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As usual, music videos remain stalwart at the front lines of audiovisual innovation. And while P.T. Anderson may’ve directed the shit out of that no-nonsense, edit portal sequence in Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” video, we were more interested in the enduring and ever-refined tradition of classical presentation. The vocalist addresses the audience in a fetching mise en scène, and we are made to understand how inextricable a performer’s visual flair and body language is from their sound. While our list is rife with vids celebrating novel facade, there is also the unceremonious dropping of facade in evidence (along with the inevitable free choreographies of corporeal denial).
Whether it was slo-mo rogue-opulent smoke-and-mirrors extravagance, porno tweaked to our dementedly exacting aesthetic imperatives, perspective tangents off of our point-and-shoot bloodlust, the famous sleeping soundly while an unseen intruder watches and waits, brutal brushes with destabilizing awarenesses splitting your head open and leaving nothing to the godforsaken imagination, or just Yung Lean playing pretend Kurt Cobain in the woods, 2016’s best videos had everything and nothing to say. There was an odd, in-the-moment-infallible sanctuary to even the most passive of these diversions. Flaccid slings and broken arrows, spilled from on high with drooling confidence. Steep grades and stiff grips fronted at our mangy corner of stinking heat, roundly searing us raw-eyed, hazy hellevision junkies. All the while, a reflecting skin of imperceptibly expanding circumference has lapped at our proud, idle, and yet radiant flirtations with disassociation and pulse-pounding antipathies unknown.
We shut our solemn mouths and tubed our stupid time away. Together. As ‘twas and ever shall be.
Forever, vaporwave will stem from identity issues involving cultural indifference. I was introduced to vaporwave as a trans-aesthetic genre that toed the fine line of accepting when and where one can engage with humanity in a post-nostalgic canvas. And still, vaporwave remains haunted, redundant, high-noon, midnight marinade, smeared, Terminator 2 [chopped and screwed], mistaken for a soap opera, “and I’d probably enjoy it in English.” Hilarious! @tinymixtapes #FavoriteVaporwaveLabel2016 Watching テレヴァペ’s 永 is genuinely upsetting. Who are these women? What am I misunderstanding? Please, explai— actually, I’d rather not know and let the pixelated image-withdrawal blissfully trail empty memories between earlobes.
Director: Jesse Kanda
L’Arrivée D’un Train En Gare De La Ciotat terrified audiences in 1985. The train appears in the background, moves across the space, disappears in the bottom left of the screen, and audiences screamed: What keeps images from crashing through the frame? Do frames keep us safe? Arca violates the frame to create offscreen between-places, the overflow of trans-forms, Entrañas. Inside-out reverie finds mutant cohesion in the body-bending cinema of Jesse Kanda, but for frequent collaborators, there’s still something sick between the frames of “Sin Rumbo.” It’s not the unfolding billowing rippling dying flesh of Kanda’s other images; it’s Arca’s bruised face, sweat and hematoma and inner fluids outer, a plea of “no saber.” Frames won’t save us. Our consensual overflow of frame is an art of creating safeness; aggressive laceration of that same flesh is trauma. “Sin Rumbo” is the image of violated body, of fluids spilled out on a nightclub floor, eyes looking back at us watching. We look away, terrified: What keeps images from crashing through the frame?
Director: Sam Shea, James Thomas Marsh
What is the limit of a body? Is it a fixed thing, or is it flexible? How far can one body be changed and remade through imagination or force of will? In “Ecdysisyphus,” Eartheater plunges into these questions, uploading her own body into a 3D cosmos and throwing it all in flux: melting, duplicating, shattering like clay and ultimately flattening into a wisp thrown through the wind over some moonscape. Much as how Eartheater’s music challenges the borders of genre, song structure, and performance, here she pokes at and deflates the limits of physical space, whether through recreating herself as a digital model, freed to do “impossible” things, or in the constantly shifting sci-fi/low poly style that disrupts anything like realism. Condensing liftoff and comedown into one burst, this is one trip that lingers in waves long after it ends.
“Buta” feat. Miss Red and Serocee
The club as a moratorium on rationality, intoxication as a vessel of the supernatural, erotic gyration doubling as incantatory rituals. GAIKA and his creative team put all that into video form by taking lessons on simplicity from the unlikeliest of sources: Trading a bland pop rapper for a vengeful shaman, those pastels that invited your boring uncle to create his first memes for a shebeen’s grimy black light, pursuing in the essential rattling of Brixton bass music the insinuations of the netherworld. In short, by manifesting through images what he has forever felt in his own flesh: a black British musician in a London amidst a ruthless class war. The result is a video that, much like GAIKA’s music, embraces his status as a perennial suspect of savagery; proud to bear his original stigma, anointed in the transgression of the nocturnal. Thus, he delivers an audiovisual piece with enough menace and authority to claim: “I am GAIKA, and this is my kingdom. Behold my power!”
Director: Jenny Berger
Now I know what it feels like to get a Snapchat from Satan. The video for “Female Vampire,” the lead single on Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch, was shot entirely on an iPhone by Norwegian director Jenny Berger Myher. It would fit well in any of the dark, trippy 1970s horror flicks that inspired it. The video follows a group of cryptically dispassionate young women out of a subway station and into an orgy of face peeling. That the skin is clearly artificial makes these scenes only slightly less disturbing. After everyone has a handful of someone else’s flesh, the video trails off with close-up shots of the women’s pained faces trapped behind metal fencing. An act of liberation melts into an image of captivity. “It hurts everywhere,” whispers Hval. “But at least it hurts so good.”
Director: Kanye West
Released to instant infamy (even when the video only starred one President), “Famous” got the people going in an ethically bankrupt, especially Kanye West fashion: its demolition of intimacy, the triggering juxtaposition of abusers and victims, a precisely inflammatory body-cast. A live-mural of elision and capture, “breathing and imagining,” before the #MannequinChallenge, before Kim was attacked. Fame is a panoply of gazes, never neutral, never pure, but “Famous” bookends its overdetermined slumber party with pastoral imagery, a foil for the semiopolitics beading at the video’s every pore. When Kanye meets our gaze, near the video’s end, his eyes seem to repeat his earlier quote, “We culture.” His bootleg iconogasm was exploitative, disturbing, transfixing, provocative. Liberated? Not like this, no matter what Kanye wants (us) to feel.
Unknown Japanese animator AUJIK delves deep within the tunnels of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s intricate Qabala in the warping, petrified video for “Tense Stage.” Burrowing straight to the core of a fabricated dimensional cerebrum, AUJIK discovers a pulsing, vibrant scenery of cheap distortions, cultural artifact, and luscious internal astrology, pulling us to the absolute bottom of the well before revealing impossible doors that lead back to the outside. It’s an ever-flowing, radiating garbage heap, a porridge of majesty and crap that beckons us even as its destination becomes increasingly unknowable. Somehow, by the time we reach the twin halos at the passage’s end, it feels like we’ve learned something terrifying.
Director: Josh Goldenberg and Rahil Ashruff
Green screens inevitably equal fun, and when they’re done super right, as in the spazzy aquatic scene scapes of Lil Yachty’s “1 Night” video, it’s silly as bliss. Directed, produced, and edited by Josh Goldenberg and Rahil Ashruff of NYC studio Goldrush, the hyper-saturated visuals are dense with meme-inspired gems, including, but not limited to, a shot of Yachty modeling in Yeezy Season 3, a really cute kitten, some prime use of your favorite nautical emojis, Gerald from Hey Arnold! wearing Yachty braids that then explode into rocket launchers, a split-second shot of a burning boat, cute cameos by manga artist Akira Ito and social media stars Lean Squad, Yachty squatting on a surfboard next to a fake hammerhead shark in full orange wader regalia — I won’t go on, just go indulge.
Director: Guy Kozak
Alive together and nodding. At a modestly attended live event, we mute our enthusiasm to ward against the echo chamber of fleeting attention. Stoic self-awareness is a default position of decorum, but it’s gotten to be its own stupid dance. When the “singer” in this video takes a knee for the breakdown, a ring of camera operators hover over him, and one abruptly flits to the right. The ragged edits and surplus of angles on these uncanny mundane reflexes play like jokey shrugs at existential apoplexy. Like sharp turns from holding out to letting go. We suddenly perceive all manner of congregation for the oversanctified mess that it is, and embrace it anyway. We proceed to just jam on that sound and bite our pursed lip down. We tap our fingers to the rhythm on a splash-prone cup. We firmly perch on enjoying the ride, like a pomeranian on a swing set.
“Era (ft. Kastle, Born In Flamez & Gronos1)”
Director: Rob Jabbaz
A couple months after ruinist futurism duo WWWINGS released their debut LP PHOENIXXX on Planet Mu, their entrenched battlesound met up with Taipei-based Rob Jabbaz’s entrenched battleground. “A story about forgotten equipment” turning on and lashing out against their environment and one another like a sentient MechWarrior uproar, the unkept industrialization from Jabbaz and GXXOST (f.k.a. Lit Internet) and AWRWSW (f.k.a. Lit Daw) is a short film with major-picture intrigue.
Director: a piece by guy x Young M.A
In a hip-hop year dominated by industry titans and schizophrenic fashion-rap, “Ooouuu” rose coolly above the noise to bless us with the Brooklyn rapper’s focused, unassuming vision. The accompanying visual, which for many (myself included) served as an introduction to Young M.A, is consistent with her quiet self-assurance: for the first 45 seconds, M.A and her crew silently eat Chinese takeout, pour champagne, and drink Hennessy. Then the smoky, smasssshhed intro and the quintessential crew love shots: standing on the street corner, vibing in the crib. The video birthed as many visual memes as the track did lyrical ones: Young M.A on the couch, turning to Eli on the right, “Ayo Eli, why they testing me?,” and then to bro on the left, “Like I ain’t got a hitter to the left of me;” the “Headphanie” line, coinciding with the dome-receiving motion performed ‘round the world; M.A’s signature gold front-touting freeze frame, which would eventually become the album art for the digital single and which made the record instantly identifiable in the Apple Music store. The video has a special aura, because you can tell everyone participating knew that something special was happening: the sense of imminent success is palpable, and at 86 million views and counting, this video rose to the top without any industry support or wave-jumping: “These haters on my body/ Shake ‘em off.”
Director: Marcus Söderlund
“CHOP CHOP CHOP”
Leany moves his weight in soaked earth. Wilted sprouts of raspy sincerity sprout at his self-dug grave.
HERE LIES POST-MODERNITY
Bucket hats and trading cards are shed for the fruits of fertile ground. Flora drips from a formless dress. Fresh blood clings to neatly trimmed follicles. The forest exhales wintry puffs of vapor. Lean’s ego may lie six feet under, but the formerly(?) Sad Boy is something more than alive.