It took me a week longer than I thought it would, but what else is new?

The back half of this list can be found here, but these are my top ten AMVs of 2017.

10. Stay the Same
editor: CrackTheSky
anime: Oregairu 2
music: 泉まくら – “School Road”
download: https://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=202691

Plenty of high school and light novel series attempt to create “complex” characters, place them in settings the audience will find familiar and create a situation that viewers perceive as both mundane and deeply profound. The Oregairu series is one of the few I’ve seen that really succeeds in doing this in a way that feels authentic or relatable (imho), a process that takes two seasons to really stew and reveal themes that would be otherwise hard to swallow delivered by a story more eager to oblige viewers’ fantasies and preconceived notions right off the bat. “Stay the Same” takes a nuanced approach to the complex sentimentality of this material, not trying to explain the series or dumb it down into a more easily digestible form but leaning into its melancholy tone with no hesitation. Hanging these scenes on a warmly bittersweet-sounding Japanese hip-hop tune–a unique sound with no English-language counterpart I can think of at all–leaves viewers like me to soak in the emotional resonance of the lyrics, which convey a feeling of weary patience and assurance despite the language barrier that’s keeping the true meaning under wraps for me. The editing is as smooth as the music, punctuated by well-timed quick cuts and occasional zoom-outs that don’t betray the understated, gentle flow that makes this AMV relaxing, for sure, but also disarmingly intimate and comforting.

9. Blood Stained Uniform
editor: lunalove125
anime: Kill La Kill
music: In This Moment – “Blood”

If you’ve stumbled across this blog from animenano (please tell me someone has in the last five years) or from who knows where on the Internet, the following disclaimer will probably be helpful in getting a feeling of where I’m coming from. I really don’t listen to nu metal or metalcore or whatever you want to call this stuff. I didn’t when I was younger, and what I listen to now probably sounds like this to most people. There’s no better word for it: musical prejudice probably keeps me at arm’s length from a lot of AMVs, meaning a lot of good videos will need some other tantalizing bait to lure me in. In this case, that would be Kill La Kill, which I like, maybe even love, the more I think about it. And while rage is not an emotion I really think I need any more of in my life, I can’t deny that a ferocious-sounding woman like this at the mic is going to win me over more times than not. The song itself is that perfect example of how packing enough hooks in a piece of music that I think I won’t care for will inevitably convert my tastes and make me forget why I put up walls in the first place. Oh yeah, this is some of my favorite action editing of 2017. It’s as straight-forward of an approach to this material as you can imagine but it all works, resulting in an emotionally-charged, intense celebration of KLK‘s excess of violence and other concerns that just floors me every time I watch it. This editor (going by lunalove125 on the Org and a different name on Youtube, take your pick) got considerably more attention for her other video released in 2017 (and c’mon, it was totally deserved) but “Blood Stained Uniform” was my go-to action AND rock video this year and maybe my favorite Kill La Kill video of all time, no small feat when you realize that it does all this without the one thing that editors and viewers love most about the whole series.

8. 100% Salt
editor: PieandBeer
anime: Mob Psycho 100
music: Cold War Kids – “Miracle Mile”

Most Mob Psycho 100 AMVs I watched last year were very focused on its action scenes, playing up this angle with heavy, intense music that accurately showcases their brilliance but at the expense of exploring everything else that made the series so wonderful. Not to keep praising videos for all the mistakes they don’t make, but “100% Salt” does not fall into this trap. It’s another persuasively fun PieandBeer AMV that oozes the same joy of videos like “Minimum Wage” and “Something Fishy,” balancing the most kinetic visual scenes with elements of drama and humor. I first saw this video during this year’s AWA Pro and it was definitely one of the standouts. Since then I’ve realized it’s not just one of the best videos of that contest but one of the most interesting visions this editor has shared with us yet.

7. No Limits!
editor: UnluckyArtist
anime: various
music: 2 Unlimited – “No Limit”

This is the first year I’m bothering to actually rank any of my favorite AMVs with this year-end list, but if I’d made the hard choices last time around, UnluckyArtist’s “Blithe and Bonny” just might have been number one on my 2016 list. “No Limits!” is a work of somewhat less sophistication or, um, artistic maturity, but I love it all the same. The second of his decade-themed AMVs, “No Limits!” is inevitably tied to our nostalgia for the 90’s anime series featured or our feelings for the general aesthetic of this kind of anime from those years (again, secondhand nostalgia, you probably weren’t watching this stuff when it was airing, and that’s fine); it’s old enough to look dated but still undeniably cool enough to impress us, especially if you’ve come to take it all for granted some twenty-odd years after it was fresh and new. Imagine the biggest, coolest Toonami bumper collage ever assembled, one you’re 12 years old and up watching with friends sometime after midnight, maybe not necessarily what that would look like but what it would feel like to experience. I don’t want to get your hopes up too much but this is as close as you’ll get to that moment.

6. Timeless
editor: hamstar138
anime: various
music: Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc – “Wake Me Up”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8862

These kind of AMVs are fast becoming their own genre if they haven’t already, and they’re one of the few where I feel that excess is a virtue in achieving the editor’s ambitious goals. You can’t really have too many sources in one of these, nor have I seen one yet that gets to be too sentimental. hamstar138 definitely brings more to this video than to any past-to-present “ode to anime” I’ve seen before. While the concept isn’t new, nor is hamstar138 really putting any kind of a fresh spin on it, I believe that anyone who likes this kind of thing will be deeply satisfied by the effort that’s on screen here.

“Wake Me Up” isn’t a bad song. If there’s anything bad to say about it at all, its greatest sin is being overplayed in chain restaurants and sporting events, but over the past five years I’ve grown pretty sick of it. I really don’t like bringing so much discussion of these videos back to my feelings about the music they use, but it’s worth mentioning here because I think it actually matters this time. I loved every second of this video, felt that the song was fittingly uplifting and not just employed for its recognition, and when I hear it on its own now, I can’t help but smile. This is a bigger achievement than you could possibly imagine. This isn’t the first video to follow this formula and it won’t be the last, but even if/when it’s topped by whatever work inevitably includes more titles and spans an even greater history of anime, duplicating the heart of this AMV won’t be quite such a simple matter.

5. HYPERLUST
editor: Bauzi
anime: Serial Experiments Lain, Genius Party
music: Röyksopp & Robyn – “Sayit”
download: https://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=202785

No, I don’t consider 2 Unlimited or any of the 90s Eurodance groups to be “techno” (this is my prerogative but probably a bad opinion). Nor do I really consider Scooter or The Prodigy or anything in this to be techno, either (just to be clear, the AniMix is awesome either way). The kind of music I do think of as techno has never been very appreciated by people involved in making anime music videos, a fact that’s probably not surprising at all to anyone but myself. This is a very long-winded, unfortunately snobbish way of getting to the point of how I’ve always wished there were more techno videos in this hobby, a lament on the level of complaining about the dearth of polka or blues AMVs. Don’t hold your breath, they’re just not gonna happen. Yeah, lolligerjoj’s “GEHIRNSTURMEN” certainly does the trick, but speaking solely of the music alone, it’s packed with more violent aggression than groove and is deeper into the realm of dungeon torture music than I ever really want to listen to.

Röyksopp are not the techno gurus I was expecting to inspire such a video, but I also didn’t know they’d transitioned from tasteful downtempo tunes to banging tracks like this. Bauzi’s synthesis of the track with the eternally iconic cyberpunk masterpiece Serial Experiments Lain and Perfect Blue animator Hideki Futamura’s contribution to the film anthology Genius Party (still unseen by yours truly) is as perfect a blend of the kind of the sounds and visual themes you could ask for in an AMV like this, but as a capital-T Techno AMV, the editing of “HYPERLUST” is also a creative reflection of these sources. Bauzi refers to his creative approach as glitchart, probably as accurate of a description as possible, but one I’d rather leave out of the discussion. This isn’t a meme, it’s just great editing and the product of recognizing the common themes in sources that work across different mediums toward a common vision. The premise of the video (calling it a story is perhaps stretching the term a little too far) is easy to follow, the inventive and dazzling visuals, standing as some of the most compelling effects I saw in anything last year, never overwhelming the viewer’s ability to keep up. It’s an uncompromising and kinda brilliant work of art.

4. The Last Dance
editor: shumira_chan
anime: Ah! My Goddess
music: The Hooters – “And We Danced”
download: https://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=202881

Despite my occasional correspondence with this editor, shumira_chan remains an enigma as I still don’t understand exactly when all of her AMVs were actually made or why she’d release them at a slow drip of two or three every year instead of all at once. Just to be clear, I’m okay with this, especially when her works are consistently as good as this one. Like last year’s “Back When We Belonged” (which I’d uploaded to Vimeo until my channel was shut down a few months ago, a problem I’ll finally get around to fixing some time soon), “The Last Dance” is an Ah! My Goddess video, a series I’ve never actually watched but already sort of love thanks to her works. There’s a sincerity in her AMVs that’s at its strongest here, with fundamentally strong effects-free editing that makes the most of every cut and every opportunity to slip in effective internal and lyric sync. The romantic sentiment of this AMV feels strangely quaint today, but that’s part of what makes it feel so unique. Like a love letter or a handmade gift, it’s the kind of work that expresses feelings from the heart in a way we rarely see today.

3. Audacity
editor: pwcagal
anime: Your Lie in April
music: Eminem – “Lose Yourself”
download: https://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=202667

It’s barely been three years since the conclusion of Your Lie in April and as time goes on I’ve struggled to relive the emotions I felt when I first watched the series or encountered so many of the AMVs it initially inspired. It’s hard for me to shake the sense that the dramatic juices of it have been permanently squeezed dry by overexposure; this is more the inevitable fate of any popular series than any sort of critique directed towards this one. I wasn’t expecting anyone to do anything new with this series any time soon. Thing is, pwcagal didn’t really have to. “Audacity” is a traditional AMV in every obvious aspect of the sense, but the use of a song like this injects a new attitude and perspective into the material. In the hands of a lesser editor this might come across like a parody, but “Audacity” is never anything less than thoroughly convincing.

Maybe it seems like a sensible match after all. Your Lie in April and “Lose Yourself” both deal in the sort of serious tones and subject matter that look as compatible as anything could ever be for an AMV. But the dramatic stakes of the series are twisted in a different direction than we’re used to as Kousei’s motivations take a very different turn than we’re used to seeing. I’m sure this AMV will look good and work on a viewer who’s unfamiliar with the series, but those of us who know it well might feel a little more astonished by how much this really flies in the face of everything we’ve seen before. The first 30 seconds gently lures the viewer in, giving them a chance to recognize that familiar intro and acknowledge that, yeah, this is a “clever” idea. Trust me, you might think you’re prepared for how this will play out, but it’s more than you’re ready for and nothing at all like the joke you might have been expecting. The basic premise of this series is rarely questioned by most editors who sit down to work with it, and while pwcagal doesn’t tear down every established plot element or character trait, just coming at it from a slightly different angle helps it feel fresh in ways it hasn’t in a long time. The editing is fluid, confident, somehow reflects both the heavy and delicate elements of the music and illustrates nearly every line of the song except for the few that were edited out so skillfully that you’d never know they were gone if you didn’t read it here.

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion「AMV」Part A
editor: Jurrutt Cuurtnuy
anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion
music: Factory Floor – “Fall Back”

I was reluctant to include this on the list at all just based on the promise that there would inevitably be more to it in the future, but what’s here is not what you’d expect at all from a typical work in progress video. As the video description suggests, this is part 1 of 3. The final version, as envisioned by the editor, could be at least 10 minutes long. Not knowing what’s going to happen or when, acknowledging that the four minutes of this video had me more excited than anything else all year long, it’s here with no hesitations, a more complete and imaginative work than most editors’ finished Evangelion videos.

Compared to Bauzi’s “HYPERLUST,” (another Techno AMV, the beginning and end of similarities between the two) this video is decidedly lo-fi, an aesthetic choice that’s fitting the eternally 90’s-bound source material. Edited in a rigidly linear fashion, it retraces the episodes from the beginning to end (or at least through episode 24), cutting scenes into short snippets that are instantly familiar-looking but shown in way we’ve never quite seen before. As many iconic shots as there are in this, there are just as many that I’m sure I’ve never seen once in an Evangelion AMV. The heavy repetition of this track and the “flawed” video quality might send even the biggest Eva fans running back toward more traditional tributes to their favorite anime, but then I again I can’t say for sure as this editor has never seemed particularly eager to beg for anyone else’s approval of his work, let alone the focus group-like process of putting it out there into the fandom or the competitive AMV world. I sincerely hope that fans who love this series, electronic music or truly unique AMVs somehow find it, but even if it remains largely unseen by those viewers, that’s probably okay. You can tell that this is a deeply personal creative response to the material that most people just aren’t going to get. It’s not a vehicle to evoke familiar emotions or imitate tropes you know and love, but a mirror held up to your own ideas or nostalgia for Eva, an ink blot test in AMV form.

1. Fine Without You
editor: DeadInside
anime: Flip Flappers
music: Tame Impala -“The Less I Know the Better”

When I found this video in the last stages of making this list, I barely tacked it onto the very end as an afterthought, perhaps an interesting or unexpected bookend to the back of the list that I definitely felt good about but otherwise had no idea what to make of. In the week or so that followed, my affection for it just grew and grew every time I watched it, to the point where I knew just had to include it in the top ten. Little time would pass before I realized that this video from God knows who was just everything I never I needed right now, the fulfillment of everything I love about AMVs and the cure to my ever festering cynicism about everything that ever makes this hobby frustrating or disappointing. If that sounds absolutely miserable, no, I’m really not. (I loved making this list and I love finding stuff like this that I’d never have come across otherwise if I didn’t have an occasion to desperately poke around for anything interesting or different or attention-grabbing that just wasn’t going to land in my lap if I didn’t try to dig it up myself.) If it sounds hyperbolic, I’m sure it is, but I can indulge in that if I want.

I’m not completely unfamiliar with this anime series. No, I haven’t watched it and I know nothing about it aside from hearing its name in passing a couple times over the past year. I had watched one AMV made from it, one I liked a lot but which I’d rather not compare to “Fine Without You.” I’d never heard this song before, either. Glancing at the lyrics–which I am apparently too hard of hearing to simply understand by turning my ears to them–breaks the illusion of the wonderful lyric sync in this video. This is another video that doesn’t succeed in literal lyric sync as much as it does in honing in on the emotion in the lyrics. That’s as effective and emotionally resonant approach as you want it to be, save to say that I never needed any nudging for this AMV to unequivocally convey a meaning found between the song and these clips edited in this order with whatever fingerprints the editor found fit to leave all over it. Not that DeadInside (AKA SaltElementals AKA Salt AMV) was really leaving any that would distract from the gorgeous, beautiful flow of this AMV. This is a pretty simple video, which I suppose is one good reason why it was as taken for granted as it seems to have been. 500 views in eleven months is neither a lot nor a little, depending on what you’re comparing it to, but I feel it’s not quite enough in this case.

Or maybe this isn’t the simple video I’m quick to judge it as. There’s a lot of effects here, masked transitions, wipes, zooms and camera movements. They’re really all over the place, but at least compared to how I’m used to seeing this stuff happen in videos of this style, they’re often deceptively subtle. It took several viewings before I really noticed many of them at all. Even without an extraordinary amount of rotoscoping (or perhaps any at all, idk), I had to watch the whole AMV at 0.25 speed to finally see some of the seams in this thing and appreciate just how the editor was using effects to create such a fluid sense of movement between clips. Maybe the editor is really going overboard here and it’s just the kind of indulgence in over-editing that’s managing to get me hooked. Maybe I’m willing to overlook some of this video’s flaws when there’s just enough effects and pretty scenes to distract me. Or maybe not. The first ten seconds of this AMV contains some of the most simple yet purposeful editing I’ve seen all year. It’s nothing but simple straight cuts, certainly not “impressive” by any technical measure, but it accomplishes so much in hooking the viewer, introducing the characters and providing a springboard into the rest of the video as the song blossoms into its true form. And as busy as this video gets, there is an unedited 10-second clip near the very end that’s just the most wonderful climax of any AMV I can ever think of. Granted, it’s the sort of beautifully-animated scene that editors salivate at the sight of, usually overuse and abuse, but I love that it was saved for just the right moment here because it’s a perfect reflection of the shimmering beauty of the music and a much-deserved emotional payoff to the scenes that played out in the two and a half minutes that came before it.

Even after “Fine Without You” is over, I don’t really know anything about Flip Flappers that I didn’t before. And yet I do know that I’ve just followed a story I implicitly understood outside of any cues besides the odd lyric or two that somehow stuck to my brain, leaving a well-timed impression that’s the only place where language ever intersects with my instinctual attachment for this stuff. I really don’t know if this is a Flip Flappers summary or just the editor’s private vision of how the series feels to them or something much more random than that. My experience of it isn’t a state I can put into words. Euphoria is too strong a word to use for this emotion, but it’s an irrational sense of well-being and good vibes that I’m content to feel without understanding.

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This list will be a little longer than those in years’ past, so I’m breaking it down into two posts. My usual top 10 is now a top 20. A few of these AMVs may have been submitted to contests in the 2016 calendar year or perhaps edited even earlier than that, but as far as I can tell were never debuted on Youtube, animemusicvideos.org, AMV News or anywhere else until 2017. Videos #20 through #11 will be covered in this post along with a couple honorable mentions. I hope to post the top ten in another day or two. In the meantime, a more comprehensive and better-researched list can be found at my friend’s site, which I can’t recommend enough if you like this sort of thing or just are curious to dig a little deeper into this stuff beyond Youtube recommendations or Reddit posts.

Honorable mentions:
Flip Flappuccino” by Tsunderbird Seth
Would You Go With Me?” by Zanexi
Lilith Is Gone – Bereft” by idleglance 腐った
Bonesaw” by Cenit
Alice in Broken Land” by KazKon

20. Anime MasterChef
editor: AntaresHeart07
anime: various
music: Psy – “Napal Baji”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8887

The first time I watched “Anime MasterChef,” I was so appalled by its similarity to another AMV that I remember complaining about it to anyone who would listen. The past six months haven’t changed my opinion that, yeah, this video probably was inspired by AmvLuna’s “Anime’s Got Talent.” Is that a problem? One of my favorite AMVs of all time (mostly for sentimental reasons, I guess, but that’s a whole other discussion) is an even more blatant ripoff of another video, a fact I was never not aware of but also never the least bit conflicted over. Why it should suddenly matter now is, well, a really good question I don’t have an answer for. “Anime’s Got Talent” was possibly the most successful crowd-pleasing AMV of all time; there are more “Anime’s Got Talent” reaction videos on Youtube than I would like to count, probably averaging thousands of views each. Just how “Anime MasterChef,” essentially following the same concept and not really crafted in any significantly different way, could work as a grower of a video, I have no idea. Still, that was my experience with it. Superficially, I prefer the music of AntaresHeart07’s AMV (I’m definitely no k-pop expert, but this guy’s haters come on too strong for me) to the uninspired remake of a song from my youth that I never even think about but feel weirdly possessive of, and I like cooking more than the obnoxious, desperate quest for viral fame that is TV talent shows. None of that really explains what I like about this video or why it finally won me over. Must be the secret ingredient.

19. Feudal Fairytale
editor: Sean.PNG
anime: Inuyasha
music: Marianas Trench – “Wildfire”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8920

There seems to be much more to the concept of entropy than the “movement from order to disorder” definition that is commonly used in layman’s terms outside of scientific fields. But in a general sense it’s still real and inevitable and could even be used to describe what’s happening to AMVs as a hobby. Thoughtfully edited works that communicate meaning and affection for the source materials that continue to slowly be replaced by very short videos containing sources and effects that feel selected by random processes. I suspect that the energy needed to reverse this trend would be greater than the energy of the entire system itself, a longwinded way of saying that we can only glimpse our certain future but it probably looks like this. (In layman’s terms again, that’s just a theory.) For now, I’m sure the sun will still rise tomorrow and I can still take solace in the fact that as long as there are people still making old-school Inuyasha action/drama videos like it’s still 2005 (mind you, looking better than ever, whatever new sources they’re using or magic they’re working to make the old footage look as good as this). I won’t pretend that I like this song or that it’s not a new height/depth of the O.A.R./Lifehouse brand of rock that helped get us to this point, but I don’t care. A little bit of sincerity goes a long way with me and I appreciate editors who reach for the least trendy materials imaginable and give it their all to make it work. None of this stuff will be around forever, so let’s appreciate it while we still can.

18. Psychedelia
editor: Lightning Arrow
anime: Shinsekai Yori
music: Cutglitch – “Fog”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8585

It’s not quite the Shinsekai Yori AMV that I’m still looking for, but I get the feeling that Lightning Arrow was out to make it with this edit. He comes awfully close with this moody, atmospheric and very glitchy video that, for all its eye-catching effects and busy visual pacing, captures the mystery and dread of the series more than any AMV I’ve seen yet. I’ve got no idea if the effects in this video were homemade or out of a box, but even if they’re the product of popular and soon-to-be-overused filters, they’re employed wisely and with enough variety to never grow stale or let the viewer catch on to whatever pattern they’re following. An undercurrent of malevolent doom runs through the video beneath a catchy visual rhythm that’s incredibly complex but never excessive, but for two minutes that’s really all it needs to justify its existence. There’s more than enough material in this anime for Lightning Arrow to have crafted an edgy gorefest of an AMV, but what’s here (still undeniably graphic, just not in your face about it) is infinitely more interesting than what most editors would instinctively craft from these pieces.

17. D’awwww Wagon
editor: drewaconclusion
anime: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
music: Queen – “You’re My Best Friend”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8988

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid wasn’t the best anime I watched in 2017, but it was definitely the most surprising. Just calling it a feel-good anime doesn’t do it justice. It was an uplifting and positive experience to watch that really took me by surprise, especially as its best qualities slowly snuck up on me over the course of several episodes. The good-natured portrayal of unexpected friendship (or romance or the rewards of opening one’s life up to new experiences and new relationships, whatever, the series never forces any one message at the viewer) comes through just perfectly in this AMV. Granted, I watched a couple Dragon Maid videos this year and they all channeled that vibe to one degree or another. None of them featured a song this joyful or did so much to convey its feelings so effectively, no small task with a song this genuinely sunny and timeless.

16. Najee – Laid Back
editor: Israel SkunkWorks
anime: The Big O
music: Najee – “Laid Back”

The title of this AMV, amounting to a simple listing of the song title and the artist it’s credited to, is the first tip off that you’re watching something from an editor who came to AMVs from this scene. Indeed, most of ISW’s videos are of the looping gif variety with music almost exclusively from Soundcloud artists (with some notable exceptions, including this video). A closer look at these videos shows there’s more than first meets the eye: lengthy sequences of pure repetition are often bookended by introductory scenes and eventually give way to actual endings, perhaps suggesting that this editor is looking to do something more creative than just spin his wheels in the gif video sub-for-sub world. His most recent video is a fully-fledged AMV, maybe not a conventional one by any means, but one that definitely makes sense based on his short time spent making videos where, well, let’s just say fast-paced visual changes were never put on a pedestal. Set to an impossibly perfect blend of g-funk and smooth jazz (and from 1994, probably peak vintage for this stuff), there’s not much more to this video than watching the the coolest guy you’ll ever meet cruising around the city in a fantasy version of a souped-up Cadillac, dropping by a bar for a quick drink, stopping at his luxury penthouse for a break before heading out to, I don’t know…fight crime, I think. Even compared to even the slowest AMVs you’ll ever find, none of this plays out with any urgency at all, which is the whole point. When you’re this smooth, there’s no reason to rush anything.

15. Epiphany
editor: UnluckyArtist
anime: various
music: Eurythmics – “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8380

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” never needed a snarling hard rock cover or a slow, “epic” movie trailer treatment. It conveys a sinister but confident, cool mood on its own just fine, traits that UnluckyArtist recognizes in both the song and the Satoshi Kon-directed mix of visual sources that he brings together. It’s a beautiful, disorienting dream-like experience, with some subtle but really cool original music in the introduction (serving as a good springboard into the main video, don’t skip it) and some truly weird audio edits toward the end that always mess with my head. It’s another dazzling work from one of the most imaginative editors out there today. No, it doesn’t quite unseat my favorite “Sweet Dreams” video, perhaps too tall an order to ask for (look, that thing re-wired my still-developing brain in ways I’ll never fully grasp, there’s no shame in second place here). Over the course of making these lists for the last couple years, UnluckyArtist always made it very difficult for me to stick to my one-AMV-per-editor rule, so difficult that I finally just gave it up this time around and probably for good. Expect more to come.

14. The Red Book
editor: Elcalavero
anime: Big Fish & Begonia
music: Barbarossa feat. Jose Gonzalez – “Home”
download: http://www.mediafire.com/file/ysqjkj73e6x6m3u/The+Red+Book+by+Elcalavero.mp4

The dreamiest fantasy AMV I saw this year, Elcalavero’s “The Red Book” is as relaxing yet engaging of a video as you’ll watch any time soon. The little technicality of whether or not its source is truly anime or not (a debate I’m not eager to revisit anytime soon) was just one factor that held it back from getting the credit and views it deserved, which is a shame since it’s probably my favorite work from one of my favorite editors. The beautiful visuals and haunting but mellow song just kind of melt together. Minor flaws notwithstanding, it’s a subtle masterpiece.

13. ECS.01: Metropolis
editor: CrackTheSky
anime: Metropolis
music: Gidge – “Lit”
download: https://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=203035

Another year, another chance to say that I’ll finally get around to watching Metropolis. Yeah, I still haven’t watched this film but if you’re in the same boat, trust me, that’s not a prerequisite for enjoying this AMV. Actually, going into this fresh might be the best way to experience it. This might not be the first time you’ve seen an AMV that places this much focus on its gritty
cyberpunk/noir setting, but I can’t think of any that use music to such an effective degree to make you feel like you’ve been dropped straight into the bowels of it. Gidge seem to be classified as ambient music, but the percussive elements of this song give it lonely Burial-esque quality that compliments the dystopian visuals to a very immersive effect. The metal-on-metal, off-beat accents remind me of steps heard down a dark corridor or a rhythmic process beating from machines in a smoke-filled factory. Other elements of the track echo as though reverberating through a large corridor or a twisting stairwell descending down to unknown depths. There’s a big sense of space at work here even as scenes slowly transition from a focus on atmosphere alone to a slow work up towards action in the second half. Yeah, six minutes does make for a long AMV to sit through. Sometimes I wish this one was even longer.

12. The Champions!
editor: Alexander Savitsky
anime: various
music: Ty Parr – “National Aerobic Championship Theme”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8790

The audiovisual aesthetic, gaudy fashion and unhinged enthusiasm of the 1980’s aerobic exercise industry has aged into one of the campiest cultural phenomenons of the last thirty-odd years that you’ll ever find, one that either embodies the worst of 80’s excess and vanity or is the most potent ironic nostalgia bomb you’ll ever find. It’s as dumb as it was beautiful in its endless optimism, a reality that was somehow more crazy than any of the day-glow vaporwave montages dreamed up by people who weren’t even alive to experience it for themselves. “The Champions!” is yet another product of this retro archeology, but unlike so many “80’s AMVs” that amount to a kitchen sink-pile up of day glow memes and references, the thematic focus of this video is consistent and extremely surprising considering how the editor maintains it so perfectly for a whole two and a half minutes. The dance scenes are as in sync with the music as I’ve ever seen in a dance AMV, and the material that pads out the rest of the runtime feels like the perfect homage to the training montage that was was a staple of 80’s films.

11. V
editor: KazKon
anime: various
music: Moby – “Be the One”
download: http://amvnews.ru/index.php?go=Files&in=view&id=8450

Nothing against his single-source works, but my favorite KazKon AMVs (or at least the ones that have stuck with me the most) have been his videos that pull material from multiple sources. Looking back at those videos, I’m a little shocked to see that neither contains more than a half dozen different anime titles, as the experience of watching them has always given me a feeling of sensory overload that I’ve scarcely ever encountered in AMVs, to say nothing of any other visual medium. His second of three AMVs released in 2017, “V” incorporates more sources than he’s worked with to date but never approaches the overwhelming effect of some of his previous works. Even if he doesn’t dial back on some of the graphic imagery he’s kind of becoming known for using (albeit in a strangely tasteful way that’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before), “V” may be one of his most accessible works, yet still as provocative and unique as ever. To be clear, this isn’t what most viewers expect from an AMV, but the same could be said for lolligerjoj and qwaqa, two uncompromising, experimental editors that have managed to leave big impressions on casual audiences and changed how people think about AMVs. Maybe it’s time to include KazKon in the same conversation.

I reject the complete title of this AMV and won’t use it here, because describing this work simply as a pastiche of the visual or musical aesthetic of an entire decade isn’t just misleading, but sells it short on a number of levels. Execution of the general concept of the “80’s AMV” has been done more effectively since this was originally released by editor Ultimatetransfan in 2010, but I guess credit is due for even conceiving of such an idea at all in a world where vaporwave, future funk and VCR grain worship were still years from really catching on as ideas to plunder for likes ‘n subs.

My first impression of this AMV was inadvertently colored by the lackluster quality of the occasionally-corrupted footage that I was able to download when I got around to finally watching Gunbuster last week. By comparison, the video quality of this AMV is absolutely pristine and shows off the still amazing-looking level of animation in the series that helped put Gainax on the map. To say it looks objectively better than, well, a lot of very popular computer-animated anime of very recent years probably isn’t even a daring statement anymore. It probably helps that Ultimatetransfan (UTF from here on) consistently works in some of the best-looking scenes from the series, their vivid animations flowing beautifully with the music in a very standard but effective display of consistently-great internal sync that brings this video to life, heightening its emotional peaks at all the right moments and achieving a sense of flow that makes this AMV feel so alive and inviting. I suppose some of the scene selection here was a no-brainer, but no single scene or cut feels chosen to stand out on its own, nor do any iconic scenes feel exploited in their use. There’s a logical progression in the editing that works on a narrative level but, more importantly, feels right on a gut level that viewers will understand and effortlessly follow.

I’d like to hold back on throwing superlatives at a video I only just found yesterday, but UTF’s “Invincible” certainly checks most of the boxes I can think of when it comes to being a good candidate for one of those kind of AMVs. UTF captures the dramatic spirit of Gunbuster in a fittingly upbeat but equally serious tone, breezing through the series through consistently great lyric sync that never breaks from a chronological flow of scenes that basically recaps the series. (I’ve been critical of this approach to series-focused AMVs in the past, but that’s critique at its most misguided. When an editor approaches their material with a such a fundamentally solid grasp of internal, external and lyrical sync, the choice to appropriate the material in a linear or nonlinear fashion is much less a significant creative choice than it is simply one aspect of the work that barely bares any meaningful mention in discussing it, or certainly no more than I already have, in this case.) The use of Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” doesn’t work because of its synchronicity with Gunbuster as a product of an arbitrarily decided ten year-long block of time, but because its empowering, dramatic tone is an uncanny match to the larger-than-life stakes of the story. The lyrics are vague enough to graph an array of scenes onto, yet specific enough for the viewer to infer an undeniable connection between the song and the anime being used, giving the editor a clear path to follow with generous room for creative interpretation. It’s a golden opportunity that UTF milks for all it’s worth, resulting in a video that’s instantly pleasing and accessible, even to viewers who’ve never set eyes on the source material.

UTF was not an editor that I was at all familiar with going into this AMV, or so I’d thought. A glance at his profile reminded me that I had in fact viewed one of his videos a few years back…one that left a very different impression on me than the one I’m writing about here and which I’d rather not revisit at this time but perhaps owe a second chance in light of new evidence. Actually, there’s nearly fifteen years’ worth of videos in his body of work to comb through. It’s a contradiction, I know, but finding another old-school flavored gem like “Invincible” in the mix feels both inevitable and like a total longshot. Hopefully I haven’t oversold this one, but it’s just the right kind of simple brilliance and joy in editing that I love best.

 

Red Alert, edited by Kwasek in 2001, was one of the earliest AMVs I ever stumbled upon, maybe even the first, leaving just the kind of big impression on me than you’d expect. It’s been nearly fifteen years since I first saw it, and more than any other video, it’s probably formed my baseline of what I think an AMV should do. Granted, if I’d come into this game just a few years later via the flood of rushed-out Naruto AMVs in the mid-2000s, my first impressions could have been molded in a very different direction, and there’s no telling if I would have latched onto this whole thing for more than a couple of weeks, if that. I’m sure that both this blog and any videos I’ve cobbled together over the years would never have come to be if not for the existence of this AMV and the auspicious forces that brought it into my life. That might not be the most profound of any of my real-life sliding doors scenarios, but it often leaves me wondering just what on earth I’d be doing right this minute if turned my attention to anything else on that day (for instance, unplugging and packing up my computer to move like I was probably supposed to be doing that afternoon).

I ought to add that Red Alert has not solidified my expectations for how an AMV should look. The visual quality of this work is by far its weakest link. Time has not been kind to it, perhaps rendering it totally unwatchable for a vast segment of younger viewers for which even DVD-quality anime in a 4:3 aspect ratio can be a hard sell. I’m accustomed to the flaws of this video, the blocking and ghosting/aliasing that’s evident in most clips, and am not the least bit bothered by any of them. I’d be intrigued to see a remaster cut with Blu-ray footage, but I expect that would be a very different video altogether and I wonder if I’d even recognize it at all. While I’m suspicious of people who would try to exalt the virtues of certain pieces of media due to their inherently undesirable flaws (“it takes a special kind of person to appreciate pops and clicks and imperfections in their music,” etc.), I have to admit that the 240p resolution (or 232p, to be more precise), complete with awkwardly-handled speed changes in certain scenes, gives it a dated look and a magical quality that I can never get enough of (forget artificial VHS grain, I’m still waiting for a handy filter that will give all new AMVs this turn of the century-flavor). As a product of its time, I doubt that many viewers were troubled by its less-than-pristine video quality when it debuted, so aside from pointing out the obvious, it seems rather pointless to grouse about it any further today.

It could be the rare dichotomy between Kwasek’s confident editing and the lackluster video quality that gives this video a character that I can’t quite put my finger on. There’s no breakthrough idea here that’s really groundbreaking, but this video shines with clever moments of sync, some competent, tight action editing that knows when to give way to slower scenes or even (during brief moments where sound drops out of the song altogether) the occasional blank space on the timeline. The dazzling scene selection nails both the distressing and celebratory nature of the song, capturing both the elegant beauty and effervescent, bubblegum-packed fun of the series. While Kwasek only occasionally pairs the lyrics to scenes in any literal fashion, every element of the video works together to channel a vibrant sense of excitement. It’s a great example of a simple but solid concept that communicates a passion and enthusiasm for the anime being used. It’s what I’d consider a “pure” AMV, an elitist distinction for sure, but one that persists in the taste-centers of my brain. Despite being a fan of this video for a long, long time, it’s never quite managed to nudge Sailor Moon anywhere close to the top of my watchlist, so I sometimes wonder if I’m grasping what this editor has set out to channel or if it’s all just my personal interpretation of the series. I hope I still get some fan points for playing through the arcade game (and not on a ROM, but on one of only two existing machines in the USA).

Even if “Red Alert” is one of my favorite songs of the 1990s, I have never been the biggest fan of Basement Jaxx, or at least not compared to some of the other “big” electronic artists from that same era. That said, I just picked up a copy of Remedy at Goodwill for a dollar, and was surprised to find myself familiar with and really digging most every track on it. The album holds up in surprising ways, not just in itself over time, but against the contemporary inheritors of its legacy in 2017. Basement Jaxx run circles around all the bad boys of EDM in songwriting, production, musical chops and the conviction in their fondness for the different sounds they explore and styles they borrow from. For example, it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I’d probably heard this song no less than a hundred times over the past year; I can sort of understand how a flaccid, soulless skeleton of a song like that can fit into the muzak playlist I’ve been subjected to at my side-job since some time last year, but much less so how it could be a global sensation without ever leaving the smallest impression on me whatsoever. I mean, sure, on an abstract level I understand the social climate of our world, the economics of the music industry and how the most passive consumers of pop music would be as receptive as they were to an offering like this one. Maybe it’s still hard to accept that this would be the song that people would latch onto, but the winners and losers of music the music world have never had to make perfect sense.

Why bring up “Closer” or this AMV (edited by AceMVFX in 2016 and closing in on a million views) at all? I had a point I wanted to make about “modern” AMVs like this and how workshopped and formulaic they feel, especially contrasted with an AMV like Kwasek’s…and how, wouldn’t you know it, it kind of reminds me of how a bland, by-the-numbers, superficially raunchy but calculatedly inoffensive product like “Closer” feels next to a fleshed-out composition like “Red Alert,” which channels a dynamic and eclectic mix of house, funk and soul music, conceived by human beings for a purpose other than racking up Youtube plays by the billion. But that’s a battle I ought to know better not to fight.

Like most pop songs that achieve some level of success, “Closer” owes its appeal to its chorus, in which Halsey and Andrew Chainsmoker recall some of the seemingly inconsequential and mundane, yet privately significant details from the scene of a failed relationship. My feelings about the song aside, it could still be fertile ground for an editor up to the challenge of pulling off some of the most difficult lyric sync I can possible imagine:

So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain’t ever getting older

AceMVFX doesn’t completely ignore the lyrics of the song, as there’s just enough lyric sync to suggest that he’s indeed not only fluent in English but actually set out to edit with the lyrics in mind (or at least in the beginning).  But while scene after scene soon drift past with little to no connection to those lyrics, the editor treating them as universally-applicable signifiers of vague romantic sentiments instead of the hyper-specific details they are, the failure to pair every insipid detail of the song with an appropriate visual is not where this video slips off the tracks. It’s not even a matter of the editing itself or any technical issues in the video (although the aspect ratio errors beginning at 3:12 should have been caught and could easily have been corrected). Because the “story” in the song is personalized, focusing on the details in the lives of a single couple, any attempt to illustrate it in a fan video using two dozen different characters from completely different anime series just shrugs off the narrative of the song altogether. What’s left is a series of random clips starring a constantly-changing cast of characters, wiping out the element of the intimate and personal altogether. Bouncing from series to series, invoking one ostensibly romantic scene after another with no context or apparent confidence in their ability to carry the weight of the video for more than a couple of bars, the emotional weight of each clip is sucked dry and feels dead on arrival before it’s able to communicate any feeling whatsoever. No amount of lyric sync or editing savvy can rescue this defiantly ridiculous concept. But because the simple thrill of recognition (Koe no Katachi! Sword Art Online! Z-Kai Cross Road!!!) is the payoff that viewers are trading in their time and attention for, and because more sources in an AMV is almost always perceived as a mark quality and sophistication, the simple fact that the video makes no sense at all is not a complaint that viewers of these kind of AMVs will be lodging any time soon.

Of course, I realize this AMV is not made up of “random clips” at all. That may be the best way to describe their effect, but even the most casual viewer will observe that the titles pillaged for the video are all obvious choices; they’re relatively new, boast a high production value and have been road tested in countless other multi-source AMVs, usually multi-editor projects, which this AMV bears a peculiar resemblance to in its segmented blueprint and could easily pass as. Granted, there’s no indication that it is an MEP, neither in the video description nor mentioned in the end credits (or lack thereof). The increasing homogenization of MEPs, in which editors are selected based on their ability to work in an impersonal style, crafting an assembly line product devoid of any personality or individual touches, may very well have come full circle and be driving the creative direction of single-editor AMVs like this one (or so I can only speculate). After all, if the Youtube AMV scene is driven by these piecemeal projects, in which networks of contacts are formed for the purpose of trading likes and subscriptions, breaking from the now-popular format of these videos stands to be a risky move for any editor looking to continue building their brand and amassing followers.

In conclusion of this arbitrary comparison, likely performed as an excuse to marinate in the comforting familiarity of my own preferences and biases, my preference for one of these two AMVs over the other is strong. I could double down and say what I think this means about the state of the hobby, or I could disown my convictions with an apologetic shrug (your opinion is as valid as mine, etc). You’ll get neither of these today.

Did you know “kwasek” is Polish for acid? Other sources translate it to “citric acid,” and is sold to the masses as a food additive. A very quick Google search tracks down the real-life Kwasek himself, still alive and well on social media, but if I ever reach out to him for anything, I’ll try to think of a better way to break the ice than that.

This blog isn’t dead, I’ve just been very busy for the last two months with work and other responsibilities. And the free time I’ve had to write has all been devoted to this very entry that you’re reading right now, which was intended as an analysis of the world of vaporwave, lo-fi hip hop, and “future funk,” and specifically, how these sounds are paired with visuals in the form of looping anime gifs on Youtube. I’m talking about massively successful channels like Artzie Music, Axian, Emotional Tokyo or ChilledCow, to single out just a few. Several re-writes and a couple thousand words later, most of my thesis was built on speculation and a lot of baseless assumptions about the people who make and consume this stuff. I was still a long way from really understanding what was happening here, so I was in no position to try to explain any of it, much as I wished that someone would eventually do so from an informed and somewhat unbiased position.

Yesterday I woke up to find that Digibro had done all that and more, explaining the background of this nebulous scene in a way that I was completely blind to and discussing why it’s happening right now in a very simple but nuanced fashion. I’m a little irked to have gotten scooped like this — although, now that I know what to look for, I see there was already plenty of discussion about this phenomenon out there already — but I’m also grateful to have the gaps in my knowledge filled to a degree that I just wasn’t going to accomplish on my own. You can just watch this and get an idea of what is going on here, it provides more than enough background for what I really want to talk about.

To say nothing about the creation of the music itself, the act of choosing an animated gif to accompany one’s track of choice isn’t the sort of mindless exercise that I’d once felt tempted to write it off as. Having a sense about what sort imagery is most appealing to viewers doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the most savvy creators of these videos aren’t simply selecting these clips for how eye-catching they might look on the surface. On the contrary, the most effective of these videos will often present a brief loop of video depicting a moment in time in which very little is actually happening on the screen at all. The repetitive nature of these clips is pleasantly reassuring to just zone out and stare at and even easier to just ignore if you so choose, or so I imagine as I try to put myself in the head of the stereotypical fan of this stuff. For those who are watching, does a scene like the short loop in Digibro’s video — or this or this or this, just to pick a couple off the top of my head — invite the viewer/listener to identify with what’s happening on screen? Does this romanticize the kind of mundane and quiet moments that make up the day in a way that certain viewers will be inexorably drawn to? Does it hammer home the stated emotional theme of the music in a way that the tracks themselves are simply not able to fully convey on their own?

I don’t know if I’m asking honestly or just stating rhetorical questions. I’m hesitant to come out and really say what I think because, quite honestly, I find a lot of this music hard to take for more than a few minutes at a time, and I like Nujabes. I love J Dilla (who doesn’t?). And I find most attempts to emulate or pay tribute to either of them to sound hollow or superficial, which is probably inevitable when listening to efforts from people who’ve been editing music for mere months or weeks. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but if the running similarities between all of these tracks are a big part of the appeal for many fans, it’s probably the single factor that I enjoy the least about this music. But just as soon as I feel resolved in settling on such an opinion, I’m reminded that I’d probably be totally immersed in this world if I was the same age as most of the people getting into it (or that I would be now if I wasn’t so jaded), and that I’ve always wanted electronic and sample-based music to cross paths with anime in some way that wasn’t tied up in the hedonistic, garish worlds of EDM and J-dance. So in many respects, this phenomenon is everything that I ever wished for, technically speaking.

Even more pertinent to the concerns of this blog are the many creators on Youtube who work with lo-fi hip-hop (or related genres like future funk or vaporwave) and anime visuals to produce similar videos, ostensibly with the same audience in mind, but employing more complex techniques in the process. In short, these creators are video editors in the same sense as everyone who’s ever made an AMV, selecting and cutting together scenes that flow with the song in one respect or another. And yet, describing these works as anime music videos is something I’m hesitant to do for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that, on the surface, any congruence between these videos and the world of AMVs feels completely coincidental. Youtube’s lo-fi hip-hop scene seems to have come into existence completely independent from any aspect of AMV culture, and while it’s probable that at least some of these creators know about AMVs or have even watched a good share of them, they’re still content to operate in their own sphere far away from the Org or AMVCentral, AmvNews, anime conventions, or any of the institutions that make up the fractured but widespread community around the hobby. Call it a case of parallel evolution, I guess.

If I was going to dig even deeper — and I realize just how problematic this kind of territory really is — I’d say that the creative motivation for these kind of videos is so different from that of most AMVs that they ought not to be considered in the same terms. Just like users of Tumblr will post, reblog or like an anime screencap for its intrinsic visual qualities, I honestly feel like the creators of the animated gif-based videos that inspired these works are just as unconcerned with the original context of their sources. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and as a fan of many AMVs that could be accurately described as containing little more than “random scenes,” I’m aware that this is a critique that could be thrown back in my face just as easily as I project it onto others, but that’s an issue I’ll confront another day. And like their gif-looping progenitors, these editors rarely grant their videos the artistic prestige of any traditional titles. Almost always, the video is labeled strictly to identify the artist of the music and the name of the featured track. In that respect, these works serve a utilitarian function, promoting the artist in the same traditional sense that music videos were intended to do in the first place. I suppose there’s something kind of beautiful about that, as it seems to be as big a sign of genuine appreciation as there can be in this little scene. Is the finished video a standalone piece to be understood on its own terms, a product of the editor’s vision and unique relationship with the sources? Or is a video like this created to fit comfortably into an already established mold and not stand out? Is it just a gateway for followers directing them from one piece of content to another?  This brings me to 1171domino, an editor who probably represents the Zeitgeist of this kind of work better than almost anyone else right now.

1171domino has only been releasing videos for the past year or so, but when I first sat down to write this piece, he/she had over 40K subscribers. Two months later, that audience has swelled to over 56K subscribers, and if their most popular videos for producers like saib. or jinsang didn’t turn those producers into lo-fi hip-hop superstars, they certainly provided a level of exposure that they just weren’t going to get from any traditional outlet (just imagine writers for Conde Nast-owned Pitchfork.com slumming it in the ghettos of Soundcloud for actual underground music, it’s not going to happen). Like any editor who doesn’t arrive on Youtube fully-formed, 1171domino’s works range from flawed early efforts to more complex videos that demonstrate a more realized sense of sync and flow, defying the minimalistic, proudly-repetitive videos that the aesthetic of all this stuff was born from. Little by little, 1171domino’s works have begun to look more and more like the AMVs we all recognize, to the point where most viewers would find no meaningful distinctions between the two. There’s still a looseness to their work that feels entrenched in the less-is-more approach of the the gif-videos, a sense that the editing is never taken too seriously or fussed over, which is probably necessary for anyone who’s going to release so many works in such a short period of time. Standard AMV wisdom does not encourage this kind of casual approach, but it’s hard to advise an editor who is, by almost any account, extremely successful at what they set out to do (even if that’s only making “anime/beats“).

If I had to choose one of 1171domino’s videos to watch on repeat or to show off to anyone else, it would be this one featuring music by producer Ljones. It’s got a nice flow to it (as vague of a complement as that is, I hope the gist of it is apparent), feels laid-back in the most pleasant way without succumbing to tedium, captures that carefree and bittersweet feeling of “nostalgia” that so many editors try to convey, and marries its sources together in a way that feels natural and fittingly timeless.

Despite my wishy-washy misgivings, watching this video I find myself unable to make a persuasive argument that it’s anything other than an AMV. How could it be anything else? Well, real or imagined, I perceive a certain difference between the creative intent of most AMV editors and a videomaker like 1171domino, not to mention how their respected viewers will consume their respective works. Is that enough to put videos like these in a whole other box? What I can’t get over is my unfounded suspicion that the use of anime in these videos is coincidental…I guess, and that if this editor knew that he or she could reach a bigger audience by editing with old commercials, found footage or video game clips, that they’d do just that and reap the rewards. I realize that sounds like an attack on the authenticity of 1171domino’s creative motivations (or those of, say, ElFamosoDemon or yotsu, just to name a couple other creators in this space) and that’s really what I wanted to get away from in this entry. But as much as these videos traffic in a certain sense of cool that’s almost never been associated with AMV culture, I rarely get the feeling any of these editors hold any intentions to use the medium they’re working in to say anything at all about the anime source that they’re working with (such criticisms are regularly lobbed at AMV editors, there is nothing new under the sun, I know). Is 1171domino an anime fan? Wouldn’t they sort of have to be, at this point?

Lo-fi hip-hop and anime fan videos existed long before any of this stuff and will be with us until the end. I respect that, at least on the surface, these works have given rise to a community that’s inclusive, promising to connect people across the world in shared moments of solitude and in quiet celebration of simple pleasures. I hope it makes a difference in people’s lives for the best before it faces whatever inevitable backlash it’s headed to and that the toxic irony that will surely suffocate it — a predictable byproduct of anything born out of meme culture — doesn’t infect the minds of any more kids than it already has. Looking at this stuff through the lens of AMVs is interesting, but it’s probably not the best way to understand any of it. What kind of influence this will have on AMVs, if any at all, I can’t begin to predict. I hope this editor continues to investigate these realms of remix culture, to keep creating and eventually spin something out of it that transcends its rigid formula. The last time I had such hopes for an editor (who was, in hindsight, part of this same phenomenon in their own unique way), they quickly disappeared from the Internet along with all of their work. I’ll wait for it to happen again before I start to worry.

This is probably the simplest AMV I’ve ever posted about on this blog, but it’s one I keep coming back to over the years in spite of any of technical or conceptual “flaws” that may be apparent in its presentation or structure. I probably found it in the first place during a hunt for Boards of Canada AMVs, and I won’t deny that “ROYGBIV” is probably what got me hooked on this video in the first place. But at some point between now and whenever I first downloaded it — I remember that summer where I moved back in with my parents, setting up my computer on the floor of my old bedroom and downloading this and a handful of other AMVs through the dial-up connection they never upgraded from until years later — the extremely basic structure of this video morphed from being an aspect of it that I simply tolerated to being the essential charm of the video that I loved most about it. I have watched more AMVs like this than I can even remember; videos that use a single anime, play out slowly across a handful of scenes and use very minimal editing to weave together their source material. More often than not, it’s neither entertaining nor convincing, and I don’t have a rationale for what makes any video like this work when so many others don’t. Not even in the realm of my personal taste can I explain why I’m so fond of “One Day on the Island” but have felt disappointed by so many other videos that are essentially working from the same approach. Of course, it’s my opinion that this music and this anime (which I’ve never watched aside from this video) compliment each other very fittingly, but I’m aware that’s a matter of personal taste and not an opinion that will be shared by every viewer.

What I do find very interesting is how ahead of its time this video has turned out to be. When lunasspecto edited this in 2006 — the first of a handful of AMVs — it was unlikely that they were inspired by the sort of motivations that drive AMV editors today. I’m talking about AMVs not particularly associated with the Org or conventions or contests or any of the outlets that I’m used to, but a particular scene that seems to be most active on Youtube, existing solely online and very focused on instrumental music and anime sources of a certain vintage. A track like “ROYGBIV” feels especially prescient to this world; a great deal of these kind of AMVs use vaporwave tracks or a particular kind of instrumental lo-fi hip-hop that both feel indebted to the hazy, melodic standard set by that track and other Boards of Canada tunes from almost 20 years ago.

I’m tempted to trace a line from a video like “One Day on the Island” to AMVs like this or this or this or this. For the most part, the editors of these AMVs let the action speak for itself, loosely syncing their cuts to the music and letting scenes play out without much interruption. These editors aren’t necessarily aspiring to make traditional AMVs by tying together aspects of the song with specific themes in the anime they’ve chosen, but rather, seem more concerned with simply capturing a tone that veers towards the mellow, chilled-out and reflective. The music is usually a melancholy hip-hop instrumental — though there are other branches of this school of editing that cater to other related sounds, just no rock n’ roll — and the anime on screen is often older or relatively obscure titles that convey a more timeless appeal and are softer on the eyes than most new anime. Maybe the age of these sources is less significant than the fact that they’re almost never the kind of popular shonen series that are immediately recognizable (and usually paired with aggressive rock or pop songs). While most AMV editors with bigger followings opt to work with newer or more popular anime titles — a chicken and the egg problem, I guess — the editors in this corner of Youtube take a different approach, digging into older or sometimes rare anime titles for their sources in hopes of capturing a vibe that’s immediately relatable to their audience but different than anyone else’s works in the same scene. The audience for these videos is surprisingly huge, with many editors earning four or five-figure counts of subscribers. This is a very different mindset about AMVs than we’ve had in the past and it’s one that a lot of editors and viewers are tapping into.

There’s a certain me-too approach to a lot of this stuff that keeps me at an arm’s length from truly feeling it, or the sense that it’s less a movement or a community that’s interested in anime or editing than it is in using videos as a social currency for accumulating followers and views. This is a bigger topic than I’m ready to write about any further for now, but digging into it is what lead me back to lunasspecto’s debut, reminding me what I loved about it, its simplicity and the mysterious vibe I always got from it. It’s not my favorite Boards of Canada AMV, but while an AMV like Zerophite’s “Pale Moonlight” is exactly what I want and expect from a video like that, “One Day on the Island” just kind of does its own thing and works outside of my expectations or cravings. I’ve always loved it for what it was and I feel like it never really got its due and certainly never expected that it ever would. And it probably never will, but it’s funny to see how the world’s finally caught up with it and its laid-back charms.

My ten favorite AMVs from 2016, presented in an easy-to-read format that bucks the whole trend of actually trying to make these kind of prestigious round-ups look more inviting than a bunch of blocks of text with no pictures!

Back When We Belonged
editor: shumira_chan
anime: Ah! My Goddess
song: Pat Benetar – “We Belong”
link: https://vimeo.com/202554335
I don’t know if there are any other active editors working so squarely within the “old school” approach to AMVs as shumira_chan, who’s never had much use for the visual effects or meta-elements that characterize modern AMVs for most viewers today. Back Where We Belong is the perfect example of how she operates, using sources that are as far from “hip” as possible in 2016 and crafting an honest, heartfelt video that seems to harken back to a simpler time (whether that’s 1984 or 1993 or sometime in the during the golden age of AMVs, it’s hard to tell, but cover that mix and let it stew and you’ll get right idea). By employing a couple extremely effective passages of quick cuts and some key scenes that perfectly match the song’s brilliant shifts in dynamics, shumira_chan has made another video that’s undeniably slow but hits all the right notes in all the best moments. Surprisingly emotional, not necessarily because of the dramatic content of the clips employed, but the more in the conviction of their presentation.

Blithe and Bonny
editor: UnluckyArtist
anime: various
song: Photay – “No Sass”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2ffCXaP-sk
Undoubtedly the coolest video I saw last year and definitely one of the prettiest, Blithe and Bonny utilizes some of familiar-looking sources and leaves you feeling like you’re watching them for the first time. I’m at a loss about how to describe this video, what really makes it different from all the other AMVs that use these kind of sources in this kind of a video, other than to just say everything. It is beautiful and trippy, certainly dreamlike but always presenting the viewer with a clear image and leaving very vivid impressions with every scene. It’s refreshingly mellow and chilled out but upbeat and always engaging. I enjoy it as a monument to the death of EDM and dubstep, which are still with us but finally lost their stranglehold on the entire hobby as the default instrumental soundtracks of choice. This video, not to mention a few others on this list you’re reading right now, stands as proof that once-unapproved sorts of electronic music that might have been considered too strange, eclectic, soulful, musical, can lead to great videos that people actually love. Blithe and Bonny shows how taking risks, ignoring  expectations and following your bliss can lead to something special.

Fiat Lux
editor: PieandBeer
anime: Tokyo Godfathers
song: Sleeping at Last – “Sun”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWltxUkxxbE
We’ve had six years to get over the death of Satoshi Kon, but you know what? The niche he carved out for himself, not just in his personal style of filmmaking, but in the entire realm of mature, adult-oriented animation, still sits completely vacant. Watching Fiat Lux brought these thoughts to the fore, but it’s far from the first Tokyo Godfathers AMV that I’ve ever seen. It may, however, be the best. This is basic editing at its finest and gives me honest hope that people will still be making and enjoying “simple” AMVs for many years to come. I first watched this two or three days before Christmas, and I’ve got to say that I’ve never seen an AMV/had an AMV-experience that felt more timely or appropriate given the circumstances. Fiat Lux is arranged, basically, as a condensed, linear version of the film Tokyo Godfathers, a creative approach I don’t have very many kind words for (no matter how many times I’m slapped in the face with great videos that just happen to resemble that framework).  It not only succeeded in rekindling my love for the film, but was a genuinely moving work in its own right that felt remarkably necessary, an uplifting end to a year that — forgive the cliche — really needed one.

Fishes
editor: IGNOTUM
anime: Patlabor 2: The Movie
song: Loess – “Lll6,” Kettel – “Teeth, Wait”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBKFhK4xQTM
The world of ambient AMVs has never been anything but a minuscule pursuit that’s easy to overlook and not entirely impossible to catalog in its entirety if you were so inclined to do so. Fishes is not a perfect AMV — the placement of certain cuts feel determined less by the editor’s design than by the original length of the clips being used — but it establishes a very unique mood early on, and its use of decidedly dated-looking but gorgeous animation gives it a distinguished, organic feel that inevitably sets it apart from nearly any other AMV you’ll watch any time soon. The icy drone of the music featured couldn’t compliment the grey, chilly visuals any more fittingly; the video feels cold. Maybe the fact that it feels like anything at all is what makes it unique within this microgenre of AMVs. IGNOTUM has only edited a handful of AMVs over the past few years, throwing out any traditional ideas along the way about how to please an audience and just doing their own thing. This is the long-form AMV I was wishing they’d someday make and it more than lived up to everything I was hoping for.

Ghost Audition
editor: lolligerjoj
anime: various
song: Floex – “Casanova,” Floex – “Ursa Major,” Floex – “The Castle”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8elOFNmJys4
No one even begins dabbling in video editing without first watching tens of thousands of hours of television, movies, and clips on Internet. So it’s understandable if even the most inventive AMVs still feel like imitations of other works that both the editor and their viewers have soaked up over the years. This is inevitable, forgivable, and not the indictment of creative plagiarism that it probably sounds like. I guess what I’m getting at is, even at their most creative and entertaining, AMVs almost never give us anything genuinely new that we haven’t already seen in some shape or form in our screen-addicted lives. The AMVs of lolligerjoj may be some of the only works to come out of this hobby that have managed to truly transcend it and use video — video that just happens to be anime footage — and break any new ground. Even if Ghost Audition doesn’t startle the viewer with a wealth of new ideas like some of lolligerjoj’s past works, it’s possibly the most effective synthesis of his signature ideas to date, and due to its near-exclusive use of Studio Ghibli-produced material, it provides a spoil of emotionally-rich, beautiful images for lolligerjoj to twist into new shapes. As brilliant as Into the Labyrinth and GEHIRNSTURMEN were, they always left me wanting a video like this, one that embraces the viewer instead of pummeling them with violent imagery or aggressive dubstep drops. It’s a beautiful piece of video art that grabs your attention and gives you that momentary feeling where you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at, and wondering why you don’t get to experience that feeling more often.

Koku’s Rage
editor: Farm AMV
anime: Dragon Ball Super
song: Linkin Park – “Crawling”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa_qO_2yENQ
I’ve only encountered mentions of “anime music videos” outside of the fandom on a handful of occasions; in every case, they were all related to discussions of Dragon Ball Z or Linkin Park. Even if the stereotype hasn’t been relevant for about a decade, it’s proven persistent enough to suggest that it’s probably never, ever going away. While it’s a phenomenon that’s been the butt of a thousand jokes over the years, none of those jokes were ever as fun as this video, which skewers the legacy of the Linkinball Z video while singling out the latest series of the franchise, Dragon Ball Super, for its occasionally embarrassing animation quality. As someone who’s never watched more than a couple of Dragon Ball episodes from any of its different series and was completely out of the loop when it came to its newest incarnation, I had no knowledge of this series or any of the criticism it might have rightfully drawn. Absolutely none of this background is needed to enjoy every second of this video. One personal takeaway from this that may or may not have been intended: Koku’s Rage, as much as it’s poking fun at a very unintended legacy of a certain strain of AMVs, is also celebrating what made them so enjoyable and meaningful for so many editors and fans. The hilariously tacky-looking fighting scenes, soundtracked by the lamest possible cover of Linkin Park’s “Crawling,” are juxtaposed with fragments of what look and sound like a competently-edited and sincerely-composed Linkin Park/Dragon Ball action video. As unoriginal of an idea as that may be, the glimpses of it feel like a tribute to the enthusiasm that sparked each and every such video, a celebration of learning how to selectively dump one’s creative self-consciousness (or the adolescent psychology that makes this act kind of a second-nature), even against your better judgement, and just making something.

Red Herring
editor: qwaqa
anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion
song: Georgy Sviridov – “Time Forward!”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3suKgluaoXE
The most common response I’ve encountered from viewers of this video is its resemblance to “Communist propaganda,” which, upon reflection, is not at all incorrect (and was my gut-reaction the first time I watched it). I do wonder what else this video might be about, the degree to which it may (or may not) draw upon uniquely-Soviet styles of art and graphic design rather than the simple idea of “propaganda” that most viewers immediately reach for, what the choice of music might mean beyond invoking a generic idea of The U.S.S.R. in the typical Western viewer’s mind (and/or how the context for this piece has changed over the years), or the degree to which the editor really finds a connection between Soviet-era socialism/militarism and Evangelion‘s themes of sacrifice (or just its elegant montages of heavy equipment and giant weapons moving like beautiful machines, I don’t know). I find this interesting because I am 99% sure that its editor (qwaqa) is Russian, and I’m willing to bet that the images in this AMV have far different and specific meanings to him than they do to the majority of the viewers. Then again, qwaqa may be deliberately playing up these images as cartoon-ish Soviet kitsch, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why. The simplest explanation is that it all just looks cool, and definitely unlike any other AMV made this year or possibly ever.

Singular Strike Gentleman
editor: Glitzer
anime: One Punch Man
song: Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kipprnrVwrk
I’m still trying to understand how One Punch Man inspired so many dreadfully serious and violent AMVs last year, especially considering how its irreverent, lighthearted tone was so widely-praised as inherent to its basic appeal. Glitzer’s One Punch Man AMV does not make such mistakes with its material at all. Singular Strike Gentleman isn’t just a big, fun AMV, but one of those that has charisma and a wholeheartedly positive, fun vibe. Like, for real. There’s no cynicism or Internet humor or mean bullshit here. This video just makes you feel good, and aside from that, it just feels big. You feel engaged in it, maybe like one of those old AMVs you watched a long time ago that got you into this stuff, and feel glad that it’s popular and wish even more people would watch it. It’s a relief to still be entertained by stuff like this.

Sky Journey
editor: Nopy
anime: various
song: Brookes Brothers – “Daybreak”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdWEy-yIuMg
I follow countless editors who’ve been making AMVs for over a decade (or much more!), but they’re the exception to the rule. The typical AMV editor is usually good for a video or two, released anywhere from a few days to a year or so apart, before silently bowing out of the editing scene and never coming back. Those editors who stay active and release more than a handful of videos over a couple of years’ time, whether they’re active in the community or not, are truly few and far between. Rarer still are those editors who put together that lone video or two, seemingly retire without any fanfare, only to re-emerge years later with something new. When Nopy released a couple of videos back in 2004 — each cut together with very basic editing software, they are very much a product of their time and bear the marks of an ambitious but inexperienced and ill-equipped hand — only to leave his Org account untouched for over a decade, it would have been a safe to bet that he, like hundreds of other editors who graced the pre-Youtube era of the site, would never be heard from again. His release of Sky Journey in early 2016 wasn’t only the end of a remarkably long hiatus, but was evidently the end of a transitional period of some sort that changed his approach to editing, refining both his ideas and technique. Whatever happened in the time that passed, he returned with a better eye for scenes and a sense of flow to his editing that wasn’t there before. Sky Journey fits squarely within the mold of a certain kind of AMV that I’m actually kind of burnt out on, which is why I was so surprised to find myself so wrapped up in it. I’d sooner just broadly recommend it and have the viewer find out what’s so special about it on their than to  try to describe it. It’s time well-spent!

VY CMa
editor: CrackTheSky
anime: Diebuster (Aim for the Top 2!)
song: Brookes Brothers – “Paperchase (feat. Danny Byrd)”
link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrElOM12QUM
With no perceivable effects beyond some deft camerawork, VY CMa is a simple, bare-bones video that builds an irresistible sense of momentum with its use of high-energy scenes and continuous internal sync. The tone that’s achieved in this video is one that’s regularly pursued by “big” AMVs — either by dipping into a deep crate of OP footage or flirting with professional-level effects — but rarely realized to the degree that’s on display here, which benefits from the focus and cohesion of working with a single source. Am I truly a Gainax fan if I’ve never dipped my feet into the Gunbuster/Diebuster universe? Who knows, but after watching this video, the necessity of doing that has never felt more urgent.

Honorable Mentions:
Kanadajinn – And I Run
KazKon – The Atlas Syndrome
Xophilarus – Bi Time High
TheNanashi – Ebb and Flow
Xophilarus – Garbage Can
Elcalavero – MutiretnI
chibidani – No More Lost Time
UnluckyArtist – Screaming Artist

Second half of the list began in the previous entry, perhaps more interesting for what’s not here than what is. Finishing this feels like a total exercise in self-mythologizing narcissism, a blatant attempt to paint myself in the best possible light by picking out a bunch of awesome records and subtly trying to imbue myself with the same inspirations and sensibilities of all the smart and talented people who made them. Don’t fall for my tricks!

The Breeders – Llast-splashast Splash (1993)
The first “cool” album I ever owned (and if I recall, purchased in the same transaction as this). I had no context for this, didn’t know anything about the band or anything about Kim Deal that wasn’t in the liner notes. It was just the songs, alternative radio classics — bullied out of the canon by Pixies revisionist history — that drew me in, and for once in the monument to irredeemable awkwardness that was my childhood, I somehow tapped into something beautiful that didn’t turn out to be preposterously dorky in hindsight. Hard to channel any specific insights into what made this great, especially without romanticizing the 1990s, but this really is my “life was good” album that takes me back to riding bikes with friends, shooting water balloons at neighbors’ houses and just living life like I should have been at the time. Last Splash is still a bridge back to those feelings and I have no regrets crossing it again and again.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
The Internet is full of people who could talk your ear off about Loveless, its importance, how it was made, how much it cost and all the things it will do to your brain when you finally hear it. Most of them won’t steer you wrong. In a weird way, I’ve grown to feel a little ambivalent about the recognition this album enjoys now. I got a little too cozy with the feeling that it was something that no one else really knew about, and for the longest time in my circle of friends or my school or my town, that might have been true. But the cat’s out of the bag and, you know what?  That definitely takes nothing away from this album and its ability to surprise and confound, pierce through the coating of embarrassing hyperbole surrounding it, and to sound impossibly bigger than whatever set of speakers it’s playing out of. Is this my favorite album? It might be.

midtown120bluesDJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues (2008)
It would be easy to describe Midtown 120 Blues as “deep house” if that wasn’t a term that had been whitewashed and culturally redefined over the past few years by EDM DJs, pop artists, and Beatport users. Funny how the co-opting of niche sounds and movements just happens to be one of themes of this album, which I would immediately recommend to any fan of this kind of music if only it wasn’t, for all practical purposes, impossible to listen to and casually consume in the way we’ve all come to take for granted these days. Considering the defensive and often violent reaction of the typical Internet user when confronted with the well-meaning imperative to “check your privilege,” or in this case, to at least (re)consider one’s actual relationship to the roots of house music (and why it might actually not be a world that everyone can identify with), keeping this at arm’s length from a general audience might be for the best. My vague descriptions of this album are rather pointless given how Terre Thaemlitz lays the thesis statement out in very stark terms from the very beginning (in deliciously mordant and self-deprecating fashion), eviscerating the rosy, secondhand nostalgia for the early days of house music that we’ve bought into as cultural tourists, consuming the past in safe, neatly-packaged summaries. The dissonant, often dark edge of these tracks evokes a sense of loneliness, loss, solitude and alienation, subtly conveyed by lushly arranged layers of piano, flute and richly-satisfying bass that swirl together into truly hypnotic shapes. I’m definitely aware of the hypocrisy between implying that this is an album that I completely “get” while hinting at an inherent, un-spannable chasm that practically no one else in my sociological cohort should be capable of honestly crossing. Yeah, it’s a problem I’m still thinking about.

Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
While I’ve possibly spent more time obsessing over this album than any other, my urge to dig into it for deeper and deeper meanings is completely over, and I’m definitely done with the joyless exercise of explaining it to anyone who will listen. Describing the Music of Boards of Canada, especially on their breakthrough album for Warp that made them every bit the label figureheads that Aphex Twin or Autechre were, is to reduce their approach to music to a formula or a gimmick (nostalgia!). Perhaps no other musical artists besides Radiohead (or Death Grips, so it seems) has been so wholly absorbed into the Internet indie-bro hype culture and had all the magic and wonder drained out of what they do and rendered into memes like the brothers Sandison have. The disgust I’m expressing here has little to do with them as artists and everything to do with music fandom in the age of social media, and is taking the place of any actual discussion about this album mostly because I’ve already talked about it here and don’t have anything left to say.

Broadcast – The Nonoisemadebypeopleise Made by People (2000)
Broadcast was a favorite band of many Stereolab fans I used to chat with online, and in years surrounding the release of this album, they were shortsightedly pegged as Stereolab clones. Besides sounding nothing alike, it’s definitely possible (and probably widely agreed) that the songs on The Noise Made by People are simply better than any other collection of Stereolab’s, or any of the other retro future-obsessed groups of the late 90s/early 2000s (Mellow, Komeda, even Air). 1960s electronic music may have been the inspiration for their use of analog synthesizers, but in the years since the album was released, The Noise Made by People has only come to sound more and more contemporary, a vision of the future rather than an imitation of a plastic past. There’s a heart to this music that goes unrecognized, a sense of honesty and vulnerability that took a long time for me to notice and embrace. Or maybe spending a long time with this CD just sowed the seeds of a special relationship that makes me extra-willing to romanticize about? I love that my copy was released on Tommy Boy, home of Naughty by Nature, House of Pain, and Coolio.

The Orb – Orbus Terrarum (1995)
I’d had either of The Orb’s first two albums penciled in here at one point and couldn’t bring myself to pick one over the other. So choosing Orbus Terrarum, the first album from The Orb that I ever heard/owned, is definitely a compromise but also a valid pick in its own right. It’s a brighter, clearer-sounding album than both Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb, with a wider dynamic range that I’ve always preferred to those albums, brilliant as they are. Also, Orbus Terrarum was definitely my gateway album into electronic music, and considering how weird and twisted it still sounds after all the years, that was probably like learning to swim by being tossed straight into the deep end of the pool. The first half hour of the album (“Valley,” “Plateau,” “Oxbow Lakes”) is deceptively warm and inviting, setting up my expectations for what I thought ambient music should sound like: tracks that evoked a “spacey” feeling, slowly drifting past with whimsical samples bubbling in and out of the mix, the sense of slowly floating through a palpable space on top of a deep, dubby bassline. But as the wide open spaces alluded to by the geographically-themed track titles start to feel more claustrophobic, the psychedelic twists and turns will still shake you even when you know they’re coming. Thankfully, the whole album still retains The Orb’s sense of humor, which shines through even without the aid of psychedelics, good thing considering how I probably still had my D.A.R.E. t-shirt at the time and wasn’t wearing it ironically.

gaspopGas – Pop (2000)
Pop can lull listeners into a trance like waves crashing on an ocean shore or a breeze rustling thousands of leaves in a dense forest. It’s undeniably relaxing, but sounds less like a human composition than a huge force of nature. It’s reassuringly repetitious, but unpredictably so, unfolding at its own pace, seemingly unbound from the latticework that holds together even the most creative and effective ambient music. It’s a sound that seems to wash over you, surround and suspend you in its own world, even before the beat gradually emerges into the mix and adds an urgent but reassuring pulse. Provided you’re listening on any halfway-decent stereo or pair of headphones, giving into the music can be an immersive experience. Wolfgang Voigt’s recordings as Gas go back a few albums before Pop, his final solo release under the name, and following the slow evolution of his sound from its low-fi, hazy beginnings to the crystal-clear conclusion of his vision is a fascinating and satisfying trip to take. But really, I’d recommend closing your Wikipedia and Discogs tabs and just soaking it up without too much thought.

Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Nothing else even comes close to the nostalgia rush I get whenever I hear this album, but despite the comfort and familiarity I experience whenever I listen to it, Thriller still manages to amaze and surprise me, as it does in every chapter of my life. The comfort of this nostalgia is secondary to the awe inspired by actually running your hands over it, appreciating its craftsmanship, wondering how something could be appreciated in its own time for being so soulful, joyful, and electric and still continue to feel so vital and essential for so long. Plenty of music talks about bringing people together, but as the appeal of Thriller spans generations, race, borders, I wonder if any of the art in our lives has actually done that quite as much as the nine songs here. This is music that makes me happy to be alive and genuinely thankful for the genius that brought it into the world.

tortoisetntTortoise – TNT (1998)
Another album that changed everything I thought about music, how it “should” work and what it could do. Tortoise’s use of familiar instruments (guitar, bass, drums) with lesser-used sounds (mallet instruments, synthesizers, sampling), on the surface, doesn’t look like a particularly daring proposition today, nor would their blending together of sounds associated with different genres (dub reggae, jazz, film soundtracks) seem very risky in a world where musicians and listeners routinely dabble in all different kinds of music. But compared to any of the tepid post-rock that dribbled out into the ether over the next decade, it overflows with vibrant and deep grooves, playing with sound on a lush, cinematic scale. The product of equal parts improvisation and studio trickery, the atmosphere on TNT — a title I always assumed was an ironic nod to AC/DC, quite possibly Tortoise’s polar opposite as a band — is some of my favorite on any record, digging out unexplored spaces that I never imagined existed and have found few parallels to since.

Primal Scream – XTRMNTR (2000)
The second half of this list was half-done when I published the first part more than three weeks ago. But sitting down to wrap it up was a challenge. I’ve been…busy, and distracted by concerns that maybe, just maybe, putting the time and energy that I do into things like this is a distraction from both personal responsibilities and more important things in this world that can’t be ignored. WordPress tells me that this blog turned seven years old back in December, so for the entire time that I’ve posting on here, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of living as a U.S. citizen with a leader who valued knowledge, pursued wisdom, believed in the worth of public service and implored us to do the same, encouraged us in the struggle to respect and understand one another and to come together for a greater good that would affect universal change for the better. That this man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit would be succeeded by a petulant con artist who transparently appealed to the darkest forces in our hearts and manipulated society’s worst fears is the greatest humiliation any of our generations have endured. That modern life has grown abstract enough for millions to willingly pull the level for an insidious opportunist, an unapologetic adulterer, rapist, and pathological liar who peddles debunked myths and conspiracy theories as facts, is still too much to fully comprehend. The startling futility of questioning his qualifications, calling out his lies, trying to expose his rhetorical tactics or explain what’s really at stake to his supporters feels like trying to run through a brick wall. The experience has shown me how brittle my optimism and mental resourcefulness becomes in a moment of crisis, and how that moment of crisis can arrive in a form that no one in my life has any idea how to deal with. I guess this is the moment where I look in the mirror, realize I’m an adult, and accept the fact that there’s no more secret wisdom waiting to be passed down to me and no further cues to follow. Basically, I have reached the end of my life, insofar as nothing in this world will change me from this point forward besides my own choices. Those choices, including how I choose to cope with troubles big and small, will define who I am (a childish realization if there ever was one, but better late than never, I guess). For the past two and a half months, I’ve chosen to steep myself in frustration and pent-up disdain, which brings me to XTRMNTR.

I turn to music as a conduit for a lot of different emotions that I feel or want to vicariously experience. This surely includes a lot of “negative” emotions, but for better or worse, anger has never really been one of them. XTRMNTR is an obvious exception to this, which is probably why I’m compelled to play it at ridiculously loud volumes (these days, confining it almost solely to listening in the car). While its release predated the Iraq War by a couple of years, even coming out a whole year before George W. Bush even took office — not to stuff this quintessentially British band into a squarely American context — the restless, pissed-off fury of the album felt like a direct response to the right-wing hypocrisy, overt propaganda and rabid militarism that was thick in the air. Unfortunately, it feels just as relevant today as it did back then. It probably doesn’t speak well for my maturity or composure, but a song like “Pills” (usually regarded by fans as the low point on the album, which may be true but not for the reasons they’d believe) sums up the complete scope of my feelings towards Trump, his petty, stupid Tweeting, his petty vendettas against any institution or individual who calls him out on his perpetual bullshit, his extreme solutions to imaginary problems and the phony explanations he’s allowed to give for any of it. And whether it’s an indictment against actual neo-nazis, globalization and neoliberalism, or just bullshit punk rock, “Swastika Eyes” feels like the soundtrack to the laser-focused response that’s in order against the normalization of racism and bigotry in our country and all across the western world. “Accelerator” is probably the loudest rock song I’ve ever heard, and whether or not it’s healthy for me, it’s invigorating to turn it up and let myself just simmer in. Describing the entire album as a one-dimensional expression of rage would be a mistake. “MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill ‘Em)” continued Kevin Shields’ run of scarce but beautiful masterpieces in between Loveless and My Bloody Valentine’s return in 2013, and is one of the biggest-sounding slabs of kaleidoscopic psychedelia I’ve ever heard. “Keep Your Dreams” is a beautiful piece of future blues that feels cleansing, even redemptive, on its own or as the melancholy centerpiece of the album. XTRMNTR is, like a lot of albums that I’ve already mentioned, a work where the supposed weak links never struck me as such. Being a political album (despite what Bobby Gillespie may say), there’s fair share of sloganeering and not a lot of nuance in the messaging. And I guess something about that has always connected with me, maybe because I’ve never had the conviction to say what I truly believe or because I struggle to reduce the world to simplified, black and white terms, so letting this album voice my frustration is a tremendous release. If I’ve written more about it than any other album on my list, that’s because it’s just resonating with me very hard at the moment, a moment that I’m still hoping will pass sooner than later, one we’ll eventually be able to look back on from from a wiser, kinder place than we are right now.

I don’t write about music here very often anymore. I always meant to make that a focus here, and in the early years of this blog I often did. But I was never very satisfied with the results. It wasn’t enjoyable or fulfilling, felt like a chore, and while I tried to make it all very personal, it felt deeply informed by influences outside of myself. Since then, I haven’t stumbled upon any new ideas to shake this up, but just taking a break has helped me reset my mind and I hope it makes a difference. Maybe there will be more posts about music in the near future, maybe there won’t. Anything could happen and I don’t know what to expect from the new year at all.

It’s been years since I’ve first wanted to do an entry here about my favorite albums, which is as simple of an idea but probably the biggest potential undertaking of a single post (or split post, as I think I’ll do to keep this manageable) that I’ve ever had. As I suspect it probably is for most people, coming up with the list itself was easy, but trying to identify and actually verbalize the feelings I have for each of these is a huge challenge, one that I know I’m not fully up to the task for but still feel compelled to attempt regardless. My “relationship” with all of these albums is extremely personal but often built on nostalgic feelings that I can’t communicate without illuminating contradictions in my thought process and a real lack of experiences and encounters in the world that would make any of this feel urgent or real to anyone else. Sometimes it’s felt like my lack of musical ability (despite fits and starts of practice and dabbling on guitar and various DAWs, which are seemingly picked up, inherently understood and mastered by children on a daily basis) is rivaled only by my inability to speak the language of music, to describe the qualities of sounds and the sensations of experiencing them. These limitations will manifest themselves throughout this list, and for that, I apologize but encourage you to listen to each album anyway and form your own coherent opinion.

I own somewhere around 500 or 600 CDs and a tiny vinyl collection that’s gathering dust while I continue to shop around for a turntable that won’t destroy records or play them at inconsistent speeds. I have at least a thousand albums on my computer; it’s difficult to tell without hand-counting and sorting between albums, EPs, and singles. Anyway, I have a lot of music, but despite the fact that this has been one of my life’s biggest obsessions, it’s hard to look at what I’ve gathered and see it as anything other than a catalog of well-known releases, very little of it truly obscure or rare or not hotly-tipped by one source or another at some point over the last twenty years. It’s a predictable sampling of the indie zeitgeist with a random scattering of old classics. Collectively, it represents my point of view and is different from anyone else’s, but for all the deep digging I’ve felt that I’ve put in over the years, it’s weird to survey what I actually have to show for it, which is a very mainstream and safe collection that covers a lot of ground but not in any particularly interesting way.

Whether these are truly my 20 favorite albums, or just the 20 albums that I most wish to publicly associate myself with, I cannot say. There’s nothing from Underworld or Radiohead or Susumu Yokota here (or Dig Me Out, which I should include but would rather not write about, I guess) but it’s not like the 90s or 2000s need to be any more represented here than they already are. The vast majority of this list is made up of music released during my teens and twenties, and there’s nothing on here that’s older than I am. Why that is, should, or shouldn’t be an issue, I can’t say. I guess I’m just trying to beat hypothetical readers to the punch when it comes to calling me out on a bias for music from my doe-eyed adolescence and too-cool twenties.

So here are my 20 favorite albums of all time, in no order of preference (started from a list I scribbled in a notepad at work two years ago):

Bark Psychocodenamedustsuckersis – ///Codename: Dustsucker (2004)
This album was not a hit when it came out and didn’t get the kind of recognition it definitely would get if it was released today, yet somehow it kind of fell into my lap right after it was released. Unfortunately, I was young and dumb and downloading more albums than I had time to listen to and it got lost in the habit of simply trying to hear as much music as I could on a daily basis. Years would pass before I’d give it the time and attention that it deserved, which really sucks because I now think it’s as good as Kid A or maybe even Loveless. Heck, I appreciate that it’s been able to reasonably duck the kind of reputation that those albums have, which has made it all the more easier for me to experience it a more personal way in the years since. Not that I’ve listened to it in a vacuum or that it’s even an obscure album, but it still hasn’t been tainted by the all-seeing eye of the Internet hype machine. Like Hex, it’s the perfect 2 AM album, the perfect companion for watching the night sky on your porch while cicadas chirp and leaves rustle in the breeze. That’s probably not essential for wrapping your hands around this thing, but some albums deserve a listening experience that breaks from the routine, and ///Codename:Dustsucker is surely one of them. Graham Sutton is always praised for his mastery of mood, but this is not a generic exercise in painting post-rock textures or whatever you want to call it. These tracks exist as bonafide, poetic songs and really weird sound sculptures, and to tune out everything else and give yourself over to them with no reservations feels like stepping into another world.

The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
This album is definitely of a certain time and place and mentioning it probably dates me in a way that I’d rather avoid, but unlike nearly everything else from the short-lived “electronica” movement, this album has persevered and still sounds fresh and urgent and vital to my ears. It’s far more diverse and interesting and deep than any other “big beat” music –which, don’t get me wrong, doesn’t have to be intelligent to be still be daring and unbelievably fun — and still evokes a sense of place when I hear it, not a geographical reality but a fantasy world inspired by classic rock and rave and my adolescent projections of what I imagined taking drugs would be like. That’s still a weird place I go to every time I hear this album, and whether that says more about DYOH or me, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t want any of that to change.

dirtySonic Youth – Dirty (1992)
I guess this is the album that got me into music and is kind of responsible for shaping me into the person I am now. I still remember the day I found it in the store (used!) and the whole experience of deciding to buy it, bringing it home and listening to it on repeat in my room while reading the liner notes and lying on the floor next to my bed and my fish tank and my crappy little 13″ TV where I still had my NES hooked up (our SNES was still in the basement, if we hadn’t bought an N64 by this point, I can’t remember, but yes, this is an important detail). I played it for friends with evangelistic enthusiasm, an occasion that blew up in my face and set the standard for how my interests would become completely isolating pursuits instead of the bonding experiences I’d always hoped they be. I was a few years late to this music but since it had never really “happened” in my little corner of the world in the first place (Sonic Youth appeared on The Simpsons, which was about as far as anyone I knew would have ever come across them), it always felt immediate and new and bursting with possibilities. Just walking down the hall at school with something like “Theresa’s Sound-World” or “Sugar Kane” playing in my head always made me feel like I was in on a big secret that I was torn between keeping to myself and wanting to tell everyone about.

Oval – Dok (1998)
Dok is never really mentioned in discussions of glitch/clicks ‘n cuts music of the mid to late 1990s. Even in talking about the music of Oval, it’s a mostly ignored album that doesn’t do much to draw attention to itself. It’s not groundbreaking in the way that Systemisch or 94 Diskont were, and it doesn’t feature Markus Popp pushing his sound to extremes like he did with Ovalcommers. It’s hard to comprehend exactly what it is and what it’s doing, outside of my own extremely subjective opinions and experiences. For years I used this album to cope with migraine headaches; the flickers of melody laid over Dok’s blend of skips, pops and deep rumbles of blown-out static (played at a quiet volume in a dark room) would set off curiously vivid hallucinations behind my eyelids and cue up ripples of mild brain sparks that seemed to carve voids in the pain amassed between my ears. Maybe it didn’t always work, but having music to turn to was a reassuring relief and may just have played a big role in helping me eventually grow out of what had been a weekly ordeal since I was in grade school. I wonder if Markus Popp understood just how perfect of a title “Polygon Medpack” was for this.

dotsandloopsStereolab – Dots and Loops (1997)
Dots and Loops found Stereolab making a hard departure from the guitar rock and droning synthesizers of previous albums toward a sound that dabbled in more sophisticated pop and nuanced production. I guess it’s both a perfect introduction to the band (since it straddles both ends of their career and catches them at the height of their creativity) and also a terrible representation of who they were (they’d never make another album like it). It was sophisticated and cool and really weird and still sounds like more than the sum of its parts. It was the first of any music that I’d ever heard from the band. Over time, I’d eventually collect most of their releases and go on to see them live three times (each time worse than the last, unfortunately). This is the Stereolab album I keep coming back to and never lets me down, unlike the last several they’d eventually release in the years that would follow, a terrible but completely understandable decline that’s a reminder of how irreplaceable people are, even when they’re part of a group playing seemingly interchangeable roles.

The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (2011)
The newest album on this list sounds, by far, like it ought to be the oldest. It’s easy to assume (but hard to truly say) exactly what James Leyland Kirby is doing with the material he’s sampling for this, where he takes old records from the 1930s/1920s — which most listeners will have few associations with outside of the “haunted ballroom” music of The Shining, a point of reference the artist makes no strides to hide — and edits them with a deceptive hand. Much of the album sounds like untouched phonographs, crackling with age or perhaps playing in a cavernous, empty space. Other tracks find whisps of melodies cut into loops that trail off into silence before starting over, only to end in most abrupt ways and lead into the next track, always sounding like it’s in the middle of already playing when it’s introduced. Layers of static and reverb, feeling less like digital effects and more like a physical presence, have a subtle influence on some moments while completely overwhelming others. The overall feeling may parallel to drone music or the world of dark ambient, but the album is an ode to music that exists outside of the lineage of classical or rock music and is hard to relate to the well-established “rules” of any of those genres. There may be a temptation to write off the source material as romantic schmaltz, but revisiting the excess and optimism being channeled in these tracks feels uniquely bittersweet in hindsight (after all, this may be the first pop music that’s outlived its audience). An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is a dark, dark album that’s defined by playful moments and a sense of memory that’s nostalgic, wistful, reminiscent of a time and place that we can revisit any time we want but is just out of the reach of any first-hand memories we have left of it. It’s music that’s somehow tremendously festive and sad, relaxing but still unnerving in a way that’s rarely explored in music or art. It didn’t oblige me as a listener because it didn’t satisfy any preexisting cravings. It has, however, turned into an obsession that’s one of the last singular statements in music that I’ve ever heard.

Shuttle358 – Frame (2000)
frame
I can’t say if Frame is clearly the best album from Shuttle358 or if it’s even my favorite of his. And after 10 or 12 years of somewhat frequent listening, all I can really say is that it’s the album that I’d point to as the definitive Shuttle358 recording, but even then I can’t really say why. This is music that I’ve listened to a lot, almost exclusively alone, so it holds a great deal of private meaning to me that I’ve never tried to articulate in verbal terms and is predictably defying me now that I’m finally attempting to. It’s obvious enough to say that there were quite a few people making minimal, glitch-inspired electronic music back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and I still enjoy a lot of that stuff but none of it has really stuck with me quite like this artist or this album. I know very little about how this was made, what sounds were sampled and which were synthesized, but it retains a warm, reflective, peaceful, timeless quality that I just don’t get out of any other music, and certainly not in any other laptop-propelled ambient music from this time, even when they come close and live up to all the telltale descriptors. This is great and I love it.

Nas – Illmatic (1994)
In an age of curating playlists, Internet contrarianism and the long, slow dismantling of the classic rock-dominated Great Albums lists carved into stone by the baby boomers, it’s hard to find any album that everyone can agree to hold up as a truly undisputed classic.  Illmatic may come as close as any album to staking such a claim. And yet, in the context of listing it here, I know someone will stumble across this entry and roll their eyes at what’s obviously just another token rap album. And that sucks, but too bad, it can’t be helped.  Every single track on this is, well, pretty much perfect. Is it worth mentioning that “One Love” is my favorite track? That the third verse sends chills down my spine every time I hear it? But unlike most albums on this list, there isn’t a bad song here, no good-but-not-great weak links that shape the album into preferable sides. I may have fallen out of the loop with hip-hop in the past few years (not something to boast about, I know) but time and time again, Illmatic has been the anchor and compass that brings me back, which I’m sure it will again.

journeysbydjColdcut – Journeys by DJ: 70 Minutes of Madness (1995)
The most adventurous DJ mixes are often described as “journeys” but none live up to that metaphor quite like Coldcut’s entry in the Journeys by DJ mix series. I’m not too interested in trying to describe what Matt Black and Jonathan More (and others, maybe) are doing here — it’s better experienced firsthand than being reduced to a blurb that will describe it in the same terms as every other DJ mix ever made — but even over 20 years later, it’s still a masterclass in everyday concepts that we take for now granted and regularly draw upon with comparatively lazy inspiration: the use of sampling and digital editing with fundamentally solid, simple mixing and the blending together of different genres and styles. I’ve enjoyed plenty of mixes that are defined by their tracklisting and traditional transitions, and praise of the extensive detail that went into the design of this mix does not double as criticism of simple methods used by most other DJs. 70 Minutes of Madness, however, is inventive beyond compare and exposes the complacency and dilettante-level eclecticism that we’ve come to accept from most DJs today. Blending downtempo cuts, techno, jungle, electro, funk with film dialogue and other leftfield samples, the mix draws from a variety of genres but never sounds random or too scattered. Everything here makes sense, just not in the usual ways you’d expect.

Burger/Ink – Las Vegas (1996)
If this album had come out in 1998 like I’d always assumed, it would still be ahead of its time by a longshot. Even today, it resists easy categorization, despite being one of the earliest cornerstones of German techno in the new century. Like another Wolfgang Voigt album on this list, there are no tracks on this that I’d even think about skipping, and the entire album feels of a whole piece that I can only ever think about listening to from beginning to end. To point out highlights in this piece might imply that there are moments on it that don’t deliver the goods, and nothing could be further from the truth. There are a couple tracks nestled around the middle, though, that bend time and logic in ways that you’ll never quite get used to and give the album the sensation of movement that its cover hints at and palpable heights that aren’t just a suggestive title.

I’ve seen a few AMVs that nail a kind of shoegaze-like visual vibe in their use of overlays, blurry slow motion and dreamy atmospherics, but this is the first I’ve come across that actually plays with that music and makes an overt nod to the whole aesthetic. Or maybe I have seen it tried before, but this is the first time it’s really felt so complete and convincing.

Emotive (AKA Cast to Stone, as the AMV credits read) made another shoegaze-flavoured AMV that I want to see but unlike this particular Le Portrait de Petit Cossette video,  it’s promising spoilers so it’ll have to wait.

This is probably the shortest entry I’ve written in a few years but it’s all I’ve got for now.

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