Music videos have been standard-issue props for bands for decades now. Every band in the world has a standard-issue video in which the lead singer lip-syncs lyrics into the camera while the band pretends to play their instruments. Sometimes the backgrounds in front of which they're playing change. Other times, outfits do. Generic music videos are fine, sure, but throughout the years, directors and musicians have elevated the idea of a music video to art, and Phoenix produced some great ones in 2014. Here are the 10 best, presented in no particular order.
Captain Squeegee -- "The Factory"
This was a big year for creepy circus videos. Director Matty Steinkamp created an entire world of fire-breathers, dancers, mad scientists, evil military officers, and more to match the intricacies of the Captain Squeegee song. The video is a madcap of eye-popping visuals and even includes a choreographed dance sequence. The band held nothing back with this one; it's going to hard to jump higher than the bar Captain Squeegee set with this one.
Prowling Kind -- "Melted Together"
Some music videos focus on music -- shots of the band performing, someone lip-syncs into camera -- while others ignore it entirely. Frank Thomas took the moody ambiance of a track from Prowling Kind's debut album and directed a short film about it, and the result is enchanting. The "Melted Together" video follows the band as they seek refuge from a storm in an eerie-looking vintage that appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Singer Mickey Pangburn opens an old book of fairy tales and gets transported into another world. As the other band members make their way through the store and diddle with the curios, they inadvertently shift things in Pangurn's alternate reality. The video contains some gorgeous, melancholic cinematography, and the sequence at 3:00, where Pangburn plunges into water wearing an Alice in Wonderland dress, is one of the most striking from any video on this list.
Andrew Jackson Jihad -- "Coffin Dance"
OK, so we're not sure what this music video is about, but it sure is arresting. AJJ tapped skateboarding video directors Jackson Casey and JJ Horner of Pyramid Country to direct this video, and the result is one of the strangest videos Phoenix bands produced last year. It's fitting, because the song itself is unlike any other in the AJJ catalog. The tune features Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu on the middle verses, and lyrically, singer Sean Bonnette opts for cryptic opacity as opposed to his trademark bluntness. So combine a confusing, two-chord song with an equally confusing yet somewhat charming visuals, and you get one interesting, if befuddling, video.
Luna Aura -- "Too Young to Die"
Aside from Jordin Sparks, Phoenix doesn't produce a lot of pop starlets, but Luna Aura is far more than a recycled lip-syncing contest champion. Aura not only writes her own songs, she has self-produced her self-titled Columbia Records EP. Her mix of indie hooks with Top 40 charms places her in a league somewhere between Lorde and Katy Perry.
Her video for "Too Young To Die" (Directed by Matty Steinkamp of Sundawg Media) features bear people wearing Zorro masks in a swamp, while Aura, dressed as an ice queen, softly sings about partying all night long. Phoenix may not do pop often, but when it does, you can be sure it'll be bizarre, fun and catchy as hell.
YUS -- "20 Million"
The music of Youceff Yunque Kabal, better known as YUS, has always been minimalistic and layered, so it makes sense that his debut video from Talisman, his sophomore full-length (not counting three remix albums), would be equally subtle. The Brussels-born utilizes an animation technique known as "rotoscoping," which traces over live footage, frame-by-frame, to create a jarring feeling. It was used most notably in Snow White and Richard Linklater's film A Scanner Darkly. Maybe that's kind of nerdy, but that's the way YUS rolls. His downbeat, chillwave selections may seem simplistic, but like this video, it builds on itself in subtle, powerful sweeps.
Bogan Via -- "Gatsby"
Bogan Via's first official video, "Kanye," was sleek, featuring a deluxe Cadillac, guns and flames. Bret Bender and Maddie Miller, the lovely couple who make up the duo, robbed Revolver Records, got nabbed by the bad guys. Maddie was tied up and doused in gasoline when it was revealed that Bret had set her up.
This year's "Gatsby" acts as a sequel, but it ups the ante. Shot in Istanbul by Freddie Paull (their fourth video with the director), this one involves a masked motorcyclist hunting down drug dealers, far more blood and plenty of revenge. No spoilers, tho. Just watch it yourself.
Captain Squeegee -- "Inevitable"
The first 45 seconds of this clay-based stop-motion music video, animated by Johnny McHone, are a marvel in themselves. It's nothing less than the creation of the world, from the Big Bang to a single cell dividing into two, the first fish to grow legs, crawl out of the water, and turn into a dinosaur. A monkey transforms into a human being. It's the sort of claymation world you just want to live inside, and seeing the members of Captain Squeegee portrayed as clay figures, getting the plague, decapitated, and playing music, is as fancy a visual treat as you'll see in a music video.
Simply Three -- "Cold War/Tightrope"
A good music video makes you want to keep watching and isn't just background visuals. That makes Simply Three's cover of "Cold War / Tightrope" by Janelle Monáe even more impressive - the song is a tribute of completely instrumental, classical music (with some light electric guitar). The video bounces between fancy classical scenes, everyone dressed to the 9's, to colorful dancing montages of black light, neon and UV swirls. It's more than mesmerizing, it makes you want to dance.
In fact, Simply Three collaborated with two of Monáe's musicians, Kellindo & Glen McDaniel. It's one thing to cover someone's song, it's entirely different to get a nod from Monáe herself AND work with some of the people involved.
Futuristic -- "That Thang"
Futuristic had a huge, busy 2014. The McClintock High School grad released music at a dizzying pace, appearing on cyphers, dropping an album, and releasing singles steadily throughout the year. He released at least half a dozen music videos as well, most directed by fellow McClintock alum Jakob Owens. Most of the Owens-directed videos, while very sharply done, follow the standard hip-hop trope of a rapper, surrounded by a hyped-up group, spitting verses into the camera. While "Let Us Smoke," featuring Dizzy Wright and Layzie Bone, became a legitimate hit, racking up 2.5 million views and counting since February (and is almost certainly a better song), the most interesting video from the Futuristic-Owens team was "That Thang." In it, the normally swagtastic Futuristic actually acts, playing the role of a lowly bowling alley employee pining for a sexy lady bowler. The video is charming and sweet, and in both directorial and musical style, it's a welcome, scenic detour from both artists' norms.
Hot Rock Supa Joint -- "Happy Birthday (Stoner)"
OK, technically this was released in late 2013, but we were all so stoned we forgot about it last year. Either way, it was 2014 that Hot Rock Supa Joint's video for "Happy Birthday (Stoner)" really made waves. In certain circles, the mantra "hell yeah smoke weed" became akin to a meme. You'd hear it, feigned in Hot Rock's baked cadence, in response to almost anytime anyone offered to smoke you out. Or, if it was someone's birthday, it wasn't uncommon to see the video (now sitting on 12,000 views and counting) posted to someone's Facebook wall.
Directed by Mike Gustie, "Happy Birthday" features Hot Rock playing air guitar with a bong, smoking a joint with a (fake) baby, and, of course, a plethora of toking up. The bright, fuzzy colors and pot leaf motifs just add to the charm of this video that people will be watching for years to come.
Visit the next page for four music videos we liked but that didn't make the cut.
Emby Alexander -- "Manières"
Japhy's Descent -- "Owl"
Dry River Yacht Club -- "The Legend of El Tigre"
Tommy Ash - "Yodelin' Blues"
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