This week, we’ll be counting down our 100 favourite tracks released (or in some cases, not released) this year.
We’ll be listing them in groups of 20, so today it’s entries 100 to 81, on Tuesday it’s 80-61, Wednesday 60-41, Thursday 40-21, and finally 20-1 on Friday.
If you’re still yet to read our rundowns of the best record labels, breakthrough artists and albums of the year, then they’re collected in the bottom left of the FACT homepage, along with the rest of our end of 2010 features so far.
A fitting #100 on our list, seeing as ‘Skydiver’ hasn’t come out and possibly never will. This longing leak from Cassie’s long-delayed second album – along with ‘Thirsty’, ‘Summer Charm’ and the rest of the cult Cassie leaks that have emerged thus far – proved that if her career does take the commercial nosedive that it’s been threatening to, then we’re in danger of losing a truly special vocalist; one whose voice echoes the vulnerability and fragility of being an R’n’B star better than most who’ve come before her, and most who’ll come after.
99: THE SOFT MOON
(taken from THE SOFT MOON, CAPTURED TRACKS)
‘Circles’ is darkwave simplicity itself: a chugging, bass-heavy motorik groove augmented by screeching synths, guitar distortion and high-speed snapclaps. It’s taken from The Soft Moon’s self-titled debut album, recently released on Blank Dogs’ Captured Tracks label. It’s wonderful. It also sounds a bit like an early Kasabian instrumental, but let’s try not to think about that.
Madlib’s recent obsession with European rock music from the ’60s and ’70s spilled over into this Madvillain freebie, MF Doom trying out his pigeon German over chopped up euro-pop. Not much more than a fun appetiser for the next Madvillain album, but we’ll take what we can get at this stage.
97: GUNNAR WENDEL
’578′ (OMAR S. BERLIN MIX)
Originally released as a B-side on German label Mikrodisko in 2008, Omar-S took this signature production by Gunnar Wendel – better known by his nom de guerre, Kassem Mosse – and remixed it not once, but twice, for a fresh release through his FXHE imprint. On account of its name, we’d like to say the chugging ‘Omar S Rude Boy Warm Mix’ is our favourite of the pair, but the truth is that the pacier ‘Berlin Mix’ on the A-side hits hardest, all wah-wahed chords and half-formed breakbeats peeling off a sticky 4/4 groove.
96: HOT CHIP
‘I FEEL BETTER’
Say what you will about Hot Chip, they’ve got soaring, festival-friendly melodies nailed. They honestly can’t stop pumping the blighters out. Alexis Taylor’s warble is awarded the perfect foil here – blithely UK funky-referencing drums and strings that sound like grime gone philharmonic. Proper pop music.
95: MAD ONE
‘HOUSE GIRLS PT. 1′
‘House Girls’, first and foremost, is in this list because it’s a prime piece of militant UK Funky. But it’s also in this list because of what it’s come to represent. An anthem in the underbelly of UK house that circulates the Deja Vu and Live FM radio stations (both full of raw vitality, and healthy competition to the increasingly clinical Rinse FM), for the majority of the year the only way you could get an mp3 of this track was by paying Mad One an extortionate amount of money. Which we guess people did. They were then presumably a bit naffed off when it appeared on iTunes and Amazon this December.
94: JOY ORBISON
‘THE SHREW WOULD HAVE CUSHIONED THE BLOW’
Compared to ‘Hyph Mngo’ this was pretty subtle, but Joy Orbison’s still well aware here that the quickest way to your heart is by tearing out its strings with a lovesick vocal sample. Props to Actress for a remix on the B-side that really brought out the boogie in his slow house sound.
A newly formed white label wing of Felix K’s Hidden Hawaii stable dedicated to fleet-footed drum ‘n bass minimalism, QNS (Quantity Not Sufficient) provided some of the year’s most irresistible displays of stripped-down, cyclical beat science. ’2/6′ was particularly effective, an agreeably compressed and Berlin-flavoured response to the UK’s Autonomic sound.
92: JAMES PANTS
‘I LIVE INSIDE AN EGG’
This marvellous track – an angry, impatient compact of minimal wave, no wave and psychedelia influences – was first aired on Pants’ Seven Seals album, which came out in the no man’s land that is December 2009 and so missed out on a deservedly high place in both that year’s best albums list and this one’s. As he moves away from the sun-soaked boogie with which he made his name, Pants is emerging as an artist of rare wit, ambition and ability; the kind of artist you can get behind. Check this and then go grab the LP, you won’t regret it.
91: R1 RYDERS
(from FULL THROTTLE EP, R1 RYDERS)
Where some tracks drop, this body-armoured take on UK Funky lifts off.
90: HYPE WILLIAMS
(from DO ‘ROIDS AND KILL E’RYTHING, SECOND LAYER)
On paper a hypnagogic cover version of Sade’s ‘The Sweetest Taboo’ is the worst kind of glib nonsense, but in actuality Hype Williams’ treatment is sufficiently surreal and sincere for us to take it seriously. Focussing on a short passage from the original and doctoring the melody ever so slightly, the London-Berlin duo lay their wan vocal interpretation across a bed of junk store drum machines and scraping cutlery. It shouldn’t really work, but it does, bringing back memories of the ’86 Honolulu honeymoon that never happened, with the husband or wife you never had.
89: KRYSTAL KLEAR
Alright, nothing’s perfect, but this fat piece of analog boogie from Manchester’s Krystal Klear felt pretty close when it emerged at the start of this year, and the months since have barely dented its sheen.
88: CHASING VOICES
In a year where occult imagery was regularly deployed to mask half-baked musical ideas, Chasing Voices’ ‘Acidbathory’ was that rare thing – a record that lived up to the air of mystery, ominousness and evil that it projected. A powerful but very elegant mingling of dubstep, techno, industrial and doom metal elements, this single-sided 12″ – housed in amazing screen-printed artwork – is apparently the work of an anonymous collective associated with Brooklyn’s Slow To Speak crew, but it sounds like it came unbidden from the bowels of the earth.
87: CAM’RON feat. JIM JONES & JUELZ SANTANA
(NOT ON LABEL)
Soulja Boy and Lil B might be two of the modern day kings of making really bad lyrics sound really good, but the original Diplomats line-up returned this year to show both of them who’s boss. “You can hear the fly bitches say he actin’ up / yeah bitch, I always stay actin’ up” and Juelz Santana’s bit about the sports bra are our lyrical highlights here, but as ever, Dipset know that none of that matters if you’re rapping over a beat that sounds like a plane taking off. Some kid called Araabmuzik produced this one. He ended up making a bit of a name for himself this year.
86: SPACE DIMENSION CONTROLLER
(from TEMPORARY THRILLZ, R&S)
Driven by absurdly warm analogue synth sounds, squiggly p-funk flourishes, bluesy keys and a bassline with more wallop than a fucked off asteroid, this is sophisticated, characterful and utterly charming work from one of the most exciting young producers around, first heard on his name-making FACT mix back in January.
85: DYLAN ETTINGER
(from NEW AGE OUTLAWS: DIRECTOR’S CUT, NOT NOT FUN)
A sublime fusion of droning astral jazz and new age synth-orama, ‘Gordon’s Theme’ brings to a stunningly emotive close New Age Outlaws, Dylan Ettinger’s peerless soundtrack for a retro-futurist cop movie of the mind.
84: DJ NATE
‘I’MA BURN HIM’
(from HATAS OUR MOTIVATION EP, PLANET MU)
DJ Nate’s retrospectives on Planet Mu may have been footwork in tempo, but what resonates with us more than their dancefloor potential is their screeching, maverick take on lo-fi computer music. Some of the most radically pitch-shifted, fucked up music released anywhere this year, and that’s without even touching the Evanescence samples.
83: NITE JEWEL
‘WE WANT OUR THINGS’
(from AM I REAL?, GLORIETTE)
Ramona Gonzalez hit new heights of maturity and confidence on her Am I Real? EP, shedding her lo-fi shackles and showcasing the full breadth and brightness of her considerable talent across six finely wrought tracks. ‘Forget You & I’, with its Cure-gone-Balearic cinematic ambience, deserves a special mention, but the one that really nagged and nagged and wouldn’t leave the noggin was ‘We Want Our Things’, italo-pop at once sun-kissed and sepulchral.
82: DVA feat. FATIMA
A stunning exercise in completely transforming a track through the smallest of changes, DVA taking the charcoal-skinned skeleton of his ‘Natty’ single, adding one chord and a vocalist, and coming out the other end with a warm, poster painted tribute to finding a spot in a club and, well, just vibing.
81: DEMDIKE STARE
(from VOICES OF DUST, MODERN LOVE)
Inspired techno primitivism from Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty, all high-velocity tribal rhythm and chirruping, ritualistic vocals; if MIA and Shackleton ever collaborated they might come up with something like this. The swampy, droning dubstep coda is worth the price of admission alone.
80: MR. MAGEEKA
Well over a year since it first emerged on Marcus Nasty’s Rinse FM show, Numbers tracked down this lost UK house dubplate and released it. It’s still pretty much the definition of taking a simple idea and giving it legs, and like ‘Township Funk’ before it, in the hands of a capable DJ it’ll light up a dancefloor like few others.
(from JJ n° 3, SINCERELY YOURS)
The most heartbreaking, perfect three minutes of music we heard all year. Or at least that’s how it felt in March, and things were simpler then.
Fis-T arrived from nowhere this year to prove that dubstep wobble, when deployed skillfully, is still one of the most powerful dancefloor tools around. This track hits like a torpedo.
77: THE XX
‘VCR’ (MATTHEW DEAR REMIX)
(VINYL FACTORY / YOUNG TURKS)
This remix of The xx’s ‘VCR’ found Matthew Dear framing Oliver Sim’s tremulous vocal with looped fragments of his own snake-oil croon and shackling the whole over-sexed package to a synth-sheeted disco-funk groove. Unlike the million other attempts to remix The xx that surfaced this year, it actually worked.
‘NOW YOU SEE ME’
(from DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M HERE, EDITIONS MEGO)
It doesn’t get prettier than this, Mark McGuire’s plangent acoustic guitar cutting through John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt’s churchy, descending synth sequences with the most graceful riff of 2010. With most modern kosmische-inspired music sounding stilted, studied and often glibly sci-fi, the naturalism and sheer emotional heft of Emeralds’ current work deserves special praise.
(from oOoOO EP, TRI ANGLE)
Stuttering, R&B-derived rhythm, withering synths, snatches of unsettled, unsettling dialogue and an all-pervading feeling of malaria-stricken ethno-dread – it would take a hard heart not to fall in love with ‘Mumbai’.
‘WE CAN’T BE STOPPED’
(from LP4, XL)
When Fucked Up used to talk about making epics in minutes, they probably didn’t expect a pair of synth and film sample-obsessed oddballs from New York to beat them at their own game. ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’ is only two minutes long, but with its wilting, sun-blushed synths and strings that sound like they’re slowly awakening from a coma, it marked a wonderful highlight of an excellent – if far from perfect – album.
73: DJ RASHAD
(from OVERKILL, GHETTOPHILES)
One of the things we love about juke and footwork is – a la hardcore and bassline – its complete lack of self-consciousness in what it samples. There’s something disorientating and thrilling about the way your brain’s trying to take in these vintage pop samples (and a lot of the time, granted, trying to remember what they’re from), sub-zero drums and rap loops at the same time. ‘Ghost’, a dedication to a footwork dance move that’s been in circulation for years is one of the coldest tracks we heard all year, from Chicago or any town.
72: JAMIE WOON
Mountaintop ballad by someone destined for big things when his album drops next year. Preferable in its rain-splattered early form; once the backing choir turn up it gets a bit dry ice and Phil Collins, but everyone’s partial to a bit of ‘Sussudio’ every now and then.
There’s always been ruefulness and melancholy to Darkstar’s music, but it really ballooned on their unfashionably inward-looking, and often brilliant, debut album. Lead single ‘Gold’, a barely recognisable Human League cover, set the tone. James Buttery’s wan vocal ostensibly occupies centre-stage, but the magic is in that coolly centered bassline. As desolate as a dawn walk in Winter, and nearly as beautiful.
70: JIMMY EDGAR
(from XXX, K7)
Edgar’s most recent long-player fell just outside our top 40 albums countdown, and ‘Push’ is the best track on it, full of oil-stained snares, dirty toms and fleeting LFOs. One of the grubbiest cuts of the year, and that’s without even touching the vocal.
xxxy’s multi-directional tracks are often quite hard to take in at once, but the brilliantly simple ‘Know You’ should be every DJ’s secret weapon: a perfectly formed roller that seems to catch us by surprise every time with that second drop.
68: JAM CITY
(from MAGIC DROPS EP, NIGHT SLUGS)
Tucked away on the B-side of his full debut EP for Night Slugs, this chrome-plated low-rider is a world away from the day-glo house rightly or wrongly associated with the label. With its munitions factory percussion, darkside bass and mewling synths, it’s as gloomy as a Scandinavian winter but also righteously anthemic; a glimpse of where early noughties grime could have gone, or may still go.
67: MIM SULEIMAN
Zanzibar-hailing Mim Suleiman’s voice is mightily impressive, but it was the instrumental version of her single ‘Mingi’ that grabbed us by the knackers. The fact that it’s the work of Maurice Fulton might have something to do with it: Balearic without being boring, it’s mid-paced but rocket-fuelled disco-house, the world’s most criminally underrated producer whipping hi-life guitars, back-breaking snapclaps and the year’s most insidiously funky bassline into the perfect storm.
66: FUNKYSTEPZ feat. LILY MCKENZIE
(SAFE & SOUND)
The UK’s various mutations of house music were, it’s agreed by most, on good form this year, but one thing we could’ve done with was more vocal anthems. Remember 2008, with DJ Mystery’s ‘Speechless’, Princess Nyah’s ‘Frontline’, Crazy Cousinz’ remix of ‘Do You Mind’ and the rest? Funkystepz certainly do, because the London collective – who’ll be making their Hyperdub debut early next year – here made a track that fit perfectly into that lineage, packed with warped synths and effortless diva vocals.
65: WATER BORDERS
‘AKKO’ (PETALS REMIX)
(from AKKO EP, HUNGRY FOR POWER)
Water Borders’ first release on Hungry For Power was enthralling from dank start to finish, but the undoubted star of the show was a B-side remix by the hitherto unknown Petals. “Witch-house” has been the most lazily and clumsily applied tag of the year, but if anything deserves the handle, it’s Petals’ leather-clad take on ‘Akko’: for one thing it actually is house, or at least techno, steeped in the tradition of darkwave, goth and EBM but framed with eldritch FX and an evolved sense of dub-space that locates it firmly in the present day.
64: PEARSON SOUND
Survey some people with their finger on the pulse about who makes the best dancefloor tunes right now, and we’d wager David Kennedy will appear more than once. ‘Blanked’, released less than a month ago, seemed to mark the accumulation of his work as Ramadanman and Pearson Sound this year – so that’s ‘Work Them’, ‘Glut’, ‘Tempest’, ‘Grab Somebody’, ‘Fall Short’, ‘Don’t Change for Me’ and more – expanding on those meticulous intros and outros, sharp booty-leaning drums and gut-wrenching breakdowns that seem to drown in sub-bass.
Caribou’s ‘Sun’ was a big tune at this year’s festivals, mainly because it finds Dan Snaith intoning the word “sun” repeatedly and is stuffed full of trancey builds that would make even the Border Community boys blush. The onset of winter has robbed it of some of its lustre, but also recast it as a moving elegy for another summer gone forever.
62: FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Frazzled circuits and stuttered pistons ascend dangerously close to Heaven in one of the maddest electronic tracks of the year. More like something drawn with a spyrograph than a sketch, but that’s just splitting hairs.
(from WIRELESS EP, HONEST JON’S)
Torsten Profrock retired his T++ project in style this year with Wireless, an EP on Honest Jon’s combining hard-snapping but distressed UK garage rhythm with 1930s West African instrumental textures sourced from EMI’s vast archive. Lead track ‘Cropped’ was a particularly delirious and compelling dance into the heart of darkness.
‘YOU STILL GOT ME’
Juke tribute ‘Write-Off’ was a close contender, as was the woofer-testing neo-hardcore of ‘Ever Since You Came Down’, but our favourite 2010 offering from the seriously on-fire Daphne imprint is Andrea’s ‘You Still Got Me’. Building out of a chipmunked vocal loop (“I just can’t stop / I just can’t stop / I just can’t stop…”) and moody blue synth pads, it eventually drops into an ecstatic breakbeat roll somewhere between early jungle, dubstep, bruk and Shake-style Detroit techno, and it just kills us every time.
59: LIL B
‘BLUE FLAME’ (REMIX)
(from BLUE FLAME, SELF-RELEASED)
Seriously addictive lo-fi monologue from one of the year’s weirdest and most frequently rewarding artists.
Szare’s ‘Snake Cave’ is something of an anomaly in the catalogue of Horizontal Ground, the formidable techno imprint that released it. With its Arabesque swing and Grand Canyon-sized drop, this syncopated scorcher would be right at home on a forward-thinking dubstep dancefloor, but the malevolent whispers and effects that wheel round the beat edge it into altogether eerier climes.
57: PATRICE SCOTT
‘DISTANCE AGAINST TIME’
Unnervingly consistent and proudly, even doggedly underground, it’s easy to take Patrice Scott for granted; hell, sometimes we forget he’s even around. Then he goes and unleashes a track as stately, grooving and heartbreaking as ‘Distance Against Time’, and reminds us in one fell swoop not just what a gifted producer he is, but why we fell in love with house and techno in the first place.
56: LAUREL HALO
(from KING FELIX EP, SELF-RELEASED / HIPPOS IN TANKS)
In physics, supersymmetry is what relates elementary particles of one spin to other particles that differ by half a unit of spin. We don’t really know what that means, but it definitely adds to our admiration of the theoretical approach that Michigan’s (now, inevitably, Brooklyn’s) Laurel Halo applies to her music, which in this case sounds like Kate Bush singing on a trapeze swinging from a comet.
Who’d have thought that Ben Westbeech, a man with a reputation for considered, perhaps overly musical house music would pull out one of the most ominous dancefloor stompers of the summer? This single also featured two of 2010′s most overlooked tracks in B-side ‘Man Up’ and the runaway train that was Doc Daneeka’s remix.
54: LA VAMPIRES feat. MATRIX METALS
‘HOW WOULD U KNOW?’
(from SO UNREAL, NOT NOT FUN)
Virtually everything Amanda ‘LA Vampires’ Brown touched this year turned to gold, whether it was her heady split 12″ with Psychic Reality or her dustbowl dub collaboration with Zola Jesus. Released just last month, her So Unreal LP, featuring contributions from hypnagogic wanderer Matrix Metals, is arguably her most satisfying release to date, and certainly the most accessible. Typical of its skew-whiff pop sound is ‘How Would You Know’, all arid breakbeats, plasmic synths and breathy, bonged-out vocals. Marvellous.
Essentially third-hand Chain Reaction techno with a rocket up its arse, Skudge’s ‘Convolution’ caused waves of dancefloor devastation with little more than a huge kick, heavily reverbed snares, clipped dub chords and a looped female vocal snippet. More supple and less po-faced than pretty much all other Berghain-friendly club gear released in 2010, ‘Convolution’ sounds like having a dangerously good time feels, and will endure because of it.
‘IN SOME PATTERN’
‘The Loot’ (remix) / ‘In Some Pattern’ clips
Sully – The King of Swing ® – is probably contemporary dubstep and garage’s most criminally underexposed artist, largely due to his blanket refusal to take DJ bookings (come on Sully, break the embargo). Every track on his most recent 12″ for Keysound is dynamite, but ‘In Some Pattern’ deserves to be singled out for its particularly pelvis-snapping flex, inspired funky-drummer breakdown and a lush, rising synth melody liable to make a trip to the supermarket feel like a death-defying quest to save the galaxy.
51: TEENGIRL FANTASY feat. SHANNON FUNCHESS
‘DANCING IN SLOW MOTION’
(from 7AM, MEROK)
On ‘Cheaters’, the first single from Teengirl Fantasy’s debut album 7AM, the pair dreamt up foggy visions of prime Chicago house, but this clearer-headed ode to teen proms and drive-through movies was just as special.
50: JULIO BASHMORE
(TEN THOUSAND YEN)
Jazzanova-sampling stepper by Bristol’s current favourite son (or at least Claude VonStroke’s favourite), with milky piano chords sinking into a bath of soothing synths and garage memories.
49: HOLY OTHER
When Holy Other came into our lives this year, it was kind of a ‘where the fuck have you been?’ moment. Props go to the Berlin artist’s remixes of Mosca, Boyz II Men and Magick Mountain, but this 7″ was the stand-out for us, a stuttered, spaced-out paean that sounds like an astronaut’s life flashing before his eyes.
48: SOLAR BEARS
(from SHE WAS COLOURED IN, PLANET MU)
It’s December 2010, and we’re officially incapable of typing the following words anymore: drum machines, kosmiche, soundtracks, sunset, Planet Mu. All of them apply to this, so just listen to it because it’s blinding. There’s even a Lone remix.
(from PANGAEA EP, HESSLE AUDIO)
Nauseous, infected music from one of the artists behind the Hessle Audio label, with divas from forgotten raves crammed together into a demonic torch song.
46: FUDGE FINGAS
‘ME & U’
(from ABOUT TIME EP, PRIME NUMBERS)
It says something about the remarkable charm of ‘Me & U’ that it could come housed in that artwork and still make this list. It’s just such a dynamically composed and executed track, all galloping house rhythm, luxuriant Rhodes flourishes and tear-jerking synth chords, Fingas lamenting quite reasonably that “if I break in two / I don’t think I can be fixed with glue”…
45: NICKI MINAJ feat. EMINEM
(from PINK FRIDAY, YOUNG MONEY)
Nicki Minaj has made a habit out of out-performing big name rappers one by one, and here she set her sights on Eminem, inviting him to feature on the hardest, most minimal track on her mostly disappointing debut album and making him look a fool on it. The faux-English accent has never sounded more driven and deranged, and the cunt line? Game over.
(BLACKEST EVER BLACK)
We have no idea how to accurately classify Raime’s supremely ominous music, and therein lies a good deal of its appeal. Its grievously detailed sound design betrays a schooling in techno and dub, but there’s an unmistakeable romanticism at work in amidst all the steeliness, bearing out the duo’s confessed admiration for 80s goth, industrial and art-rock. On ‘This Foundry’, sighing vocals bleed imperceptibly into aching, arcing synth drones while bowel-suddering subs threaten and seduce in equal measure.
43: GIL-SCOTT HERON
‘NEW YORK IS KILLING ME’
We’re not sure what exactly we were expecting from the return of Gil-Scott Heron, but certainly nothing as daringly minimalist and angst-ridden as ‘New York Is Killing Me’. Heron rails against the trials of city living over a backdrop of air-tight claps, detuned bass drum hits, and distant, ragged guitar, easily making for his most vital and affecting work since ‘The Bottle’.
42: ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER feat. ANTONY HEGARTY
Is Oneohtrix Point Never a popstar or something? It’s certainly felt that way at times this year, not least when he secured the five-star warbling services of Antony Hegarty for a new 7″ version of ‘Returnal’, the title track of his big-hitting LP for Editions Mego. Not only was it an uncomplicated joy to listen to – saw-toothed synths swapped for piano, all distortion shed – it demonstrated the considerable pop nous at the heart of everything OPN does, a pop nous that makes even his most out-there experiments ravishing and accessible.
41: GIRL UNIT
One of 2010′s most talked about tracks, and also one of its simplest. Effectively a UK update of T.I’s ‘What You Know’, ‘Wut”s functional, but in the most otherworldly, euphoric way imaginable – that drop is like a landslide in Heaven or something. There was at least a six month period where you just couldn’t play this in a club without someone reloading it.
40: SANDRA ELECTRONICS
‘IT SLIPPED HER MIND’
Regis dusted down his rarely used Sandra Electronics alias for this instant classic, enlisting the help of his Sandwell District colleague Juan ‘Silent Servant’ Mendez. Occupying the space between black-hearted rock ‘n roll, caustic noise and hypnotic techno – a space that until now we never knew existed – it’s an intense, beautifully worked mantra which explicitly references The Velvet Underground and Amon Duull II but also displays strong, irreducible character of its own. Music for serial killers who genuinely enjoy their work.
39: CRYSTAL CASTLES feat. ROBERT SMITH
‘NOT IN LOVE’
It’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit around Crystal Castles – the elaborate back story, the endless hype, the fact that even the girls in our office want to have it off with Alice Glass – and forget that the Canadian pair actually make quite good music. This year’s comeback single, ‘Doe Deer’ was a bit of a dead rubber, but the dream collaboration with the Cure’s Robert Smith that followed is about as satisfying as you could have hoped for.
If his The Traveller LP was a little more inward-looking and pensive than we’d have liked, Shed proved with his ongoing white label releases as EQD and WAX that he still knows how to rout a dancefloor like no one else. #003, released in mid-December last year and thus too late for 09′s end of year charts was probably his most exuberant offering, with the jacking, organ-stabbing, lip-bitingly funky A-side wreaking havoc in every available context, from packed dancefloor at 4am to empty office at 8pm. At the risk of sounding like bald middle-aged men (we’re not, honest): proper techno.
(from SETTINGS EP, TRUE PANTHER)
Malibu-soaked drum circle funk working the middle ground between Telepathe, Vampire Weekend and Scratcha DVA, and pretty undeniable with it.
Absolute tidal wave of a track by Bristol’s Hyetal that owes far more to ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and Michael Mann end credit sequences than it does conventional ideas of dubstep. Rocks you like a hurricane that’s been set alight.
35: LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
(from THIS IS HAPPENING, EMI)
LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening didn’t really hang together for us; it came across as every inch the “difficult third album” (something James Murphy himself acknowledged in the run-up to its release), unsure where it wanted to go, what it wanted to be. Still, closing track ‘Home’ was brilliant, an example of what this band are capable of when the stars are in alignment: a Talking Heads pastiche done right, it boasts perhaps Murphy’s most convincing, least neurotic pop writing to date, and is performed and produced with an easy-going confidence that’s lacking elsewhere on the LP.
34: CIARA feat. LUDACRIS
The first single released from Ciara’s Basic Instinct album, and arguably her best for half a decade, with one of Tricky Stewart and The-Dream’s most stripped back big productions to date and a show-stealing guest spot from Ludacris – who, in a neat spot of gender reversal, finds his voice manipulated across the board while Ciara stays mostly untouched.
(from ONE ONE, ACCIDENTAL)
When one thinks of Herbert, one thinks of batty concepts. This year he released an album made up entirely of incidental sounds captured in Frankfurt’s Robert-Johnson club, and next year he’ll unleash the long-awaited One Pig (you can guess what the deal with that one is). For a man more accustomed to recording the sound of condoms being dragged across the steps of a museum than his own unadorned voice, One One – a straight-up singer/songwriter album – constituted arguably his battiest concept yet. The results were at times rather wan and forgettable, but ‘Milan’ has been haunting and enchanting us from the moment we first heard it: sparse, spooked electro-pop, steeped in red wine melancholy.
32: KANYE WEST feat. RICK ROSS, NICKI MINAJ, JAY-Z & BON IVER
(ROC NATION / DEF JAM)
Heavyweight posse cut from Kanye’s recent album that provides both one of the record’s highlights and its last moment of vague sanity before plunging the forlorn, bejeweled depths of ‘Devil in a New Dress’, ‘So Appalled’ and ‘Runaway’. It’s well documented that Minaj’s verse is one of the best minutes of music you’ll hear all year, referencing Tony Matterhorn, Giuseppe Zanotti, gold-toothed vampires and more, so just go listen to it again.
‘BETTER WAYS OF LIVING’
Peverelist’s ever more skilfully honed but reliably rugged output ought to embarrass some of his lazier and less inspired contemporaries. As far as stripped, jungle and techno-inflected dubstep goes, no can hold a candle to this guy; kids picking up ‘Better Ways’ second-hand in 30 years time will be as blown away by it then as we are now.
30: FRANK (JUST FRANK)
(from THE BRUTAL WAVE, WIERD MUSIC)
A pair of unapologetically emotional Parisian weirdos equally influenced by black metal, cold wave and the gothier end of post-punk, Frank (Just Frank) were always going to find themselves fast-tracked onto our stereo. Still, we could never have expected their debut album The Brutal Wave to throw up a track quite so stirring and life-affirming as ‘Mr Itagaki’. Apparently a tribute to a former teacher of theirs who was falsely accused of racism, it’s synth-pop characterful enough to overcome its retro foundation. Their vocals, which can sound thin elsewhere on the LP, hit perfect pitch, and the guitar-bass interaction on display is the most geometrically pleasing thing we’ve heard this side of The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds and Wire’s 154. The surging break 1:30 in has us blubbing and/or fist-pumping every time. Every time.
29: T. WILLIAMS feat. TERRI WALKER
‘HEARTBEAT’ (MOSCA REMIX)
Both sides of this 12″ are superb, but we plumped for Mosca’s remix, a jump-up broken beat number that stays true to the track’s original context. Warm Rhodes team with brushed snares and ride cymbals in an afro-jazz groove at the beginning, but when the track drops layers to make space for the vocal an unexpected, twitchy grime violin melody pops up. Throw in a bassline made from pitched congas, latin 2-step percussion and some breathy vocal tweaks, and you have yourself a classy, champagne jam for any well dressed rave.
‘ONCE IN A WHILE’
Lone is starting to make a name for himself as one of the UK’s top boy revivalists, taking classic house, techno and rave and building his own personal dance music Utopia, one single at a time. ‘Once in a While’ became one of the year’s most eagerly awaited singles after surfacing in various mixes at the start of the year, looking to 808 State, Underground Resistance and more for inspiration.
27: ZOLA JESUS
(from STRIDULUM II, SOUTERRAIN TRANSMISSIONS)
Her most interesting work to date has generally been the more experimental stuff – that split 12″ with Burial Hex, for example, or her collaboration with LA Vampires – but when Zola goes for the pop jugular, it’s bloody hard to resist. ‘Sea Talk’, featured on the expanded reissue of her 2009 Stridulum EP, matches the stateliness-cum-bombast of almost anything to have come out of classic-era 4AD, and does so using only the most lo-fi components – heavily reverbed vocals, synthesized strings, and a rugged 808 drum tattoo.
(from ANIDEA, PUNCH DRUNK)
Guido may often be associated associated with that “purple” synth sound, but the truth is he’s got the whole colour spectrum in his employ. As you might expect, there’s plenty of sax in ‘Mad Sax’, pouring like lava though an enchanted forest of larger-than-life crashing timpani, post-coital vocal moans and echo-drenched keyboard chords. As ever with the young Bristol producer, the influence of video game soundtracks on his work is marked, but believe us when we say that there isn’t a video game in existence mad enough to be soundtracked by ‘Mad Sax’. Though we dare say someone in Japan is working on it as we speak.
25: BALAM ACAB
(from SEE BIRDS EP, TRI ANGLE)
Can you say phrases like “devastatingly beautiful” in 2010 without being laughed at? This is what water nymphs should play their babies to get them to sleep.
24: GIRL UNIT
(from IRL EP, NIGHT SLUGS)
A pretty incredible track in its own right, with tumbling drums, booming claps and some of the most recognisable low-flying synths you’ll hear at any club, but what really tips ‘IRL’ over the edge is the fact it fronts such a perfectly formed EP. ‘Temple Keys’ (which, granted, doesn’t appear on the vinyl) is sheer joy, while the candlelit labyrinths of ‘Shade On’ made for one of 2010′s biggest growers. Throw in a heavy, industrial DVA remix and the drum ecstasy of French Fries’ take, and you’ve got yourself a minor classic.
‘EVERYTHING IS WORKING’
(HIPPOS IN TANKS)
Retains the intricate production values that have become Dan Lopatin’s [aka Oneohtrix Point Never, one half of Games] trademark, but applies them to pop music that seems suspended in one glorious second of catatonic bliss, coated in a fragile warmth that mirrors both the optimism of the track’s title and its temporal undertones.
(from SAFEHOUSES EP, R&S)
Pariah gets compared to Burial, but with ‘Prism’ he showed that although his tracks may be – like Burial’s – nostalgic and heartbroken, his true strength lies in the way he combines that rain-splattered aesthetic with some of the punchiest, most devastating drum loops and acid basslines around.
One of this year’s most evil and effective club tracks, and for us the first truly vital production to have come out of Pinch’s studio in years. Its rolling subs and crisp claps bring to mind the kind of minimal, rave-friendly grime you simply never hear anymore, whiles its loose congas gesture at UK funky even as they play covert homage to the peerless 2004-6 style of Swamp81 boss Loefah. Absolute murder.
20: INJA HLUNGWANI
‘N’WAGEZANI MY LOVE’
(from SHANGAAN ELECTRO, HONEST JON’S)
And this year’s token world music choice is… only joking (well, sort of). ‘Nwa Gezani My Love’ was the inarguable highlight of Honest Jon’s revelatory Shangaan Electro, a compilation surveying the unique output of Nozinja Music Productions Studio in South Africa, and an inarguable highlight of our lives in 2010. The production itself is DIY dancefloor fire, all burring marimba lines and dainty but insistent drum machine patter, but it’s the song itself that’s kept the track glued to our stereo for nigh on 10 months. Whoever Nwegazani is, she’d have to be one cold-hearted bitch not to be won over by Hlungwani’s romantic overtures. Altogether now: “N’wagezani my love, I wanna make you mine…”
19: AUTRE NE VEUT
(OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE)
Autre Ne Veut’s absolutely potty, dubbed-out reimagining of 80s high-school pop was hard to swallow at first, but once we realised it worked because of, not in spite of, his elaborately whiny vocals, we were beyond smitten. No track on the album got quite as firmly and itchily under our skin as gushing synth-pop epic ‘New Depth’. Unlike the work of most American artists paying homage to the trash culture of their childhood, this was gratifyingly high-res, unself-conscious and unabashed, and all the more weird for it.
‘ECSTASY’ (JAM CITY REFIX)
(NIGHT SLUGS WHITE LABEL)
In which arguably the UK’s most promising young producer re-edited a chunk of Endgames’ early eighties disco-boogie number ‘Ecstasy’ into a high-octane, carnivalesque broken house banger. The magic isn’t just in the way that he ramps up the tempo, it’s in the way he completely alters the rhythm’s emphasis, deploying fiendishly chopped-up drums to mould what was once a languid, rolling groove into a lurching, angular attack. It was caned on dubplate long, long before its eventual release through Night Slugs, and we’re still not bored of the fucker. Pure joy.
17: BIG BOI
(PURPLE RIBBON / DEF JAM)
There’s always been a camp that rated Big Boi over Andre 3000, his partner in Outkast, and the further removed from the once all-conquering duo’s prime we get, the closer Big Boi gets to proving them right. ‘Shutterbugg’ isn’t quite last year’s ‘Shine Blockas’, but it’s still one of the best tracks either Andre or Antwan have made in the last half a decade. Twisted funk basslines, synthesized guitar, Soul II Soul references and one hell of a return to form for the track’s producer – yup, that’s none other than Scott Storch, the man responsible for one of the most spectacular bankruptcies in musical history, on the boards.
16: ADDISON GROOVE
Bristol’s Headhunter has been one of dubstep’s most historically consistent artists, with regular releases on Tempa and more. But it wasn’t until 2010, making acid and juke-influenced dancefloor tracks between dubstep tempo and house tempo, that he had his first hit. ‘Footcrab”s incredibly simple – a steady kick, ice cold chords and a cut-up vocal on a constant loop, with an almost mournful breakdown that could be from a different song entirely – and it proved irresistible to DJs as widespread as Ricardo Villalobos and James Zabiela.
(from CASH ANTICS VOL. 1, WELL ROUNDED)
Look, any version of Cassie’s ‘Official Girl’ is on to a winner really, but we just melted every time at this treatment, with synths as lovestruck as they are sea sick.
14: FOREST SWORDS
(from DAGGER PATHS, OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE)
From the moment the opening strains of ‘Miarches’ first tickled our ears, we knew instantly that we were dealing with one of the tracks, albums and artists of the year. Forest Swords’ Dagger Paths has already been lavishly praised in our 40 Best Albums rundown, so let’s keep our appraisal of its aching, echo-drenched opening track relatively simple: genius.
(from LOVE KING, RADIO KILLA)
In a year where Prince’s shadow loomed large (well, large for someone who’s 5’2”) over both dance and pop music, no one channelled the purple one quite as effectively as Terius Nash with this ode to fast love that reflected light from every angle.
12: ERIK & FIEDEL
‘NOUS SOMMES MMM’
Imagine if two Berlin producers with legendarily surgical production skills decided to make the most rampaging, unashamedly stupid rave tune ever. Actually, you don’t need to imagine it, because Erik and Fiedel already did it. It’s called ‘Nous Sommes MMM’, and there was no party in 2010 big enough to contain it.
11: MATTHEW DEAR
(from BLACK CITY, GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL)
Though lacking the punch and unpredictability of his masterpiece Asa Breed, Matthew Dear’s Black City album provided several moments of dank, sleazy brilliance, chief among them ‘Slowdance’, with its nervously shuffling beat, Bowie-esque vocal harmonies and synths pitched down in the gutter but pointing shakily at the stars. The “bum-de-bum-de-bum” outro is pretty absurd, but it’s a small price to pay for the boozy, coked-out romanticism of the preceding four minutes.
10: DRAKE feat. THE-DREAM
‘SHUT IT DOWN’
(from THANK ME LATER, YOUNG MONEY)
We talked this up enough in Thank Me Later’s blurb for albums of the year, so here you are again. “The album’s seven minute centrepiece, ‘Shut It Down’, is one of the greatest slow jams that The-Dream’s ever been involved in. For the song’s epilogue, Drake mutters a complete reversal of its first verse, using the same lines he’d previously used to pep-talk the song’s subject to try and force her into bed. He tortures himself for his indecision throughout this record, and that’s what makes Drake such a perfect figurehead for modern day hip-hop, and Thank Me Later the natural successor to – and, we’d argue, step up from – 808s and Heartbreak.” It was that good last week; it’s still that good now.
(from RACHEL EP, OVUM)
Okay, so ‘Existence’ wholesale nicks the piano line from Jeff Mill’s ‘Changes of Life’. We know. But what people forget to mention is that ‘Changes of Life’ is heads down tunnel techno which will never unite the world the same way Kink’s skippy, beautifully naive take on it will. Someone get this man producing the next Band Aid.
08: PANTHA DU PRINCE feat. PANDA BEAR
‘STICK TO MY SIDE’
Hendrik Weber a.k.a Pantha Du Prince was always going to have a tough time following 2007′s This Bliss, possibly the most singular and satisfying techno full-length of the 21st century so far.
There’s no denying that on Black Noise his favoured combo of elfin chimes, clipped 4/4 rhythm and buzzing basslines seemed to harden into a formula. ‘Stick To My Side’ begins unpromisingly, the formula firmly adhered to, but Panda Bear’s multi-tracked vocal steers the song into more original and affecting territory; by the time the strings arrive on the five minute mark it’s hard not to be overcome by the uncomplicated prettiness of it all. What seems at first forgettable soon becomes addictive, and despite our initial misgivings we found ourselves revisiting this track time and time again. If wistful techno for indie kids absolutely has to exist, then we’d like it to sound like ‘Stick To My Side’, thanks very much.
Bleakly beautiful isolationist techno driven by cold wave synths and spindly 8-bit arpeggios, an edit of ‘Maze’ acted as the centrepiece of Actress’s superb Splazsh LP, but it was the long version released on the B-side to single ‘Paint, Straw And Bubbles’ that most entranced and enthralled us. Think Kraftwerk numbed by painkillers, ‘Autobahn’ reworked for Ballard’s Crash.
06: JAMES BLAKE
James Blake has become renowned for having His Own Unique Sound, but what’s really impressive is the diversity with which he’s applied that. On the Bells Sketch EP the London producer made ballroom music for purgatory; on the later Klavierwerke, swingless minimalism that soundtracked sheer fear. In between them came ‘CMYK’, Blake’s most anthemic single to date, full of unashamed Aaliyah and Kelis samples and synths that explode like paint cans thrown against walls. We like anthemic. Anthemic’s good.
05: KANYE WEST feat. PUSHA T
The best scene from modern pop music’s most surreal, twisted and brilliant theatre production. FACT’s review of MBDTF drew parallels between the vocoder solo that takes up ‘Runaway’’s entire second half and College Dropout’s famous monologue about Kanye getting his first deal and going to Ikea, and it’s evidence of how far Kanye’s come as both a fame monster and an artist. The self-consciousness in his early work has been completely replaced by paranoia and schizophrenia at this point (‘Runaway’’s vocoder is just one example of voice manipulation in an album whose host often seems afraid to speak in his own voice), but here he is, talking absolute gibberish for close to four minutes and making it sound like the most compelling, choking thing you’ve ever heard.
The period in mid-to-late 2009, where UK Funky started to retreat back into London’s boundaries in favour of a larger vision of UK house – one where Karizma and Ill Blu hold equal standing – proved to have a lasting effect on dance music this year, in both the UK and beyond. Around that time, we picked out Mosca’s ‘Square One’ as a kind of national anthem for this new territory, and when it was released in January of this year, it couldn’t have been a more fitting inauguration of the Night Slugs label that would go on to be so influential.
On ‘Square One’s B-side, however, you had ‘Nike’ – a nine minute trip down a rabbit hole of 8-bit hip-hop, volcanic house music and everything in between, and a track that marked out Mosca’s ambitions as wider than just Night Slugs, and wider than any real scene, UK or otherwise. Both tracks are stunning; combined this single is a classic.
03: DJ ZINC feat. MS. DYNAMITE
Two years ago, you’d have been forgiven for thinking Ms. Dynamite was old news. 2009 and 2010 have seen the legendary garage vocalist completely rejuvenated, and once again a figurehead of the UK underground – and, increasingly, the pop charts.
Last year’s Sticky-produced ‘Bad Gyal’, sadly released for free after the producer lost his hard drive, was only the beginning. Dynamite followed it with a flurry of anthemic releases, perfectly balanced between Rinse FM’s – in 2010, far more than just a radio station – underground credentials and its mainstream aspirations. ‘Get Low’, ‘What You Talking About?!’ and ‘Lights On’ all contributed to her high spot in this list, but the highlight of her comeback to date, for us, is ‘Wile Out’, an electro-bodied anthem produced by DJ Zinc, and guaranteed to make us smile every time.
No one artist made more great tracks than Ramadanman in 2010. Already one of the UK’s prime producers, every single that David Kennedy, who’s in the process of phasing out the Ramadanman name in favour of Pearson Sound, released this year either showed another string to his bow, or expanded and honed what was there already.
We had warped experiments with space and percussion (‘Bleeper’, ‘Tumble’), junglist epics (‘Don’t Change for Me’) and some seriously gorgeous house records (‘Your Words Matter’ and his remix of ‘Night Air’), but the main narrative for Kennedy’s discography in 2010 started when he switched to 808-driven drum sounds – something that people thought Addison Groove would make his own in the UK this year. We know, everyone remembered that 808s were great again in 2010, but no one used them quite like Rama did, particularly on this track, for our money an unfairly underrated cousin of ‘Work Them’ and ‘Blanked’.
What still amazes us about ‘Glut’, as well as its B-side ‘Tempest’ and the rest of David Kennedy’s material from 2010, is as you listen to it, you’re incredibly aware of every move it makes, and why it’s making them – there’s almost no surprises, because it all makes such perfect sense and it’s all so perfectly timed. Like all he’s doing is filling in the obvious gaps with the obvious colours. And yet, when moments like that flash of synths in ‘Glut’s breakdown happen, there’s no possible reaction to give past sheer awe.
01: TEENGIRL FANTASY
(from 7AM, MEROK / TRUE PANTHER)
We had high hopes for Teengirl Fantasy long before ‘Cheaters’, and the pair’s stunning debut album, 7AM from which this track spawned. But we never expected a transformation of this magnitude.
The compression-heavy pop that the group had specialised in prior to 7AM was here shown up as Teengirl Fantasy in chrysalis, the group taking their love of classic Chicago jams by Virgo, Marshall Jefferson and more, and slotting them into unquantized DIY house music that’s rhythmically and aesthetically closer to Gang Gang Dance and Black Dice than it is modern house and techno. While the instrumental threatens to fall off the grid at any point, a galeforce gust of righteous soul, lifted from Love Committee’s 1977 single ‘Cheaters Never Win’ grabs you by the throat and forces you to lose yourself in the newfound sonority that Teengirl Fantasy provide Greg Thompson’s vocal with.
‘Cheaters’ is timely proof that a DIY approach needn’t mean formlessness or a lack of clarity, and that modern producers can look to classic house without fear, or even awareness of their place in its lineage. There are countless comparison points for it, but above anything, ‘Cheaters’ is simply Teengirl Fantasy just doing themselves, and that’s what makes it so special.