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.

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listen to a new song from milo

milo:scallops hotel
photo courtesy of giovanni solis

between the title of his forthcoming album and the stark nature of its artwork, it’s apparent that rory ferreira is hyper-aware of mortality in present-day america.  but on “zen scientist,” the first single culled from so the flies don’t come, he seems confident and pragmatic in dealing with the situation.  recording again as milo, ferreira raps plainly that “the soul is fly / i’m in my new zone / i have decided my point of view” with help from myka 9 over kenny segal’s downtrodden production; there are no frills, non-sequiturs are trimmed to a minimum, and milo’s analogies refer less to his pop-culture prowess and instead hone in on key figures he views as progenitors to his current mentality.  so the flies don’t come arrives september 25th via ruby yacht.  let your soul fly.

listen to a new song from sayth

sayth
photo courtesy of spencer wells

sayth and north house began teasing their collaborative project, body pillow, in the early months of summer with “pink pistols,” a staple in sayth’s live repertoire elevated by meticulous production from north house.  the duo subsequently went silent for the month of july, building anticipation before releasing a steady stream of material this month.  “under water • under ice” is the final piece of body pillow to surface, a brooding outing devoid of any guest spots which allows sayth to jockey between a bleak, realistic outlook on life (see also: the melancholy delivery of the line “wave hi to the cancer”) and the incendiary hook “this is for the kids that know that words matter / break a broken window theory / watch that shit shatter,” a sentiment that feels like a suitable mantra for sayth’s persona.  most notably, “under water • under ice” largely wanders away from non-sequitur crutches at the behest of north house’s steady arpeggios and shadowy synth pads, the production’s uniformity allowing sayth the space to create a serious, cohesive narrative to complement the one doled out on “pink pistols.”

body pillow is available to stream and download here.  take a listen to “under water • under ice” below.

premiere – sayth

sayth
photo courtesy of spencer wells

eric wells is a fixture in wisconsin’s diy scene right now.  he gigs constantly around the state and frequently crosses the state line to rap in the minneapolis/st. paul area; when he’s not performing, wells dedicates a majority of his time to tirelessly promoting the other local musicians around him, enthusiastically sharing their new work via co-ordinated social media blasts and plugging all-ages events.  this tireless networking has yielded fruitful results; much of this past year has been spent developing lowkey radical, a burgeoning record label that hosts many of wells’ most-trusted collaborators.

one of the label’s first releases will be body pillow, a four-track co-op between wells and alex tronson, a minneapolis-bred producer who performs as north house.  the duo chose to eschew conventional release format, opting instead to slowly share each song individually before sending out pre-ordered physical copies; so far, body pillow has featured “pink pistols” with its searing macklemore slam and “a formal apology to grandma wells,” a non-sequitur-laced commentary on awkward family vacations with a prominent guest verse from wealthy relative.

 

the project’s third single, “maybe god is afraid of us?”, is comparatively introspective, defined by a murky, futuristic north house beat and a heartbreaking display of vulnerability from wells as he anticipates the inevitable end of a relationship.  compounded by an indelible guest hook from baby blanket, the track is a pensive comedown, providing extensive levels of depth and contrast to body pillow as a cohesive unit.  “maybe god is afraid of us?” is streaming for the first time ever right here on dimestore saints; listen to the premiere above, and read on below for an exclusive interview with sayth about the creation of body pillow and his plans for the new label.

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you worked with north house a bit on bad habitat last year. what led the two of you to want to make a fully collaborative project?

since the release of bad habitat, north house has become one of my best friends.  last winter i started performing with him more and more, just to have someone else to jump around with on stage and hang with in green rooms.  i have a lot of respect for his drive as a producer.  he’ll sit down and spend whole days working on one beat and he’s constantly posting them on places like reddit’s r/futurebeats, searching for critique and feedback.  i’ve seen his production style improve and evolve solely from having the ambition to ask for help and take advice.  this ep just felt really natural; i’d have new raps and be like, “you got any beats?”  he’d play me something and i’d jump around and just start rapping to it.  that’s how the whole thing happened; we just did whatever felt right.  i love working with him because he has his own lane and an impressive body of solo work.  he’s also one of the easiest people to travel with and likes to party just as much as i do, so that doesn’t hurt.

what’s the ethos behind body pillow?  what frame of mind were you in when writing its material?

the bulk of this project was written in late 2014/early 2015, in the cold wisconsin winter.  i was drinking a lot of whiskey and living on a shoestring budget.  to me, each track on body pillow seems to have a more concrete theme than bad habitat’s songs did, though that was never my intention setting out.  for example, i wrote my verse for “a formal apology to grandma wells” about a vacation i took with my family to north carolina where i basically just drank johnny walker red and sat by the pool the whole time feeling like a loser.  when we took the trip i had just turned twenty-one and was living illegally in a tiny shared room near downtown eau claire, still unsure if dropping out of college was the right choice.  pair that with a week-long family reunion in a house with all of my cousins and you get a verse full of self-doubt and uneasiness.

the two tracks released so far lean heavily on outside contributions, be it videography or a guest verse.  how important have your friends been to the shape body pillow has taken?

very important.  in the last year i’ve really started surrounding myself with friends that create music-related content in some way, whether that’s design, video work, beats, raps, whatever.  a solid portion of navigating my place in music has been figuring out what i’m good at, and what my friends are better at.  i can rap, but i can’t design my way out of a paper bag or storyboard a video – well, i could, but not on a professional level.  i feel very blessed.  dan forke, whom i’ve been friends with since middle school, has done wonders as my art director.  my brother spencer is a professional photographer and is super experienced with video work.  north house knows how to master a track in a flash, and make it sound radio-ready.  that’s the idea of lowkey radical: we all contribute our strengths to each other’s art so that the content we put out is the best it can be.  sayth on a surface level is just me rapping, but there’s a squad of people helping me out.

the production on “maybe god is afraid of us?” feels a bit darker and more cerebral than other tracks on body pillow.  did this inform your lyrical direction at all?

i actually wrote those two verses to a riley lake beat.  i played two shows with him in early november of 2014 and he gave me a beat tape he had produced.  after i wrote it i asked him about the beat and he said rory (ferreira, aka milo, aka scallops hotel) had already claimed it.  so then i found this north house beat and i thought the verses fit really well.  i wrote the hook in january and tried to sing it with some autotune but it was sounding really goofy.  then we added luke (baby blanket) recently and it felt solid right away; his voice already sounds autotuned.

“maybe god is afraid of us?” feels very tender.  can you speak to your headspace for this particular track, abstractly if need-be?

i wrote that song while i was in a relationship and essentially predicted its expiration.  the song is about losing productivity to love and the anxieties that come with that.  love is expensive.

what’s next for you?  are you going to play out with the body pillow material for awhile, or are you looking ahead to new projects?

we’re cutting more tracks for a november or december release.  i moved to minneapolis recently; i’m living at a basement venue called green greens with alex adkinson (formerly of soflty, dear) and he basically has a studio in his room so we can record whenever we want.  i love living here.  i sleep in the basement and it’s grungy and i feel like a pirate.  tickle torture is playing here in september; i love that i can sit in my bed and watch bands play.  luke, wealthy, and north house are always around so we’re cooking up new songs all the time.

as far as immediate releases go, i’m focusing most of my effort on getting out eps for the rest of the label.  dan has one set to go for late august, astral samara is dropping his debut tape in september, and we have a lowkey radical compilation tape coming out in october.

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one more collaborative track from sayth and north house is due soon.  we’ll also be following the developments of lowkey radical closely as the fall progresses.  stream “maybe god is afraid of us?” one more time to let it sink in, and then visit sayth and north house on all of their socials.

bandcamp / bandcamp
facebook / facebook
soundcloud / soundcloud
twitter / twitter

listen to a new song from sayth

sayth
photo courtesy of spencer wells

eau claire-bred rapper eric wells has been no stranger to dimestore saints; his 2014 ep bad habitat landed on our year-end best-of list, and we’ve been keeping close tabs on his subsequent projects.  wells is prepping his latest release as sayth, a collaborative effort with producer north house called body pillow, and today he shared the projects’s second single.  “a formal apology to grandma wells” is powered by an absolutely filthy bass line and continues to showcase wells’ lyrical adroitness as he fluctuates effortlessly between slight self-deprecation and tongue-in-cheek references.  a large chunk of “grandma wells” is then ceded to sayth’s frequent collaborator wealthy relative before a soothing gang-vocal hook sees the track home.  body pillow is out later this month; listen to “a formal apology to grandma wells” below.

listen to a new song from mick jenkins

mick jenkins
photo courtesy of the artist

mick jenkins has been enjoying a swift ascension into the upper echelon of contemporary hip-hop artists.  after releasing last year’s excellent the water[s], jenkins will return with a similarly-themed ep, water[s], out august 21st via cinematic music group.  the nine-track effort features a fair amount of production from thempeople and kaytranada, although jenkins enlists the help of fellow chicagoan stefan ponce on its newest single, “get up get down.”  jenkins’ dexterous delivery waxes and wanes with the intensity of ponce’s bass lines before mellowing out for the song’s final third.  take a listen to “get up get down” below.

vince staples – summertime ’06

vince-staples-summertime-06
out june 30th via def jam

vince staples does not mince words.  even back in 2010, when the long beach, california native still treated rapping as more of a hobby, his guest verse on earl sweatshirt’s “epar” was frightening in both its lyrical contents and in its effortless, visceral dexterity.  staples is a closer and a chameleon when he guests; on “epar” and on earl’s 2013 cut “hive,” staples conforms to the host’s present lyrical state of mind with ease while often beating earl out for the song’s most memorable line (“ruger with the pork face / jewish for the court case” is one of the more fully-loaded couplets encountered in recent memory).

staples has meticulously crafted his solo career over the past four years in the most logical way possible: picking a bare-bones aesthetic and molding it around his uncanny propensity for unabashed, autobiographical storytelling.  this journey took him through a series of yearly mixtapes, a stellar ep from last fall entitled hell can wait, and has culminated in summertime ’06, an ambitious double-album for def jam that also serves as staples’ debut full-length effort.

2014 was staples’ definitive breakout period, and summertime ’06 streamlines the best features of that year.  most of the g-funk synth lines that popped up across hell can wait have disappeared, but executive producer no i.d. has front-loaded the album with sub-bass tones to such a degree that any tone in a higher register is relegated far into the background.  that’s perfectly fine, though; staples’ nasally vocal register is the perfect timbral foil to the constant subterranean agitation.  thematic elements carry over as well, from staples’ fondness of the birds and the bees to tales recounting his youth in long beach.  the latter finally feels sufficiently cohesive, as staples is able to dedicate an hour – over the span of twenty rapid-fire tracks – to the subject matter.

a degree of nihilism exists in staples’ lyrics, and its variance has always been his calling card.  there is no redemption for his characters, nor for staples himself, but he does allow brief moments of tenderness.  on “summertime,” the closing number on the first disc, staples half-sings to a romantic subject, juxtaposing any hopefulness with hopeless lines like “they never taught me how to be a man / only how to be a shooter.”  by and large, though, he hones in on the rampant negative stereotypes that pervade black culture and exposes them with the searing, sarcastic opening line on “lift me up,” the disorienting implications of the imagery in the music video for “señorita,” and frequent mentions of police brutality in his neighborhood.

summertime ’06 retains a different level of uniqueness in its place within the landscape of rap music in 2015.  this is one of the few albums that, for all intents and purposes, followed a fairly traditional promotional cycle: the project was never shrouded in mystery, it wasn’t dropped unexpectedly nor released weeks before its official arrival date, and it spawned three major-label caliber singles that displayed the diverse capabilities of staples’ minimalist preferences.

staples also seems unfazed by his contemporaries and their genre-bending tendencies; summertime ’06 is devoid of kendrick lamar’s optimistic jazz odysseys, of the atlanta scene’s investment in psychedelia, of the social experiment’s jubilant funk-pop.  though he relies on guest artists to deliver hooks on about half of the album, staples is by and large in sole control of its dystopian lyrical direction.  in an era where many socially active artists are preaching perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity, staples exists as a stark reminder that any semblance of progress is still in its early infancy.

there is a large percentage of staples’ audience who won’t be able to fully comprehend every facet of summetime ’06, including myself.  thoroughly digest, perhaps, but true empathy will be rare.  the lifestyle staples details is a reality that comparatively few of us are routinely faced with.  instead, summertime ’06 serves as an miniature analog to a larger, overarching discussion of race relations in the united states; vince staples is a representative voice of an oppressed group of citizens, and it’s best to check any form of privilege at the door, shut up and listen to what he has to say.

watch the music video for sayth’s “pink pistols”

the electronic music and hip-hop scenes in eau claire have been feeding off of each other for some time now, and there’s perhaps no better example of this than the recent collaborations between sayth (eric wells) and north house (alex tronson).  after teaming up for a track on sayth’s excellent 2014 ep bad habitat, the duo plan on releasing a four-song collection of music, body pillow, together at the end of this month.  the ep’s lead single, “pink pistols,” has been floating around in sayth’s live repertoire for awhile, and it feels rejuvenated by north house’s signature production that pits crisp, rapid-fire drum beats against soothing synth pads and earthy bass lines.

sayth has long been adept at crafting autobiographical narratives that have increasingly functioned as anthems for anyone disillusioned by a heteronormative mainstream society, and “pink pistols” only furthers that penchant.  amidst deriding the cyclical nature of social media, name-checking the main thoroughfares in downtown eau claire, and shouting out his mom, wells again grapples with familial and societal resistance towards his sexuality, culminating in the searing finale “macklemore made a million off of gay rights / thanks bro, this is actually my real life.”

“pink pistols” dropped as a cohesive audio/visual experience yesterday, with wells’ older brother spencer directing a monochromatic clip following sayth around new york city.  woven through shots of sayth riding the subway and performing shows are a sequence of dates with the same guy, bookended by a kiss.  as impose noted in their premiere yesterday, this casually subverts how queerness is often portrayed in the media, integrating each kiss into the overarching storyline rather than making the act itself into a grand spectacle.  there’s a lot to absorb here; spend some time with “pink pistols” below, and look for the rest of body pillow in the coming weeks.

scallops hotel – plain speaking

out may 5th via ruby yacht/the order label
out may 5th via ruby yacht/the order label

editor’s note: every review of an album or ep has come standard with a numerical ranking assigned at the end of the article since the inception of dimestore saints.  for awhile, this seemed to be a necessity, a way to keep up with other blogs and to perhaps speak a sort of shorthand code to those wishing to find the most thought-provoking new albums in the shortest amount of time.  as this site has progressed i’ve become increasingly conflicted about assigning art an arbitrary value, which is why i’m stopping, effective immediately.  from this moment forward, one can assume that any album or ep explored in length on dimestore saints carries some amount of merit and helps to shape the ever-changing musical landscape around us.  one can also assume that any album or ep assigned the “best new music” category is not inherently superior to all other music released that week, but rather has a profound impact on the author and/or directly relates to noted cultural shifts and movements within the music community, both of which are key components when curating year-end content.  phew.  long-winded formalities aside, here’s our take on the new scallops hotel full-length.

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rory ferreira has charted an expansive course under the guise of milo, a persona culled from humble beginnings in the wisconsin rap collective nom de rap and sculpted meticulously over the past four years.  as milo gained a solid amount of traction in 2013 with a pair of eps and the stellar cavalcade mixtape, ferreira trotted out a side project called scallops hotel, one that found him mostly in charge of production and experimenting with songs devoid of conventional form.  after quietly releasing poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer) late that year, ferreira returns – more vociferously this time – as scallops hotel once again to deliver plain speaking, a riveting back-to-basics exercise.

plain speaking is the most straightforward lyrical body of work ferreira has offered thus far in his career.  his rhyme schemes, previously dictated by sequences of quick-witted non-sequiturs and compounding philosophical references, are now extremely fluid; standout cuts like “bookoo bread co” seem to come from ferreira’s heart as much as from his mind, and the name-checks that do still necessitate a google search fit comfortably within his narrative.  many tracks also allow the audience to bear witness to ferreira’s rebirth of self.  the downtrodden “roc marciano riff suite 1” distills his growing aversion to the aforementioned fact-checking into a tidy succession of bars before arriving at a thesis that feels central to the entire album: “don’t have to be flying / just existing.”  the notion of relishing the present moment is in line with the overall fluidity of ferreira’s delivery, and adds an extra dimension to the organic nature that already permeates plain speaking.

the musical side of the album is a bit more nuanced and showcases a personal progression rather than a strict reinvention for ferreira.  “lavender chunk” was the first piece of plain speaking teased to the general public, and for good reason; its no-frills production further underscores the project’s direct nature.  the track also functions well as a cursory overview of ferreira’s work for the casual or first-time listener, and its accessibility paired with a reasonably high-profile guest verse from hemlock ernst yields a rare product from ferreira that feels almost radio-ready.

in the context of the rest of plain speaking, however, “lavender chunk” is an anomaly.  most tracks are a bit murkier and some like “tense present” tend to shoot off suddenly into new musical thoughts, as if the non-sequiturs that previously frequented ferreira’s lyrics now manifest in his production.  stabbed piano chords dictate opening number “gnosis, black nationalism, rice”; there is an interlude where a beat pulses tentatively underneath the recitation a henry dumas poem; the penultimate cut “birther” rests comfortably as the album’s lone instrumental track.  the fluidity and renewed earnestness of ferreira’s lyrics binds together plain speaking, and its most crucial result is this unabashed – albeit exhaustive – exploration of timbres and constructs.

when scallops hotel first emerged as a side project in 2013, it felt like a devotion to the self; in 2015 it feels more like a reclamation of the self.  as milo has become increasingly subjected to public expectation, scallops hotel has served to counter any semblance of limitation.  on plain speaking, ferreira has free reign and wisely chooses to surround himself with close, integral contributors.  long-time collaborator safari al is granted one of just three guest verses on the album, and ferreira again enlisted the mixing talents of riley lake and the mastering craftwork of daddy kev.  a few tracks were outsourced to other producers, a mild concession that keeps plain speaking from becoming too self-indulgent and serves as an indicator that ferreira still benefits from outside help.  a perennial struggle for solo artists seems to be finding a proper balance between independence and collaboration; on plain speaking, rory ferreira is in full bloom.

watch the music video for sayth’s “rare candy”

sayth’s bad habitat ep was one of our favorites from last year for good reason; you can click through that link to read us wax poetic about eric wells’ work ethic and artistic persona, but the bottom line is that sayth continues to be an extremely singular project that stands in stark contrast to some of the other music coming out of the midwest.  the music video for the bad habitat stand-out cut “rare candy” keeps this trend going.  an 8-bit pokémon sample fades in as a backdrop to an altar of 1990s-era regalia with wells as its centerpiece, who promptly swaps his gameboy color in favor of an sp-404 once the track’s beat kicks in.

the “rare candy” cast is a veritable who’s who of the eau claire diy scene that helped foster sayth’s career, with members of adelyn rose, hemma, and glassworks improv functioning as wells’ entourage throughout the video.  the nostalgic vhs treatment – courtesy of directors peter elliott eaton and spencer w. wells – pairs well with the video’s euphoric subject matter, and while both at times belie the song’s more metaphysical lyrical turns, the resulting contrast only seems to permanently underscore sayth’s ethos: rigorous self-examination does not have to come at the sacrifice of flat-out fun.  watch “rare candy” below.