Best Music of 2011

Top 25 Videos of 2011

on December 08, 2011, 12:00am
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year end videos Top 25 Videos of 2011

Music videos accomplish what has never been done before in the history of media: They make experimentation a commercial enterprise. They afford musicians, filmmakers, and multimedia artists the chance to have their craziest ideas not only produced, but shown to a large audience. What’s more, in the age of Internet video, indie productions are now on equal footing with million-dollar productions. There’s no visual medium more diverse or creative than music videos. Thirty years after the launch of MTV, the format is not only alive and well, but it’s matured, expanded, and become a part of our global culture. When The Beatles, and later Mike Nesmith, laid the foundation for what we’d come to know as a music video, could they possibly have known how big this concept would become?

The prevalence of online video has changed the way we watch movies, television… everything really. It’s not just the revolution that’s televised, but cute animals, skate tricks, accidents, celebrations, millions of memes in the making, and amidst all this chaos, brilliant, fun, and mind-altering visual art. On 1/11/11, we unveiled Cluster 1, a sister site to Consequence of Sound dedicated to filtering out the schlock and giving you only the best short films, animation, docs, and since we’re CoS, a ton of amazing music videos. In just under a year, we’ve posted over 1,000 of them, all handpicked.

Now, it comes to the task of choosing 25 of the best videos we’ve seen all year. These aren’t just the ones that moved us, blew our minds, or made us lol, but a selection embodying the year in videos. Fancy dancin’ Thom Yorke memed his way across the internet, Beyoncé changed outfits like a kerjillion times, Gaga became a man and a fish and then checked into a fashionable mental institution, and while those mega-stars shook the world at large, countless others were wowing the small screen, trending through Tumblr, and becoming secret sensations. We’ve got indie sci-fi from Russia, the most awe-inspiring NSFW video you’ve ever seen, demonic puppets, ’90s sitcom parodies, and so, so, so much more. This was a good year.

Each and every one of these videos is incredible. We hope you’re prepared. Just click forward. An audiovisual onslaught awaits you.

-Cap Blackard
Art Director/Executive Producer, Cluster 1

25. Gentlemen Drivers – “Valdor”

Catchy songs aren’t a problem for French electropop collective Gentlemen Drivers; party-thumping single “Valdor” certainly fits into that category. Its video, however, is a different breed beast. Think Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, only set within a fake sitcom and featuring a Thanksgiving turkey that mutilates humans. Over the years, the Internet has stripped “bizarre” of its power. But sometimes, and this is rare, its true meaning bleeds through – literally and metaphorically, come to think of it. Here’s one such example. -Ted Maider

Director: Allen Cordell

24. Battles feat. Gary Numan – “My Machines”

The Creators Project is a high-concept art initiative that’s been turning heads in the industry. So, when they decided to take on the music video for Battles’ “My Machines” and include guest vocalist Gary Numan, it was guaranteed to be an event. They didn’t disappoint. The video takes a thoughtless everyday activity (a man heads up an escalator with groceries) and combines it with an all-too-human fear of machines. Just what happens when an on/off switch doesn’t work? Who or what are we at the mercy of? As the horrific eye candy proceeds, the electronically driven rock of Battles adds to the impact and drama. With its slick look and clinical, high-contrast shooting style, “My Machines” leaves the viewer with a sense of unease and one incorrigible thought: Perhaps machines have more of an upper hand than we’d like to give them credit for. Creepy. -Karina Halle

Director: Daniels

23. Skrillex – “First of the Year (Equinox)”

There’s a skill in building up and destroying atmospheres. For Skrillex, it’s commonplace. In the Tony Truand-directed video for “First of the Year (Equinox)”, a similar feat is accomplished. What starts out as a creepy snapshot of pedophilia ends with something else entirely. As the dubstep artist shakes up the track, the music video does the same, reversing everything you thought might happen in seconds. In a word: sinister. In two words: very fitting. -Joe Marvilli

Director: Tony Truand

22. Com Truise – “Brokendate”

Will Joines directs this Blade Runner-esque film for Com Truise’s “Brokendate”, setting Seth Haley’s relentless, pulsating analog synths into Joines’s dystopian futurescape. This clip is dripping in nostalgia. In five minutes, Joines references a number of cinematic legacies from decades past—80s trench coat heroes, TRON-like retro-futurism, and VHS aesthetics—in his own neon-soaked noir, which casts the New Jersey producer as a shades-wearing, cigar-smoking, villainous mastermind. Cyber babes in dark lipstick wielding (quasi) threatening laser guns, glowing, wireframe pyramids on massive mainframes, dead bodies left to rot on the sidewalk—seems like the perfect visual corollary to Com Truise’s hazy synth odyssey. -Lainna Fader

Director: Will Joines

21. Rammstein – “Mein Land”

Industrial metal isn’t exactly a genre known for its sense of humor. Rammstein is the rare exception. For the release of their greatest hits LP, Made in Germany 1995-2011, the band members shuffled their cards once again, showing their playful side in “Mein Land”. The party kicks off in 1964 with the group engaging in a hilarious Beach Boys parody. There’s surfing, dancing, and even a Baywatch moment for singer Till Lindemann. Hands down the best juxtaposition of the year.  -Joe Marvilli

Director: Jonas Ã…kerlund

20. Biting Elbows – “The Stampede”

Music videos don’t always have to be rich with meaning (or girls with large posteriors). Sometimes, they can be silly and meaningless and still make an impact. Biting Elbows’ clip for “The Stampede”, simply titled “Insane Office Escape”, gained global attention for its minimalistic, yet genius, plot: Dude steals something from work, kicks heaps of ass to get out of said office, and finally makes his escape by, drumroll, magic. It’s stocked with over-the-top action, bad karate, and tongue-in-cheek humor galore. It’s the kind of fun, goofball clip that undoubtedly got some of us into music videos in the first place. Plus, who wouldn’t want to dropkick their boss in the neck some day? -Chris Coplan

Director: Ilya Naishuller

19. Polinski feat. Big Black Delta – “Stitches”

65daysofstatic’s Paul Wolinski knows how to make a splash with a solo record. As Polinski, his first solo record, Labyrinths, was preempted by one hell of a video for “Stitches”. Directed by Caspar and Josiah Newbolt with pixel art by John DeLucca, “Stitches” is an homage to the text-based video game adventures of yore… with a little bit of David Lynch thrown in, maybe even some Cronenberg. It’s a sci-fi detective story told in moody pixelated images and scrolling text. But “Stitches” doesn’t just take you into an old-school computer game; it takes you into the living room with Polinski. The entire video is framed in a television set, and the entire time, oh so very subtly, you can see Polinski playing the game in the reflection of the screen. It doesn’t get much cooler than this; it was our pleasure to unleash this video on the world. -Cap Blackard

Directors: Caspar Newbolt and Josiah Newbolt

18. Kate Bush – “Deeper Understanding”

At first glance, Kate Bush’s video for “Deeper Understanding” is rather off-putting. Why would someone with her profound wit shoot a near-literal interpretation of the track’s lyrics? Simple, to ease the viewer in. Bush directs this intimate, voyeuristic affair, working with sly camera work and quasi-realistic tones that offer this artificial, detached aesthetic. Themes of loneliness and connectivity run rampant here, focusing directly on the crossroads of technology and social interaction. Perhaps this video is so affecting because there’s so much to empathize with here. Pretty timely stuff. -Chris Coplan

Director: Kate Bush

17. Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”

People expect any new Radiohead album to be a game changer. We are to listen and contemplate Radiohead; we must understand the music. Yet, in the video for “Lotus Flower”, Thom Yorke reminds us that rock music is Dionysian rather than Apollonian, that he wants us to dance to his music. No longer the introverted auteur, Yorke shows a different side in a wild, unbridled, completely un-self-conscious celebration of the body. To all the young and hip kids who stand at a rock club leg-locked, take Yorke’s advice: It’s OK to dance. “Lotus Flower” also reinforces a frequent criticism of The King of Limbs: It sounds too much like a Yorke solo album. There is no band in this video. But Yorke has clearly amassed enough cultural capital to make a black-and-white video of him dancing in a warehouse, and it’s one of the year’s best. -Jake Cohen

Director: Garth Jennings

16. Miles Fisher – “New Romance”

If you grew up in the early ’90s, the first few seconds of Miles Fishers’ “New Romance” will be a delight. Its sublime parody of Saved by the Bell almost warrants a spot on this list by itself. But the fun doesn’t end there. While the fashion and styles may be retro, there’s a sick sense of dark humor underneath the bright colors. Directed by Dave Green, the whole thing feels like the next Final Destination entry, only seen through the eyes of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray). Not exactly your average afternoon special, but who doesn’t love chaos? Plenty here. -Joe Marvilli

Director: Dave Green

15. Is Tropical – “The Greeks”

Kids say the darndest things. These days they also do the darndest things. Is Tropical’s video for “The Greeks” takes this idea to another level. In this Tarantino-esque clip, a neighborhood game of cops and robbers goes awry. Drug trafficking, torture, and terrorism follow, and it becomes apparent that the video is posing an important question for us to answer: What is the world preparing our youth for? “You only get what you give away,” as the song’s mantra goes. So true. While altogether a darkly comical video on the corruption of youth, it’s also a brilliant display of the power of imagination. Yikes. What does that say about us? -Summer Dunsmore

Director: Megaforce

14. Evelyn Evelyn – “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn”

Despite a 100-year-long history of differing techniques, animation is still one of the most innovative fields in film today. The latest example is director Hoku Uchiyama’s groundbreaking video for Evelyn Evelyn. A cartoon image is drawn by the duo into a fogged-up glass window. From there, the visuals come alive and move through the panes, creating the story provided by the song’s lyrics. While it looks like the work could have been done on a laptop, the condensation is real. It took a few trials to get the lighting right, but the result is well worth any trouble. Innovative, outside the box, and just a little bit weird? Sounds like Evelyn Evelyn to us. -Joe Marvilli

Director: Hoku Uchiyama

13. Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math”

They say life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die, and this autumn car accident depicted here may be the best representation of that. A tumultuous past spinning in and out of reality with just enough time to recollect moments that matter. These loopy camera shots and mumble-core (tumble-core?) lip-synching add a unique and memorable flair to this heartfelt trip through Andy Hull’s past. -Jeremy D. Larson

Director: Daniels

12. UNKLE feat. Nick Cave –  “Money and Run”

Rich men behave badly in UNKLE’s “Money and Run” video. Director Tom Haines mixes scenes of humor with horror in this short study of upper-class umbrage, from a tennis game gone wrong to vicious beatings in the street. Of all the violent vignettes, none is more strangely terrifying than the scene where a bare-assed man torments a cowering girl while wearing a Margaret Thatcher mask. Unsettling as they may be, they’re  disturbingly perfect visuals for Nick Cave’s urgent guest vocals. -Austin Trunick

Director: Tom Haines

11. Lady Gaga – “Marry the Night”

For the past two years, the music industry has dropped their jaws at Lady Gaga’s Alexander McQueen-shaped decadence, and that fascination has hardly subsided. With her 13-minute directorial effort, “Marry the Night”, Gaga assembled one of the most pretentious and over-sensationalized videos in recent memory. But, it wasn’t like she didn’t warn everyone. Prior to its release, Gaga told MTV, “This will be the longest video I’ve released to date… the beginning of the story I never told you.” In her mind, this untold story would be that of rejection, at least that’s what she told Alan Carr. It’s never that easy for pop stars, though. Instead, the video ended up being a metafictional parody of herself. Between the narration, the obvious aping of Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan, and the dolled-up dreams of a fashionista, Gaga assumes the role of the headline-grabbing drama queen. Here’s the question, though: Was this all intentional? Is this sensationalism intuitive? If so, it’s a pretty smart move on her part. It sort of harkens back to the early days of Eminem’s career, where he was so self-deprecating and self-aware that nobody could touch him. What’s there to even say? Checkmate, we guess. -Michael Roffman

Director: Lady Gaga

10. Fleet Foxes – “The Shrine/An Argument”

If you’re after a literal exposition of “The Shrine/An Argument”, you won’t find it in this video. Rather it’s a story in itself set to music that picks up on some of the song’s lyrical content but echoes more of its rhythms and cadences. The transitions in the song are expertly accentuated by rises and falls in the video narrative. The stop-motion animation technique used by director and co-animator Sean Pecknold (singer Robyn’s brother) lends a curious motion to the central stag-like character on his life-to-death journey. Think a slowed-down Mario in a video game. The film manages to be simultaneously heartwarming and unnerving, rich colors and surreal sunlight offering comfort bridged by a fear of global meltdown. It balances the beauty of nature with its raw bestiality alongside oddly homely, yet nightmarish, monsters. Form and content have rarely been better bedfellows in a music video. -Tony Hardy

Director: Sean Pecknold

9. Warm Ghost – “Open the Wormhole in Your Heart”

The directing team of Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci at Holy Cow Films, along with Warm Ghost, present the human body as you’ve never seen it before. Think about this: Throughout art history, there is perhaps nothing that’s been so constant as observation of the human form. Despite all that time and all possible mediums, “Open the Worm Hole in Your Heart” offers something profoundly unique. It’s explicit, it’s chic, it’s powerful. Nude male and female bodies crawl, slide, and writhe over glass, distorting their shapes and textures. Oftentimes, you won’t be sure what body part you’re even looking at. Mix in some bubbling, black-lit neon liquids and the images meld together into a sensual human kaleidoscope. This year, Warm Ghost not only made a splash as an up-and-coming electronic act (e.g. their first full-length, Narrows, and performing at Moogfest) but also served as the progenitors of one of 2011’s first landmark videos. -Cap Blackard

Directors: Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci

8. Beastie Boys – “Make Some Noise”

It may not be to music videos what The Godfather Part II is to film, but “Make Some Noise” is about as clever as it gets for a 25-years-after-the-fact sequel. In case you’ve been cruising through time in your Back to the Future-immortalized DeLorean, it’s the continuation of the Beastie Boys’ apartment party-crashing MTV classic “Fight for Your Right”. But what makes it immediately stand out as one of the top videos of 2011 are all the cameo appearances, none of whom are manufactured reality stars looking to extend their 15 minutes of fame. “Make Some Noise” is a nonstop parade of A-listers who you genuinely wanted to be part of a humorous tribute to three formerly raucous and immature MC’s who are now the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. That or director Nathanial Hörnblowér must have a lot of incriminating photos. -Gilles LeBlanc

Director: MCA

7. OK Go – “All Is Not Lost”

Ever since running onto the scene on a bunch of treadmills back in 2006 (and winning a Grammy), OK Go have become renowned for their consistently quirky, inventive, and downright cool music videos. As well as the continuous shot and time-lapse, they’ve mastered the art of the Internet, using sites like YouTube to their fullest advantage. The clip for “All Is Not Lost” takes things to the next level by inviting user input to add a personal touch. The impeccably choreographed homemade kaleidoscope effect is impressive, but when viewed on Google Chrome, your own message can be added to the final scenes. What’s more, you can watch the messages of other viewers around the world for a truly international video experience. This one is also up for a Grammy, and should it win, it could give a whole new level of credence to the digital age. -Benjamin Kaye

Director: Trish Sie

6. Childish Gambino – “Bonfire”

Though his lyrics may be littered with witty obscenities and outlandish “too-soon” jokes (case in point: “Made the beat and murdered it, Casey Anthony”), Childish Gambino’s stellar new record, Camp, also grapples with the seriousness of racial identity in modern society. The “Bonfire” video, through its dark mise-en-scene, frenetic editing, and nightmarish plot, provides an art house glimpse into the warped current state of racial affairs, while offering a visceral commentary on America’s tumultuous past concerning these issues. Director Dan Eckman tastefully does so without being preachy, and Glover’s performance is strikingly convincing. At the end of the day, the video is a thought-provoking counterpart to a sometimes-ridiculous song, an emphatic aesthetic success, and yet another demonstration of Donald Glover’s unfaltering creative genius. -Caitlin Meyer

Director: Dan Eckman

5. Destroyer – “Kaputt”

Unlike past Destroyer releases, Dan Bejar’s Kaputt revved up everyone’s libidos and amplified our subconscious desire for seductive disco-jazz. Fittingly, the surreal ’80s-like visuals for the title track leave you feeling like you’re “chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world all night.” Such images as a geeky computer nerd, an inexplicable flying whale, steamy Jazzercise dancers, and the cheesy choreography of desert dancers are key elements that lend a self-aware sense of humor to the fantastical world conveyed by director Dawn Garcia. And, just like the music videos of the ’80s, there’s no real, deep, hidden meaning to all of this. Indeed, “It all sounds like a dream to me.” -Brittany Flynn

Director: Dawn Garcia

4. Beyoncé – “Countdown”

With the video for “Countdown”, Beyoncé proves once again that even though she’s beyond successful in life, love, and career, it’s impossible to hate her. The flawless makeup and choreography coupled (yes, that was intentional) with calculatedly goofy facial expressions and dancing maintain the tenuous balance between idol Sasha Fierce and Bey, the girl next door. It proves to her audience that even though Beyoncé is rapidly ascending the celebrity ladder to an almost untouchable height, she’s just like any other girl who secretly wants to be Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Furthermore, “Countdown”’s brightly colored American Apparel wardrobe and hip warehouse space—which are constantly advertised on our televisions, billboards, and Internet windows—along with the recently released Live at Roseland DVD package Beyoncé as an affordable lifestyle choice. And it works because you’re too busy trying to peep Bey’s baby bump to pay attention to the video’s subliminal advertising. -Harley Brown

Director: Adria Petty

3. St. Vincent – “Cruel”

Throughout her career as St. Vincent, Annie Clark has played with concepts of control and chaos, whether that means erupting into feedback-y guitar solos in the middle of a sharply orchestrated tune or, as in this video, playing such a solo while bound and gagged in the trunk of a sedan. Another familiar Clark topic is the flimsiness of gender roles, seen here as being kidnapped into suburban housewife-dom and eventually being buried alive. Throughout all the highbrow conceptualizing and dirt pileup, Clark remains cool, confident, stylishly dressed, and always ready to rock. The murderous, bespectacled, besweatered family seems like something out of a Wes Anderson nightmare, and Clark’s frazzled looks into the camera scream well-intentioned. The repeated, spinning camera shots of her backyard burial spliced with all of the should-be-wholesome weirdness makes this claustrophobic analysis of “normal” family life a perfect fit with Strange Mercy‘s combination of wit, austere beauty, and intricate simplicity. -Adam Kivel

Director: Terri Timely

2. Foo Fighters – “Walk”

No strangers to penning uplifting rock tunes, Foo Fighters buttoned up their latest LP, Wasting Light, with high hopes on sentimental closing track “Walk”. True to the Foo’s style, the group issued a silly pop video that’s become trademark for them (see: “Big Me”, “Learn to Fly”, this year’s “White Limo”). But, the video for “Walk” came off rather cinematic. Director Sam Jones parodies Joel Schumacher’s 90’s relic Falling Down, with Dave Grohl subbing for Michael Douglas’s iconic role. Anyone familiar with Grohl knows he’s hardly the serious type, and this video only adds to his comedic resume. As the Douglas character, Grohl struggles with an engulfing city — everything from messy traffic jams to pedantic employees. So, he goes nuts. Throughout, Grohl pummels people, he throws tantrums, and he even runs someone over with a golf cart. Blame it on the track, but there’s something oddly cathartic about it. It’s a hilarious escape. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking,” Jason Lee’s character says in Almost Famous. “But it’s a voice that says, ‘Here I am… and fuck you if you can’t understand me.'” That’s fully exemplified here. – David Buchanan

Director: Sam Jones

1. Tyler, The Creator – “Yonkers”

As Tyler, The Creator raps, “Yonkers dropped and left them craniums mind-fucked.” Why? For some time now, rap videos haven’t been a representation of an artist, but more or less the products that sponsor them. Until 2011, the year OFWGKTA’s ruthless leader became prince of hip-hop, notorious rap videos flaunted the latest from Gucci and Cristal. They served not as an extension of an artist’s personality, but an obnoxious commercial. Then Tyler, The Creator informed us, “Fuck money, diamonds, and bitches/Don’t need them” in what became the most intriguing music video of 2011. Rather than popping champagne, Tyler exposed the true Odd Future swag that is pure, unadulterated evil. But no longer was rap about the rich man; this video was self-made and posted on Tyler’s YouTube account. It launched the group into success and proved something millions of people tend to believe: The Internet can make you a star. View Count: 31,811,321. Just an FYI. -Ted Maider

Director: Tyler, the Creator

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