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Best of 2014: Tracks

December 29, 2014

Another 12 months, another list of my favourite music; so it goes.

Albums to come tomorrow, but for today, here are the 50 best tracks I heard this year:

50 Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me

A creative collaboration between two of the West Coast’s finest exports, putting Kendrick Lamar’s sharp verse over FlyLo’s crisp beats and jazzy interludes. Probably the finest music video this year as well, a poignant take on the You’re Dead album title, by director Hiro Murai.

49 The Horrors – I See You

The latest album wasn’t half as good as the last, but there were still a few great songs on there. This one was particularly epic and uplifting.

48 Daniel Avery – Knowing We’ll Be Here (KiNK Mix)

After turning in my favourite remix of last year, the big Bulgarian has gone and done it again, giving Dan Avery’s gorgeous album closer just the right amount of main room oomph.

47 Clark – Winter Linn / Silvered Iris

Another of Warp’s crown jewels was on show in 2014. Chris Clark’s music is often just as difficult as the label’s more glittering stars, but when he gets it right – like on these two – it’s absolutely compelling.

46 Young Fathers – Low

A thoroughly deserved Mercury Prize win for this exciting Edinburgh trio – two of whom were a couple of years below me at School – this album track was a particularly propulsive part of their energetic live act.

45 Laurent Garnier – Bang (The Underground Doesn’t Stop)

The first of my favourite Frenchman’s series of releases on other people’s labels this year – this outing on Still Music – is everything I want from one of his tracks; bumping techno, crowd chanting and a rolling riff that builds to a satisfying climax.

44 Dauwd – Lydia

Another year, another great track on Kompakt. Of course there were many more than one, but this in particular exemplified exactly why I’ve loved the label for so long. It may be made by a Brit, but it exudes that icy Germanic cool that so much good tech house has.

43 Dels – Burning Beaches

Doing British hip hop a bit differently – and all the better for it – young Kieren Gallear hails for Ipswich and has a degree in graphic design; just in case you needed to know. The most convincing of a long line of pretenders to Roots Manuva’s throne, this track is particularly assured.

42 The Black Keys – Fever

Not their greatest album, or their greatest tune, but another solid effort from the Ohio duo. I actually find the first couple of minutes quite annoying, but the last minute’s rise to greatness is worth the wait and sounded especially good on the main stage at Glastonbury in the summer.

41 Simian Mobile Disco and Roman Flugel – Hachinoko / Ikizukuri

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that when you get a few producers as fine as these working together, the product it going to be precision-engineered brilliance.

40 Nathan Fake – Black Drift

A welcome return for the Border Community man’s wonky weirdness, flying James Holden’s coop along with Wesley Matsell for this superb first EP on their new imprint, Cambria Instruments.

39 Ghost Culture – Half Open

The young Phantasy-signing really earned his transfer fee this year, turning in tracks like this, which demonstrated what makes the label so great – nailing the sweet spot between indie noodling and acidic-electro excess.

38 Jacques Greene – Feel What / No Excuse

If the whole post dub step sound got a bit passé, then nobody told Jacques Greene, who keeps on sticking out EPs full of that rolling low end bass and airy synth/wafty vocal combination that made it all sound so good in the first place.

37 Dark Sky – IYP

Not to be confused with Darkside, these boys occasionally make slabs of filthy electro like this, which while much less cerebral than Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s side project, have the power to absolutely wreck a dancefloor.

36 Tycho – Spectre

Much like Com Truise a bit further down this list, Tycho’s onto a winning formula that he’s sensible not to stray too far from. Therefore, this isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but pushes all the right buttons once again.

35 Band of Skulls – Brothers and Sisters

Saw these guys as a warm-up act for Tame Impala (I think) last year and they sounded pretty good live, so I gave their latest album a gander this year, only to have my suspicions happily confirmed. Hook-laden, heavy rock music, recalling the golden age.

34 Erol Alkan/Saint Etienne – A Hold On Love/Only Love Can Break Your Heart

This actually came out last December in its original guise, replete with one of the most touchingly lovely videos I’ve seen in many a long year, but it was this re-edit for the ex-king of the ‘mash-up’ Erol’s long-overdue Fabric mix that convinced me of its enduring worth. That and hearing him play it for his one-last-tune at the Warehouse Project.

33 Thom Yorke – A Brain In A Bottle

We got a good hint of his love of off-kilter electronics on The Eraser back in 2006 and again with Atoms For Peace in 2013, but the Radiohead frontman’s latest solo LP sees him fully embrace the dark side of dance music; this cut in particular could easily make its way into the sets of the DJs he reveres.

32 Alex Metric – Spiritism

The man knows his way round an electro banger. This could be from pretty much anytime in the last decade, it’s just a fantastically uplifting piece of peak-time happy house.

31 Kyodai – So Special

The bland, 90s-inspired deep house trend seemed to mercifully die off this year, with any remnants of that retro sound having to be extra-specially good to make it through my net. This unashamedly harks back to that era and style, but has the quality and class to more than get away with it.

30 Com Truise – Wave 1

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is nothing particularly new, but Seth Hayley’s nostalgic analogue funk is so well done that I don’t begrudge him one bit.

29 The Juan MacLean – A Place Called Space

This first track from their third album see’s the LCD cast-offs back to their very best, building from a propellant guitar anthem into a full on cosmic disco classic.

28 Percussions – KHLHI

This is Four Tet under another name, and to be fair, it’s got his grubby fingerprints all over. Choppy beats, carefully selected samples and an eye firmly on the dancefloor.

27 Les Sins – Bother

Chas Bundick is a cool cat. Last year his work as Toro Y Moi charted high, while this year his more dance-y Les Sins moniker is en vogue. I’m not sure if anyone’s accurately or adequately pigeon-holed this sound, but I’m a massive fan of the kind of off-kilter house music that’s popping up around the fringes of the genre.

26 Temples – Mesmerise / The Golden Throne

This bunch of shaggy looking men had passed me by until a Rough Trade recommendation led me to their debut album. It’s a fine piece of work and tricky to pick favourites, but at a push these two are probably the highlights.

25 Warpaint – Keep It Healthy (El-P remix)

When he’s not getting rowdy with Killer Mike, Jamie Meline can still turn in a sterling remix, this time editing the LA indie ladies into something altogether more soaring and atmospheric.

24 Midland – Before We Leave

It’s been another good year for Harry Agius, but for me this was the peak of his production output. A really confident, classy piece of work, subtle strings and synths over a solid bassline; it’s all you need.

23 The Roots – Never

Getting increasingly experimental in their old age, this is one of the most striking songs off the oddly-titled concept album And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.

22 Mr Flash – Midnight Blue (Margot remix)

A couple of Italian’s remixing a Frenchie, sounding like a cross between Prince, 2ManyDJs and Thomas Bangalter. All these things are good, and therefore so is the end product.

21 Dorian Concept – Ann River, Mn / Trophies

Yet another fine Ninja Tune signing, the young Austrian really lived up to the hype this year with a great second album, full of this kind of intricate, mellifluous mood music.

20 Lusine – Arterial

Ghostly stalwart Jeff McIlwain is quickly becoming one of my favourite artists – making things that genuinely fit that terrible acronym IDM – this IS intelligent dance music.

19 Four Tet and Terror Danjah – Killer

Kieran Hebden might be the most prolific producer going. Even in a year where he didn’t have an official album release, he’s still managed to sneak three things into my list – this one a brooding dub workout with a ‘killer’ synth drop at the end.

18 Metronomy – Boy Racers

Not that great an album from the Devon trendies, but nestled in the middle of the mediocrity was this wee gem. The instrumental piece sounds like chase sequence music in a low-budget British cop show in the 70s; which is obviously a good thing.

17 Blockhead – Fire Is Warm / Desirebulation

Criminally unappreciated, Tony Simon’s production alias just keeps on cranking out brilliant music with such consistency that I’m willing to make the argument he’s overtaking his more illustrious peers DJ Shadow and RJD2. Inventive, entertaining instrumental hip hop of the highest calibre.

16 Friendly Fires and The Asphodels – Velo

I’ve never been entirely convinced by Friendly Fires, but every now and again they’ll make something so good that I start thinking I should reappraise their back catalogue. This is one of those times, where with the help of big Andy Weatherall, they’ve crafted nine minutes of electronic prog rock glory.

15 Alt-J – Left Hand Free

The new album had its highs and lows, but as with all the best bands, the peaks make you instantly forget the troughs. This is short and sweet, pitched somewhere between The Strokes and Tame Impala; which seems like a pretty good place to find yourself.

14 Martyn and Four Tet – Glassbeadgames (8 Hours at Fabric Dub)

A dream collaboration between two of the most influential producers in recent years – characteristic rolling rhythms and cut up vocal snippets eventually give way to a breakdown that would be the perfect end to an 8 hour Fabric set.

13 Aphex Twin – Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)

This first and best track off Richard D James’ long-awaited new album, this is more mature and accessible than previous outings, full of the weird acid noodling he’s famous for, but sticking to a sensible structure, with a pretty synth refrain to match.

12 Leon Vynehall – Inside the Deku Tree / Butterflies

The brilliant Brighton producer laid down an early line in the sand with his Music For The Uninvited mini-album in March that few, if any, have stepped over since. It’s house music, but for around the house. Lovely lazy fare, full of warmth and feeling.

11 Lone – 2 is 8

Up until this year I figured he was just a purveyor of excellent early-90s-sounding electro, but turns out Matt Cutler can also produce golden era hip hop; bravo young man.

10 Mogwai – Remurdered

I almost forgot this one, given the album was released almost 12 months ago, but listening again, it just has to make the top 10. Barry from the band got himself a modular synth – which drives the record along – and when the drums kick in around the three-minute mark, all hell breaks loose; as I can attest to when they played the Royal Festival Hall.

9 Heretic – A Curse / Geodesic

One half of the Eskimo Twins pays homage to Christopher Hitchens (who’s ‘religion is a curse’ speech you can just make out) with an incendiary acid journey, replete with 303 squelches and a old school synth line to die for.

8 Plaid – Hawkmoth

I was definitely aware of these chaps, but had never consciously listened to their music until this year; boy am I glad I started. The new album is full of these delicate, melodic electronic sounds that are perfect for drifting off to on long journeys.

7 TV On The Radio – Careful You

Dave Sitek and Tunde Adebimpe have created yet another incredible record, so much so, it’s very hard to pick a favourite from it. This one is particularly powerful though – big, bold avant-garde brilliance.

Todd Terje – Oh Joy

Following up a song as perfect as Inspector Norse was always going to be a big ask, but with tracks like Delorean Dynamite and Oh Joy on his debut album, the pride of Norway proved his worth. A soundtrack to the the hedonistic Italian disco odyssey you’ve always dreamed of.

5 Kelis – Jerk Ribs / Runnin’ (Machinedrum remix)

If you’d told me at the start of the year that I’d be sticking a Kelis song in my top five I would have given you a very strange look, but her bold and brassy new sound was never far from my ears during 2014. Hearing the best cuts from the new album – props to Ninja Tune for taking a gamble on her – live at Glastonbury, was pretty special too.

4 Jungle – The Heat / Busy Earnin’

Very hard to pick a favourite from these two ubiquitous tracks, both are so wonderfully sexy and soulful; hats off to XL for unearthing another great British band. Music for looking cool to at a summer barbeque.

3 Indiana – Solo Dancing (Joe Goddard Mix)

This one came out of nowhere really, I think Joe had posted the remix on Twitter, so I gave it a listen and over the course of the year it grew on me, edging its way up my chart in the process. An absolute masterclass in moody, understated house music, her sultry delivery is complemented by production that builds and builds to something so much greater than the sum of its parts.

2 Jamie XX – Sleep Sound

Easily the most consistent of the London-based post dubstep producers, this was yet another triumph for the brains behind The XX. It’s beauty is in its simplicity – just a catchy beat, delicate strings and some warm synth washes – bliss.

1 Caribou – Our Love / Silver

Everyone’s favourite gunther Dan Snaith has done the double – producing my favourite album and tracks of 2014. Can’t Do Without You subtly soundtracked the early summer, but was quickly overtaken by the Big Fun sampling banger Our Love, while downtempo number Silver was always on heavy rotation round my house.

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