The Top Music Videos of 2012

05. Antony and The Johnsons – “Cut The World”

[Dir. Nabil Elderkin]

In truth, Nabil dominated the music video game in 2012. There was the pastoral, scenic clip for Bon Iver’s “Towers”; the menacing parking garage affair that was Kanye & co.’s “Mercy” video; and the slo-mo desert freakout for Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” with that non-compartmentalizable John Mayer cameo.

And then there was the most striking of the bunch: the dark, subdued film for Antony and the Johnsons’ orchestral “Cut the World.” Willem Dafoe and Carice van Houten play opposite one another in what, at first watch, might seem an obvious interpretation of the song’s lyrics. But take time to notice how the camera treats the two identically; notice how, when van Houten’s character turns away from the window and the clouds start gathering furiously behind her, she wears an expression of sorrow and longing that contradicts her next move. And consider Antony’s belief in a deep societal need to switch to more feminine systems of thinking and governance. This isn’t as obvious a video as its outer layer suggests, but it works because even if we don’t “get it” the first time around, we certainly feel it.

Weston Fleming

04. Mac DeMarco – “European Vegas”

[Dir. Angus Borsos]

Mac DeMarco’s early 2012 EP traded heavily in creepy 50s crooner vibes, so what better way to visually represent it than to create a surreal road film in the vein of Jim Jarmusch’s bizarre 90s work. DeMarco gets tossed from a limo, lounges on the side of the road, and croons along with his indictment of, as he put it during a live show, “kids from Montreal who want to be Morrissey.” There’s not much of that bitter invective in the video, instead focusing on a lilting headtrip, chock-full of DeMarco’s signature humor and settling in on a black and white portrait of DeMarco in the closing moments. It feels like a short film in its ambition, but never at the cost of the woozy guitar lines and pitched coos over the top of it.

Colin Joyce

03. Captain Murphy – Duality

[Dir. Xavier Magot]

Of all the interesting musical events in 2012, Captain Murphy’s calculated and shrouded existence was something that got us all wondering in some way. Since Flying Lotus dropped “Between Friends” with Earl Sweatshirt and the man himself, some fans couldn’t help but turn their heads a few hundred degrees – there was a deep curiosity surrounding who or what Captain Murphy might be, though it wasn’t the focal point of Captain Murphy’s Duality video. Much of the clip’s imagery has a realized occult and pop culture theme that also runs through the mixtape itself. Speedy images pass by and are laid upon each other in a psychedelic fashion, teasing eyes and minds like watching a sunlight-reflecting pinwheel while on acid. Divided into “lessons”, director Xavier Magot depicts Duality as a strange brainwash-style infomercial filled with visuals of drugs, cartoons, sacrificial ceremonies and pornography. At the moment this thing dropped, there was no prior knowledge or real understanding of what Duality was even going to be. Duality in film form works as a noticeably different embodiment of the mixtape’s ideas and tones; the perception seems sinister and less playful. Accompanied by the video’s chopped footage, these tracks begin to sound like they were created for brainwash. It is shock value for the sake of appropriately being shock value: a rare treat indeed.

Andrew Halverson

02. Castratii – “Kingdom”

[Dir. Sue-Ling Braun]

Australia’s Castratii were one of 2012’s best discoveries, their Liz Fraser-styled vocals supplemented by darkly industrial sounds throughout their great debut Eora. “Kingdom”, the song that was the immediate hook to their sound, was paired with some of the most darkly sensual visuals I’ve seen to date, depicting passionate sex — but in a much different manner than, say, Björk’s infamous “Pagan Poetry” video. Think closer to Stan Brakhage’s Wedlock House. As the video moves forward in beautiful monochrome, we’re shown the push and pull of the relationship, finally ending on a series of glimpses of the couple’s eyes — shots as arresting as the song itself.

Ryan Nichols

01. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

[Dir. AG Rojas]

Spiritualized’s “Hey Jane” is one of the year’s most sweet, poppy, and bombastic songs. Funnily enough, it gets paired up with one of the most explicit, bombastic music videos I’ve ever seen — it all ends up looking like Jeanne Dielman reimagined by Harmony Korine. The Jane (played by a wonderful Tyra Sanchez) of our video is shown raising her kids, giving her services, and lastly, in an incredible tracking shot soundtracked by the song’s majestic ending jam, cuddling with her son-turned-murderer-turned-video gamer. While the song isn’t the most ambitious and daring of the year, the video (short film?) more than makes up for it, cementing director AG Rojas as a rising talent.

Ryan Nichols