My recap of the year’s best music continues today with the visual medium. I’ve already shared my interview with the best new synthpop artist of the year, Current One, and presented the year in synthpop cover songs.
If all goes according to plan, I’ll begin my countdown of the year’s best synthpop songs next week. Several of the songs below will appear on that list. But first, let’s watch the videos.
Here are my 10 favorite synthpop music videos of the year. You can find a Youtube playlist containing these videos here.
10. ACTORS – “Killing Time”
With a name like ACTORS, it only makes sense that the Vancouver post-punk quartet would produce top-notch films to accompany their music. They’ve made several for their sophomore album, Acts of Worship—in fact, I included their Bonnie and Clyde flick, “Only Lonely,” on last year’s list. Their 2022 video for “Killing Time” might be their simplest—the band appears on stage in glowing makeup and clothes. But it’s a visually startling look at one of the scene’s best live performers.
9. Lizette Lizette – “Miss Gendered”
On the title track of their third full-length album, nonbinary icon Lizette Lizette takes aim at journalists and others who continue to misgender them despite making it pretty clear on their 2019 anthem “Non.” The John Waters-esque music video features a beauty pageant for the title of Miss Gendered—it’s both a clever condemnation of people who refuse to use Lizette’s correct pronouns and a celebration of queerness in all its glorious forms. The menagerie of colorful folks coming down the runway includes drag queens, drag kings, performance artists, club kids, dancers, and Lizette themself.
8. Unroyal – “The Story of Us”
Following the release of their exceptional debut album, Swedish duo Unroyal signed with Sweden’s premiere synthpop label, Progress Productions. The move afforded them more promotional opportunities, including music videos, to support their sophomore full-length. So far, Unroyal hasn’t appeared in their videos, instead opting for vintage movie footage that perfectly syncs with their brand of timeless, elegant synthpop. “The Story of Us” features a classic story, fittingly, about a couple and a stolen motorcycle that’s all James Dean swagger.
7. Kite – “Panic Music”
The power of this video rests largely on one of my favorite visuals of the year: Kite’s hand logo set ablaze on the edge of a wood. It comes late in the video, but the preceding visuals are no less interesting. There’s graffiti, people dancing in an attic, Kite frontman Nicklas Stenemo stripping off his shirt and doing push-ups, archival footage from the ’80s of a child’s mullet being trimmed. All of it gets spliced together with static and rapid fire edits that mimic the song’s buzzsaw electronics.
6. ÆON RINGS – “Fully Operational”
Turn down the lights and crank up the volume before you watch this one. The music video for AEON RINGS’s “Fully Operational” is a fully immersive experience that features a late-night car heist, suspects wielding guns as they crash through doors, and Darth Vader choke holds. But it’s really all about the stunning image of Davey Partains perched in an antique chair, bathed in dense fog and red neon light, looking like the head vampire of an Underworld clan.
5. Vandal Moon – “Young. Deadly. Beautiful.”
Cali darkwavers Vandal Moon lean heavily into classic science fiction in their animated video for “Young. Deadly. Beautiful.” There are spaceships, hooded Obi-Won figures, a powerful crystal, even extra-terrestrial dragons. You might think this is archival footage, but the band themselves are cleanly spliced into stop-motion animation, giving this video a wholly original and cinematic vibe.
4. Hatari – “Dansið Eða Deyið”
We’ve come to expect Hatari videos to be as intense and uncomfortable as singer Matthías Haraldsson’s earsplitting vocals. But they upend the formula for their 2022 single “Dansið Eða Deyið,” which finds the trio relaxing on a couch to watch a wholesome children’s talent show that includes cello and traditional dance. It all goes hilariously meta when a group of children dressed as Hatari perform their Eurovision stage show, a demented nod to Hatari’s experience with fame.
3. System Syn – “Knives”
Engrossing lyrics like “We still swing our knives” call for engrossing visuals, and that’s exactly what System Syn give us in the video for “Knives,” my favorite track from their 2020 album, Once Upon a Second Act. Incredibly lifelike tissues and organs undulate with the song’s beat. Then Clint Carney shows up with a reptilian face that looks like someone carved away his skin. It’s a visual feast we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker’s music project.
2. CZARINA – “Excelsior”
Multitalented artist CZARINA is known for bombastic songs that defy easy genre, but she’s also built a strong reputation for incredibly sophisticated videos that she creates with her husband, the visual artist DeadlyKawaii. So it’s no surprise to see her—my choice for last year’s best video—near the top of this year’s list. “Excelsior,” possibly my favorite track from her sophomore album, features more stunning costumes and more awesome drone footage of coastal Galicia. But this outing depicts CZARINA in performance mode, playing guitar, keys, and drums atop a seaside cliff while special effects burst in the sky about her.
1. Sextile – “Modern Weekend/Contortion”
This gritty double feature from Los Angeles synth punks Sextile is neatly divided into two segments, daytime and nighttime. In “Modern Weekend,” the daytime half, four young friends go for a joyride in a stolen car, jump into a stranger’s pool, then head for a train yard where they smash some shit up. The story continues in “Contortion,” the nighttime bit, as the same four friends sneak into a nightclub where Sextile is performing. It’s the perfect summer day and an eye-popping snapshot of misspent youth, the type of memories many of us hold dear.