We're halfway through the best music videos from underground, indie, and lesser-known artists in 2021. This time, the subjects range from Mothra to river cults to pancake parties. Be on the look out for some local talent this time around!
60. White Cliffs, “Just Like You”
Normally, lyric videos are disqualified from this countdown, but I’m making an exception for “Just Like You.” The Claymation aspects give it a lot more personally and meshes well with the themes of the song itself. It would be nice to see the band tackle something a little more ambitious, but until then “Just Like You” is a fun watch.
59. Girl Friday, “Earthquake”
Vera Ellen directed the video for “Earthquake” herself and called it a “a story of fighting for true liberation.” There’s no doubt that it’s a frantic visual story full of escape and shadowy presences. Though the execution is a little like the video equivalent of a toxic material spill, there’s no doubt the sincerity and energy.
58. Cartel Madras, “Drift”
Directed by the group themselves, “Drift” is definitely the most stoned music video of 2021. That said, Eboshi and Contra specifically set out to make a celebration of BIPOC excelling and enjoying the fruits of their success, and there’s no doubt they succeeded. Vaguely communist drug propaganda with an intersectional feminist twist deserves props for the number of ding dongs it pisses off if nothing else.
57. Haerts, “Too Late”
The actual video for “Too Late,” directed by Julian Klincewicz, is only mildly interesting. Singer Nini Fabi skips along the street against a collection of ‘70s camera effects. However, apparently while filming the video, someone started running toward the group with a gun and they had to flee for their lives. Putting out a music video under duress gets you on the list in my book.
56. Zeal & Ardor, “Run”
“Run” is a well-done descent into madness… or perhaps just a well-done paddling around in madness playing Marco Polo. A man is surrounded by unhinged inmates in hospital gowns as he tries to makes sense of his own viscera-colored view of the world. The song itself is a chainsaw, so prepare for your eardrums to hurt.
55. Andrew Hagar, “Red Light Appetite”
Filmed in one of our real-life Texas ghost towns, “Red Light Appetite” is a red-hot western vampire blood and metal orgy. The music is throbbing, and the gore is plentiful. While nothing will ever top Goldfapp’s “Alive” in the musical vampire category, this one belongs in the top five of that sub-genre.
54. Saint Sinner, “Couch Business”
Director Joey Muñoz expertly divides Hanna Cottrell into two unearthly beings, one of which is basically a Cenobite stripper and the other looking like the avarice-hungry mogul who probably unleashed the first. The final product plays like a duel of identities that is riveting.
53. Blue Stahli, “Obsidian”
Directors Justin McGrath and Sydney Mills showcase the absolute banger that is “Obsidian” with a combination of landscape porn, alien obelisks, and hallucinogenic imagery. It’s basically the most engrossing screensaver of all time.
52. Elle Lexxa, “IODV”
Music videos made exclusively for Tik Tok still tend to be quite hit or miss, and rarely manage to craft an involved story. For sheer, beautiful spectacle, though, I can’t fault Elle Lexxa. Her video for “IODV” is a stunning collection of visuals and innuendo that is instantly compelling.
51. Merk, “Deep Dive”
Apparently Merk likes to moonlight as a chef-themed DJ called DJ Ragu, which is objectively adorable. The video for “Deep Dive” highlights his other life in a series of party scenes that really touches a nerve in an ongoing pandemic. Plus, a pancake party sounds really nice right now.
50. Shygirl, “Tasty”
I can’t speak for the rest of you, but with immune-compromised people in the house the lockdown has never really ended for me. That’s why I’m glad for a video like “Tasty,” which is just a decadent fairytale of glamour and plenty. It’s times like this we should remember that The Masque of the Red Death was actually a pretty cool party before everyone dropped dead.
49. Velveteen Echo, “Heart Undo”
Houston band Velveteen Echo turns into a wonderful music video with “Hearts Undo.” Director Lindsey Cooper-Trevino lends a day and night at the beach a Lynchian vibe as the band cavorts against the waves. It all plays like the most glorious Benadryl dream.
48. William Ryan Key, “Face in a Frame”
The former Yellowcard frontman has had a hell of a single career full of daring ideas. That’s clearly on display in the beautiful, animated music video for “Face in a Frame” where paper animals caper around an origami world. The sharp lines of the animated style mimic the starkness of the lyrics, creating something very cutting.
47. Wet, “Only Water”
There’s a reason so many ancient religions revolved around rivers. “Only Water” masterfully captures a sense of pagan wonder as Kelly Zutrau comes to the shore to join other women in a strange exultation. It’s slightly sinister, but definitely moving.
46. Crazy and the Brains, “Punk Rocker”
I have no idea what’s happening in “Punk Rocker,” but it’s a hell of a trip anyway. Director Jak Kerley follows the band on a sneering walk through a frozen Jersey City in a semi-tribute to Iggy Pop. It’s safe to say that Kerley does it better, though, with gorgeous visuals and a real tension between dirt and opulence.
45. Bug Bites, “Boundaries”
A simple idea in the hands of a gifted director can become something grand, and Derek Rathbun does fantastic thing with just some red tape and the exquisite music of our own Bug Bites. The band is slowly surrounded with strips of tape, including some killer shots of singer/guitarist Daniela Hernandez having her eyes hidden. In the end, the boundaries established become a straitjacket for the group.
44. Cassandra Jenkins, “Crosshairs”
There’s nothing too terribly fancy going on in “Crosshairs.” The video follow Jenkins around before doing a wide drone tour of New York in winter, highlighting the lyrics about a sense of isolation. It all comes back to a shot of Jenkins on the ground in the snow as if sniped by her own loneliness. The sheer beauty and languid motion of the experience make it stand out.
43. La Femme, “Le Jardin”
La Femme’s “Le Jardin” is a cinematically stunning trip through gorgeous Spanish settings delivered with a wonderful psychedelic ambiance. Though light on narrative, the lyrics do enough of the heavy lifting to make the trip feel like something special. Even in a year when there was a lot of grand drone work and walking around videos, “Le Jardin” stands out as one of the most beautiful.
42. Hiatus Kaiyote, “And We Go Gentle”
If you ever wondered what Mothra would look like starring in a quirky Wes Anderson rom-com, wonder no more. That’s not even a joke. “And We Go Gentle” is heavily inspired by the famous kaiju, but with a little added human element to make it all feel a bit more grounded.
41. Liv.e, “You the Only Fish in the Sea”
Liv.e spellbinds in this magical adventure directed by Cole Daly and Ava Doorley. It has singing mountains, weird sea creature, and lots of love. The video is almost closer to some hit indie game like Dear Esther than a musical moment, but Liv,e’s incomparable voice never takes a back seat even to something this mythical.
Tune in tomorrow for more of the countdown!
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.