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.


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

caroline smith – half about being a woman

dammit, caroline.  only you could have put out an r&b record like this.  after two folk-centered albums and years of relentless touring with the goodnight sleeps, minneapolis singer-songwriter caroline smith trimmed the excess of her stage name (but kept her bandmates) and began work on her newest album, half about being a woman.  it’s her best yet.

in all honesty, i should have seen this coming.  in a 2012 interview that i did with smith for playground misnomer, she confessed that she was listening to “a ton of beyoncé, out the fucking door,” and cited soul icons like carole king and aretha franklin as current influences.  i postulated that these influences would surface most noticeably in smith’s vocals, but she evidently had more cohesive plan in the early stages of formation.  half about being a woman is a slow-burning affair, incorporating a wide palate of organs, keyboards, delayed-backbeat drumming, and backing vocals that never graced a goodnight sleeps record.

i think that’s the point.  smith’s voice is definitely recognizable, but it’s also easy to tell just how much its timbre has shifted to accommodate this new singing style.  more confidence is exuded, more risks are taken, and smith cashes in every time, captivating with hooks absent from her previous output.  what remains is her lyrical wit; smith proves she can still be perfectly tongue-in-cheek with lines like “i ain’t a gold digger, but a girl got needs / so buy me something please” on the brief and galloping “buy me something.”

smith has always excelled at singing about the emotive aspects of life, and her shift in focus towards r&b only makes that more apparent.  the instrumentals throughout half about being a woman are phenomenal and succeed in complementing smith’s vocal aesthetic; the title track is a slow-burning conglomerate of motown sounds, with swirling organs and fat drum hits providing a foundation for guitar lines to sneak into and vocal harmonies to sit on top of.  “half about being a woman” kicks off a four-song suite of downtempo r&b goodness that features some of the best music you’ll probably hear this year.  other people will back me up on that.

although only nine tracks, half about being a woman seems to be the perfect snapshot of caroline smith at this moment in her young career; it’s her first album with a true sense of identity attached to it, and that confidence suits her well.  the songs groove and smith’s vocals soar, providing the perfect soundtrack to relaxing autumn afternoons.  this record hasn’t really stopped playing since i got it, and i don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.