Scene Not Herd

Scene Not Herd
This year's crop of music videos has its fair share of high profile and concept-driven offerings. That inescapable, covered-to-death hit by Gotye starts things off, with the unexpected superstar crooning to his singing partner while their naked bodies are merged with a fractured painting.

Next, the celebrity guest train rolls in for Lykke Li's "Sadness is a Blessing." The sultry pop artist is having an intense stare down with Stellan Skarsgård in a fancy restaurant. After a few belts of liquid courage, she gets up to dance, turning her sadness into cathartic movement while the staff and other patrons look on, not knowing how to react.

The first of two animated videos, "First Time I Ran Away," by M. Ward, chronicles the three times a man runs away in his life: once as a boy, again as a young man and finally in his twilight years. Ward's meditative folk song is a perfect fit for the rudimentary geometric animation.

With a sinister sweetness to match the prodigious musician's catchiest song, St. Vincent's "Cruel" sees the doll-faced Annie Clark kidnapped by a family seeking a surrogate mother. When she doesn't perform to their standards, their disposal method is decidedly cruel, but the continually creeping camera work is quite kind to viewers.

Many of these videos don't list the artist and "Fryngles" is unfamiliar to me. The sinister electro-pop number is given a treatment that would be at home in a Twin Peaks episode. Next up is a visual feast Zack Snyder would appreciate. Shot in black & white, "Iron," by Woodkid, is all slow-motion battle imagery. Ash falls from the sky while dogs, owls, horses and warriors charge; it's suitable accompaniment to the bombastic, medieval song arrangement.

Less overtly political than many of her previous videos, M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" is more of a simple lampooning of rap video tropes, with slow, swooping cameras and an obsession with zipping around, pulling tricks in pimped-out rides in between shots of synchronized dancing.

Pandering to the lowest common denominator, we have Rihanna lamenting a relationship gone wrong while she makes out with, and gets up to various shenanigans with, her drug-popping paramour in "We Found Love." The video's nearly as repetitive as the song.

"Time to Dance" is an abrasive electro-dance punk song providing the soundtrack for the killing spree of an emotionally damaged man, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. After murdering a couple at a house party, he goes about his daily routine, reminiscing about past kills and looking for a different outlet for his rage, to which the title of the song points the way.

The most viscerally engaging video of the year belongs to progressive math-groove outfit Battles. "My Machines," with vocals by Gary Numan, takes great pains to appear as a single shot of a man falling down an escalator while time speeds up and down, the camera swoops around and the band members slide by in ever-changing configurations.

The '80s-obsessed, Montreal-based Grimes jubilantly dances around at different sporting events, with half-naked fans and athletes surrounding her in the video for "Oblivion." Beyond her fearless jive, the primary charm is in the reaction of strangers to all the kafuffle.

Coattail riders of the year, Walk off the Earth submit another cover, this time for former Weeds theme "Little Boxes," The video takes the lyrics literally, with everything on the set made of some kind of small box. The novelty of their shtick wears off quickly though.

"Legacy" is a playful, yet mature video that features a young girl performing numerous cultural funeral rituals for her dead pet mouse. Finally, "The Shrine/An Argument" is a long, epic animated video following the journey of a warrior elk (or something violent with four legs and antlers, anyhow) through a landscape of orange, black, red and yellow. The vaguely mystical tribal images are an excellent fit for the expansive, progressive folk of the song.