Pitchfork recently released their “Best Music Videos of 2016” countdown, and I couldn’t help but feel the list will be strongly correlated with their top albums and top songs lists, and not based on the merit of the videos alone. This seems to echo the trend of MTV’s Video Music Awards, where popular artists dominate and innovative videos by less well-known acts are increasingly absent. A good music video should be interesting enough to draw you in, even if you don’t particularly care for the song, and videos that are just the artist singing/band playing should be panned no matter how great the song.
Anyway, here’s the top 10 indie music videos of the year:
- We Are Scientists – Headlights
We Are Scientists have always been known as much for their antics as their music. Their live shows are always amusing even if you don’t know the songs, and all of their music videos to date have either been funny or at least entertaining to watch. The video for “Headlights” continues this tradition by being the first Lego-based video I’ve seen since “Fell in Love with a Girl” by the White Stripes way back in 2002. According to the video’s description, the band received the video from a fan and loved it so much they made it the song’s official video. It’s pretty neat to watch, and the creator deserves credit for finding Lego people that actually resemble the band’s members.
- Peter Bjorn and John – Dominoes
Peter Bjorn and John are best known for their 2006 hit single “Young Folks,” which you may remember had an adorably quirky animated music video to accompany the adorably quirky song. They’ve released four albums since, and while the music may not been as consistently quirky, the video for “Dominoes” sure is. True to the song title, the video depicts a chain of people falling on top of one another, first in reverse and then forwards, interspersed with footage of the band playing (alongside some top notch awkward Swedish dancing). Watching it, you can’t help but feel it must have been pretty damn fun to film.
- Metronomy – Night Owl
Metronomy’s latest album Summer 08 was largely a solo effort by frontman Joseph Mount, and to mark the occasion he made a music video where he gets bumped off in various ways. Over the course of the video, he takes an axe to the back, gets stabbed in the stomach, shoved off a building, drowned, and bludgeons himself with a brick. You may notice that there’s a lifelike stand-in each time he gets killed though, so don’t worry about the real Mount! The grim reaper and a stray, slithering brain also follow him around as he cruises through the desert, with death sometimes taking the wheel. I’m sure it’s meant to symbolize something, but you can also just enjoy the whole surrealistic visual package.
- The Avalanches – Subways
The Avalanches always bring their A-game when it comes to music videos – the videos for “Frontier Psychiatrist” and “Since I Left You” from their 2000 debut are among the best ever made. Therefore, when their second album Wildflower was announced earlier this year, there was an implicit expectation that it would be accompanied by amazing music videos. Thankfully, the video for “Subways” is pretty great. It depicts a psychedelic cartoon version New York City’s subway in the 1970s to match the disco beats of the song, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie. It’s also not as kid-friendly as it first appears, since a lot of these cartoon characters are apparently pretty damn horny and a couple meet their demise. “Subways” may not be at the legendary tier of its predecessors, but it again shows off the Avalanches’ music video prowess.
- Miike Snow – My Trigger
Similar to the Avalanches, Miike Snow also go all-out when it comes to music videos, and have yet to release one that could be considered “boring.” “My Trigger” is a retelling of the Cold War just as we remember it. John F. Kennedy meets with his military brass and is seduced by the allure of pushing the nuclear button (represented by a dancing Marilyn Monroe figure) but resists. Meanwhile at the Kremlin, Khrushchev’s dancing advisors make a similar nuclear plea, but he too resists. Khrushchev and Kennedy dance it out a bit before calling each other, surrounded by backup dancers of military officers and showgirls wearing missile headbands. They then return to their respective advisors and unleash a flock of doves on them, showing their détente. We can’t know for sure if this is what happened in history, but the music video is ridiculously entertaining.
- Radiohead – Burn The Witch
Radiohead has been making excellent music videos since the 90s, and it’s good to see they still have the magic touch with new album A Moon Shaped Pool. The video for “Burn the Witch” features stop-motion animation done in the style of a 1960s British children’s show called Trumton. Apparently the resemblance is so uncanny that the family of the show’s creator was not pleased and said it was copyright infringement. The family was also irked that the “Burn the Witch” video doesn’t depict a calm, kid-friendly town, but instead mirrors the plot of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man. A strange guide shows an official inspector his village full of grisly practices to impress him, yet when the inspector is instead repulsed he is made into a human sacrifice (but fortunately escapes). The song is a critique of a paranoid, nativist society, and the video can be seen as a matching critique with its depiction of a town that doesn’t exactly welcome newcomers.
- STRFKR – Open Your Eyes
Although STRFKR are a lesser-known band and their new album Being No One, Going Nowhere didn’t make much of a splash, that doesn’t stop them from making some great music videos. The video for “Open Your Eyes” features aliens invading and nonchalantly declaring Earth’s impending destruction to a trailer-dwelling dude, who objects and challenges the extraterrestrials to a series of challenges for the fate of the world. Trailer dude and the aliens then go head to head in a moped race, target shooting, a hot dog eating contest, blackjack, and a drinking contest. I won’t spoil who the winner is, but now we know what activities the home team and “visitors” would excel at, given the opportunity.
- The Last Shadow Puppets – Aviation
As I’ve stated before, I’ve always wanted the Last Shadow Puppets to be selected to make a James Bond theme song. Since this apparently might not happen, the band went ahead and released a very Bond-like music video for their single “Aviation” so we could see just how well their music fits. The video depicts a sullen-faced villain groom and his tearful bride emerging from a “just married” car on a beach, where band members Alex Turner and Miles Kane are digging a hole under the watch of armed henchmen. A different (and much less interesting) video for their song “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” reveals that they’re essentially digging their own graves, and Kane getting in the villain’s face before smooching him seals their fate as they’re bound and placed in the hole. The video is incredibly shot and has a somewhat surreal feel to its action quality, with a blindfolded orchestra on the beach providing ambience for the whole ordeal.
- The Avalanches – Because I’m Me
Hey, when I said the Avalanches bring their A-game to music videos, I meant it. “Because I’m Me” is easily the sweetest video on this list, depicting a young boy trying to impress his older crush who works as a station agent for the New York City subway (notice a pattern here?). When his dance moves fail to impress her, he grabs a mic and breaks into song, delivering the verses from the 1955 “Six Boys In Trouble” sample on the track. As the beat kicks up, a brass band emerges behind the boy and he starts an even more impressive dance routine, while Sonny Cheeba of Camp Lo coolly sits on a nearby bench and delivers his rap verses. The dance routine grows more and more elaborate with color guard and breakdancers joining in, and culminates in a giant inflatable heart coming out of the boy. The whole thing has an incredible feel-good throwback feel to it, and its dancing brings the Avalanches’ “Since I Left You” video to mind. The boy’s crush may not have been impressed in the end, but I sure was.
- Miike Snow – Genghis Khan
Topping off the list is none other than Miike Snow, who really upped the ante with the quality of the videos on new album iii. While the video for “Aviation” has some Bond themes, the video for “Genghis Khan” is an over-the-top spoof of the series, and brings back the same actors from the “My Trigger” video above. Just like all Bond movies, the video’s villain has an army of henchmen and places Bond in an elaborate death device, but our villain clocks out right when the workday ends at five, saving Bond. The villain returns to his family, but lies awake at night thinking of what he really wants – Mr. Bond. When he goes back to his lair the next day and dances out his frustration, he’s all set to finish the job but then frees Bond, and the two then engage in an absolutely amazing dance together. They then appear to live happily ever after as a family, but a new villain emerges just in time for the video to resemble an elaborate movie trailer. This video came out right at the beginning of the year, but has managed to surpass anything else I’ve seen since.