The Top 15 Music Videos Of  2013

By Lisa Hresko, Eric Davidson, and Lizzie Plaugic
A current debate questions whether the fact that everyone can now easily make a little music video means they actually should make a little music video. It was a debate about 10 years ago that questioned whether the music video was a viable promotional tool anymore. We’re currently sitting somewhere between those two discussions, as the ease of nabbing an affordable digital device and cranking out a clip on the cheap has made the sheer number of videos head-scrambling. That said, folks are getting better at it, or at least some are. And given YouTube’s pop cultural ubiquity, if you take a little time and effort to make an interesting piece of film, it flies around the musical landscape faster and more invitingly than waiting on a download of an album. Oh shoot, there’s another debate. Well, we may as well add one more: these are CMJ’s picks for the best videos of 2013.

Devendra BannhartMondo Taurobolium

Remember for a while there it seemed like every other music video was animated? Seems every band had a friend who figured out some new animation program and would make something for free. Which of course resulted in an oversaturation of tossed-off, faux –psychedelic noodling. But here’s an amazingly well worked-over, four-minute micro-epic of late-70s looking, 2-D Bakshi-ish animals (dapper ducks, sleazy wolves) cruising through a surreal, neon-lit evening with noir-like voiceovers that I think might have Banhart questioning his trust-funded, bohemian guilt. And it’s probably leading to some longer feature idea, maybe tied into his next album. Who knows? You can just enjoy the gorgeous animation. – ED

Bat For LashesLilies

In an unexpectedly joyous video that’s equal parts warrior’s journey and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, Natasha Khan befriends some monsters in this stop-animation clip for Lilies, from her 2012 album The Haunted Man. -LH

Beach HouseWishes

This is a song that is a Beach House song, and sounds very similiar to many other Beach House songs, and thus is not that interesting on its own. But, because Eric Wareheim got ahold of it, the visuals here are eyebrow-furrowingly arresting. There’s Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks lip-synching the track while looking just as numbly crazy as ever; there’s majestically goofy fire gymnastics; there’s a white horse; there’s even a brief Wareheim cameo. Hey, you’d wanna take credit for this one too. – LP

Jake BuggSlumville Sunrise

For all the ways pop culture and its dissemination have changed in the last decade, it seems we may never rid ourselves of the scourge of the over-hyped British “next big thing.” Meet Jake Bugg. Yes, his tunes have so far been hit or miss, working class singer/songwriter stuff, not backed up by a band of hotties as per the template, but overall another decent wannabe Ray/Dave Davies that the Brits never seem to get enough of. But hey, if hype can get the great Shane Meadows to direct your video, so be it. This is an excellent mini-flick where Bugg starts off as a believably suspicious little punter stealing an engagement ring from a jewelry shop. The chase after him grows increasingly silly, until he gets the thing home to a hilariously ungrateful, pregnant girlfriend. It doesn’t hurt that the tune is one of Bugg’s better efforts. – ED

DisclosureWhen A Fire Starts To Burn

Dude’s just your average preacher having some seizures and out-of-body experiences, right? Until he poofs that dude into the void! Are we in 1995 video heaven? Is this a Spike Jonze joint? Nope, it’s Bo Mirosseni, an up-and-coming director to keep an eye on. – LH


French techno DJ Gesaffelstein is pulling some intense dolly zoom shit in this surreal video by the directorial duo Fleur And Manu (who also were the tripped-out brains behind M83’s “Midnight City” video trio). – LH

Julia HolterThis Is A True Heart

It’s rare to get a video with an actual storyline these days. But this red-hued visual has one, I think. It features Julia Holter as a noxious femme fatale who’s going to leak some kind of mysterious file onto the internet. It’s like Hackers, except will fewer conspiracy theories and less Angelina Jolie. Bonus points for cutting to a guy playing the saxophone during the sex scene. – LP

Le1fSpa Day

Accompanied by a crew of Greedhead labelmates, including Lakutis and Heems and Dapwell of Das Racist, Le1f sweats and slithers through the Bed-Stuy spa Body By Brooklyn in a manner that will make even the most pampered, posh patron envious. Hey, Le1f, the CMJ staff could use a spa day. – LH

Majical CloudzChildhood’s End

It makes sense that the video for a song called Childhood’s End is a colorless rumination on dying, the end of youth and everything that is good in the world. It features frontman Devon Welsh’s dad (actor Kenneth Welsh) being generally really depressing. It’ll bring up some existential thoughts in you. When was the last time I played hop-scotch? Will I enjoy orange juice without alcohol in it ever again? Thanks, Majical Cloudz. – LP

Janelle MonaeQ.U.E.E.N.

From the looks of this Euro-austre, futuristic dance macabre (by way of a ‘60s mod op-art nod), Monae called up some debts from fashion industry pals and/or spent more than one really needs to for a video anymore. But who’s counting when you’re the world’s leader in neo-soul fun-having? “But we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground.” I’m guessing wings weren’t on the catering trays at this shoot. – ED

Tyler, The CreatorTamale

We already know Tyler, The Creator can do wacky. He can copy/paste/crop his head over brightly colored backgrounds, ride a giant orange tabby cat like a mechanical bull, drool on the camera, do somersaults over a golf course and mock-masturbate using an industrial-size bottle of lotion and a dictionary of un-P.C. words. But the best part of this video starts around the 2:30 mark, where the color-saturated set turns to various shades of brown and Tyler’s mania has subdued into heavy-lidded lounging. It’s like Weezer’s video for Say It Ain’t So, except instead of Rivers Cuomo talking about beer, it has Tyler addressing his absent father in a way that’s both listless and hopeful. The stark contrast to the start of the clip makes Tyler’s dad-verses even more blistering. Shout out to Pharrell on the drum kit. – LP

Kurt VileKV Crimes

It’s not hard to sense a theme with Vile’s vids. A slightly stoned, melancholic Vile (or similarly skinny people) walks around town looking at sun-dappled urban blight. They’re lovely, no doubt. But this one—directed by Tom Scharpling (host of “The Best Show on WFMU,” but leaning more towards directing gigs these days)—adds a twist to the traipse-around-town by gathering a bunch of Vile’s pals to carry him in a throne through a low-rent parade honoring his demi-fame. It’s a funny (not a word usually ascribed to Vile) bit of self-awareness that’s given another layer when you think that the mayor of Vile’s hometown of Philadelphia actually did declare August 28, 2013, “Kurt Vile Day.” So for a minute there, Vile really was the king of his world. Hey, let a guy—especially one who released yet another masterpiece this year—enjoy his success. – ED

WampireThe Hearse

The thing no one will admit about most film noirs and ’80s movies is that they don’t make sense. This Wampire video has everything people love about both genres: a colorful and smoky atmosphere, weirdly illuminated faces, clunky acting and a female in distress. Nevermind that “What?” will be the only question the video leaves you with. I think the moral of the story is we all really want what we’re most afraid of. Or don’t trust men in ten-gallon hats. Probably both. – LP

Yeah Yeah YeahsSacrilege

Supermodel Lily Cole plays a runaway “sinner,” pursued by concupiscent townsfolk, who is given a Joan of Arc sendoff in this chilling video for the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s choral pièce de résistance Sacrilege. – LH

Yung LeanHurt

The problem with drinking too many frozen margaritas isn’t that you’ll have consumed too much tequila; it’s that you’ll have consumed too much tequila in the form of what is basically ice sugar. After around two drinks, your throat will start to feel all cloggy and the cold sugar-tequila slime will form a film around that thing that dangles in the back of your throat [Yahoo Answers: uvula] creating a margarita hornet’s nest in your mouth. But damn, they taste good. This video is all that and more. It’s what Bound 2 wanted to be, plus ten seconds of Yung Lean texting without looking at the camera. – LP