These music videos make us wonder which came first: the music or the filmmaking?
2016, which could be called the year of the visual album, has provided us with a slew of new directors ready to assume their mantle. As tastes shift away from the good old days of pop and MTV, we have been treated to a revolutionary blurring of the lines between music and film.
Here are the best music videos of the year.
8. Hinds — Warts
Director: Pedro Martín-Calero Medrano
We've highlighted a few of today's most visionary directors in our Auteurs of Music Video retrospectives this year, and here's a little secret: we want Pedro Martín-Calero next. The Spanish artist, a frequent collaborator with the garage rock band Hinds, is one of the best in the business at blending color with geometrical shapes.
It's as if we've entered a living surrealist painting.
Warts is a prime example of his expertise. Like much of his other work, it's as if we've entered a living surrealist painting. This is what a music video looks like when every detail of production design is carefully plotted and mapped out. Unfortunately, the video has been painfully under-appreciated by many music blogs, but it finds a perfect home here among our filmmaker favorites.
7. Ty Segall — Emotional Mugger
Director: Matt Yoka
Matt Yoka's epic 15-minute music video for Ty Segall's Emotional Mugger takes the concept of a visual album and explodes it into some David Cronenberg-inspired monstrosity. While the visual album really grew to prominence this year—see every other end-of-the-year music video list that ends with Beyonce's Lemonade—Yoka and Segall did something a little different.
As Yoka explained in a retrospective conducted back in May, instead of making visuals to fit the finished songs, "it was more collaborative than we had done in the past. [Segall] remixed some of the music that then informed the specific scenes. Then, after we shot it, we remixed more music to fill it out. It really was a back and forth process. For me, that's really exciting because it's a deeper collaboration with the musician."
What we got was a disturbing, condensed nightmare of modern Los Angeles, entirely unique in this year's music video landscape.
6. Jamie XX — Gosh
Director: Roman Gavras
Can someone just give Roman Gavras a damn feature-length action movie already? This guy has been pumping out beautiful, spine-tingling music videos since his pulsating debut, Justice's Stress, back in 2008. His resume has grown to include similarly chaotic shorts for M.I.A.'s Born Free and Bad Girls, and Watch The Throne's No Church in the Wild.
Jamie XX's Gosh came out last year, but for some reason, the video didn't drop until three months ago. It's albinos versus everyone in this surprise release from the gritty urban visionary. Busby Berkeley choreography mixed with insanely skilled drone cinematography go a long way to render this a clear standout.
5. The Avalanches — Because I'm Me
Director Greg Brunkalla
We've all been there, kid. We just might not be as good at dancing as you are.
In a year where there may not have been too much to feel good about, this is definitely the feel-good music video of the year. From a filmmaker's perspective, it's about as simple as you can get: a choreography-based, one-location shoot whose biggest expense must've been the blow-up human heart costume.
4. David Bowie — Lazarus
Director Johan Renck
This is an extremely hard video to watch. Released to the public just two days before his death on January 10, it was later revealed that David Bowie intended it to be a parting gift to his fans. It is perhaps a perfect representation of the pain and confusion the legendary rock and roll singer was enduring in his final days: throughout most of the video, Bowie lies in a hospital bed, blind to his surroundings, before ultimately retreating into a dark closet.
A perfect representation of the pain and confusion the legendary rock and roll singer was enduring in his final days.
Bowie had been living with cancer for 18 months prior to his passing. Producer Tony Visconti probably summed up the importance of this video best when he wrote, "His death was no different from his life: a work of art. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."
3. Radiohead — Daydreaming
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead: what self-respecting cinephile could possibly ask for more? The band and the much-beloved director already had a history together prior to the release of this video; Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood scored three of Anderson's films— The Master, There Will Be Blood, and, most recently Inherent Vice. In return, Anderson directed a film documenting Greenwood's latest album, Junun, which the guitarist recorded with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur in India.
In light of the recent death of Yorke's ex-partner of 23 years, however, the video for Daydreaming should be considered their most personal collaboration yet. The band's latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, released earlier this year, was directly inspired by the split between Yorke and Rachel Owen. A closer examination of the video indeed reveals a connection between its subject material and the mother of Yorke's two children: 23 doors for the 23 years they were together. In the video, Yorke is always entering new doors, but is never able to return to the previous moment.
2. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — Gamma Knife and People Vultures
Directors: Jason Galea & Danny Cohen
When you have created a music video that inspires Alejandro Jodorowsky to tweet "¡Que Divertido!", it's safe to say you've done something right. Such was the case for Jason Galea and the ridiculously-named Melbourne-based septet, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, whose music videos Gamma Knife and People Vultures are clearly influenced by the master surrealist Jodorowsky himself.
You won't find a video that better summarizes this year better than Sam Pilling's Nobody Speak.
These videos are part of a nine-piece "music video film" that is rumored to be released sometime prior to the five albums the prolific band plans to release next year. Visual artist and director Galea is so tightly woven into the mythos of the music that even the band considers him to be their eighth member. He's responsible for the of cover art, animation, posters, and direction behind nearly every music video the band has put out. It's fantastic to see music and visuals meld such that you're not sure which piece of media is inspiring the other—and, with Gamma and Vultures, that's just what we get.
1. DJ Shadow ft. Run The Jewels — Nobody Speak
Director: Sam Pilling
You won't find a video that better summarizes this year better than Sam Pilling's Nobody Speak. That why it deserves its place at number one. We've seen a ton of beautiful, artsy, and surreal videos this year, and many of them hold spots on this list, but what's most effective about the video above is how accurately it reflects reality itself. Don't believe us? Just type "parliament fight" into your YouTube search window and slide down a dark hole of political turmoil.
2016 was a trying year for both sides of the American political landscape, and while government officials on U.S. soil tend to be less "physically" aggressive, Nobody Speak doesn't make too much of a leap in its premise of congressional rumble. This is political satire at its finest. What Pilling, El-P, Killer Mike, and DJ Shadow show us is a mirror to the world as it is today: tense, dramatic, and horrifying enough that sometimes we have to stop and let out a resentful laugh. Boy, how ludicrous things have become.