Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Music Videos, 2011: My Top Dozen of the Year

There was a lot of great music in 2011 - in every genre. Though typically, when it came down to producing music videos, there were plenty of perfunctory, uninspired clips that failed to complement or elevate the song in question. But then there were the exceptions; creative collaborations that beautifully captured the essence of a song,  raised an artist to new heights or surprised and mesmerized the hell out of you. Sure, it's all subjective, but here are the dozen I could watch over and over again.

"Hawaiian Air" by Friendly Fires. I love these guys. I love their sound - a fresh English dance/pop/tribal melange that works. The video should resonate with anyone who's ever just wanted to get away to some sunny destination... and had to endure a long airline flight to get there.

"Treading Water" by Alex Clare. This rather handsome British singer-songwriter has a very fine voice. The video is a clever visual representation of the emotions of a break up and how it can sometimes make you feel like you're drowning.

"Add Ends" by When Saints Go Machine. There were a lot of videos about death in 2011. A lot. This quirky Danish electro-pop band delivers a surrealistic little film that matches the dramatic, haunting arrangement and lyrics of the song.

"Countdown" by Beyonce. I'm generally indifferent about Beyonce's music. This particular song, however, is a terrific mix of styles, executed with verve. The video is a cool fashion show accentuated by splendid choreography. And if you're familiar with legendary beauty and actress Audrey Hepburn, you can't help but notice the wardrobe/hairstyle homage. I'm not sure if Beyonce realizes how impossibly gorgeous she is, but the people who dressed her for this video surely do.

"Calamity Song" by The Decemberists. I confess I was never a fan of this band before 2011. I'm finally on board. The song itself reminds me of early, great R.E.M. The video is based on a scene from Infinite Jest - a novel by David Foster Wallace - about a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court. An inspired idea, executed with pitch black irreverence.

"Fish" by Wye Oak. The Baltimore duo comprising Wye Oak recruited some hometown artists to create this visually arresting video. It's a meticulously crafted shadow puppet show with amazing lighting and cinematography. Nothing else like it all year.

"Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj. She started out as the special sauce on a lot of other people's records, then came her blistering 2010 debut album.  Everything about this video is garishly over the top, including Ms. Minaj herself, who embodies the most cheerfully vulgar and demented Barbie doll of all time.

"Simple Math" by Manchester Orchestra. An indie band from Atlanta! They hit a home run with this vibrant and gripping video. Compelling narrative, excellent cinematography and effects. Might even make you choke up.

"Mein Land" by Rammstein. A German industrial metal band... with a sense of humor to go along with their love of pyrotechnics. They've given us a wickedly hilarious send-up of 1960s beach movies (and they even manage to poke fun at the Beach Boys and "Baywatch" in the process.) It's awesome.

"Is Tropical" by The Greeks. Just jawdroppingly wrong. Extreme cartoon violence with kids. And animation. It's like if Quentin Tarantino directed a video for the Disney Channel. In a parallel universe. Your mom would not approve... but honestly, how many of us have passed countless childhood hours pretend-shooting our friends?

"Together" by Pet Shop Boys. Pet Shop Boys often write songs about love, just not love songs. This is a pretty unabashed love song, lacking the brilliant complexity of their best music. However, the video will likely be irresistible to anyone who loves dancing. And beautiful young people. Or beautiful young people dancing. Show me someone who's not charmed by this thing and I'll show you someone in desperate need of an enema.

"Go Outside" by Cults. One of the best songs of 2011 got an extraordinary video treatment. In the late 1970s, infamous religious cult leader Jim Jones led over 900 men, women and children to their deaths ("revolutionary suicide") by cyanide poisoning at his Peoples Temple intentional community in Guyana. The video uses a combination of news reports and home movies, visual effects and other tricks to embed the band into the historical footage. You can't help but get an eerie vibe from the combination of real footage and the hauntingly beautiful music, but it never feels exploitative. (Survivors of the massacre screened the video before its public release and praised it for celebrating the lives of People Temple members and not exploiting the tragedy.)

1 comment: