best of 2015: music videos

super 8 vscothe year’s end is upon us yet again, and today begins the rapid succession of accolades doled out to various media.  things will be a little different here at the dimestore this year; in accordance to our removal of ratings at the end of individual album reviews, nothing will be ranked on any our year-end lists.  instead, each candidate will appear in alphabetical order.  if you are truly curious about this site’s absolute favorite album, ep, song, or music video from this year, inquire within.

up first in the schedule are our five favorite music videos of 2015, unintentionally – but perhaps tellingly – skewed towards hip-hop and pop.  read on.

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disclosure – “magnets (ft. lorde)”

though caracal as a whole sailed by as a mere blip on our radar, it was impossible to ignore a strong byproduct of that record: the duo’s collaboration with lorde on “magnets.”  the lawrence brothers may have ceded some of their production grandeur to accommodate lorde’s more minimalist aesthetic, but the track stuck, perhaps the only one that will endure from a shoulder-shrug of a sophomore effort.

the video for “magnets” delves deeper.  on the surface, it’s an eerie, (yet again) lynch-indebted exploration of debauchery and infidelity, though these basic lusts soon prove to be an underlying condition of a much more serious problem.  lorde the artistic persona is also largely absent from the plot, only usurping ella o’connor in the video’s final seconds to play the role of vigilante.

heems – “sometimes”

more on eat pray thug as a cohesive unit in a few days.  the video for the album’s lead single, “sometimes,” plays out like a late-night sketch comedy segment, and appropriately so: two of its main characters are eric andre and hannibal buress.  at the center of it all is himanshu suri himself, holding down the role of a sleazy infomercial salesman peddling a skin-whitening paste.  the narrative is funny enough (heems’ sidekick and test subject wins for best dance moves) and attains peak irony by its end, but “sometimes” more soberly hints at the pressures of assimilation and code-switching discussed at length throughout eat pray thug.

run the jewels & zack de la rocha – “close your eyes (and count to fuck)”

perhaps the year’s most visceral music video was the one accompanying “close your eyes (and count to fuck).”  plucked from the lauded rtj2, the clip for “close your eyes” follows the physical struggle between a young, unarmed black man (keith stanfield) and a white male police officer (shea whigham), one that’s a clear analog to the on-going racial profiling and police brutality that has plagued african-american communities for decades.  both parties are exhausted before the video even begins, and the unresolved tension at its end extends the notion that these encounters are tragic cogs in an irreparable machine.

taylor swift – “bad blood (ft. kendrick lamar)”

the album version of “bad blood” was defined by an anthemic pre-chorus and chorus yet hindered by subpar verses, so why not let kendrick lamar hop on the beat for its radio edit?  very few music videos are ever blockbuster events, but “bad blood” sure felt like one, with a big enough budget for both kill bill theatrics and a high-profile cast featuring nearly every single one of swift’s female contemporaries.  bonus points to director joseph kahn for utilizing the track’s fantastically emo bridge to set up the clip’s explosive climax.

vince staples – “señorita”

a tattooed messiah leads his congregation through the streets of a walled-off neighborhood in the video for “señorita.” one by one, followers are picked off by automated turrets while their leader is spared a similar end, ostensibly due to his faithful repetition of the song’s dystopian hook.  vince staples, meanwhile, circumnavigates this fate through his musical talents, though his dependence on armed security to perform robs him of an autonomy so often dependent on skin color.

staples is a realist, providing blunt commentary on the day-to-day life in his hometown of long beach, california.  whether or not the neighborhood depicted in “señorita” is meant to represent his own, it’s still incredibly unnerving to see the plight of an entire community ultimately distilled into the viewing pleasure of white america.

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.

watch the music video for lorde’s “yellow flicker beat”

today is ella yelich-o’connor’s eighteenth birthday, a perfect occasion for the artist who performs as lorde to share the music video for “yellow flicker beat,” a pillar of the hunger games: mockingjay part i soundtrack.  lorde tapped emily kai bock for the director’s chair, yielding an end result that has appropriately been drawing comparisons to the work of david lynch.  her singular form of dancing is on full display as well, and it’s further emphasized by the rather maximalist approach to the hook for “yellow flicker beat.”  maximal in comparison to lorde’s usual minimalism, at least.  check out the video below.

best of 2013: songs

i’m upping the ante and treating you to my ten favorite songs of 2013, as opposed to last year’s five.  my choices don’t necessarily reflect contenders for album of the year, but don’t be surprised if some of the same names show up over the next couple of weeks.

10. oostende – keep shelly in athens: “oostende” was my first true glimpse at sarah p.’s vocal personality, which stretches from hesitant to confident within the duration of a verse and a chorus.  the synth pads are brooding throughout, but the lead line that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song routinely gets stuck in my head.  easily the best track off of the duo’s debut album at home, the power of “oostende” is only bolstered by an incredibly heart-wrenching music video.

 

9. collapse – vancouver sleep clinic: the second of just two tracks released by vancouver sleep clinic this year, “collapse” easily proves what tim bettinson is capable of doing with his voice.  retaining an incomprehensible aesthetic akin to bon iver, “collapse” evokes a frigid winter landscape that has already become relatable.  the production behind the vocals is also impressive, molding some james blake drum pads with soft-rock, folky guitars.  both vancouver sleep clinic songs have been firmly distinguishable so far, but “collapse” flexes the ensemble’s potential the most.

 

8. graceless – the national: trouble will find me still hasn’t fully settled in yet.  while the cohesive aspect of the album may be lacking, i know that “graceless” is probably one of the best songs the national have ever written.  there’s that underlying post-punk tone that harkens earlier tracks off of alligator and boxer, along with a truly anthemic final chorus.  the national is a band that ages well, and a sustained break from their earlier influences helped to add depth to that sound.

 

7. diamond mine – pillar point: i love a good mystery.  when i found pillar point through polyvinyl’s twitter page, the sheer absence of a biography or any sort of personal identity attached to the project made me appreciate the music that much more.  “diamond mine” is a chillwave standout that mixes a multitude of pulses, but that lead synth line is always an earworm, whether syncopated or straight in time.  the lyrics are a bit melancholy, juxtaposing the sunny, up-beat accompaniment, but that only adds to the overall sophistication of the songwriting here.

 

6. tennis court – lorde: i could talk about “royals,” but everyone talks about “royals.”  lorde stands for something that goes against the mainstream materialistic values and idolization of glamorous pop stars, but she’s also still a kid, barely out of high school and three years away from turning twenty.  that doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s very self-aware and intelligent; i think “tennis court” showcases this the best.  its lyrics are less about dissociating from material goods and more about defying social trends and chasing perfection.  “tennis court” is fairly autobiographical, highlighting lorde’s naivete in the music industry, but her skeptic tone suggests that she won’t buy into its extravagancies.  i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

5. savage – majical cloudz: there’s a lot to be said about majical cloudz and their fantastic, under-the-radar year.  devon welsh’s voice is routinely haunting, pairing well with the minimalist compositions that define the aesthetic of the duo.  impersonator was an admirable record, but i was drawn to “savage,” a bonus track released just last month, more quickly than any song found on the album.  the ostinato keyboard part sets the tone for welsh’s lyrics, a fairly direct romantic narrative.  the first time i heard him break from his declamatory phrasing to croon “high on lsd with you,” i was sold, and i’ve felt the same tingling sensation every listen since.

 

4. summer skin – teen girl scientist monthly: someone likened teen girl scientist monthly to the pains of being pure at heart on steroids, a comparison that works especially well for “summer skin,” the opening track on their newest album modern dances.  the opening guitar line sells the song as an instant earworm of powerpop, but the gradual additions of keyboard textures and gang vocals find the brooklyn ensemble as an amalgamation of the answering machine and arcade fire.  “summer skin” is the kind of song you would wait around for hours to hear on the radio, but thankfully, you don’t have to do that.

 

3. comrade – volcano choir: “byegone” garnered understandable praise for volcano choir, with its anthemic folk rock feel reminiscent of bon iver’s sophomore album.  but “comrade” is the essence of what volcano choir has become: the marriage of collections of colonies of bees’ post-rock leanings and justin vernon’s vocal tendencies.  responsible solely for the lyrics and vocals on repave, vernon was in his element, generously modifying his voice to embellish the experimental aesthetic of the band.  the autotuned coda at the end of “comrade” makes the song and is gloriously powerful live; watch the video below for a frame of reference.

 

2. lungs – chvrches: any song off of the bones of what you believe could contend for a spot on this list.  chvrches was one of the most impressionable bands of 2013, seamlessly blending pop hooks with indie sensibility and dance floor beats.  “lungs” is buried deep within the album and is a syncopated gem; lauren mayberry’s voice is subtly doubled with a vocoder, adding a harsh undertone to an otherwise crystal clear timbre, but it’s the quarter note-triplet pattern fed through a filthy bass synthesizer that defines this song.  friends of mine who almost exclusively listen to electronic dance music appreciate chvrches due to this song, further showcasing the band’s accessibility across a wide variety of genres.  “lungs” is on par with every single released off of the bones of what you believe, and is probably better than some of them.

 

1. boat rich – dads: it didn’t take long before “boat rich” was my most-played song of 2013.  clocking in at under three minutes helps, but the fact is that the guitar work is too catchy to not listen to on repeat.  dads started to receive some national attention this year with the resurgence of emo, but the new jersey duo are just as likely to throw a quick meter change into a song as they are to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  the chorus of “boat rich” is anthemic in nature and each repetition builds, culminating in a climax following a triplet-based interlude.  check out dads’ pretty good ep if you haven’t already, and keep your eye out for more material in 2014.  i know i will.

 

lorde – pure heroine

the last time i heard material this dark from a sixteen year old, earl sweatshirt was drawling about unspeakable acts towards women in a shockingly articulate manner.  three years later we get lorde, who took one look at the bombastic and image-driven state of pop music and decided to turn it on its head, crafting brooding songs about her disillusionment from the culture that she’s hesitantly dipping her foot into.

“royals” was a slow climb up the charts; before hearing it on top-40 radio at the end of this summer, i followed the song through the blogosphere and over to npr, which probably tipped the scales even more in her favor.  the single is defined by minimalist production and maximalist vocal treatment, and lorde rides this formula throughout most of her debut album pure heroine, rarely deviating from the hip-hop drums and low, rumbling bass.  it’s a bit of a shame that she chose to begin her album with “tennis courts”; it’s her strongest song by a long shot, and placing “royals” just two tracks later won’t keep many casual listeners around for more than the first ten minutes of pure heroine.

one aspect of lorde’s songwriting that can’t go unmentioned is her lyrical content.  her alienation from celebrity life is readily apparent and has been heavily analyzed within the context of “royals,” but it persists throughout the album.  “buzzcut season” has a positively dark chorus, with lorde singing about people who constantly ignore reality to live in a dream-like state.  it’s an observation that is consistent with her critical views on materialism and fame; call her pessimistic if you want, but i think lorde is just the realist we’re all to afraid to be.

pure heroine may be the most important pop record of the year.  it’s certainly not the best – i don’t expect a teenager to be flawless their first time around – but lorde’s sharp reversal of feminine portrayal in pop music won’t go unnoticed, and i’ll be surprised if it’s not emulated.  for a sixteen year old, lorde seems to have her priorities straight.  now we’ll just have to see if this newfound fame corrupts her philosophy.

7.6/10