior.

for my “best new artist” category for 2013, i decided to look at bands that didn’t exist in 2012.  at all.  that meant painful axings for savages and chvrches, fantastic groups that put out really important debut albums this year.  that meant pity sex and daughter didn’t qualify either, as prior years of demos and eps established each band quite well in their respective circles.  while i’m just one guy who inevitably misses out on a lot of what goes on in the music world, there was one brand new band this year that really caught my attention and got me really excited for their subsequent output in 2014.

now, without further ado, let the accolades of 2013 in music begin.

– best new artist: vancouver sleep clinic –

it’s been hard to ignore tim bettinson’s rise from obscurity and his subsequent impact on the indie blogosphere over the past six months.  since the release of his debut single as vancouver sleep clinic, “vapour,” at the end of june, the seventeen year-old from australia has garnered a significant amount of buzz.  early comparisons were made to bon iver and james blake, similarities further condoned by bettinson’s self-admitted adoration of those two artists, but there’s a level of maturity and coherence in both his lyricism and compositions that is beyond rare for someone who graduated high school last month.

 

i waited in the edge of my seat for months before the next vancouver sleep clinic song dropped, but the artistry attached to “collapse” was worth it.  it’s the lead single off of the band’s upcoming debut ep, already one of my most-anticipated releases of 2014.  the winter landscape “collapse” evokes struck at the perfect moment half a hemisphere away, and this was reflected by vancouver sleep clinic reaching the top of the hype machine charts within days of the song dropping.

 

the success of both “vapour” and “collapse” foreshadows vancouver sleep clinic’s potential to be a heavy hitter in the ambient, atmospheric realm, as well as the band’s capacity to cross over into elements of folk and post-dub with relative ease.  london grammar just picked up bettinson and company as the support act for a string of tour dates in australia next january.  at the rate this band is snowballing, i wouldn’t be surprised to see vancouver sleep clinic dominating heavy-hitting sites like pitchfork and stereogum within the next few months.  they’re certainly worthy of the buzz.