2013 was certainly not a year with a shortage of things to watch on the Internet. The mobile app Vine debuted in January, making snippets of video even easier to share. Instagram followed suit by adding video to their service in June, and has made many of our snapshots magically resemble the moving photographs in the Harry Potter movies. Netflix began creating its own original series, including House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and also, finally, resurrected our beloved Arrested Development (albeit to mixed reviews).
However, despite the volume of web-delivered video content— and I’ll be honest here— the year wasn’t a strong one for music videos. Don’t get me wrong, those I’ve chosen to post below are as engaging as any I’ve posted here in previous years‘ roundups, but an increasing percentage of the ones I watched were throwaways, visually speaking. I guess I should explain that when I watch a video, I’m looking for a narrative to pull me through, or at least inventive optics, otherwise I find myself absentmindedly switching to another tab on my browser. Perhaps record labels are seeing fewer returns from excellent videos compared to mediocre (and presumably cheaper to produce) ones, and aspiring filmmakers, as the economic recovery continues to slug along, are less willing to build their reel by taking on low-paying music video gigs.
But enough of that. These are awesome. Really.
Local Natives - Heavy Feet Perhaps the initial inspiration for Local Natives’ “Heavy Feet” video came from Portland’s Blind Pilot, who they’ve toured with previously. The story director Ben Reed has created, in pseudo-documentary form, of a group of blind model airplane pilots is oddly moving and grounded. The only truly absurd element is the singing sandwiches.
Passion Pit - Carried Away Passion Pit released two other strong music videos in 2013, for “Cry Like a Ghost” and TiÎsto’s remix of “Carried Away.” This video starts out as a trailer for a fictional rom-com, starring Sophia Bush opposite lead singer Michael Angelakos. Although Bush’s IMDB page reads like a list of things I’ll never watch, she provides a sparky romantic partner for Angelakos as space, time, and the very medium of music video itself all begin to fold in on one another.
Woodkid - I Love You Woodkid is Yoann Lemoine, a 30-year-old musician, director and visual artist from France. His debut full-length, The Golden Age, is a concept album, telling the story of a wooden boy who grows up, moves to the city, turns to marble or stone, and dies. He says that most of his work, since starting to record music, has been on the theme of transitioning from childhood, “the golden age,” into adulthood and the hardening that takes place in that transition. This can be seen in his first two videos, for “Iron,” “Run Boy Run,” and on the video for the album’s title track, due out in 2014.
Bonobo - Cirrus British artist Simon Green, aka Bonobo, creates music equal parts cerebral and danceable, natural and electronic. “Cirrus” was the first single from The North Borders featuring visuals by animator Cyriak, whose work often has the theme of technology becoming a fractal of itself and taking over, like Walt Disney’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” on (insert drug of choice here). In “Cirrus,” his raw material is the naive optimism of the 1950s, seemingly recycled through the lens of the ‘90s zines which drew on their irony as their clip art.
Arcade Fire - Afterlife Whether or not Reflektor could ever have lived up to the expectations that Arcade Fire, working with producer James Murphy, would create music that would put an end to war and poverty, align the planets and bring them into universal harmony, allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets, and be excellent for dancing, I’ll leave that question to the critics (with apologies to George Carlin). The videos, without question, have been high-quality. Anton Corbijn directed the papier-mached video for the title track, Vincent Morisset and Aaron Koblin created an interactive version for the same. “Afterlife” also got two videos— the first directed by Spike Jonze, starring Greta Gerwig, performed live at the YouTube Music Awards, and the second, below, directed by Emily Bock Kai. Hers is a moving portrait of a Hispanic family, trying to get on with their lives after the loss of their mother.
David Bowie - The Stars (Are Out Tonight) One of 2013’s unexpected gifts was the release of The Next Day, David Bowie’s first new album in ten years. Though he released multiple music videos for the album tracks, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is far and away the standout. It stars Tilda Swinton (who is, visually, the ultimate female counterpart to Bowie) as his wife, in a universe where he isn’t famous, but an ordinary citizen. Things get far stranger and abstract from there.
Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone The medium of interactive music video still hasn’t taken off as a widely used platform, but this year we saw some well-executed ones, including Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”. But my favorite is for “Like a Rolling Stone,” essentially 16 videos in one (one for every three years that have passed since the song’s release in 1965), which you can switch between like changing channels on the TV.