ACL 2021 ~ The Year’s 10 Best Music Videos

When music videos migrated from television to the internet, they found a brand new audience thirsty for innovation.  This year’s crop includes live action and animation, split screen and stop-motion, scripted and choreographed: a cornucopia of sight and sound.  If there was any doubt about the strength of the video industry or its potential for growth, these directors dispel it.  We’ve been collecting the best of the best throughout the year, and now we’re eager to share them with you: many appearing on this site for the first time!

And now, A Closer Listen presents its picks for the Top 10 videos of the year, plus a bonus album-length film that includes every track on the LP.

Video Album of the Year:  Sonae, Summer (LAAPS)
Director:  Jennifer Trees
Trailer:  Jan Hoehe

The partnership between Sonae and Jennifer Trees was first an installation, then a video album: the natural successor to Ron Fricke’s Qatsi trilogy.  In these images, climate change is no longer a theory, but a frightening reality; the split screen images provide evidence of an enduring apathy that threatens to set the world ablaze.

Directors: Kevin McGloughlin + Jacob Jonas
Choreographer: Jacob Jonas
Featuring: Emma Rosenzweig-Bock
Music & Sound Design: Max Cooper
Vocal: Samad Khan
Cinematographer & Color: Shaun Boyte
Animation & Edit: Kevin McGloughlin
Assistant Editor: Joy Isabella Brown

How?  How did the directors find dozens of identical siblings, some ten times taller than others, some a hundred?  How did they get the dancers to stick to the ceiling?  How did the tallest dancer roll without crushing her sisters?  These mysteries may never be answered.  A return to our chart for director and artist, “WEAKNESS OF THE FLESH” is another triumph in a history of triumphs.

La Nuée
Directed by Vincent René-Lortie
Music by Simon Leoza
Produced by Telescope Films
Executive producer – Samuel Caron
Producer – Élise Lardinois
Production Manager – Félix Cayer
More credits found on Vimeo.

It’s hard to make a short-form video with a surprise ending, but that’s what the production team has accomplished here.  We won’t write any spoilers; suffice it to say that the video is incredibly powerful, and that the sound design is as important as the song.

Music: Oh No Noh

Character Design + Animation (Cassette): Anne Brüssau Screenplay, Editing: Markus Rom Color Correction: Richard Syhre

We knew we were going to include this video from the first moment we saw it.  This plucky little cassette just wants to make music of its own, and nothing will stop it, even the dreaded unspooling. An entire music room comes to (human-free) life in endearing fashion; and it has a happy ending!

Music by Janek Murd
Designed, Directed & Animated by Joosep Volk & Maido Hollo

A gorgeous late-season surprise from this Estonian team, “AVA” is a bright-toned reflection on the cycle of life.  The colors are exuberant, the movement perfectly synched.  Could life really be this wonderful?  For three minutes, we believe.

Music:  Manu Delago

Camera – Johannes Aitzetmüller
Video editor – Jeb Hardwick
Environment recordings by Michael Reisigl

“Transformotion” is the best video of an already strong set from Environ Me, which is close to becoming a video album of its own.  It also answers the aural question, “What is the difference between the sound of footsteps on leaves, dirt and snow?”  Honoring legendary Coldcut videos “Natural Rhythms” and “Timber”, the video highlights the manner in which the percussion is created, opening a window into the compositional process.

Director:  Roman DeGiuli

Music:  Tristan Barton, “The Watch”

These are not images of earth from above, but interactions of rare pigments, powders and oils, providing a beautiful illusion of geography and flow.  The colors are just as striking as the Asian landscapes which inspired their genesis.

Director:  Thomas Blanchard

Music: Sébastien Guérive
Dancer : Alice Regnouf
Production : Sébastien Guérive

Past, present and future mingle in “OMEGA II,” which includes a number of startling techniques that make Alice Regnouf seem like a singular version of a Thai dance troupe.  The splicings are sublime, the connection with nature revelatory.

The Prey
Direction and Animation: Páraic Mc Gloughlin
Music:  Monolink
Performance: Carla Cervantes Caro & Sandra Lee
Camera: Javier Zarza Bardet, Páraic Mc Gloughlin, Peter Martin, Brian Lawler, Patrick Lawler
Co-Produced by Steffen Linck

Yes, there are lyrics, we know … but we couldn’t pass up the chance to showcase the second of the McGloughlins as the first was included above.  The combination of dance, masks, rapid splices and orbital images produces a melange of images sharp and smooth, the irony being that the human element makes the strongest impact.

Ani Kuni
Music:  POLO & PAN
Staging: MAY (Vincent Gibaud, Margaux Rosiau, François Sibiude)
Art direction: Noemi Ferst, Benjamin Moreau
Production: Werlen Meyer

Yes, the video WAS inspired by Sesame Street!  Watching it brings a pleasant nostalgia, a reminder of innocence, the suggestion that simple, happy times are still available.  And if it makes you want to dance, well then, go right ahead!

Director: Alison Group

Music:  MONO

The dystopian world created in this video is so compelling and immersive that we can imagine it getting picked up for a longer-form work, perhaps even a Netflix series.  The story is heartening and heart-rending all at once, a master class in expansive brevity.  The music doesn’t even appear until 3:32, but when it does, the drama builds and finally explodes.  Is there a Season Two?

Richard Allen

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