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The 100 Best Tracks of 2009

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  • These are our 100 favourite tracks of the past 12 months.
  • published
    14 Dec 2009
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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]


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