Leon Bridges may be just 26 years old, but there’s so much history in his voice. He channels old soul better than anyone else his age, and last year’s “River” (the closing track off his debut album) remains one of the more affecting songs you’ll hear this decade. It’s a piece about intense despair, but it’s also just as much about intense hope. Leon knows all too well that where there is darkness, light must someday come, no matter how dim. That faith is at the heart of the song’s Miles Jay–directed video; as Bridges explains in a statement, “The river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle … I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.”
The video honors the unbelievable endurance of black lives, specifically those of Baltimore, where the video was filmed. You’ll see footage from last year’s uprising playing in Bridges’ motel room, and a very real vigil for the slain. There’s new life and life come to an end, each equally purified by the water at the center of the song. It’s deeply moving and unquestionably the best music video of 2016 so far, coming to us on the first day of Black History Month. I couldn’t think of a better gift.