Detroit was blessed in 2014 with multiple new venues, countless hard-hitting singles, and a generous helping of digestible full-length albums. It only makes sense that the video accompaniments to the music of the last 12 months were just as memorable.
An overwhelming number of Detroit-area musicians have a great knack for visual art, design concepts, and stylistic imagery. Moreover, our city’s artists demonstrate that the filmed representation of any given record can be the missing piece for listeners looking for the “big picture” commentary. Music videos, when done carefully and precisely, can alter the way we hear a track, understand an artist’s intentions, or receive future work.
By collaborating with a pool of amazing visual arts talent, Detroit’s musical community has consistently produced captivating videos for all genres and sounds. From lightning-fast cuts and jarring changes of focus to minimalist, one-shot sequences enhanced by fresh techniques, this list represents Detroit Music Magazine’s favorite videos of the year.
reading watching. —P.Y
10. Boldy James: “What’s the Word”
Director: Gerard Victor
2014 was a huge year for Detroit hip-hop artist Boldy James. But between signing to Nas’ Mass Appeal label in April and preparing his upcoming release Trapper’s Alley II, he still found the time to share some seriously stand-up visuals. “What’s the Word” focuses on the heartbreak that illegal street life can provide and dealing with the ups and downs of loss and success. The video, directed by Detroit’s own Gerard Victor, walks viewers through layers of symbolism and storytelling elements as James invites us to witness moments of incarceration, therapy, and meditation. The Alchemist-produced beat perfectly matches Victor’s slow-motion profile of James, as rims, bullets, women, smoke, and champagne fill the room. —Billy Shears
9. James Linck: “Get This Money” [ft. Mic Write]
Directors: The Right Brothers
If a relentless drive toward and intense yearning for tomorrow characterized pre-millennial tension, then why have the last fifteen years felt like one long trip down memory lane — particularly for Millennials? In the words of Detroit alt-R&B musician James Linck, “It’s about realizing a future everybody told you was gonna be there isn’t gonna be there.” Clamoring for a romanticized past may be our generation’s default setting, but that doesn’t mean retromania need prevail when it comes to art. “Get This Money,” the first single from Linck’s debut solo EP, Fortress of Solitude, is decidedly part of the present. It’s also a sonic gift that comes to life in a clip by Detroit filmmaking duo The Right Brothers. They pair the crooner’s satin-smooth vocals and the track’s entrancing production both with performance footage taken at the New Dodge Lounge (featuring poet-rapper Mic Write) as well as enigmatic scenes of actress Chelsea Harabedian going to musicians among Detroit trying to, well, get that money. Tomorrow never knows, but Linck and crew definitely know what’s up. —Khalid
8. Doc Waffles, Eddie Logix, James Linck, and Christopher Jarvis: “Lights on Rider Anthem”
Directors: The Right Brothers
This video is bizarre… and awesome. The Right Brothers, who have created incredible videos for everyone from Jamaican Queens to Flint Eastwood, lay it on thick for the #CoOwnaz crew, specifically James Linck, Eddie Logix, Doc Waffles, and Christopher Jarvis. The cryptic track offers space for visual athleticism, which is provided by flashy clothes, a white Bronco filled with disco ball lighting, and cameos from some of Detroit’s independent music community’s most colorful characters, including Ryan Spencer of Jamaican Queens, Passalacqua, Dante LeSalle, and The Right Brothers themselves. This clip is best enjoyed without any reservations. It’s meant to wash over you — not to be figured out or analyzed — so I won’t start here. —P.Y
7. Gosh Pith: “Waves”
Director: Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman
Though Gosh Pith have only released two songs this year (with accompanying visuals for each), they are forthright about one thing: no expectations. Through their live productions and video work, the electronic duo explore realms that challenge genre labels and defy creative consistency. Perhaps the best example of this is the clip for their first single “Waves,” which features many competing characters: an overconfident Elvis impersonator, a dirt-eating connoisseur, and that shirtless douchebag on Halloween who dresses as a Native American chieftain, to name a few. The Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman-directed video has no narrative, and Gosh Pith don’t have one to give. It serves as a visualization of the “cosmic trap,” a place the duo draw inspiration from. There’s also no concrete explanation for life’s little (or big) hiccups, as all you can do is try to control the chaos so it looks like you kind of know what you’re doing. —Joe
6. ZelooperZ: “Plateau”
Director: Trevor Dernai
This particular video helped put a face with the name many within Detroit’s hip-hop community had been hearing a lot about — ZelooperZ. The Bruiser Brigade member and Danny Brown affiliate debuted the video for “Plateau” via Complex Magazine, as part of the publication’s First Look series. The Trevor Dernai-directed clip paints ZelooperZ as a visual artist, not just a rapper or music act. ZelooperZ’s mannerisms and gesticulations add value to the track, as his eyes roll, his neck strains, and his jaw clenches to the rhythm of the lyrics. Although a dilapidated section of Detroit provides the setting for the video, the distinct presence of the Motor City’s skyline remains in view. With “Plateau,” ZelooperZ proves he’s determined to push the envelope on new sounds, innovative styles, and highly engaging visual accompaniments. (It doesn’t hurt that his mentor Danny Brown is dancing in the background the entire time.) —P.Y
5. Bars of Gold: “Blue Lightning”
There’s no shortage of experimental musicians operating in the underground of the Motor City, and the videos these artists produce are often as eye-catching as their music is ear-splitting. Post-punk five-piece Bars of Gold certainly had creative Wheels turning when they released the psychedelic clip for “Blue Lightning.” Pitched somewhere between the Technicolor razzle-dazzle of Fantasia and the technophobic body horror one might find in Fangoria, the video finds the band members in tight close-up, as disembodied hands mutate the group’s features. As directed by Gentlemen, the visuals create a funhouse sensation that matches the song’s Fun House-vibes and that gives new meaning to the phrase “Face the music.” —Khalid
4. Sleepless Inn: “Karol Simon”
Look no further than this clip from dream pop duo Sleepless Inn to find some of the most creative minds at work in the D. Everything from light design to animation has been flawlessly executed by the #CoOwnaz collective. Singer Laura Finlay bathes in an eclectic light show, as her ethereal vocals recall Trish Keenan of Broadcast and other contemporary chanteuses. Eddie Logix is at the top of his production game, providing a swirling beat that wraps itself around you and won’t let go. All these elements come together in a clip that transports you to a world where the futuristic and the noir commingle seamlessly with quite captivating results. —Joe
3. Passalacqua: “The Baptism” [ft. SYBLYNG and Hygienic Dress League]
Directors: The Right Brothers
The political climate in America is at fever-pitch, especially given the tensions stirred up in the wake of high-profile grand jury cases. Detroit is no stranger to hot-button issues, and even before this fall’s newsmaking events across the country, rap duo Passalacqua knew we all needed to go to CHURCH and be cleansed. They understand that protest can take many forms, even if it’s “just” a music video. Enter “The Baptism,” a narrative short film directed by The Right Brothers that features Flint Eastwood’s Jax Anderson and her brother Seth alongside Passalacqua’s Blaksmith and Mister. The six-minute clip offers hope even as it takes us to task for the ills we perpetuate with its montage of Hazmats and Howitzers. “Can you feel my body shaking?” asks the chorus; watch this video and you’ll be sure to. —Khalid
2. Danny Brown: “25 Bucks” [ft. Purity Ring]
The Purity Ring-featuring “25 Bucks” by Danny Brown may have been one of the true breakout tracks from a Detroit artist in 2014. After the song quickly became one of the rapper’s biggest hits, its clip gained tremendous traction among fans Old and new. Director NORTON uses classic cinematic techniques to create a powerful representation of what many people go through living in poverty in the rough neighborhoods of Detroit, but Brown’s made lemonade from his upbringing’s lemons to put out nothing short of an incredible video. —Nicky Kassab
1. Jack White: “Lazaretto”
Directors: Jonas & Francois
Hometown hero Jack White returns with one of the most exciting albums of 2014, Lazaretto, and directors Jonas & Francois bring the title song to life with a spectacular video. Shot in stark black and white, White’s raucous riffing literally unleashes a wave of mutilation, smashing glass everywhere. A badass American sports car tears up a racetrack as White’s scintillating guitar solo tears through the musical track. If by the end of the video you’re not amped by or sweating from the montage of high-octane destruction accompanying White’s brand of rock, then you’re just not down with Detroit. —Inchaus
Our end-of-year coverage continues this week with Detroit’s 10 Best Tracks and Albums of 2014.