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The 50 Best Tracks of 2011

Written by FACT Team on Monday, December 5 2011

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Following last week’s 50 best albums, this week we’re counting down our 50 best tracks of 2011.

Again, we’ll be listing ten entries per day, closing this Friday on the top ten. If that’s not enough lists for you, then you can still check out our 10 best record labels of 2011 and 50 best reissues of 2011.


50: OSSIE
‘TARANTULA’
(LIGHTWORKS)

Having wreaked havoc on London’s airwaves and dancefloors for months, UK Funky bomb ‘Tarantula’ finally got an official release this year, courtesy of Lightworks. Dead simple, dead effective.


49: MR. BEATNICK
‘SYNTHETES’
(DON’T BE AFRAID)

Stunning, quietly regal string-driven house music; the sort of 4/4 that’s so well-crafted that you forget the kicks are even there.


48: PUSHA T
‘ALONE IN VEGAS’
(from FEAR OF GOD, MIXTAPE)

Eerily jangling lament from one half of the Clipse, and the undoubted highlight of this year’s Fear of God mixtapes.


47: PAUL WOOLFORD & PSYCATRON
‘STOLEN’
(HOTFLUSH)

Almost five years on from ‘Erotic Discourse’, someone, somewhere did 2011 a massive favour and relit the fire under Paul Woolford’s arse, prompting the Leeds veteran to roll back the years and deliver some of his all-time best material. ‘Razor Blade’ and his remix of T. Williams and Terri Walker’s ‘Heartbeat’ were sublime, but this colossal collaboration with Psycatron on Hotflush simply took the biscuit.


46: MARK ERNESTUS MEETS BBC
‘MARK ERNESTUS MEETS BBC’ (VERSION)
(HONEST JON’S)

At the behest of Honest Jon’s, a dazzling array of producers applied their remixing skills to those hi-octane, marimba-heavy Shangaan Electro tracks this year – among them the likes of Actress, Peverelist, Theo Parrish and Oni Ayhun. Mark Ernestus, who co-curated the original Shangaan compilation, effortlessly outclassed them all with this masterful rub. Miraculously transforming BBC’s jubilant original into a thing of barely suppressed melancholy and dread, it’s also probably the housiest thing we’ve heard from Ernestus since the heyday of Maurizio/Round.


45: AUTRE NE VEUT
‘SWEETHEART’
(from BODY, HIPPOS IN TANKS)

Initially downcast but ultimately soaring, anthemic lead track from AVN’s mind-bending Body EP, his falsetto vocals reined in – at least by his standards – to make way for near-gothic strings, crashing drums and wriggling layers of synthetic noise. Pop music put through the blender.


44: PHOTEK
‘CLOSER’ (PINCH REMIX)
(TECTONIC)

The return of jungle great Photek in 2011 really wasn’t as special as we’d hoped it would be – who’d have thought he’d end up sounding so Ed Banger? – but Pinch’s larger than life, dubbed out remix of ‘Closer’ righted some wrongs, and would’ve felt right at home on his classic 2007 album Underwater Dancehall.


43: LEVON VINCENT
‘IMPRESSIONS OF A RAINSTORM’
(NOVEL SOUND)

A triumphant production from Levon Vincent, coming over like a tribute to the early work of Carl Craig, and all the nocturnal drama and emotion it entailed. Musically mature and sophisticated, but precision-tooled to keep dancefloors locked into its groove, techno really didn’t get much better in 2011.


42: E.R.P.
‘LUNAR RUINS’
(HARBOUR CITY SORROW)

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No one does string-laden, cinematic electro like E.R.P. – better known as Convextion – and this particularly moody and moving number, a staple of his live sets for years, is up their with his finest work.


41: CREEP feat. NINA SKY
‘YOU’
(CREEP INTERNATIONAL)

It’s hard to really get behind Creep – and trust us, we’ve been more guilty than most at wincing at their overly gothic videos, logo and less considered interview moments – but it’s even harder to deny the quality of this collaboration with Nina Sky, the unfairly forgotten r’n’b twins riding those moonlit synths like they were born for it.

40: OLD APPARATUS
SIDE A PART 1
(DEEP MEDI)

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Old Apparatus’s mysterious debut – 20 minutes of music spread across two untitled sides of vinyl – is something we recommend enjoying as a whole, but there’s no doubt that the first distinct movement of the A-side packs the fiercest punch. It sounds like UK garage gone industrial, its perfectly swung rhythm riven by distortion and an overloaded darkside bassline. The end, it suggests, is very much nigh.


39: TEETH
‘SHAWTY’
(502 RECORDINGS)

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Smoked-out drum machine pop from Helsinki’s TEETH that suited 502’s darkroom aesthetic (see also: Jay Weed, Fis-T) to a tee.


38: SOFT METALS
‘PSYCHIC DRIVING’
(CAPTURED TRACKS)

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On ‘Psychic Driving’, American synth duo Soft Metals stopped trying to so hard to pastiche John Foxx et al and followed their instincts instead. The result was one of this year’s most perfect, stand-alone pop songs.


37: DARQ E FREAKER
‘CHERRYADE’
(OIL GANG)

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The producer behind Tempa T’s classic ‘Next Hype’ delivered an almost as catchy instrumental single this year, pairing one of the biggest, best riffs grime’s heard for years with Hammond organ bridges and the cheekiest flutes this side of Toto.


36: THE-DREAM
‘BODY WORK & FUCK MY BRAINS OUT’
(RADIO KILLA / DEF JAM)

The first solo material from The-Dream to emerge since last year’s occasionally incredible, but ultimately patchy Love King, and evidence that when it does finally come out, the r’n’b mogul’s fourth album might end up his best yet. Now he just needs to stop upsetting Def Jam and make sure it actually gets released.


35: BOK BOK
‘HYPERPASS’
(from SOUTHSIDE, NIGHT SLUGS)

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‘Silo Pass’ took most of the props, but for us this propulsive, rain-coated bullet was the highlight of Southside, an EP from Night Slugs co-owner Bok Bok that reimagined classic grime as techno.


34: CHAMPION feat. RUBY LEE RYDER
‘SENSITIVITY’
(FORMULA)

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Formula Sound rolled back the years with this one, a vocal UK Funky cut that stands up to all of 2008 and 2009’s classics (‘Do You Mind’, ‘Frontline’ et al), Ruby Lee Ryder’s hushed vocals falling unforgettably into Champion’s trademark hollow bassline.


33: JAMIE XX
‘FAR NEARER’
(NUMBERS)

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Being Jamie xx’s debut solo single on Numbers, ‘Far Nearer’ – a soft-hued, steeldrum-driven stepper – had a lot of hype to live up to, and managed to do so without really breaking a sweat.


32: VATICAN SHADOW
‘WHITEWASHED COMPOUND STEALTH HELICOPTER CRASH’
(from PAKISTAN MILITARY ACADEMY, HOSPITAL PRODUCTIONS)

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Not content merely to release one of the year’s very best albums, Bermuda Drain, under his Prurient guise, Dominick Fernow also impressed with his work as Vatican Shadow. A minimal synth project inspired by cloak-and-dagger US military activity in the Middle East, Vatican’s finest moment of 2011 was ‘Whitewashed Compound Stealth Helicopter Crash’, a work of expansive, undulating ambient techno that still managed to sound pained and paranoid.


31: PERC
‘LONDON, WE HAVE YOU SURROUNDED)
(from WICKER & STEEL, PERC TRAX)

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The brutal, broken techno highlight of Perc’s fine Wicker & Steel album. Even if it wasn’t called ‘London, We Have You Surrounded’, listening to this number would be sure to conjure images of the English capital under siege.

30: PEARSON SOUND
‘DEEP INSIDE’
(NIGHT SLUGS WHITE LABEL)

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Expert re-tooling of the Hardrive classic in a bumping, Swamp81-friendly ghetto-house style, with an attention to detail – deadly echo effects, eerie hanging chords – that betrays the touch of David Kennedy.


29: WASHED OUT
‘AMOR FATI’
(WEIRD WORLD / SUB POP)

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Having earned a cult following and record deal on the back of his none-more-chill Life Of Leisure EP, Ernest Greene bravely headed for more melancholy waters on his debut full-length. ‘Amor Fati’ bridged the breeziness of his earlier work with his newfound world-weariness; a near-perfect pop song, at once mourning an irrecoverable past and looking hopefully to the future.


28: GROUPER
‘ALIEN OBSERVER’
(from A I A, YELLOW ELECTRIC)

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Liz Harris over-stretched herself a tad with A I A, the two-part album of otherworldly drone-folk she released this year, but one of its songs, ‘Alien Observer’, was for us the most precious and heart-rending of her career.


27: LOOPS HAUNT
‘ARK’
(BLACK ACRE)

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The biggest, baddest record you’ll hear anywhere this year with a guitar solo.


26: SBTRKT feat. ROSES GABOR
‘PHARAOHS’
(from SBTRKT, YOUNG TURKS)

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Inspired by disco and pop but retaining the same garage skip that makes Sbtrkt’s work so catchy, this highlight of the masked man’s debut album could be an Annie record if you squint – that’s no bad thing.


25: HUXLEY
‘SHOWER SCENE’
(ACT NATURAL)

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Until ‘Shower Scene’, we knew Tring producer Huxley best for his deep(ish) house releases on labels like Tsuba and Cecille, but this shamelessly fun, piano-driven garage stomper could’ve been teleported straight from ’99 and sounds all the better for it.


24: KAHN
‘LIKE WE USED TO’
(PUNCH DRUNK)

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Kahn’s beautifully crafted debut single bowled us over, with its vocals chopped into the syllables of pure energy and longing – “feminine pressure” writ large – and strapped to the most lithe and undeniable dubstep rhythm we heard all year.


23: NEW YORK TRANSIT AUTHORITY
‘OFF THE TRAXX’
(LOBSTER BOY)

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On the surface, a Bristol dubstep producer (Mensah) donning a new, NYC-referencing alias to make Swamp81-referencing 808 house is the sort of thing that 2011 couldn’t have needed less, but this expertly gliding journey through the underground sounded so good that it was impossible to knock.


22: KREAYSHAWN
‘GUCCI GUCCI’
(SONY)

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There is no apology: barely anybody took more shit than Kreayshawn in 2011 (she’s a white, female rapper – it comes with the territory unfortunately), but the fact that she can go from recording music that sounds like CocoRosie (the weirder side of Kitties & Choppas) and Hype Williams (Kreayshawn x The Bay) to releasing one of the year’s most brilliant crossover pop hits without so much as batting one of her fake eyelashes means she’s probably more talented than people give her credit for.


21: DYLAN ETTINGER
‘LION OF JUDAH’
(NOT NOT FUN)

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In what was a brave and admirable departure from the cyber-punk ambient of his fabulous 2009/10 album New Age Outlaws, ‘Lion Of Judah’ found Dylan Ettinger fusing synth-pop and dub-reggae tropes with great success. With its haunting melodica lines, stargazing keyboard sequences, molasses-thick bass and part-dissolved vocals, it sounded like the work of a skunked-out, sleep-deprived John Foxx might.

20: BLAWAN
‘GETTING ME DOWN’
(WHITE LABEL)

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This year, Blawan expanded on the promise of his 2010 debut single ‘Fram’ to become one of the UK’s most in-demand, and refreshingly, heaviest producers, proving that you can still go hard in the paint without resorting to dubstep or electro-house cliches. He showed off his lighter touch, however, on this vinyl only edit of Brandy’s ‘Wanna Be Down'; it’s still his finest track to date.


19: CHRIS BROWN feat. BUSTA RHYMES & LIL WAYNE
‘LOOK AT ME NOW’
(JIVE)

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Yes, Chris Brown’s pretty abhorrent as a person, but you’d have to be deaf to deny ‘Look At Me Now’ – the best beat Diplo’s made since ‘Pon di Floor’, and home of an all-time classic Busta Rhymes verse.


18: DISTAL
‘COKE BOTTLE’
(GRIZZLY)

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Of all the outsider takes on Chicago footwork released this year (see also: Kuedo, Philip D. Kick, Machinedrum), Distal’s ‘Coke Bottle’ was our favourite standalone track, a breathtaking rollercoaster through winding 808s and chopped up hip-hop vocals, wilting synths heralding one of 2011’s most breathtaking climaxes.


17: PANGAEA
‘WON’T HURT’
(HESSLE AUDIO)

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Pretty much everything Pangaea touches turns to gold, but nothing gleamed so bright in 2011 as ‘Won’t Hurt’ – a rude-as-all-fuck but masterfully honed onslaught of scything synths, choppy drums and outrageous sub-bass.


16: MASSIVE ATTACK vs. BURIAL
‘PARADISE CIRCUS’
(VINYL FACTORY)

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Another year with no Burial album, but the reclusive South Londoner did break cover to release two magisterial remixes of Massive Attack. His take on the Hope Sandoval-vocalled ‘Paradise Circus’ was 21st century dub in excelsis: a sunken symphony of crackle and reverb that channelled, and respectfully Burialized, the urban unease of Massive’s early 90s work.


15: INC.
‘MILLIONAIRESS’
(from 3 EP, 4AD)

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We don’t know really know much about INC., where they’re from, or where they’re going; what we do know is that ‘Millionairess’, taken from their 4AD EP debut 3, completely re-tooled syn-drum-driven, sax-infested new wave pop for 2011, and charmed the pants off us in the process. Imagine Hall & Oates produced by Dam-Funk, or Chromeo if they were good, and you’re some way to grasping this tune’s yacht-bumping genius.


14: OBJEKT
‘THE GOOSE THAT GOT AWAY’
(OBJEKT)

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Truthfully, we could’ve picked any of the singles or remixes that Objekt was behind this year – it’s hard to think of the last time a new face emerged in dance music making such expert, perfectly formed techno and dubstep – but his cavernous, minimal stepper of a debut single has barely been out of our heads since its January release.


13: UNKNOWN ARTIST
‘SICKO CELL’
(SWAMP81)

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I’m the information… co-caine powder. Say no more.


12: XXXY
‘ORDINARY THINGS’
(TEN THOUSAND YEN)

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Why wasn’t ‘Ordinary Things’ huge, or at least soundtracking the end credits to a Hollywood film? 2011’s most gut-wrenching dance production, bar absolutely none.


11: LANA DEL REY
‘VIDEO GAMES’
(INTERSCOPE)

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11 million people can’t be wrong. Actually, that’s not true at all, but for once the great unwashed got it right: ‘Video Games’ really was the pop song of the year, an expression of despondency and thwarted desire thoroughly appropriate to the times.

10: ITAL
‘CULTURE CLUBS’
(LOVERS ROCK)

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One of 2011’s defining trends was the emergence of the 100% Silk brand of dance music: pastel-painted house, disco and acid tracks that looked to recapture the late ’80s and ’90s with minimum production sheen – dance music that’s about moments before it is mixdowns. Ital’s ‘Culture Clubs’ captured that aesthetic like none other, with golden washes of buttery synths coating spider-dance drums and a healthy amount of well-timed dissonance.


09: ZOMBY
‘NATALIA’S SONG’
(4AD)

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‘Natalia’s Song’ was made several years ago – Hyperdub boss Kode9, in fact, charted it for a FACT end of year feature back in 2008 – and first became exposed to the wider world in late 2010, when Kode9 and Burial included it in their guest mix for Mary Anne Hobbs’ last show on Radio 1. This year, 4AD granted the track a full release on a one-sided 10″, its cotton bud trance synths and Russian vocal (sampled from Irina Dubtzova, the winner of reality show Star Factory who promptly kicked off – and apparently still thinks there’s a ton of money in this sort of thing) making for perhaps Zomby’s finest moment yet.


08: AZEALIA BANKS
‘212’
(SELF-RELEASED)

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‘212’ may have been the moment that got Azealia Banks signed to a major, but the Harlem rapper’s far from a one track pony; she’s since worked with producers like Machinedrum and Lunice on material that’s just as strong. Even if Banks was a flash in the pan though, what a track to be known for: a tribute to oral sex that’s club-ready from the first note (the instrumental is Lazy Jay’s ‘Float my Boat’), complete with gratuitous swearing and one of the year’s most stylish videos.


07: ROCKWELL
‘ARIA’
(CRITICAL AUDIO)

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The most atmospheric, emotive and dynamic drum’n’bass track of the year, and an instant classic – wrought out of fierce, fanatically detailed drum programming, ghost-traces of This Mortal Coil’s ‘Song To The Siren’ and impeccably timed, gut-skewering bass stabs.


06: JOHN MAUS
‘QUANTUM LEAP’
(UPSET THE RHYTHM)

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Fifty seconds into hearing ‘Quantum Leap’ for the very first time, we knew it would figure in our top 10 tracks of the year. It’s that infectious, that immediate; its ’80s pastiching entirely subordinate to its successful pursuit of soaring pop perfection.


05: S-X
‘WOOOO RIDDIM’ / DJ Q REMIX
(BUTTERZ WHITE)

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Yes, ‘Woooo’ – the most moreish, deliciously simple grime instrumental released in the last three or four years – came out digitally last year, but it wasn’t pressed onto a physical format until January 2011, and we’re including this release just as much on the strength of the original as we are DJ Q’s yearning, synth-coated remix.


04: FRANK OCEAN
‘NOVACANE’
(from NOSTALGIA, ULTRA. SELF-RELEASED)

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Aided by swelling production from The-Dream’s right hand man Tricky Stewart, crooner of the moment Frank Ocean created an instant anthem in ‘Novacane’, his sense of humour and hip-hop way with storytelling making many of his contemporaries look witless and heartless by comparison.


03: RUSTIE
‘ULTRA THIZZ’
(WARP)

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Nothing was done by halves on Glass Swords, the unapologetically maximal debut album by Glasgow’s Rustie, and that was never more true than on ‘Ultra Thizz’, the single that preceded its release and the most glorious mess of combusting colour that we heard anywhere in 2011.


02: MOSCA
‘BAX’
(NUMBERS)

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While the majority of native producers were content to continue gutlessly ripping off Joy Orbison and Burial – with ever-diminishing returns – Mosca was busy summoning the spirit of spruce, street-tough ’90s speed garage and bassline house for the mighty ‘Bax’ and ‘Done Me Wrong’, a single deserving of the double A-side tag if ever there was one. Suave as you like, but outrageously rude with it, it blew up any dancefloor it came near, and reminded us why we fell in love with UK club music in the first place.


01: TYLER, THE CREATOR
‘YONKERS’
(XL)

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Unfortunately Goblin, the second album by Odd Future ringleader Tyler, was a disappointment: it was rarely as hungry or cutting as last year’s Bastard, and frequently descended into the worst kind of lazy cliches. It probably didn’t help that the record he released before it was the best single of the year: a growling piece of burnt-eyed hip-hop that, with touches of RZA and Gravediggaz to both its vocal and its production, proved that Odd Future still could fulfil their promise as the 21th century’s Wu Tang. Even better: it was accompanied by 2011’s best music video, released at a time when were close to forgetting that the medium even existed.

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