These are our 100 favourite tracks of 2009. We’ll do twenty a day, finishing this Friday.
100: LITTLE BOOTS
’09 was supposed to be Little Boots’ year, and it was, to begin with. Winning the BBC Sound of 2009 poll in January led to a slew of fevered media coverage, but the hype quickly began to edge out reality. Her rush-recorded debut album was, inevitably, a big disappointment – but it did yield at least 12 minutes of solid pop gold, four of which belonged to the ecstatic, plastic ‘Remedy’. There are only a handful of songs in the world that can make us feel like Lambrini-swilling 15-year-old girls getting ready for a night out on the town – and this is one of them.
99: DJ MYSTERY feat. NATALIE K
God knows quite what London’s DJ Mystery reversed or arpeggiated to make that sound on ‘Speechless’, but few noises gave us this much joy when coming through the mix on club speakers this year.
98: BETH JEANS HOUGHTON
Gorgeous folk-pop with a mournful undertow from the oddly-monikered Beth Jeans Houghton. It’s gossamer-thin but not in the least bit flimsy, with a melody so homely and familiar that it’s hard to believe it’s not decades old. Which, if you remember, is exactly what folk – not to mention pop – is all about.
97: YURA YURA TEIKOKU
‘OHAYO MADA YARO’
(from HOLLOW ME / BEAUTIFUL, DEATH FROM ABROAD)
One of 2009′s most unexpected and delightful reissues was Hollow Me, DFA’s western edition of a recent classic by Japanese band Yura Yura Teikoku. Yura are major players in their native pop/rock scene, but virtually unknown here; believe us, language is no barrier to loving their music, which vaults effortlessly from stomping glam minimalism to sweet, yearning balladry with the kind of chutzpah we’ve not heard since the heyday of Guided By Voices. ‘Ohayo Mada Yaro’ is the opening weepy, and it features the best knicker-wetting sax abuse perpetrated this side of Roxy Music.
96: MASSIVE ATTACK
‘SPLITTING THE ATOM’
(THE VINYL FACTORY)
In which the Bristol trip-hoppers came over like a politically charged Gorillaz, Daddy G and 3D rasping gravely over a reggae-pop skank chorused by veteran skylarker Horace Andy. Though the cinematic, TV On The Radio-augmented ‘Pray For Rain’ got more attention, for us this more knotted, inscrutable cut was the pick of the EP it gave its title to.
Proof that you can never rule out the greats – especially not when they’ve collected an arsenal of beats as wealthy as [formally MF] DOOM’s. On ‘That’s That’, the hip-hop veteran recycled one of his very best past productions, and when he got bored of rapping third person over it, got his croon on. “Can it be I stayed away too long? Did you miss these rhymes while I was gone?” Kinda DOOM, but it’s cool, just give us that new Madvillain album sometime next decade and all’s forgiven.
Moderat, the much-feted collaboration between Modeselektor and Apparat, didn’t bear the fruits it could have on record – in fact, as several festivals this year proved, it was a project more suited to the live arena – but ‘Seamonkey’ was one of the tracks where their brand of creeping techno – seemingly as influenced by post-rock and dubstep as it was by big room techno and house – excelled, with earth-shaking snares and one of the most elated second drops of any track this year.
93: BROADCAST & THE FOCUS GROUP
‘I SEE, SO I SEE SO’
(from …WITCH CULTS OF THE RADIO AGE EP, WARP)
Witch Cults represented a match made in hauntologists’ heaven, as radiophonic pop perennials Broadcast surrended their tapes to Ghost Box’s Julian House for eldritch manipulation and re-arrangement. The fragmented results are frequently startling, as on ‘I See, So I See So’, Trish Keenan’s crystalline nursery rhyme harmonies framed with spidery finger-picked guitar and chirruping field recordings (or more likely just samples ripped off impossible-to-find library records). Just one highlight from an EP that will doubtless be looked back upon as a high watermark of retro-futurist British psychedelia.
(from THE DANCE PARADOX, DELSIN)
2009 found Redshape comprehensively proving that he isn’t, as a friend of FACT once memorably, damningly declared him, “just some c***t in a mask”. Firstly, faced with the unenviable task of remixing Newworldaquarium’s unimprovable ‘Trespassers’, he acquitted himself beautifully, delivering a version that was at once thoughtful, respectful, and bolshy, thrillingly direct. Then he dropped The Dance Paradox – a debut album which didn’t exactly represent a huge evolutionary leap forward for techno, but rather a heartfelt and impressive renewal of its founding values. ‘Globe’, with its inspired interplay of gloopy, phased chords and crisp, skippy percussion, was its brightest and most buoyant moment.
91: BEYONCE feat. LADY GAGA
A moment for Maxwell D of ‘Blackberry Hype’/Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who claims that Beyonce “stole his concept” for ‘Videophone’. Allegations of theft aside, ‘Videophone’s video is more entertaining than any blurb could be, so just watch it.
90: ATOM TM
‘WEISSES RAUSCHEN (ERSTER TEIL)’
(from LIEDGUT, RASTER-NOTON)
In Liedgut, the terrifyingly prolific Uwe Schmidt produced a work to rank among his very best. A tribute to Schubert, Helmholtz, Kraftwerk and an Austro-Germanic romantic tradition that doesn’t distinguish between science and art, it’s full of rich, enthralling pieces, but none more so than the heartbreakingly pretty ‘Weisses Rauschen (Erster Teil)’.
‘T-SHIRT’ (CRAZY COUSINZ REMIX)
While Scratcha DVA, Cooly G and more pushed UK Funky in new directions, last year’s champs Crazy Cousins kept on doing what they do best: hard tribal house tracks (‘Sonar’, ‘Inflation’) and giddy vocal jams; this refix of Shontelle’s ‘T-Shirt’ an unofficial successor to last year’s incredible ‘Do You Mind’. The track’s best moment had nothing to do with its producers though – that goes to Shontelle’s lyrics, which turn from sexual to sad in one couplet: “with nothing but your t-shirt on / ’cause I wanna be close to you.”
88: LIL WAYNE feat. PHARRELL
Between Plastician’s Dubstep LA mixtape, Snoop’s infamous “who up in here likes dubstep?” tweet and subsequent ‘Millionaire’ (a vocal of Chase and Status’ ‘Eastern Jam’) and Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture 2: Enter the Dubstep, some will remember 2009 as the year hip-hop met dubstep. But the only ones who did it particularly well were Wayne and Pharrell, both getting super raspy one minute and drawing for the Auto-Tune the next over this LFO-swamped beat. Good to see Wayne doing it for the ladies too: “yes I eat that pussy ooh how do I love that panty-pie / keep my head shampooed and yes I keep my hands sanitized.”
Yeasayer returned this year after work on Bat for Lashes’ Two Suns album, sounding bigger, brashier and poppier than before. Speaking to FACT this year, the band’s Anand Wilder described ‘Ambling Alp’, the first single from new album Odd Blood as “a reaction to perception of Yeasayer as some sort of freak-folk, hippie outfit”. Here’s where they proved they could do grand, sweeping pop anthems with MGMT and the rest of them, and still get weird when it matters.
86: ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER
(from ZONES WITHOUT PEOPLE, ARBOR)
Daniel Lopatin’s epic, isolationist synthesizer jams recall Monoton, Klaus Schulze and Vangelis, but he also achieves the kind of noise-savvy textural density you might more readily associate with Touch and Mego artists like Fennesz and Oren Ambarchi. His music benefits from deep, extended listening (seek out the recently released Rifts for a triple-disc anthology), but ‘Disconnecting Entirely’ is a fine introduction to his beguiling new-age-gone-dark aesthetic.
85: SPACE DIMENSION CONTROLLER
A friend recommended we listen to this 12″, describing it as “kind of post-dubstep disco”. We didn’t know what he meant until we heard the A-side and title track; the work of an Irish newcomer, it’s firmly in the chug-house tradition but has a bassweight and viscous funk to it that means it could only have been made in 2009. A real gem this one, from a producer we’ll be keeping a very keen eye on indeed.
84: INTERNET FOREVER
‘COVER THE WALLS’
(TWENTY YEARS OF BOREDOM)
Meeting via the comments section of vocalist Laura Wolf’s blog, few bands have captured the second half of this decade’s DIY approach to pop with more gusto than Internet Forever. The band’s break-up song, ‘Cover the Walls’ chorus featured the sort of headfirst rush through a tunnel of guitars that Times New Viking must have thought they’d made their own, punctuated by Wolf’s slight, almost spoken word verses.
83: HOT CITY
‘HOT CITY BASS’
London’s Hot City ended 2009 as one of FACT’s favourite producers and DJs, and all his production trademarks – cut-up vocals, pummeling 4×4 basslines, a sense of humour and a debt to hardcore rave – found themselves demonstrated to shocking effect on this Ramp 10″.
‘FREAK FOR YOU’
Played relatively straight, with only a few tough drum and scratch edits deviating from its rolling boogiedown bass and vocal, this latest anonymous 12″ from the Thriller camp was the label’s best to date, with a female lead that manages to be weirdly empowering in its submissiveness.
81: JAY-Z feat. ALICIA KEYS
‘EMPIRE STATE OF MIND’
Jay-Z’s often at his best when painting vocal pictures of New York (see: er, all of Reasonable Doubt for a start), a Scorsese influenced vision where Afrika Bambaataa has equal standing with Sinatra. Lyrically ‘Empire State’ lacked the strength of past hometown tributes, but it’s brought to life by a timeless, piano-heavy beat by Al Shux and an overwhelming chorus by Alicia Keys.
‘INHALE. EXHALE. LOVE!’
(from THE TRANSACTIONAL DHARMA OF ROJ, GHOST BOX)
Essential listening for worshippers of early electronics gurus and radiophonic romantics like John Baker and Bernard Parmegiani, the debut album by ex-Broadcast member and tireless sonic tinkerer Roj Stevens was hard work for the less dedicated. That work paid off though, and sitting through its nuttier passages only made us appreciate magical, open-hearted miniatures like ‘Inhale. Exhale. Love!’ more.
79: 40 THIEVES
‘DON’T TURN IT OFF’ (BRENNAN GREEN REMIX)
In a year when the wide range of music made under the “nu-disco” banner bored us near to death, we made an exception for Brennan Green’s mix of ‘Don’t Turn It Off’. Originally released last year on Permanent Vacation, 40 Thieves’ melody is naggingly familiar (nicked?) and inarguably wonderful; Green rinses the most out of it with the addition of some sweet acid licks, snap-claps and disco-owl noises. If you need a reason to wish you were hanging out in New York with a nose full of good coke, this should do it.
78: MS DYNAMITE
In a perfect world, ‘Bad Gyal’ – the first track former chart star Ms Dynamite and UK garage producer Sticky have made together in years – would have been properly released, made number one and marked the year’s most triumphant return. In the real world, it was given away as a free download from Dynamite’s website. Whether that’s due to the rumoured break-in at Sticky’s studio or not we don’t know, but the fact that this string-filled epic wasn’t bigger is a minor tragedy.
77: HUDSON MOHAWKE
(from POLYFOLK DANCE, WARP)
Incredible space age hip-hop from one of the genre’s current innovators; so grandiose in its guitar intro, operatic vocal snippets and hummingbird synths it’s almost obnoxious.
‘FROM AFRICA TO MALAGA’
One of 2009′s best newcomers took the form of jj: a pair of mysterious Swedes who released several singles and a self-titled album – on Sincerely Yours, the label run by the Tough Alliance. ‘From Africa to Malaga’, the duo’s second single, saw them leave the candlelit chambers of the previous ‘My Life, My Swag’ and step outside for a steel drum-heavy summer song about death.
Bristol’s Narcossist may have received wider recognition with his productions as Kowton – particularly ‘Stasis (G Mix)’ on Dusk and Blackdown’s Keysound label – but this debut 12″ [released in late December '08, so considered eligible] is still his best work to date: a shuffling, techno-influenced cut that also featured the best donk breakdown of the year. Seriously.
74: STRANGE BOYS
‘NO WAY FOR A SLAVE TO BEHAVE’
(from STRANGE BOYS & GIRLS CLUB, IN THE RED)
Backwater garage rock jams were the order of the day on The Strange Boys’ debut album, and although it largely fell under the radar, one listen to anti-war jam ‘No Way for a Slave…’ combined with the news that the Texas quartet have signed to Rough Trade should be evidence enough that next year could be theirs.
73: JOKER & GINZ
OK, so Bristol’s dubstep wunderkind might have ended the year with all those remix commissions forcing him to spread his creativity thin – not that we blame him; it’s good money and he’s presumably saving the good stuff for his album – but ‘Purple City’, released in the second half of this year, was where Joker’s two favourite things – massive drops of square wave bass and syrup-thick synthlines – rocked out for their biggest party of the year.
‘VARIANCE IV’ (REGIS EDIT)
What the output of Sandwell District lacks in genuine innovation is compensated for by the master craftmanship that goes into its production. Helmed by UK techno stalwart Regis and New York’s Function, the Berlin-moored label distils the stern, minimalist bleeps of Sakho and Sleeparchive, the dub orientation of Chain Reaction, the warehouse flex of Ostgut Ton and the rough industrial aesthetic of Regis’s own Downwards imprint into razor-sharp, fat-free and gleaming dancefloor weapons; its deadliest 2009 issue was Regis’s swung, suavely malevolent edit of N/A’s ‘Variance IV’.
Along with Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir, Karizma was one of a select number of veteran US producers who were adopted by a new generation of UK house DJs in 2009. Of course the Baltimore native has always just got on and done his thing: making broken, bolshy dancefloor cuts with twisted tribal drums and jabbing synthetic basslines. Nonetheless, ‘Neccessarry Maddness’ finds him at the very height of his powers.
Brooklyn trio Bell – named after vocalist Olga Bell – appeared on radars this year with this single on their own Two Syllable label; a song that flips from creaking, pitch-bent passages of vocal ambient to sweeping freak-funk choruses. Half of its strength lies in Olga, who can switch up her vocal tone to echo the music in the drop of a hat.
69: KINGDOM feat. SHYVONNE
Punchy 4×4, cut-up vocals, full fat synths, diva vocals and a massive fucking handclap breakdown? Talk about pushing our buttons.
(from DESIRE II, ITALIANS DO IT BETTER)
Though lacking the pathos of Chromatics and the disco pizzazz of Glass Candy, Johnny Jewel’s other band Desire remain an interesting concern. The highlights of their Desire II LP couldn’t have been more different: the grievous instrumental ‘If I Can’t Hold You’, which would’ve sounded right at home on Side 2 of Bowie’s Low, and the ludicrously catchy ‘Don’t Call’, arguably the most memorable pure pop song to emanate from the Italians Do It Better camp to date.
67: HOUSE OF HOUSE
‘RUSHING TO PARADISE (WALKIN’ THESE STREETS)’
(WHATEVER WE WANT)
A collaboration between Still Going’s Liv Spencer and vocalist Saheer Umar, House of House’s debut single for Whatever We Want was – for about two weeks in early 2009 – inescapable. Paced somewhere between a stroll and a swagger, it came immaculately produced and continued to reveal new attributes over time: that little handclap breakdown, the rave stabs at the end. It also featured one of the year’s most absurdly overwrought vocals, terrible lyrics and some seriously dodgy sampling, so let’s call it somewhere in the middle.
66: MARTIN KEMP
“Future garage” trio Brackles, Shortstuff and Martin Kemp’s label might be called Blunted Robots, but a more accurate reference for their sound – and one Shortstuff used in an interview with FACT this year – is broken robots. ‘No Charisma’ is circuit-bent house at its finest, with staggered percussion and wonky (not Wonky) synths that warble and fizz.
65: NACHO PATROL
‘AFRICA SPACE PROGRAM’
(from FUTURISTIC ABEBA EP, KINDRED SPIRITS)
Nacho Patrol’s debut EP came to be when Danny ‘Legowelt’ Wolfers got hold of a vintage Sola Color Sound wah-wah pedal, and started feeding synths and dusty organ sounds through it; the resulting tracks were remarkable, bearing the unmistakeable musk and groove of vintage African jazz, but curiously – impossibly – futuristic.
“I put them on the old CBS blog as a kind of joke,” he recently explained to FACT. “Saying that they were from the 70s from Ethiopia…with a fake record cover and background story…I guess some people really thought it was from the 70s ’cause it started to appear on other blogs!” ‘Africa Space Program’ is the most immediate track from this essential, utterly unique EP – think Mulatu jamming with Omar-S and Pharaoh Sanders and you’re not far off.
64: A MADE UP SOUND
(A MADE UP SOUND)
Much as we love Dave Huismans’ work as 2562, it’s his A Made Up Sound project which has always moved us most. As such, we were delighted when the Dutch producer kicked off a new AMUS imprint exclusively to showcase his work made under that name. Existing at the intersection of house, techno, funky, dubstep and broken beat, ‘Rework’ subtly tore up the rhythmic rulebook and won fans across the dance music spectrum.
63: NICK HÖPPNER
Ostgut-Ton label boss Nick Höppner proved his expertise extends beyond A&R with an awesomely sly dancefloor bomb that combined the reductionist techno sound of Berghain with the rhythmic exuberance of UK funky. A firm fixture in the FACT DJs’ boxes ever since its release back in Spring.
62: LADY GAGA
We all want to love Lady Gaga – the new Madonna; the result of mainstream pop’s incest finally catching up with it, producing a sexually confused, motherless genius with a split personality – but sometimes she’s just a bit shit. Not on ‘Paparazzi’ though, where Gaga hits all the right notes over whirring industrial bump, with the undisputed chart chorus of the year and lyrics that revel in their artificialness. “My lashes are dry, purple teardrops I cry / It don’t have a price, loving you is cherry pie / ’cause you know that baby I – I’m your biggest fan.”
‘PULL IT’ (ILL BLU REMIX)
Some of the best UK Funky to date has been great ideas looped; tracks, rather than fully-formed songs. In 2009 more singles – among them ‘Make It Funky For Me’, ‘In the Morning’ and ‘Frontline’ – followed ‘Do You Mind’s lead, using that tribal percussion and bubbling bass as foundation for pop songs, and Ill Blu’s remix of grime MC Shystie’s ‘Pull It’ was almost certainly the hardest, with ominous opening chords, explosions of bass, rudegirl lyrics, and hand-claps that acted like warning sirens.
60: KYLE HALL
‘A WORLD OF NEW OLD’
(from WORX OF ART, WILD OATS)
Omar-S’s prodigious protégé Kyle Hall has done more with his teenage years than most people do with their whole lives, and 2009 saw him get the attention already overdue him. The four-track Worx of Art EP found him in freewheeling, jazzy mode – more Theo or KDJ than Omar – and the aptly titled, piano-driven ‘A World of New Old’ confirms him as a worthy guardian and effortless evolver of Detroit’s grand future-soul tradition.
59: ALTERED NATIVES
(FRESH MINUTE MUSIC)
One of the most heavily rinsed UK funky tunes to date, ‘Rass Out’ is as simple and devastating as a kick in the knackers, little more than looped tribal drum clatter and the kind of syncopated post-garage melody that sends dancefloors doolally every goddamned time. In a year when homegrown house sometimes got a little too tricksy for its own good, this was a bracing and above all fun return to first principles.
Donea’o holds a place in UK garage history for various reasons, but mostly ‘Bounce’. One of the great instrumental tracks from the transitional period where the heavier side of UK garage became grime – recorded under the alias Mr. Fidget – it remains one of the genre’s best; but was only properly released as an absurd (either endearingly or annoyingly so, depending on who you ask) anti-drug vocal track. Finally with the emergence of UK Funky, Donae’o found music more accepting of his silly side, and produced one of the genre’s definitive anthems in ‘Party Hard’.
57: DIRTY PROJECTORS
‘STILLNESS IS THE MOVE’
In Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors’ leader Dave Longstreth finally found a musical balance that reflected his wildly personal approach to indie: an off-kilter pop that’s equal parts Belle and Sebastian, Gang Gang Dance and Aaliyah. It was never better reflected than on ‘Stillness is the Move’, a mountaintop jam full of dying harmonies, colossal vocal solos and maddening chords.
56: FLOATING POINTS
Pretty much everything Sam Shepherd touched in 2009 turned to gold, and ‘Vacuum Boogie’ was the very highest carat. Most dance producers spend a lifetime trying, and failing, to make music as perfectly weighted and composed as this; Shepherd managed to knock it out on the side while doing his phd. Deep house with the kind of bumping, busy kickdrums that betrays its maker’s appreciation of 2-step, this was deservedly an underground smash, appealing to young bassheads and dad-house traditionalists alike.
55: THE SOFT PACK
Hoary, straightforward nu-new wave that reminded us of a less urbane Strokes, in a good way. So much fun, in fact, that it made us want to have a keg party and wank each other off, or whatever it is they do to keep busy in the classier frats these days.
EQD002 – SIDE A
Rene Pawlowitz, the producer we know best as Shed, was revealed this year to be the mastermind behind the anonymous Equalized and WAX white labels that had been emanating from Berlin techno hub Hardwax since 2008. The second EQD was rollicking on both sides, but the A, a just-off-the-grid, steppers’ take on the classic Maurizio sound, smashed hardest and truest.
53: MAJOR LAZER feat. VBYZ KARTEL
‘PON DE FLOOR’
(from GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE…, DOWNTOWN)
On an album full of considered pop songs – shout out to ‘Keep It Goin’ Louder’ and ‘Hold the Line’ – it was Major Lazer’s simplest trick that produced their most ubiquitous track. ‘Pon de Floor’ is, on the surface, a simple fidget house squealer, the sort that Crookers’ Serato must be fit to burst with, but in its intricacies – particularly the rushed ‘pondefloor‘ that follows the long build-up to the drop – it rose above hordes of similar tracks and became pretty much the house party anthem of the year.
52: DORIAN CONCEPT
‘TRILINGUAL DANCE SEXPERIENCE’
Austria’s Dorian Concept has been indulging in bottom-heavy synth experiments for a few years now, but 2009 was the year they finally hit clubs. ‘Trilingual Dance Sexperience’, released in the latter half of the year, was his biggest release and probably his best – combining the demented dancefloor aesthetic of past singles like ‘Vertical Output’ and the abstract heaviness of his album, When Planets Explode, to create one of the year’s most dizzyingly euphoric singles.
After perfecting the 8-bit treble tracks that made up his One Foot Ahead of the Other mini-album, Zomby spent the second half of the year honing a kind of delicate techno, one that – like much of Zomby’s work – pulls and tugs at the inside of your head rather than the corners of dancefloors. ‘Digital Flora’ couldn’t have been better named: it sways like a flower in a cyberworld wind; its staggered breakdown reminiscent of petals falling. If there’s an album of this stuff on the way it will be incredibly beautiful.
50: NO AGE
‘AIM AT THE AIRPORT’
(from LOSING FEELING EP, SUB POP)
No Age’s Losing Feeling EP found the Californian noise-rock duo discover a new-found restraint – ‘Aim at the Airport’ following up on the band’s promise of becoming more sample and loop-driven, its fragile static reminiscent of the rolling ambience of Tim Hecker. You can practically hear the blog band prejudice melt away with every dissipating loop; every crackle of found sound.
49: COOLY G
Not to be all ‘we told you so’ (really, we’re not), but we did say Cooly would be the producer to watch this year back in December of ’08. Since then she’s become part of Kode 9′s Hyperdub roster, been profiled on every One to Watch or Future 50 going, played DJ sets all over the world and had various tracks touted as single of the year. This slot could have gone to several tracks – not least the adamantium house of ‘Dubplated’, which is so overlooked it’s obscene – but we ended up going with ‘Love Dub’, the hushed B-side to her Hyperdub debut.
48: THE MAYFAIR SET
Blank Dogs and Dum Dum Girls, two of the year’s finest purveyors of fuzz-soaked indie rock, teamed up for this 7″ on Dogs’ Captured Tracks label, further pushing their girl/boy vocal dynamic to something conjuring up images of a Bonnie & Clyde road movie dynamic.
47: WALTER JONES
‘LIVING WITHOUT YOUR LOVE’
Mysterious New Orleans producer Walter Jones furnished DFA with one of their strongest 12″ releases of 2009. The attention-grabber for most was the Art of Noise-meets-Dam-Funk boogie jam ‘I’ll Keep On Loving You’, but we fell harder for the B-side. Faster and more straightforward, it teamed a sonorous, diffident female vocal refrain with boogie-down bass, ringing guitar licks and high-tog synth pads for the ultimate tear-jerking disco groove. Totally immediate, and totally irresistible – even your mum would like it.
We had to wait almost a year for Rustie to deliver the “proper” follow-up to his magisterial debut Jagz The Smack, but the months of thumb-twiddling and nose-picking were worth it. Bad Science was, as Glaswegian parlance would have it, absolutely beast – Rustie’s trademark squirming, squelching crunk beats boosted by an insane arpeggiated synth riff that became 2009′s most recognisable and devastating dancefloor hook.
New York’s Jacques Renault delivers arguably a career best, sanding down the lush DFA/Rong-style disco-house sound he’s known for into something rougher and more direct – more techno.
44: ONI AYHUN
OAR 003 – SIDE B
A strange techno curio, nothing ground-breaking per se but hypnotic and totally addictive all the same. It’s hard to account for its familiarity; it’s certainly not dissimilar to Four Tet’s excellent Ringer EP from last year but a little less precious and a lot more danceable, its up-peeling arpeggios underscored by heavy, jabbing bass.
43: PEARSON SOUND
Call it UK funky’s influence, but 2009 saw dubstep’s more forward-thinking quarters rely more than ever on their percussion – as opposed to heavy sub-bass or cutting mid-range – to move crowds. Ramadanman, here using his Pearson Sound alias, was arguably the most effective practitioner of this movement; ‘Wad’ a minimal masterpiece that utilised little more than sweeping drum patterns and chopped up vocals.
42: MIKE BONES
‘WHAT I HAVE LEFT’
New Jersey singer/songwriter Mike Bones’ album A Fool For Everyone was no Funeral, but its first single ‘What I Have Left’ was arguably the closest thing this year had to an Arcade Fire single, with weeping strings flying high above a driving bassline and jangling keys.
Pangaea might not be as prolific as his peers Ramadanman and Untold, but when he releases a single he always seems to deliver. Last year’s ‘Router’ featured high on our 2008 list, and this year’s ‘Memories’ was on a similar tip: combining a dramatic soul vocal with wraithlike garage.
But best of all ‘Memories’ has that one note, the one that appears every four bars, sticks in your head and guarantees you’ll spend the rest of the track counting down to every occurrence of it. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve heard it. Note of the year? How fucking micro is that?
‘FROM THE STARTS’
Brilliant in its reduction – verses here are instrumental, with cut up echoes of the chorus floating through them – Brooklyn band Zambri’s ‘From the Starts’ could be compared to Telepathe in its bottom-heavy production and Suicide-esque electronic swirls, but whereas Telepathe prefer to stay emotionally detached – there’s feeling in their music, but you usually have to dig deep in the nonsensical choruses and commitment-shy quasi-raps to find it – ‘From the Starts’ is, bizarrely pluralized title aside, upfront and direct in a way that little modern underground pop is.
That’s what makes this track great: for all the subtle effectiveness of an Ariel Pink hiding bold statements deep in lo-fi fuzz, Zambri not only let their tribute to commitment ride the top of the mix, but they endlessly repeat it and elevate it with the sort of crashing waves and mountaintop drums you’d associate with Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. Let’s hope the rest of the lo-fi brigade take note: it’s possible to sound both feverishly hypnagogic and unashamedly direct.
39: GUIDO feat. AARYA
Bristol’s Guido announced his arrival earlier this year with ‘Orchestral Lab’, a magnificent, synth-string-driven record that brought to mind grime dreamers Ruff Sqwad at their most fanciful and romantic. ‘Beautiful Complication’ built on that track’s promise, employing auto-tuned female vocals to create a glossily futuristic R&B track anchored by rough bass and accordion-style compression.
Guido, for all his pop finesse, knows how to tool up his tracks for soundsystem use, and so the poppy melody of ‘Beautiful Complication’ is supported by heavy subs and rhythms that thump and snap with all the simple efficacy of a Rodney Jerkins beat. For all its fatness and colour and foregrounding of melody, it remains minimal and spaced-out. Not since the heyday of girly garage has UK R&B sounded so distinctive, vivid and viable.
38. THE HORRORS
‘DO YOU REMEMBER’
(from PRIMARY COLOURS, XL)
The Horrors’ second album really divided opinion, in both the FACT office and the world at large. One thing that warring partisans could agree on though, was the brilliance of MBV-go-glam scuzz-fest ‘Do You Remember’. While the kraut-inspired and generally more talked-about ‘Sea Within A Sea’ felt a bit tokenistic and tacked-on, the more representative ‘Do You Remember’ was dumb, derivative and proud of it, with a riff to die for.
37: GUCCI MANE
‘ROUND ONE’ (SALEM REMIX)
“Ay man, check this shit out man, this just for the Rucker…”
If there’s a more ominous intro to a track this year…well, it doesn’t matter. Michigan’s Salem have always been juke fans, and here they remix 2009′s best rapper to incredible effect, turning Gucci’s Atlanta drawl into something resembling the last rites, bouncing off walls of solid bass in some deep purple dream state. Chopped ‘n’ screw-icide? You betcha.
‘STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING’ (JAMES BLAKE REMIX)
James Blake spoke to FACT recently about becoming “obsessed with the incessant melody” of ‘Stop What You’re Doing’, the self-confessed “black sheep” of Untold‘s Gonna Work Out Fine.
It tells in his remix: the staccato hook is pretty much all that’s left of the original, Blake using it as a foundation to project a wild, nightmarish fantasy of pitch-bent synths and cyborg vocals. Difficult to listen to, this takes the stop-the-dance aesthetic of many of Untold’s tracks (think the drop on ‘Anaconda’) and magnifies it, resulting in one of the year’s bravest and best singles.
(from DIVIDED EP, SPECTRAL SOUND)
Preceding this year’s full length album, Divided‘s B-side featured one of the best house tracks that Dial Records boss Lawrence has recorded – ever. Starting off with heavy pads and a subtle bassline that runs through the track like a train in a tunnel deep underground, ‘Forever Anna’ is quickly taken over by one of the year’s most beautiful melodies; shimmering and starbound, it morphs the track’s entire complexion. All of a sudden those pads feel like snow crunching underfoot; that shimmer the glow of distant lights.
34: ANDY STOTT
Sublimely confident and characterful deep techno from the dark horse of Manchester’s Modern Love stable, with a tragic/romantic melody that really earns the track its title.
(from BLACK BEACH EP, PAW TRACKS)
The centrepiece of Excepter’s Black Beach was the magnificent ‘Castle Morro’, an epic techno-style cut that captivates for its whole 6-minute duration. Rhythmic field recordings of indeterminate crunches and scrapes build into a fierce but distant, dubbed-out 4/4 thud – it reminds us of Porter Ricks releases and that sense that you’re outside a thick-walled fortress listening to a rave taking place within. After four minutes, the bass-drum emerges from the fog, now wreathed in hi-hats and 303-style acid house squiggles.
‘SWEAT IT OUT’
That Terius Nash had a thing for messing up a girl’s hair first became apparent on 2007′s ‘Playing In Her Hair’, from his Love/Hate debut; but that piece of swing-snap-bounce smoothness merely skirted the issue in comparison to ‘Sweat It Out’s obsessive fixation.
It’s perhaps unsurprising from the man who has described his approach to production as “so I can destroy this perfect picture I painted…that’s what I do with everything.” In the context of his Love vs Money concept album, it’s the carnal interlude between glitzy guest star singles and the sturm und drang of the emotional and sonic upheaval to come; in isolation, it’s a fine, R Kelly-indebted slow jam which finds The-Dream sailing as close to the wind as he dares while still carrying off his seduction. Never has a facial sounded so sweet.
31: KODE 9
Hyperdub’s first record at house tempo, and one that opened up the label to release 130bpm singles like Cooly G’s ‘Narst’ and Martyn’s ‘Mega Drive Generation’, not to mention future single ‘Natty’ by Scratcha DVA. Kode 9 had already expressed his interest in the UK’s rapidly changing Funky House scene: here his curiosity was realised as a completely fucked, oxidized nightmare of a single with jagged analog synths and cutting snares.
30: WASHED OUT
(from LIFE OF LEISURE, MEXICAN SUMMER)
Of all the fine “glow-fi” artists that emerged in 2009 – you know, Ducktails, Best Coast and the like – it was Washed Out who made the most immediate and accessible music. His Life of Leisure EP reminded us variously of Studio, Italians Do It Better, New Order and early Cut Copy; ‘New Theory’ was it’s stand-out track, with a melody so pure and resonant that we couldn’t believe we’d never heard it before.
‘BEST I EVER HAD’
With two Grammy nominations, over ten remixes and an (absurd) video directed by Kanye West; Drake surely didn’t expect ‘Best I Ever Had’ – an ode to his girlfriend Camille – to make him 2009′s hip-hop success story when it debuted in the bottom five of the Billboard 100, but that’s what happened, and he enters 2010 with the weight of the rap world on his shoulders. Let’s face it, he should’ve known he was on to something special with “when my album drop bitches will buy it for the picture “, let alone the amazing “call me the referee ’cause I be so official / My shirt ain’t got no stripes but I can make your pussy whistle”.
(from VIOLENS EP, RED DISTRIBUTION)
Released last October digitally but not available physically until this year, ‘Already Over’ was the first track we heard from New York four-piece Violens, and it ultimately worked against them – let’s face it, how do you live up to a chorus that good? ‘My Girls’, ‘Two Weeks’, ‘Summertime Clothes’ – there’s not much else that came out this year that was this hummable.
Next-level, minimalist drum ‘n bass that explodes received notions of what drum ‘n bass even is. It’s on some futurist R&B-dubstep tip, a refreshing advance on the skittish dream-weaving of Mount Kimbie, James Blake and Darkstar, as haunting as Burial and as trippy as Peverelist.
“Everyone can relate to a little heartache on the dancefloor”, South East London’s Deadboy told FACT this year, and it’s an aesthetic that crops up throughout this young producer and DJ’s work. Take away the longing vocal of ‘U Cheated’, and it’s one of the year’s heaviest tracks, with massive sinewave bass hits that rival Joker’s loudest. But once gutted – in both senses of the word – by Deadboy, these foundations become a base for something much bigger; a track that appeals to the lonely corners of the dancefloor as much as it does the frontline.
25: BLANK DOGS
(from UNDER AND UNDER, IN THE RED)
Like most things, Mike ‘Blank Dogs’ Sniper kept the subject matter of ‘Tin Birds’, the centerpiece of this year’s Under and Under album, close to his chest. “There’s definitely failure in there”, and the idea that the birds are “metallic toys you buy in Chinatown. They look like they’re from another era, not new looking at all” is about as much info as you’re ever likely to get. You can’t make out many lyrics from ‘Tin Birds’, but they seem beyond the point: the resignation in its chorus is amorphous; these birds’ metallic wings can take on whatever shape you wish.
(from BLOWN VALVETRANE EP, SOUND SIGNATURE)
It’s tough choosing a single stand-out from Omar-S’s unwaveringly brilliant ’09 output, but this track – released on his pal Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature label – was an industrial-strength, funked-out headfuck that embodied his unique and uncompromising vision of electronic dance music.
‘ALL LIVE BUT THE ENDING’
(from SONGS ABOUT DANCING AND DRUGS, !K7)
This grave and opium-paced post-pop ballad was the highlight of Jeremy Shaw’s criminally underrated Circlesquare album, Songs About Dancing And Drugs. With shades of Tuxedomoon, Nick Cave, Matthew Dear and Matias Aguayo’s Are You Really Lost, it’s a haunting but hopeful lament for the the E-fried and directionless denizens of Shaw’s Berlin hometown, an anthem for doomed youth and those, like he, who are old enough to know better.
22: LA ROUX
‘IN FOR THE KILL’ (SKREAM’S LET’S GET RAVEY REMIX)
It makes us a bit queasy thinking about it now, but for around four weeks back in Spring this cheeky remix of La Roux’s signature tune was irresistible and all-conquering. Released on white label and blog-leaked mp3, it was that rare thing: a dance track loved by pop fans, hipsters and ravers alike, and no “best of” 2009 would be complete without it.
‘SEARCHIN’ 4 FUNK’S FUTURE’
(from TOEACHIZOWN, STONES THROW)
Damon Riddick ain’t just searching for funk’s future, he’s gone and bloody found it. Funk’s future is: sublimely smacked-out and hypnotic, with synths that hit you like the glare of low sun on a December morning and a bassline as warm and comforting as one of those teddy bears with a wee hot water bottle zipped into its belly (remember them?). 2009 was Dam-Funk’s year, and this track – along with the excellent, more rugged Wavelength 7″ – represents his finest offering.
20: THE DRUMS
‘DOWN BY THE WATER’
Washed Out, Excepter, Best Coast, Ducktails – 2009 was the year that American musicians returned to the beach for inspiration. Most of these wave-catching stoners favoured a kind of inscrutably fuzzy psychedelia, but The Drums went for the doo-wopping pop jugular, and stole our hearts with ‘Down By The Water’.
19: BURIAL & FOUR TET
This collaborative single between two of electronic music’s poster boys was released in the early part of this year, and predictably sold out in days. ‘Moth’ was the better side of the 12″, with Burial riding that biting point between UK garage’s danceable rhythms and melancholy underbelly while Hebden contextualizes it in subtle chimes and keys. The track closes on Burial’s trademark vocals ringing through ‘Moth”s dusty mist; rarely are track names more appropriate.
18: FUZZY LOGIK feat. EGYPT
‘IN THE MORNING’
A white label smash eventually snapped up by the Virgin bigwigs, we heard ‘In the Morning’ pumped out of more cars in North East London this year than any other track mainstream or underground – in case you hadn’t realized, that equals a big tune in our eyes.
17: GRIZZLY BEAR
‘Two Weeks’ – the gliding, glittering highlight of Grizzly Bear’s widely acclaimed Veckatimest – is profoundly classic pop, universal in its reach. Beautifully arranged and sung, hopskotching effortlessly from mirth to melancholy in the well-timed twist of a chord, its lyrics speak ambiguously of yearning and expectation, two experiences common to us all in this and every year.
16: LEVON VINCENT
US house producer Levon Vincent has been pretty much unanimously acclaimed for his recent work, and listening to ‘Six Figures’ it’s easy to see why. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t change a great deal, it just bangs, and bangs hard. Low-slung but full-fat, warehouse-savvy beats provide the setting for an endlessly repeating, undulating string vamp that became one of the year’s most notorious and unavoidable incitements to rave. Brutal and beautiful, like all good dance music should be.
‘TURN ME WELL’
Originally released in 2008 as the B-side to London DIY golden girl Micachu’s breakthrough single ‘Golden Phone’, Rough Trade saw fit to release ‘Turn me Well’ as its own single this year.
The closing track on early versions of Mica’s debut album, Jewellery, it featured the touch of producer Matthew Herbert – it’s based around a sampled vacuum cleaner, and has an off-beat chime that’s timed so well it’s stupid – but as is frequently the case with Micachu, she’s the real star here, sounding relieved, vulnerable, naked and mature at various points across this ode to long-term relationships.
14: TEMPA T
(NO HATS NO HOODS)
Tempa T’s ‘Next Hype’ has been rinsed. And we mean rinsed - there are now so many versions of this grime anthem that it’s hard to remember how the original sounds. To hand, there’s official remixes by Brackles, Plastician and DVA, plus mashups with DJ Oddz (‘Strung Up Hype’), Jan Driver (‘Hype Alert’), Untold (‘Nextaconda’), Apple, Lil Silva, Joker and countless others.
Unimaginative, sure, but ‘Next Hype’ becoming grime’s biggest slut er, ever, is simply testament to Tempa T’s vocal performance. It doesn’t matter what the backing is, his performance here – an unstoppable sequel to his past ‘Battle Riddim’ and the best solo grime vocal since Wiley’s crushing ‘Nightbus Dubplate’ – never, never gets old. Featuring about seven of the best couplets of the year, Temps sounds like he could go on all day here, and the track’s only disappointment is when it finishes. Won’t get none of your CDs back.
13: FLORENCE & THE MACHINE
‘YOU GOT THE LOVE’ (THE XX REMIX)
Florence became a star in 2009, thanks largely to sheer hard work and force of will on the part of her, her management and record company. But let’s not underestimate the girl’s natural talent: she has an abundance of the stuff, and it shone through on her stirring, incredibly well-judged cover of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’. It was the remix by The xx, though, with its re-sung vocals and a syncopated, gamelan-gone-UKF style rhythm built by prodigious producer-mastermind Jamie, that became a blog sensation and the smart party DJ’s secret weapon.
12: BIG BOI feat. GUCCI MANE
Tracks like this only come around once a year, and sometimes not even that. Big Boi – you know, the one from Outkast who still raps – here teams up with fellow Atlanta resident Gucci Mane to go all out over one of the year’s most swelling, inspiring productions, courtesy of Cutmaster Swift flipping Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ ‘I Miss You’. So full of classic moments, from the “all the ho’s say…” intro, to Gucci catching his first bar like it’s the most natural thing in the world, to the enunciation on ‘rest-wront”. The hip-hop track of the year, and the best Outkast-related song since 2006′s legendary ‘Int’l Player’s Anthem’.
‘OSAKA LOOP LINE’
(from LP, XL)
A lot of people seem to think we’re mad for loving Discovery’s self-titled LP so much. We don’t really understand the issue. Sure, it’s a bit twee at times, but what, Grizzly Bear isn’t? The album opened with ‘Osaka Loop Line’, a jigsaw of minimal, crunked-out drums, twinkling synth arpeggios and woozily romantic vocals, somehow simultaneously blissed out and urgent; jittery. It’s how we always wanted pop music to sound.
10: FEVER RAY
‘SEVEN’ (MARTYN’S SEVENTH REMIX)
We all love Fever Ray’s theatrical goth-pop right? Right. And we all love Martyn’s rolling neo-garage beats, right? Right. So what if Martyn remixed Fever Ray? That would be a good thing, right?
Let’s face it, normally these kind of notionally “dream” hook-ups end up sounding forced and fudged, much less than the sum of their parts. But Martyn gets it so right here, Karin Andersson’s amazingly dotty and resonant vocal – “We used to talk about love / We used to talk about dishwasher tablets” – rendered in full and made to ride a high-torque steppers’ rhythm and rave-ready bass riff while ominous synth-strings gather like stormclouds overhead.
09: COLD CAVE
(from LOVE COMES CLOSE, HEARTWORM / MATADOR)
Cold Cave’s Love Comes Close was one of 2009’s most unexpected treats; a gothic electro-pop opus that kept on giving. Though the album is characterised chiefly by ‘Cave mainman Wes Eisold’s divinely hammy baritone, the vocals on ‘Life Magazine’ come courtesy of Caralee McElroy, formerly of Xiu Xiu. She sounds like she’s having a blast, her sibilant, barely intelligible lyrics surfing waves of scuzzed-out synth and providing a pain-preoccupied album with an outgrowth of defiance, release and optimism.
‘Anaconda’ wasn’t supposed to be much more than a tough, minimal club tool stuck on the B-side of Untold’s ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’, but it soon took on a wild life of its own. It was a track that could stop a whole dancefloor in its tracks; it had a spastic, alien energy that sounded like nothing else around. And it turned out to be one of the most influential tracks not just of the year but of the second half of the decade, inspiring legion young producers to dice and splice elements of grime, garage, house and dubstep with Dr Moreau-like twistedness and glee.
‘CAN’T STAND IT’
(from DANCE MOTHER, V2 / COOPERATIVE)
A lot of people seemed to dismiss Telepathe as some kind of hipster joke, which is ludicrous – their debut album Dance Mother was a fabulous achievement, and one of our favourite LPs of the year. TV On The Radio man and producer-to-the-stars Dave Sitek was brought in to flesh out the duo’s sometimes self-defeatingly brittle sound designs, and he duly transformed the fragile early version of ‘Can’t Stand It’ into a searing tragi-pop epic.
‘AIDY’S GIRL IS A COMPUTER’
A cult dubplate from late ’08 when it was played as part of Hyperdub’s Radio 1 showcase, ‘Aidy’s Girl’ was finally released this year and marked a crossover success for Darkstar, Hyperdub’s house band who’re more interested in trying to make their Apple Macs sing than dubstep culture. Their music is all the better for it: there’s nothing else really like this, with its chemically frozen 2step rhythms and overwhelmingly melancholic vocals. Hyperdub boss Kode 9 has spoke in the past about wanting to hear “circuitry cry” – ‘Aidy’s Girl’ proved the ultimate tear-jerker.
05: ILL BLU feat. PRINCESS NYAH
(WHITE LABEL / MY-ISH)
To those who think Funky lacks depth, ‘Frontline’ is the ultimate counter-argument. With potently simple, hard bodied beats from Ill Blu, who’re fast becoming Funky’s most underrated producers, Princess Nyah delivered some of the catchiest lyrics of any song released this year, which were actually steeped in sadness: ‘Frontline”s about Nyah being forced to sell drugs (“moving weight from the morning to night”) by the man that she loves. God knows if crowds up and down the UK knew quite what they were singing along to, but rarely are pop songs this subversive.
04: BAT FOR LASHES
People talk a lot about pop nirvana, but sorry, this is pretty much as good as it gets. The strings that open ‘Daniel’ are the ultimate warning shot, and the minute Khan turns to the camera with that breathy opening line you’re sold: there’s zero doubt this is going to be one of the year’s epics. Khan’s performance is her best to date; breathy and frost-bitten, the drums sound like they could fill canyons and that chorus – seriously, that first chorus - is 2009′s equivalent of the opening chords of ‘Kids’ or something. The hairs on our neck are still standing from our first listen.
03: MOUNT KIMBIE
Late last year, Radio 1 experimental show host Mary Anne Hobbs played a track completely unlike the rest of her show that night, and it blew us away. The artist’s name mislabeled as ‘Mount Kimble’ on the show’s tracklist, it opened with slowly looped guitar before bursting into a spluttering cacophony of minimal quasi-house and cut up, pitchshifted vocals.
There were various reference points for the way ‘Maybes’ sounded – reference points as far reaching as Fennesz and Mogwai – but in a weird, music nerd way, it was just a great pop song. Its words may be indistinguishable but its hook is crucial, and despite how beautifully it combines electronic and organic sounds, and scatters its percussion, you spend the track relatively non-plussed about all that, simply waiting for that incredible vocal refrain that closes it. Precious and peculiar, like an artifact from the future.
02: ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
The Animal Collective backlash might be in full effect, but still no one – absolutely no one – can fuck with ‘My Girls’. Not now, not when it first came out, and not ten or even a million years from now. Panda Bear and chums managed to condense pretty much everything good about music ever into six taut minutes of ecstatically harmonised, bigger-than-Jesus techno-pop; not without reason did the whole world and his wife fall grateful before its feet.
01: JOY ORBISON
“I’m a big fan of emotion in music so a lot of the sounds and vocals I use are there to sort of trigger that feeling. Although ‘Hyph’ may appear to be a relatively straight forward track, I’ve always found it quite hypnotizing and there’s a good reason why it’s so repetitive. Dance music only really appeals to me when it has that hypnotic, almost chanting feel.” – Joy Orbison, 2009
Everybody loves an underdog story, and 2009 was Peter O’Grady’s. Made on a “really basic set-up…just kind of PC Workshop” speakers, his debut single ‘Hyph Mngo’ came to UK dance fans’ attention when Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO closed a promotional mix for Fabric with it. Since then it’s graduated – via the record boxes of Scuba, Gilles Peterson, Zane Lowe and countless more – to Ibiza anthem status; Sasha recently closing a set to 40, 000 clubbers with it.
Simon Reynolds, the Manhattan-based writer behind rave journal Energy Flash and The Guardian‘s clubbing section, rankled UK dance fans again this year by declaring it a track for “headz to sagely nod off to”, but he’s wrong: whether played at niche clubnights like Night Slugs or dance institutions like Ministry of Sound, those opening chords of ‘Hyph Mngo’ – that rushing, overwhelming, sun-rising-on-the-horizon moment - has proved impossible not to lose yourself to.
The best is perhaps yet to come for Joy Orbison – certainly the tracks that have followed ‘Hyph Mngo’, such as ‘J.Doe’ and ‘The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow’ indicate that he’s an artist with serious lasting power. But this, for us, was the year of dubstep breaking down: in the words of chief scene writer Martin Clark, acquiring a “lack of definition, a healthy blurring at the edges of what and who dubstep was.” In its femininity, and the way it took in vocal house, drum’n'bass and garage, reaching fans globally from Croydon to Corfu; from Shook Magazine to Pitchfork; ‘Hyph Mngo”s success represents this better than any other track to be released this year. [Tom Lea]