Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Step Back: The Year in Review

Though Obtusity hasn't been updated in awhile, we never stopped watching music videos. How could we? There were many, many videos to watch this year - more than perhaps any year prior. Yet despite the hundreds of promos we came across each month, the overall quality of the industry was not diluted. Instead this year brought us many of the more creative and ambitious projects in recent memory, from R. Kelly's massive hip-hopera to Justice's ubiquitous D.A.N.C.E. phenomenon.

So we return with a year-end compilation of our favorite releases of the past 12 months. It was no easy task whittling our list to a mere 25 (our staff started with a ranking of 100), but in the end we leaned towards those videos which made a significant artistic statement that went beyond pretty aesthetics. These are the works of art that stayed with us - those we imagine will continue to delight for years to come.

Fergie "Clumsy"

dir. by Marc Webb & Rich Lee

Fergie stumbles into a brilliant concept from Webb & Lee and manages to give a fairly decent, grounded performance (despite the obviousness of her product placement). Yet if the visuals didn't match the tone of the song and its lyrics so well, the entire video would have fell flat. In many ways the self-proclaimed "Dutchess" has a very childish view of love - in the breakdown she talks of constantly needing a boyfriend - and that mirrors the pop-up book concept around her. At the same time the nervousness she displays is a universal symptom of desire, suggesting that even as we grow older, love can make us awkwardly young again.

Liars "Plaster Casts of Everything"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

The first, but not nearly the last appearance of Daughters on our list:

"Escaping from prison into a dark and dreary night, adrift in the desert, this troubled soul is fleeing more than a state institution. He wants to "run away" from the guilt, confusion and fear of whatever it is he's done - or is at least accused of doing. But he doesn't need to look in the rear view mirror to know that these regrets will not be leaving anytime soon."
read the full review

Justice "D.A.N.C.E"

dir. by Jonas&Fran├žois, design by So Me

The year in music videos will likely be remembered as the year of "D.A.N.C.E." And as Kanye West can attest, So Me's design has been and will be hugely influential in the years to come. As a celebration of hipster fashion, colorful graphic design and skinny indie boys, it's endlessly consumable.

Yet in other ways it's strangely pointless. The video's anti-conformist imagery - from loaded guns to overt sexuality - works primarily because it looks so typically "indie." Is the circular and repetitive journey then a comment on the futility of hipsterdom, or is "D.A.N.C.E" actually the ultimate example of the increasingly empty image-based bandwagonism of this culture? Regardless, the fact that people clamored to own every t-shirt on display here is both ironic and proof of the video's infectious quality.

The Shins "Phantom Limb"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

Though originally released in late 2006, this whimsically complex Daughters-directed clip warrants a closer look, and high praise.

Here's what we said back in January:
"...[Daughters] takes the cutesy undertones of Saturday morning serials and after-school specials and turns The Shins' "Phantom Limb" into a full-fledged morality play for adults. While we can still smile at the adorable performances of the players, there are a series of haunting images which negate any attempt at portraying this as simply a kid's music video."
read the full review

Stephanie Dosen "This Joy"

dir. by Dan Sully

The first minute is astonishing in its build-up, never failing to give us chills.

"Director Dan Sully uses deep close-ups, understated colors and slow motion to really let the beauty of the words fully bloom. The animated wallpaper is also a nice touch, and when it switches from a cage above Dosen's head to a print of leafy vines, it directly connects the singer to the birds who wish for freedom. Yet it's only a momentary experience; a step through doors into the light of an adjacent room."
read the full review

Fionn Regan "Be Good or Be Gone"

dir. by Si & Ad

A song is a living, breathing thing. And just like the artist who writes it, it has a history - a constantly evolving story. It exists in every space it has ever been played, and carries with it the memories of how it was played that day, how it sounded in that space and who was there to hear it.

As Fionn Regan tells us his story of loss, the images present something else - perhaps even hope. It reminds us that a good song, like a strong memory, is never as simple as one idea or feeling. It's a myriad of emotions all beautifully rushed together in melody.

RJD2 "Work It Out"

dir. by Joey Garfield

"...in a single continuous take, Bill Shannon (born with a hip condition that requires crutches) expresses uninhibited individuality and freedom - rejecting any notion that he is incapable of beautiful movement. He hops, skates and glides through the crowded city, garnering looks of astonishment wherever he goes. After all that he climbs right back up those stairs - past the stranger who once doubted his ability."
read the full review

M.I.A. "Boyz"

dir. by M.I.A./Jay Will

"Though it's hard to believe, M.I.A. has taken the visual themes of 2005's Arular (seen everywhere from the cover art to the video for "Galang") and created something even more gloriously epilepsy-inducing for sophomore LP Kala. The vibrant collage of neon colors and cheap special effects found in the promo for new single "Boyz" (as well as her fantastic website) is a homage to everything from 80's video games to the advertising and film culture of Nigeria, Southeast Asia and Jamaica. But it's also a completely singular vision, and one that is impossible to pin to any particular movement or region of the world."
read the full review

Emily Haines "Our Hell"

dir. by Jaron Albertin

Albertin uses heatvision to expose the burning underbelly of conformity - the hell that is created by groupthink. Shots of sunbathers and frat boys intersect with portraits of wolves and clowns, with the final image of surrender being the most chilling. Everything from blood to tears is dulled into two sad tones of emotion, all passion and desire drained from the world.

Feist "1234"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

This is the type of video that requires no elaborate description or interpretation. Its brilliance speaks for itself. From the perfectly flawed choreography to the energy of Feist's performance - all shot without a single cut - Patrick Daughters deftly captures the simple bittersweet beauty of the song.

The Bees "Listening Man"

dir. by Dominic Leung

The tone of the video is quite light-hearted, but when the quiet scruffy-haired man who dreams of tennis glory takes his talkative girlfriend in his arms and kisses her with all his might, it's as dramatic and powerful a moment as we saw all year.

Lisa Lindley-Jones "Step Back"

dir. by W.I.Z.

"As Lisa Lindley-Jones stands somberly in a nearby alley, holding a bright flare and only partially obscured by shadow, her police officer pursuer walks by without even a glance in her direction. The two are so close at this moment that it seems nearly impossible that he wouldn't notice her, but it appears to be the case nevertheless. Yet perhaps he doesn't really want to catch her. And even if much of the video implies that she may actually want to be caught, here she makes no move to alert him of her presence either. Is she saddened by his lack of perception? Or is the thought of capture suddenly unpleasant and scary?"
read the full review

Ludacris "Slap"

dir. by Philip Andelman

"It isn't nearly as complex or gripping a portrait as Scorsese's magnum opus, but in its own way it relays the troubles of modern society while mirroring the themes of isolation and paranoia. It's also a monumental video for hip-hop right now. Bill O'Reilly once used this exact song as the basis of a seething critique of the Grammys and Ludacris (who won for Rap Album of the Year), repeatedly referencing the "slapping" as proof of the rapper's promotion of violence. It was clear then and it's clear now that O'Reilly never listened to this track or gave the artist a chance. I'm certain, considering Ludacris's history with O'Reilly, that those words where in the back of his head during the shoot. For this reason alone the video must be counted as an unqualified success; a dramatic affront to anyone who fails to see the potential of hip-hop expression."
read the full review

Kanye West (feat. Zach Galifianakis & Will Oldham) "Can't Tell Me Nothing"

dir. by Michael Blieden

It's a joke, but as director Blieden writes on his website, they "took the song very seriously." Galifianakis is phenomenal, his performance providing a seering critique of the hyper-masculine bravado Kanye and others champion so often. The entire video is a send-up of your typical macho rap video - from the dancing girls to the souped-up tractor - while at the same time a comment on the mass consumtion of hip-hop (particularly Kanye West) by numerous disparate groups in America. There's also a slight jab at the abberant or random appearance of overt religion in his music. Yet Mr. West has always been self-aware to a fault, and the irony of his own work doesn't escape him (as his brief apperance suggests). In many ways Blieden's masterpiece is the perfect anecdote to Hype Williams overwrought epic commisioned for the same song - bringing Kanye, his mega-stardom and the hypocrisy of misogyny in hip-hop back to reality.

Jarvis Cocker "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"

dir. by Dougal Wilson

"The quality of Wilson's vision is rooted in his ability to capture the appeal of Cocker's songwriting while maintaining his own fresh perspective. From the subtle humorous touch to the extravagant disco finale, Wilson creates a fun ride that matches the song in wit and replay value."
Interview with Dougal Wilson

Bat for Lashes "What's A Girl to Do?"

dir. by Dougal Wilson

"Rolling down the street in the dark of night is akin to playing catch with butcher knives - someone is bound to get hurt. Yet Natasha Khan (a.k.a. Bat for Lashes) can't seem to stop playing Russian roulette with her heart"
read the full review

Coparck "A Good Year for the Robots"

dir. by COMRAD

"In the process of becoming "more human" in the video, Alex the robot is exposed to a series of horrific images of chaos and violence, as well as heartwarming footage of lovers and babies. He emerges energized and full of feeling; skipping along the roads he once mechanically trudged. But the majority of his co-workers are less than thrilled by Alex's transformation. They generally preferred the stoic and efficient version that one co-worker called "a retard" prior to the operation. In many ways they liked him as an unfeeling and focused employee because that is precisely what they are."
read the full review

Lyapis Trubetskoy "Capital"

dir. by Alexey Terekhov

"The video seems to suggest an aversion towards globalism with its crazy 7-headed conglomerate shilling horrible products and ideas from every corner of the earth. But the real problem is any one person, or group of people, attempting to force a single ideology on the billions of unique humans that live on this planet. In the finale the piggy bank-heart is destroyed and put back in the hands of the television viewer - the consumer. Having individual choice and spending money is OK - as long as we make educated decisions."
read the full review

The Strokes "You Only Live Once"

dir. by Warren Fu

"If machines were to find our relics in the distant future, would they have a positive first impression? What if they found only your artifacts, your time capsule? These are the important questions that linger after watching Warren Fu's beautifully realized music video - you only live once."
read the full review

Cornelius "Like a Rolling Stone"

dir. by Koichiro Tsujikawa

"...sometime after the halfway point, Tsujikawa zooms in on a Venus de Milo-type women spinning inside one of the many portal-like doorways. Not only does she seem a unique figure in this redundant universe, but there is something unexpected about her beauty. Now as the director pulls out to show us this world once more, it suddenly has symmetry and grace where it once seemed pointless and stagnant."
read the full review

Cat Power "Where Is My Love?"

dir. by Josh & Xander

In one fleeting moment we see it all, from joy to sorrow, love to loneliness. "Where is My Love?" is a devastatingly beautiful video, shot with wonderous warmth and detail. We watch as a women's uproarious laughter - happiness personified - turns slowly into a pathetic and desperate crash to the floor. Each character is so unique and seperate in the bar, yet like in a classic Altman picture, the characters are tied each to each simply via their humanity - their struggle to connect, to live.

Beirut "Elephant Gun"

dir. by Alma Har'el

"There is beauty in this strangely erotic room, and no doubt most of its residents are enjoying themselves. There is something sublime in "letting the seasons begin" and completely embracing the energy of the moment - the lust, the drinks and the music. But the look on Condon's face is the clue to everything he hides inside - the bored desperation of his dreams comes pouring out the weary notes of his trumpet. He can live in distraction or follow the postcards on the wall, but either way a life of escapism will leave one unfulfilled - dragging empty cans along the beach."
read the full review

Petrol "Cera"

dir. by Postodellefragole

"This may very well be a lonely man watching his love fall apart at the hands of his own indecision and hysteria, but it's precisely the mystery of the narrative which keeps "Cera" such a compelling treat. There is a shot of the women running across darkness as if upon water, subtle effects distort the visuals on close-ups and throughout cuts are hidden in the same black where secrets are kept. The directors create a mood that is as disquieting as it is hypnotically beautiful. An enigma that wants no solution - only to evoke and entice feeling."
read the full review

Aereogramme "Conscious Life"

dir. by Tobias Feltus

"Tobias Feltus's "Conscious Life" is a near-perfect example of the symbiosis between picture and sound...They called The Jazz Singer a "talkie" in 1927 because human speech, or a lack thereof, was the real defining quality of the silent films that preceded it. Aereogramme's music contains words, but they aren't directly spoken by any of the characters in "Conscious Life." Rather they serve as our guide through the psychology and context behind the happenings on screen."
read the full review

Dizzee Rascal "Sirens"

dir. by W.I.Z.

From the moment we saw it, we knew this one was special.

"W.I.Z.'s music video for Dizzee Rascal's "Sirens" is loaded with vibrant imagery, but one of its most quietly potent ideas centers around Dizzee's choice of attire. The hooded jacket he wears (and is forced to remove) is about more than a conflict between young and old, it's the fear of the unknown itself. It's about those in power being afraid of "difference," of what they don't understand and can't see. And it's about exploiting those in a weaker position without concern for the long-term effects it has on society at-large."
read the full review


Anonymous said...

Is the circular and repetitive journey then a comment on the futility of hipsterdom, or is "D.A.N.C.E" actually the ultimate example of the increasingly empty image-based bandwagonism of this culture?

Yes Yes Yes a million times. Good video nevertheless. Like all the rest. Fuckin brilliant post, well done:)

Anonymous said...

thanks mike.

Unknown said...

wtf u been?! classy list tho - good to know you're still on th' ball. p

Anonymous said...

ha, i've been around, just haven't had the time to post. thanks for the support though.

Brian said...

Mute Math's "Typical" didn't make the list?

I figured that would be up there at the top.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Absolutely no overlap between your list and mine.


Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie