Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Top Tracks of 2013

When it comes to cataloguing the best tracks of 2013, there's a fairly large, sequin-covered elephant in the room.

I remember when Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' was first released, I listened to it as if the 'repeat' button was going out of fashion. So slick was Nile Rodgers' disco-flecked guitar riff, so carefree Pharrell's hedonistic lyrics, so, err, whatever it was Daft Punk actually did on the track, it was as perfect a summer pop song as anyone could ask for.

Then, of course, it got overplayed. Very overplayed. And annoying. Very annoying. The reaction to the track's appearance swiftly faded from, "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, it's that new Daft Punk track!" through to, "Oh, uh, it's that Daft Punk track. Cool. I'll continue to browse this shop without paying it much further attention, but at the same time not fuming inwardly while I flick through this limited selection of deodorants", then finally to the inevitable, "I would rather pour the entirety of this cheap high-street chain bar's stock of vodka through my eyeballs than spend any further seconds listening to this fucking Daft Punk tune again. I'm going to take up smoking purely so that I can go outside to have a cigarette to escape Pharrell Williams' sickly boyish crooning, and perhaps when my departure from this mortal coil is accelerated through smoking-related diseases I'll finally be able to escape it once and for all".

So basically what I'm trying to say is: 'Get Lucky' - very good song, too overplayed, so not on the list. Here are 31* excellent tracks from the past 12 months that are.

(*I assembled the list of tracks on Spotify, which told me that, after much tinkering, I had edited it down to 30. When it came to putting pen to blog-paper, however, it turned out there were actually 31 tracks, due to Spotify being a steaming heap of the proverbial. By this point I had lost all will to trim any further, so I now present to you the rather clunky quantity of 31 songs)

T H E  T O P  3 1  T R A C K S  O F  T H E  Y E A R

31. Factory Floor - 'Fall Back'

The punk-techno experimentalists finally made good on years of solid singles and a mind-melting live show with their self-titled debut this year, with 'Fall Back' as hypnotically absorbing as anything they've released to date.

30. Disclosure - 'Help Me Lose My Mind'

Disclosure were one of the year's biggest success stories, managing to craft a brand of fun dance music that appealed to both Joe Public and critics alike. While their emphasis was largely on bouncy garage-tinged house, the closing track on debut album 'Settle' - 'Help Me Lose My Mind', a collaboration with London Grammar - took a superbly withdrawn post-night look at youth's relationship with dance music.

29. Goldie - 'Single Petal Of A Rose'

Goldie's back! In pog form! OK, that second bit may be not only untrue but will probably be lost on anyone other than the most fervent of Simpsons anoraks, but 2013 saw jungle legend Goldie compile his influential body of work in to a 'Best of...' bundle, which also saw the inclusion of new track 'Single Petal of a Rose'. While a more mellow, soulful affair than some of his earlier work, the song wouldn't have seemed out of place on his masterful 1995 album, 'Timeless'.

28. Syclops - 'Jump Bugs'

Maurice Fulton is one of house music's most criminally underrated talents, possibly because he flits around so often under different production aliases that his birth name becomes forgotten. This year he returned to his Syclops moniker for one of 2013's strongest electronic albums - 'A Blink of an Eye' - with 'Jump Bugs' proving to be a particularly irresistibly buoyant cut of flickering funk.

27. The Mole - 'Lockdown Party (DJ Sprinkles' Crossfaderama)'

Anyone foolhardy enough to keep a loyal eye on this blog will know from my 'favourite albums of all time' post that Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles' stock is very high around these parts, and she was responsible for one of the greatest slow-burning hits of the year with her reworking of The Mole's 'Lockdown Party'. It won't take too many minutes of listening to glean why the remix is dubbed a 'Crossfaderama', as Sprinkles deploys a novel production approach to craft an intimate spotlight on the year's most alluring audio party.

26. Letherette - 'Cold Clam'

Another firm favourite of this blog, Wolverhampton duo Letherette released their self-titled debut album this year through Ninja Tune, with one of its tracks always destined to find itself appearing on this list. As it was, 'Cold Clam' proved to be the highlight from the record, a stellar example of the kind of organically warm instrumental hip hop the pair trade in.

25. Jam City - 'Worst Illusion'

Jam City has often proved a more interesting proposition that many of his Night Slugs labelmates, largely thanks to his habit of going on well-constructed ambles towards the leftfield with his production style. On 'Worst Illusion' his wandering eye remains unrestrained, but a more frenetic energy to much of his other output makes the track one of his most hedonistic to date.

24. Mssingno - 'Xe2'

Essentially hinging around a sample of R Kelly exhibiting his decidedly dubious sexual predatory instincts, London producer Mssingno tweaked these snippets (from 'I'm A Flirt') to sound almost strangely moving, and draped them over a backdrop of synths and a deceptively rudimentary marimba line.

23. Axel Boman - 'Hello'

The Swedish House Mafia have probably had as damaging an impact on the reputation of Swedish house as the real mafia had on the island of Sicily, but through the likes of Axel Boman the Scandinavian land is capable of demonstrating that restraint, delicacy and soul are all still part of their national vocabulary.

22. James Blake - 'Life Round Here'

A good year for Jimmy B, in which he won the Mercury Music Prize for his sophomore album 'Overgrown', despite being initially announced as 'James Blunt' during the ceremony by compere Lauren Laverne. For me this was the highlight of what proved to be a far stronger record than his debut, and there's even a version of the track featuring rhymer of the moment Chance The Rapper if you're that way inclined (I'm not).

21. Florian Kupfer - 'Feelin'

Florian Kupfer's 'Feelin' kicks off a mid-section of this list which is fairly loaded with the kind of scuzzy, unpolished house music that I (along with many others) have been listening to a fair amount this year. Arguably led by Ron Morelli's Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.) label - on which 'Feelin' was released - the movement dubbed 'outsider house' in some tongue-in-cheek quarters has gone some way to dragging house music off its over-earnest watertight perch during the past couple of years, with Kupfer's track a prime example of the raw yet emotive characteristics favoured by himself and his peers.

T O P  2 0

In all honesty, 'These Times' is one of those slightly cheesy, self-important forays into introspection that dance music producers only have the balls / sense to tag on to the end of their full-length albums,as if acknowledging that it's realistically more filler, less thriller, and lo and behold the original bookends Jimpster's solid 2013 LP 'Porchlight & Rocking Chairs'. Dixon doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel with his remix, stretching the track's vocals over 9 minutes of steady progressive house. Do I care about either of these potential pit-falls? No, I do not.

19. Marquis Hawkes - 'Get Yo Ass Off My Grass'

Marquis Hawkes proved to be one of my favourite men of the year, turning out a string of excellent mixes on top of some enormously enjoyable original material. 'Get Yo Ass Off My Grass' was brilliantly jocular in its sassiness, with a distinctly silly vocal sample looped over a potent, elasticated pounder of a beat.

18. Nightmares On Wax - 'Be, I Do'

The Warp Records veteran returned this year with another fine entry into his impressive discography, with one of the several highlights from the aptly titled 'Feelin' Good' album being this gently lurching, sun-kissed effort.

17. Delroy Edwards - 'White Owl'

Another man for whom 2013 smiled kindly upon, Delroy Edwards proved to be one of outsider house's most intriguing figures, releasing consistently excellent material that skitted across several different styles. 'White Owl' - another L.I.E.S. release - is hyperactive balls-to-the-wall basement techno at its most unrelenting, but the energy that Edwards has piled into the track is amongst the most seductive of the year.

16. Four Tet - 'Aerial'

Already awarded the much-envied honour of my ninth favourite album of the year, Four Tet slinks in to the top tracks list as well with my personal highlight from the record, 'Aerial'. Similar to the album's equally fiery 'Kool FM', 'Aerial' is a mash of incoherent MC mutters and clattering percussion, held up by a foggy haze of bass that all combine as if Berlin's famous techno mecca Berghain had been rebuilt in Bow E3.

15. Anthony Naples - 'Moscato A'

More of that outsider house bizniz now, from what may be considered the poster boy of the movement, New York's Anthony Naples. Naples has released banger after banger over the past two years, and it was a tough job deciding which of his glorious roughshod productions stood above the rest. The dreamily hazy 'Moscato A' won out, serving as prime testimony to how a track can mould fundamental repetitiveness into a jubilant rolling journey.

14. Rezzett - 'Fire Bomb'

Another case of techno getting lost in a foggy haze here, with the strong temptation being to describe Rezzett's 'Fire Bomb' as the quintessential 'Ronseal' track - aka, it does exactly what it says on the tin. One of the most unwelcome changes of 2013 was YouTube's overhaul of its comments section, but back in the time when user's notes were still in any sort of relevant order a brief exchange between commentators on the track's video (a strangely captivating watch in itself) summed up its bewildering intensity perfectly: the simple question - "what is this?!"; the simple answer - "Fire Bomb".

13. Gobby - 'Taajeloc 22'

American producer Gobby is one of electronic music's most curiously schizophrenic figures, with his output ranging from over-hyperactive juke and hardcore to more fuzzy, decaffeinated jams, of which the confoundingly named 'Taajeloc 22' is the latter. The track's title smacks of Aphex Twin, and while Richard D. James is unlikely to have ever made anything so neon-coloured, Gobby displays the kind of eccentricity in his production work that the great recluse would approve of.

12. Blue Hawaii - 'Try To Be'

Plucked from this blog's number two album of the year, 'Try To Be' is a beautifully understated wistful ballad, covering resignation, self-doubt, hope and determination all in one movement. Addressing the sense of lack of identity and purpose in life, the track's central refrain of "may as well just be me" is by itself one of the most exquisite moments of the year, displaying a vulnerability and a softness through simple melody.

11. Agoria - 'Scala'

There'll always be a loving place for tracks at the more epic end of the deep house scale that tease out a build-up over the course of a few minutes, before hitting the listener slap bang in the middle of the forehead with an uncomplicated but euphorically destructive piano line. 'Scala' was this year's that, deploying a basic riff that could probably be played on one hand by even an elementary ivory-tickler, but with such uplifting effect that you can almost hear the roar of an eager crowd and the blaring of rave sirens as it kicks in.

T O P  1 0

10. Tropic Of Cancer - 'Children Of A Lesser God'

Tropic of Cancer's lo-fi noirish shoegazing harks back to the new wave movement of the 1980s, and succeeds in making even a wash of hazy feedback sound morose. 'Children of a Lesser God' is a loping, patiently droning affair, layering shimmers of soaring synths with an unrelentingly oppressive kick drum, forlorn guitar flickers and foggily echoing vocals that barely pierce the surface of the track's density. Omit a few words from the song's title and you could have some fun convincing a religious parent that it's a long-lost Christmas ditty - just watch their faces as they try and scoff mince pies and play Cluedo with this as a soundtrack.

9. Terekke - 'Bank 3'

One last blast of what we're giddily calling outsider house and then I'll leave it be for this year. The opening track from his mightily impressive EP on L.I.E.S. which was presumably named after falling asleep on his keyboard - 'YYYYYYYYYY' - 'Bank 3' is a sublime trip across various indistinctly-marked peaks and troughs, riding across a steadily pulsing drum kick and wide-eyed bass line. Scatters of indistinguishable vocals are injected at intervals, making you think you've got something to sing along to when in reality you're just emitting a kind of mumbled slur.

8. Werkha feat. Bryony Jarman-Pinto - 'Sidesteppin'

In an age where anything we could possibly desire - including music - is usually instantly available at our fingertips, it actually felt like quite a relief when I wasn't able to get my hands on 'Sidesteppin' for several months after first hearing it on Gilles Peterson's Radio 6 show. Frustrating, sure, but also a relief - if somehow that's possible. With only replays of the transmission and a brief snippet on Werkha's Soundcloud (and even that disappeared before long) to keep my appetite sated, I found myself appreciating it all the more when his collaboration with vocalist Bryony Jarman-Pinto finally surfaced in its complete form on the latest of Peterson's 'Brownswood Bubblers' compilations. The track's breezy and carefree attitude proved apt in the hot summer months when I first heard it, but yet still seems warm and comforting upon revisiting it in December. 

7. Dawn Richard - 'Return Of A Queen'

When inking Dawn Richard's 'Goldenheart' in to third place in my albums round-up, I pledged that the record's second track 'Return of a Queen' would be riding high should I ever get round to writing this tracks post. Always, or at least sometimes, a man of my word, here it lands at #7 as an electronically twinkling tale of determination and perseverance. Richard's history is one that's riddled with let-downs and false starts, having previously gained glimpses of success through appearing on American reality show 'Making The Band' back in 2005 and forming girl group Danity Kane, only for the outfit to disband a few years later. 'Return of a Queen' perfectly encapsulates many of the themes present on what is only her debut solo record, displaying a lyrical resilience and toughness that is offset by the dream-like production work. Really very good indeed.

6. Piu Piu - 'Baller' [Free Download]

While I'm far from a pop snob - I double-checked while compiling this list to see if any of Taylor Swift's particularly excellent singles had dropped this year, which (in my eyes) they hadn't - I do often mourn the fact that the likes of Blue Hawaii, Werkha and this track don't bag the wider exposure that their more heavily marketed maximalised cousins do, as to my mind they tick many of the boxes that would appeal to the record-buying public. French chanteuse Piu Piu went down the route increasingly chosen by artists working without big budget backing and released her debut mixtape for free via Bandcamp earlier this year, studded with many gems of which 'Baller' was the pick of the bunch. Piu Piu's compatriots French Fries and Bambounou provide a swaggering codeine-laced beat, which the singer's angelic voice offsets with a deceptively saccharine take-down of the grandstanding male's abilities.

5. Bonobo - 'Cirrus'

Bonobo's follow-up to 2010's excellent 'Black Sands' didn't prove to be quite as enduring overall, but there was one track resting within 'The North Border' that will surely continue to charm and entrance for years. 'Cirrus' doesn't so much sparkle as beam down its own celestial light on to the listener's brain, with the slightly forlorn quality to the track's elegant chimes suggesting that whatever forest filled with sun-specked glades and crystal clear pools you've found yourself lost in, you may never quite manage to escape. If this is soundtracking your fruitless drifting, though, why would you even want to?

4. Todd Terje - 'Strandbar (Disko)'

Pity Todd Terje. No man can churn out such undeniable belters two years in a row as he's done with 'Strandbar' and last year's 'Inspector Norse' without entering 2014 with a degree of trepidation about repeating the feat. 'Inspector Norse' was absolutely everywhere in 2012, and while 'Strandbar' didn't achieve quite the same level of ubiquity those that doubt its comparative potency should do so at their peril. Over a career of consistently on-point re-edits and original productions Terje has demonstrated the keenest of knacks for finding a groove that can't fail but make people dance, and while both versions of 'Strandbar' - a 'disko' and 'samba' mix - are overflowing with rhythm, it's the former incarnation that is easily the most captivating. Its standalone status as probably the year's most uplifting jam was underlined when I witnessed A Love From Outer Space (Andrew Weatherall and close collaborator Sean Johnston) reach the end of the final set of Friday night in Bestival's Bollywood Tent earlier this year. With the house lights flickering on to mark the close of play, the music wound to an end for a moment, the crowd began to whoop and cheer their approval before the duo dropped the needle on one last tune - 'Strandbar's sprightly piano riff was to be lodged in my head for the rest of the festival.

3. Moko - 'Homesick' [Free Download]

Having lamented in my Piu Piu blurb the fact that certain entries in this list aren't scaling the heights of the pop world, Moko is one artist that not only really should, but probably will be deservedly massive by this time next year. Having so far flirted with mainstream attention through her vocal contribution on recent Chase & Status single 'Count On Me', it's Moko's solo work that's truly exciting, and she released her excellent debut 'Black EP' through the dance production pair's own MTA Records earlier this year. As far as this blog is concerned, however, it's a track that may ultimately never become more than the Soundcloud free download that it appeared as in spring that's the highlight of her catalogue so far. 'Homesick' conjures up all the right memories of mid-'90s trip-hop but with a modern-day silvery gleam that washes over the singer's lovelorn lament to create a slick, shimmering pearl of a song. With fellow New Cross residents Imposters providing production for this and her other solo work so far, Moko seems to have cultivated a match made in heaven which - if there's any justice in the world - should see her stock soar in 2014.

2. Sophie - 'Bipp'

Despite the name, Sophie is a man, not a woman. "Bipp", however, is probably the word that most honestly describes the penultimate entry in this list, as really how do you describe it? It sits completely aside from anything else, like the misfit protagonist of some American high school movie who occupies a table solely by themselves in the canteen at lunch. However this is not a misfit at odds with the rest of the world, it's one so drenched in its own flamboyant idiosyncrasy that it cares not for any of the cliques or conventions that surround it, and instead forges its own unique existence with such carefree abandon that the rest of its peers can't help but look on with mouths wide open. The irony of this all is that the lyrics of the song revel in close contact and intimacy - "whatever you feel inside, I can make you feel better" - and whether it's sex, drugs or something else that Sophie's peddling, it proves nigh-on impossible to resist. 

1. William Onyeabor - 'Good Name'

So, this blog's #1 top track of 2013 is... a 10-minute Nigerian funk song recorded sometime in the 1970s! That's right, finger on the pulse as per bloody usual. No, while William Onyeabor's 'Good Name' really does date from sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, I've decided that, through virtue of it only receiving a full release on these shores through David Byrne's Luaka Bop label this year, it qualifies for this list. With all this in mind, I'd excuse you for donning your cynicism cap and thinking, "a retro Nigerian sprawling funk odyssey at No. 1, eh? Reeks of try-hard hipster posturing to me", and to be honest I'd have initially been inclined to agree. While I'm not adverse to a spot of world music - see, if you will, my placing of Omar Souleyman's latest effort at #4 in the album round-up as further proof of my credentials - I have a fairly deep distrust of those who devote large swathes of their attention to the more far-flung sounds of our planet. Why are you so fixed on Eritrean acid jazz? What's wrong with Western music? Should I be shopping you to MI5?

William Onyeabor's music, however, could be from anywhere and any decade and still be nothing other than joyously brilliant. The man's ability to formulate effortlessly crisp dance music (in the most fundamental sense of the term, not a flashing strobe or 'hands in the air' moment in sight) has proved to be quietly influential since he first recorded it over 30 years ago, as evidenced by my discovery while researching it that modern-day favourite Daphni (the dancefloor-ready alias of Dan Snaith aka Caribou) sampled Onyeabor on the brilliant 'Ye Ye'. 'Good Name' is pure buoyant energy from start to finish, and as if that wasn't enough, the lyrical message of staying true to yourself at all costs is a charming detour from much of what modern electronic dance music espouses. Go forth and boogie.

If you like, you can listen to all these tracks (the ones that are on YouTube at least, which is most of them) through this handy playlist that I've compiled:


No comments:

Post a Comment