I've always loved music videos the same way as comic books. Similar to how comics mix art and the written word, music videos link melody and moving images into one complete work.
What makes a good music video is up for debate, and it's so, so easy to mess up. There are the natural barriers: Seeing a singer staring into the camera lip-syncing in not just boring, it can be really awkward if not done properly. The other frequently abused music video trope is the live performance, in which a band is filmed playing the song. The only thing is, it's not really a live performance: It's the instrumental version of lip-syncing. So who cares?
Most good music videos find creative ways around these problems, balancing out the awkwardness of the fake performance with something that makes you forget you're watching a fake performance. Some videos succeed by creating a completely different reality from the song, but the best ones act as an extension of the musician's vision and make the viewer reconsider the song in fresh ways. I'll use the music video for "Nobody Speak," the DJ Shadow/Run The Jewels song, as an example.
First of all, is there a better tone-setting line in hip-hop than "Picture this, I'm a bag of dicks / put me to your lips"? It sets up the rest of the song's absurdist boasts ("I will walk into a court while erect / screaming 'Yes, motherfucker! I am guilty, I am death!"). Basically, you can only assume El-P and Killer Mike of RTJ were higher than Snoop Dogg in Colorado when they wrote the song. So for the video, the group sets the scene in a United Nations-style room and enlists two respectable-looking politicians to lip-sync the lyrics. Chaos erupts. It's beautiful.
On the more serious artistic side of the spectrum, Beyonce's Lemonade could basically be seen as one big music video. Ambitious beyond belief, every minute is an eye-popping look at the singer's psyche and roots, haunting and captivating and gorgeous at the same time.
Phoenix musicians produced some a wide array of music videos in 2016. There were whimsical ones, gritty ones, high-production-value ones and ones that were probably shot on iPhones. Making this list wasn't easy — it started with about 50 videos and then was slowly whittled down to the 16 finalists and the 10 honorable mentions that made the final list. There are some familiar names that pop up every year on our lists, but the most surprising thing this year was how many new artists and directors appeared. Pop in some headphones, switch to
16. Dwarf - "Misinformed"
I feel like the somewhat gothic counter-cultural Jane from Daria would have listened to Dwarf. There's a playfulness to the band's music that harkens back to '90s alt-rock, so Jane's preference wouldn't be out of place. The video is a great solution to both budgetary concerns and the awkward problem of having bands lip-sync in front of a camera: Use sock puppets! The candid shots of the sock puppets casually bantering among each other are a nice touch to this cute little video.
15. Genre - "Speak Now"
This video is less than two minutes long, but they're memorable minutes. The band turned Roosevelt Row into an 8-bit side-scrolling 2-D game, during which they eat at Forno 301, pick up some records at Revolver, jump over tent city, and then meet singer Zac Markey's stoned cat at Carly's. They stomp on Sheriff Joe like he's a goomba and make their way towards Crescent Ballroom, where the love of Markey's life is getting married. You know what, just watch the thing.
This is a funny concept. Singer Trevor Hedges sits on a couch. Everyone is doing crazy shit around him while he sits around looking either mildly depressed or somewhat bemused. It's not exactly the most original idea, but it's really effective here. The song is so emo and melancholy at the beginning, and director Cory Davis does a great job of increasing the motion of the people surrounding Hedges as the song builds and progresses. By the time the triumphant guitar hook hits around 1:20, a party has erupted around Hedges, and a smile creeps onto his face. "Beck and Call" might be the catchier song Sundressed released this year, but "Autopilot" is a better music video.
13. No Volcano - "Blackout"
No Volcano's excellent album Dead Horse Power kind of coasted under the radar this year, which is a shame. But this video did not. "Blackout" is a great example of how to make the common music video trope of a "live performance that's not really live" interesting: animation. The Jason Willis-directed video features a very cool, stylized No Volcano performing while spliced between shots of an evil vine wrapping around the skyscrapers of an unnamed city.
12. Fathers Day - "Disney World"
Yes, this video is more than nine minutes long. But every time I watch it, I seem to make it through the whole thing. That's how magnetic Ryan Avery and the members of Fathers Day are in this video. Seeing the band scream and flail as Avery screams "I'm never gonna take my kids to Disney World" doesn't get old. Troy Farah's direction makes this video amusing throughout the entire nine minutes.
11. Sunday At Noon - "Brain Damage"
If Mike Judge made Office Space into a music video for a band that kind of sounds like Queens of the Stone Age, it might look like Jacob Reynolds' video for Sunday At Noon's song "Brain Damage." The video begins with a boss slapping a pile of folders on a beleaguered employee's desk, upping the workload so that he can make it to his "successful supervisor seminar" unimpeded. The supervisor plays mean pranks on his employees, and they get him back by sneaking in and throwing a concert at work. It's a ridiculous concept and very light-hearted in execution, yet very effective.
Visit the next page for the 10 best music videos made in Phoenix this year, as well as the honorable mentions.
10. Seven Trill - "I Hate Mondays ft. Louie Poison"
Jakob Owens doesn't do a lot of conceptual music videos, which is a shame. When he does stuff that goes beyond the "rapper in an alley surrounded by homies" thing, it really pops off. Take the video for Seven Trill's "I Hate Mondays ft. Louie Poison." Don't be fooled by the Garfield-
9. Captain Squeegee - "Dually Noted"
The first of two Freddie Paull-directed videos to make this list features Captain Squeegee's Danny Torgersen in a scenario that recalls the Twilight Zone episode "A Nice Place To Visit." It's an unsettling reality show from hell (kind of like the presidency,
8. Fairy Bones - "Notes From Wonderland"
There's a lot going on in this music video, directed by Brandon McGill. There's a gender-bending portrayal of Alice, who is the spurned lover of the Queen of Hearts. There's also some fantastic body art and eye-popping visuals each second of the way. Fairy Bones usually delivers with music videos, and this is no exception.
7. KONGOS - "Take It From Me"
One of the most underappreciated aspects of KONGOS is their lyrics. "Take It From Me," which was the first single from the band's long-anticipated sophomore record Egomaniac, offers a lot for those who delve into the brothers' words. The band deals with issues of egomania throughout the record, and the music video shows the four self-aware dudes literally getting their heads inflated by beautiful women. It feels unfair to include KONGOS on this list, given their major label deal and the Youtube view counter that reaches into eight digits on some of their videos. But they still live here, so here they are.
6. MRCH - "Glitter McQueen"
MRCH is no stranger to our best music video
The Ned Flanders-based metal band Okilly
4. Haymarket Squares — "Let's Start A Riot"
Director Matty Steinkamp has a knack for broad, intricate story-based music videos (like this one or this one), but seeing him direct the video for Haymarket Squares' "Let's Start A Riot" shows that he knows how to dial it back and adapt to what the song naturally demands — a sign of a truly talented director. There's no need for a literal portrayal of the song's lyrics, in which a frustrated office worker fantasizes about going Milton Waddams on the entire system. Instead, he just shows increasingly pissed off singer Marc Oxborrow smashing his hands on a keyboard, eventually balling them into fists. It's simple, direct, and effective, a perfect match for the song.
One of the rules for this list was that no band could be on it twice, but Haymarket Squares is the only band that really tested that edict this year. That's because the music video for "Heaven" is almost as good as "Let's Start a Riot," so we figure it's worth a mention here. Director Cory Davis has the band dressed as angels, and they leave
3. Injury Reserve - "All This Money"
"Oh Shit!!!" might have been the first single from Injury Reserve's album Floss, but for our dollars, "All This Money" bangs harder. And the music video is just as good as the song. It starts out with a group of girls swagging in a white Mercedes G-Class SUV as the wipers push dollar bills off the windshield. Then a man wearing just white underwear and a set of matching angel wings does a headstand. It's a jarring set of images that sets up the gender reversal for the rest of the video. Instead of appearing in the video themselves, the emcees of Injury Reserve enlist two women to take their places, and the ladies perform the song with all the masculine cockiness we've come to expect from the group. See if you can make it through the video without questioning some assumptions you might not have realized you held about hip-hop and gender. Producer Parker Corey also directed the video, so props to him for pulling double duty.
2. Emby Alexander - "In Your Doorstep Bleeding"
Self-directed by the band and shot by Shannon Alexander, this video is straight-up gorgeous. Everything from the opening shot is tasteful and artful. The way the video makes a car wash from the interior of a van look so beautiful is a spectacular accomplishment. The song itself is somewhat dark and violent, told from the perspective of an unhinged, emotionally stunted lover ("You can't ignore me now / I'm in your doorstep bleeding"), and I'm frankly not a huge fan of it. But the video does what all music videos should do: It enhances the song a forces you to experience the music's art it way you otherwise wouldn't have.
There's something absolutely entrancing about the actress' face in the music video, something
Harrison Fjord - "Approximately 906 miles"
Harrison Fjord released this video in late 2015, so it didn't technically qualify for this list. It also came out after we published our 2015 list, so it didn't make that one, either. So here it is — a live performance video that actually works. Great job to the band and to director Freddie Paull.
Maya Spectra - "Music Box"
The Maya Spectra recently relocated back to Phoenix from New Mexico but were not residing in the Valley when this video was made. Had they been, it would have made the list. Just watch it. Director Amy West has made a thing of real beauty here.
decker. - "The Holy Ghost"
Matt Steinkamp delivers another excellent video for decker, even if the visuals don't exactly match the song.
Playboy Manbaby - "I'd Like To Meet Your Parents"
Directed by Ryan Riggs and Jordan Pillar, this video puts Playboy Manbaby as mimes in a French restaurant. We're just not sure why.
HotRock SupaJoint/W.A.S.H. - "Light Em Up"
Directed by Marlen Adams, this video is as fun as it is dumb. Which pretty much applies to the song, too.
Divided Minds - "Fine With It"
Holy production values, Batman. And holy aliens, Batman.
Youceff Kabal - "Strange Tones"
The video is a travel diary, essentially, but most of the footage is shot out of moving vehicles. That said, the way the video
Deebo Lotti Maserati - "Never Enough ft. Kevin Gates"
The whole "stalker-nerd taking pictures" thing is really weird, but Deebo Lotti Maserati did get Kevin Gates to do both a verse and a music video, which is pretty cool.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.