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Say a prayer for the weary music journalist – every year, our job gets harder and harder.

Like each year before it, 2012 saw a hyper-accelerated rise in the amount of music floating around. For whatever reason – the increasing democratisation of technology, a new-found spirit of industriousness, or, perhaps, the alignment of the planets – there was just so much more to compute. That’s not all: party music became more frenetic; capital-S ‘serious’ musicians went darker; the lunatic fringe surprised in new ways; and genre divisions increasingly looked as archaic as 78s and sticker packs.

Still, we’ve done our best to pluck 100 needles out of this ever-growing haystack. Throughout the week, we’ll be counting down our favourite tracks of the year. For every artist featured, there are plenty more that could have made the cut, but we feel this survey best represents 2012 as it happened – a year of surprise crossovers, killer collaborations, late-career gems and treats from unexpected quarters.

Click the left and right arrows above, or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to turn pages (page 1/11)

100: JESSIE WARE
‘110%’
(PMR / ISLAND)

The simultaneous freedom and loneliness of dancing on your own’s a classic pop music trope – as Robyn and others have successfully vouched in the past – but Jessie Ware’s take, backed by lusty production from Julio Bashmore (aided by a cheeky Big Pun sample) proved our favourite moment from her Mercury-nominated debut album Devotion, and the only one of her singles that couldn’t be bettered by the cast of renowned remixers that revolved around Ware and PMR in 2012.


99: MO KOLOURS
‘RIDDA MOUNTAIN’
(from EP 2: BANANA WINE, ONE-HANDED MUSIC)

Do-it-yourself dub from the One Handed Music resident, scratched into carnauba wax and piped through a gramophone. ‘Ridda Mountain’ is situated somewhere between The Shadow Ring and King Tubby at his sketchiest, with some midsummer cheer thrown in to boot. [Audio]


98: WBEEZA
‘BILLY GREEN IS DED’
(THIRD EAR)

Tucked on the B-side to the more minimal ‘Peckham Fly’, ‘Billy Green’ was the only Summer soundtrack we needed. You’ve got to have some serious balls to release a single sampling that Bernard Wright riff (Skee-lo’s soundtrack to wishing he was a little bit taller) in 2012, but anyone who’s seen South London’s Wbeeza DJ before will know that he possesses assurance in abundance. [Audio]


97: RIHANNA feat. FUTURE
‘LOVEEEEEEE SONG’
(from UNAPOLOGETIC, DEF JAM)

Co-written by Future, ‘Loveeeeeee Song’ succeeds in the same way that a lot of the Atlanta rapper / singer’s material does – through its surprising subtlety. On first listen, it sounds half-cooked, the “I don’t wanna give the wrong impression / I need love and affection” chorus seemingly the definition of knocked-off, but stay with it, and the way that Rihanna gently harmonises with Future’s last chorus starts to sound like a climax, you start waiting for the barely there guitar in the song’s second half, and you can’t stop focusing on those delayed blips and rising synth in the background. If only all of Unapologetic was this smart. [Audio]


96: KAREN GWYER
‘NO MOONDOGGIES FOR THREE WEEKS’
(from I’VE BEEN YOU TWICE, KALEIDOSCOPE)

The most satisfying transmission on patten’s fledgling Kaleidoscope imprint came from this Michigan-born, London-based knob-twiddler. ‘Moondoggies For Three Weeks’ nods towards Thom Yorke’s witching music, but there’s something thrillingly unique – and uniquely thrilling – about Gwyer’s swirling drum-programming and madrigal vocals. [Audio]


95: 5KINANDBONE5
‘RESET’
(UNKNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN)

In Le1f’s ‘Wut’, production duo 5kinandbone5 were behind one of 2012’s most memorable crossover hits, but they also released a steady stream of material under their own name – stripping down grime, hip-hop, garage and more into skeletal symphonies for dead-eyed dancefloors.


94: RANDOMER
‘GET YOURSELF TOGETHER’
(HEMLOCK)

2012 saw many a young bass-inclined producer reject lurid synths in favour of industrial murk ‘n grind, and Randomer was one of them. This, the B-side to ‘Scruff Box’ on Hemlock, occupied the sticky-floored corridor between savage, cut-up techno and bug-eyed, hollowed-out grime. [Audio]


93: JUSTIN MARTIN
‘DON’T GO’ (DUSKY REMIX)
(from GHETTOS & GARDENS REMIXES VOL.1, DIRTYBIRD)

4×4 house become the default sound of London’s dancefloors this year, and frankly, things often ended up a little too far on the polite side. Dusky, the duo of Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman were guilty of this at times, but when channelling the dirty swing of the best UK garage – not to mention their peers T. Williams and Huxley – they produced some seriously potent dancefloor material; this contribution to Justin Martin’s Ghettos and Gardens remix album was far superior to the more ubiquitous ‘Flow Jam’. [Audio]


92: TRENDS
‘GREEN FOREST’
(FREE DOWNLOAD)

Preditah and Darq E Freaker may have made big splashes this year – most notably with Darq E’s crossover hit, the Danny Brown-featuring ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’ – but under-the-radar grime was in seriously rude health too, with the likes of Samename, Bloom, Mr. Mitch and Oxford producer Trends unleashing frequent fire. The latter’s ‘Green Forest’ was lithe and liquid compared to say, Bloom’s high-impact cryogenics, but still seemed to demand a reload every single time. [Audio]


91: SUPREME CUTS & HALEEK MAUL feat. DENIRO FARRAR
‘THE DUMMY’
(from CHROME LIPS, MISHKA)

Supreme Cuts and teenage rapper Haleek Maul’s Chrome Lips didn’t stay with us the same way that either party’s individual efforts (Whispers in the Dark and Oxyconteen, respectively) did, but ‘The Dummy’ is pretty much the perfect beat for Haleek Maul, its sudden shifts between rushes of rolling hi-hats and periods of nothing but sparse snares held down by a menacing miasma of distant drips and suffocating smoke. [Audio]

90: HOLLY HERNDON
‘BREATHE’
(from MOVEMENT, RVNG INTL.)

The RVNG Intl. artist’s pneumatic Movement LP ran the gamut from EBM to acid techno. For all her dancefloor instincts, however, it’s Herndon’s freakier moments that suggested she’ll be an enduring artist – and they didn’t come more outlandish than this heart-stopping, throat-tightening experiment in vocal manipulation.


89: SCOTT WALKER
‘SEE YOU DON’T BUMP HIS HEAD’
(from BISH BOSCH, 4AD)

Bish Bosch is easily the harrowed crooner’s most brazen LP to date, and this spectacular opener both sets the tone and raises the bar. Over an industrial drum tattoo and the hum of a teleporter, Walker drops gnomic brainbombs (“While plucking feathers from a swansong / A cobweb melts within a womb”) and coos into the abyss. No one made music like this all year – nobody else could.


88: GRASS WIDOW
‘GOLDILOCKS ZONE’
(from INTERNAL LOGIC, HLR)

While contemporary, female-centric bands in thrall to the indie-pop sounds of yore – from post-punk through C86 and on into the 90s twee underground – are hardly in short supply, it’s rare to encounter one as accomplished as San Fran trio Glass Widow. To be fair, they’ve been around a while – ‘Goldilocks Zone’ appeared on Internal Logic, their third album to date – but experience alone can’t account for the closeness of their vocal harmonies, the vitality of their hooks and the beautifully compressed energy of their playing. [Audio]


87: KEITH FULLERTON WHITMAN
‘ISSUE GENERATOR (FOR ELIANE RADIGUE)’
(from GENERATORS, EDITIONS MEGO)

Rehabilitated breakcore producer Keith Fullerton Whitman has devoted himself to building infinitely complex, algorithm-based musical systems, and this 18 minute spectacular is an enthralling showcase for his mad machines. Recorded live in Brooklyn, ‘Issue Generator (for Eliane Radigue’) is the sound of circuit boards singing – a remarkable symphony of beeps, dings and chirrups.


86: DJ Q
‘ALL JUNGLIST’
(UNKNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN)

Love-struck 2step (‘Brandy & Coke’), gloomy grime (his ‘Woooo Riddim’ remix), fizzing r’n’b (‘Lassie’): DJ Q seems to have tested his hand with every style going in the last two years, and he usually passes with flying colours. His original area of expertise, of course, was bassline house, and on ‘All Junglist’ Q resorts to the trick he knows best – those cutting, Niche-style basslines, this time complemented with Amen breaks and a sky-high hardcore lead. [Audio]


85: JULIO BASHMORE
‘AU SEVE’
(BROADWALK)

‘Au Seve’ received as much flak as it did praise in FACT’s comments section this year: undoubtedly, unashamedly big, it seemed like Bashmore’s attempt to top his 2011 anthem ‘Battle for Middle You’ through simplifying his festival-friendly sound into a few basic elements, and in terms of the track’s impact he certainly pulled it off – we’re never keen on playing the numbers game, but the fact that a Julio Bashmore production is currently sitting on 1.4 million views on YouTube is pretty staggering in itself.


84: DEAN BLUNT & INGA COPELAND
‘9’
(from BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, HYPERDUB)

From humble beginnings, Hype Williams have somehow built up a rich and broad discography, and ‘9’ condenses years of triumphs into five highly concentrated minutes. Blunt’s maundering rap nods back to the pair’s early fascination with rap and grime; Copeland’s hook is as lovely as any of her solo efforts; the doomy intro brings the weird; and that surprise fragment of dialogue that crops in the middle shows the pair’s mischief-making impulses in fine fettle. [Audio]


83: TRIM feat. RIKO
‘LORD OF LORDS’
(from BANDOOLOU, FREE MIXTAPE)

The centrepiece of this year’s Bandoolou mixtape saw Lord Sith rolling out the heavy weaponry, and the results were incendiary. Mark Pritchard pushes his Harmonic 313 schtick to the maximum; Riko’s larynx is apparently made of iron wool; and Trim goes rogue with a pair of verses that give up on sense and scansion altogether. Tip a hat. [Audio]


82: KITTY PRYDE
‘OKAY CUPID’
(SELF-RELEASED)

Cloud rap has always been a broad sort of church, so it’s fitting that the year’s best gauzy rap cut came from a Floridian teenager making novelty hip-hop in her bedroom. On paper, there are about 647 reasons not to like ‘Okay Cupid’, but, in practice, this school locker head-knocker was charming, idiosyncratic and bizarrely compelling. [Audio]


81: ANDY STOTT
‘LUXURY PROBLEMS’
(from LUXURY PROBLEMS, MODERN LOVE)

Andy Stott’s third album in two years, Luxury Problems, was an epic of gaseous romanticism that felt as once light as a feather and heavy as anvil to the chest. Heard from a distance, the title track – driven by a steady beat and featuring the plaintive vocal tones of Stott’s childhood piano teacher Alison Skidmore – could almost be mistaken for pop music, but closer inspection reveals it to be something more troubled and ambiguous. [Audio]

80: SPACEGHOSTPURRP
‘MYSTICAL MAZE’
(from GOD OF BLACK, MIXTAPE)

The opening track from the Floridian rapper’s God of Black mixtape, it’s hard to imagine four minutes of music better summarising Spaceghostpurrp: lyrics that revel in their fuck-the-world nihilism over a beat that sounds like the Disintegration Loops might had they captured Pompeii’s burial in ash.


79: CONTAINER
‘PARALYZED’
(from LP, SPECTRUM SPOOLS)

Ren Schofield is far from the only artist to make the vault from noise to techno in recent years, but the Nashville resident’s crumpled rave music is very much its own brute. This year’s LP clung a little too fast to Schofield’s well-worn formula, but bludgeoning stand-out ‘Paralyzed’ – a frowzy exercise in racket for racket’s sake that somehow manages to sound funky and forbidding at the same time – was absolutely undeniable. [Audio]


78: KANYE WEST feat. BIG SEAN, PUSHA T AND 2 CHAINZ
‘MERCY’
(from CRUEL SUMMER, G.O.O.D. MUSIC / DEF JAM)

G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer often suffered under the weight of its own bloat and contrived grandeur. Paradoxically, ‘Mercy’ — the album’s most maximalist track — is its most memorable. The swirling, Southern rap uneasiness, a Scarface sample, and a HudMo-assisted breakdown form the soundscape for this ode to the Lamborghini Murciélago, and the melodrama of Kanye’s later period work is reduced to a Fuzzy Jones sample (“it is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth”). [Audio]


77: BONDAX
‘BABY I GOT THAT’
(JUST US / RELENTLESS)

Following contemporaries Disclosure, Bondax emerged this year with a handful of sultry house productions made even more impressive by the duo’s youth. The summery, evocative house jam is built on a seductive vocal sample and nostalgic piano stabs, filtered and tweaked to perfection. [Audio]


76: CHIEF KEEF feat. LIL REESE
‘I DON’T LIKE’
(from BACK FROM THE DEAD, MIXTAPE)

Nature abhors a vacuum, but the kids evidently feel differently. Chicago’s Chief Keef became hip-hop’s most notorious poster boy precisely by standing for absolutely nothing. The rapping (characterless), the look (dead-eyed), the lyrics (spiritless, spat by rote)…Keef was a black hole, and tens of millions of hip-hop fans were dragged in. Hypnotic calling card ‘I Don’t Like’ set out the rapper’s threadbare stall, and introduced drill to the world at large in the process. Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music click turned out their own version, but it didn’t come close to touching the blunt force of the original. Depending on who you ask, Keef’s either the year’s biggest villain or its biggest victim, but ‘I Don’t Like”s anthem status is absolutely beyond question. [Audio]


75: THROWING SNOW
‘CLAMOR’
(from CLAMOR EP, SNOWFALL)

The lead and title track from the first of Throwing Snow’s 2012 EPs, ‘Clamor’ still marks our favourite moment from the icy London-based musician’s Snowfall releases. Ramping at a faster tempo than the majority of his peers, an ambient intro is followed by heavily reverberated drums and shimmering, dramatically sidechained synths – then that panned whip hits, and you’re already under it; game over long before the strings come in.


74: DISCLOSURE
‘BOILING’ (EL-B REMIX)
(SELF-RELEASED)

2012’s biggest breakthrough act made their name with a remix – more on that later – so it’s only fitting that they found themselves on the receiving end of one of the year’s most gleeful edits. UK garage veteran El-B took on the bairns at their own game, knocking out an exuberant dancefloor banger with oodles of crossover potential. It’s gloriously gully stuff, with El-B’s whipcrack drum programming and fidget bass scientifically calibrated to get the serotonin coursing. [Audio]


73: DVA feat. NATALIE MADDIX
‘EYE KNOW’
(from PRETTY UGLY, HYPERDUB)

DVA’s Pretty Ugly might have been uneven, but this futureshocked lullaby was the picture of elegance. ‘Eye Know’ comes from the same school as Flying Lotus’ ‘Tea Leaf Dancers’ – a cybernetically enhanced ballad with technical nous and a human touch. Natalie Maddix’s neo-soul vocal is all sorts of lovely, and the artful instrumental is full of twists and turns. For sure, DVA’s a mischievous sort, but when he plays it straight, he can stop hearts with the best of them. [Audio]


72: ALUNAGEORGE
‘JUST A TOUCH’
(from YOU KNOW YOU LIKE IT, TRI ANGLE)

What singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid lack in band-name-creativity they more than make up for with their shifty take on contemporary R&B. ‘Just A Touch’ is the sultry standout from their Tri Angle debut, a warped post-Timbaland groove with Francis’ saccharine vocals and vulnerable lyrics: “I’m not hard as a rock / I’m just not easy to break / but don’t take it as an open invitation to try.” [Audio]


71: JOHN MAUS
‘NO TITLE (MOLLY)
(from A COLLECTION OF RARITIES AND PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED MATERIAL, RIBBON)

Bedroom pop’s eternal crusader raided his archives on A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material, and the results were predictably scattershot, with loopy cod-operatic juvenilia sitting next to Pickett-grade schlock. When Maus turns on his pop receptors, though, he’s one of the finest hook writers around, as demonstrated by remarkable 2008 offcut ‘No Title (Molly)’. Boasting some spine-wringing harmonies and about three different choruses, it’s a virtuosic display of pop smarts from one of our most cherished practitioners. [Audio]

70: BLACKSMIF
‘…AND THE SUN ROSE OUT’
(SYNCHRONICITY)

Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson both transferred to BBC 6Music this year, and Blacksmif’s ‘…And The Sun Rose Out’ is exactly the sort of cut you can see them both prosthelytizing about around the watercooler. The young North Londoner’s track hovers on the threshold between the jazz club and the bashment, oscillating as it does between sunkissed neo-soul and rugged 2-step. As balancing acts go, it’s up there with anything Phillipe Petit ever did – gruff and sweet, heavy and dreamy, spiky and soft-focus.


69: GUNPLAY feat. TRIPLE CS
‘FUCK SHIT IN MY LIFE’
(from BOGOTA RICH: THE PREQUEL, MIXTAPE)

In between his show-stealing guest spots on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ and Maybach Music Group’s ‘Power Circle’, the bug-eyed, perma-sniffing Gunplay released a pair of 2012’s most memorable hip-hop tracks, ‘Fuck Shit in my Life’ and ‘Jump Out’. It’s easy to focus on Gunplay’s intensity – and indeed, ‘Jump Out’ has to be 2012’s most purple-faced vein popper, a Hundred Hand Slap of snares, gunshots and one-liners – but he’s also in possession of a Ghostface-esque imagination, and on ‘Fuck Shit’, he really lets it all out, the “just another petty thief / never had a spaghetti feast / mind frame Godfather of the Genovese” anti-hero declaring war on the “bottom feeders, all the snakes and centipedes”. [Audio]


68: BANDSHELL
‘DUST MARCH’
(HESSLE AUDIO)

Help us out, folks – does anything sound quite like ‘Dust March’? Bandshell’s been kicking around under the radar for a good half decade, but nothing in his catalogue holds a guttering candle to this little curio. Fragments of chanced-upon sound – rattling ceramics, distorted yawns, the hiss of wind – echo over an agonisingly slow beat, and the result is some the most uncanny machine music we’ve heard in yonks. Bermuda Triangle techno. [Audio]


67: KCAT
‘BROKEN’ (MIKE DELINQUENT RADIO EDIT)
(MINDSET DANCE)

If this was still 2000 then ‘Broken’ probably wouldn’t have seemed such a breath of fresh air, but this heartbroken 2-step single – driven by guitar and snapping snares over a subtly whomping baseline – really hit the spot for us this year. A timeless sound pulled off with poignancy. [Audio]


66: KOWTON
‘DES BISOUS’
(PALE FIRE)

Bristol boy Kowton’s always been a producer you can get behind, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he really started to find his own sound: on ‘Des Bisous’ and ‘More Games’ (the latter released earlier in the year on Livity Sound, and effectively ‘Des Bisous’ in chrysalis), his brushstrokes became bolder, and he stopped worrying about the details: the drums revel in their sandy distortion, the Danny Weed-meets-Psycho strings are gleefully disconnected from the track’s body, and the whole thing sounds like it was mixed down in a cement mixer. [Audio]


65: BOBBY WOMACK
‘PLEASE FORGIVE MY HEART’ (FUNK VERSION)
(XL)

The last three years have seen Richard Russell focus just as much on the studio as on his label XL, first producing Gil Scott-Heron’s last album I’m New Here, and this year teaming up with Damon Albarn to oversee soul singer Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe – an album that featured some of the troubled artist’s most tender moments in recent memory. ‘Please Forgive My Heart’ was already a stand-out from the record, but on this non-album edit, Russell slips a simple breakbeat into the mix, adding a sense of propulsion to Womack’s longing and providing a welcome contrast to The Bravest Man‘s sparse, hall of mirrors feel.


64: MAIN ATTRAKIONZ feat. DAVINCI
‘DO IT FOR THE BAY’
(from BOSSALINIS & FOOLIYONES, YOUNG ONE)

At its best points, Main Attrakionz’s Bossalinis & Fooliyones fused spaced-out cloud rap with G-funk nostalgia; ‘Do It For The Bay’ is endemic of that development. Harry Fraud provides a Rhodes-and-horns trunk-rattler that allows the laid-back Mondre MAN, the spirited Squadda B, and gravelly guest DaVinci to find their respective comfort zones. While conscious-gangsta Kendrick Lamar is getting all the plaudits for reviving West Coast hip-hop, Main Attrakionz are forging ahead with a post-hyphy, post-backpacker vibe in the Bay Area. [Audio]


63: SKY FERREIRA
‘EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING’
(CAPITOL)

While pop-watchers might feel like Sky Ferreira has been around forever, it’s important to remember that the LA multitalent is only 20 years old and only has a pair of proper EPs to her name. On her Ghost EP, the singer acts as a sneering vessel for whatever the song calls for, be it alt-rock, electro-pop, folk. However, the ’80s-styled ‘Everything is Embarrassing’ might be the singer’s best song yet, thanks to writing/production assistance from hitmakers Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid. What starts as a bit of nostalgia ends up a timeless pop ballad. [Audio]


62: CHAMPION
‘CRYSTAL METH’
(BUTTERZ)

Champion might be known as one of UK funky’s brightest luminaries, but he’s long comported himself like a grime producer. His instrumentals have never been afraid to bare their ruff side, and his DJ sets have the antic energy and short attention span you’d expect from Butterz et al. ‘Crystal Meth’ made the debt explicit, and it hit like a roundhouse to the jaw. Messy and madcap, it was about as spirited as grime got in 2012. [Audio]


61: MALA
‘STAND AGAINST WAR’
(DMZ)

Fresh from an adventure in Cuba that led to some fantastic individual tracks (‘Cuba Electronic’, ‘Curfew’) but an album that felt a little like a missed opportunity, dubstep’s all-time greatest rocker finally released ‘Stand Against War’, a legendary Mala track that dates back to at least 2008. The vibes, as ever when Mala’s at his best, are off the wall: hi-hats falling back on themselves as they try to scuttle over that romping bassline, a lead riff that stays in your head from your very first listen. A track in the same vein as classics like ‘Neverland’, and one that should be cherished as such. [Audio]

60: ACTION BRONSON feat. RIFF RAFF
‘BIRD ON A WIRE’
(SURF SCHOOL)

It’s easy to focus on Riff Raff’s larger than life / stupider than stupid rap persona, but when Jody High Roller wants to step the levels up he does have the ability, here prompted by a sax-licked beat by one of 2012’s most promising production talents in Harry Fraud and the chance to spar with Queens’ favourite new chef on the block Action Bronson.


59: ANGEL HAZE
‘NEW YORK’
(from RESERVATIONS, MIXTAPE)

Like Azealia Banks before her, Angel Haze’s breakthrough moment was a Big Apple tribute. Built on the skeletal claps-and-bass beat of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘New York Is Killing Me’, the fiery upstart does the Godfather of Rap proud with ‘New York’. With imagery both vivid (“Cause I spit till my lips need 16 stitches”) and violent (“Tie a rope around your neck and let me kick you off a bungee”), coupled with a seriously dexterous flow, Haze has established herself as a legitimate talent. Profile pieces might focus on her heritage or her sexuality, but the real story is Haze’s brutally honest, take-no-prisoners style. ‘New York’ isn’t just a mixtape track — it’s a statement. [Audio]


58: LUKID
‘USSR’
(from LONELY AT THE TOP, WERK DISCS)

Back in 2010, Actress crept to the upper echelons of this list with the stately ‘Maze’, a bracing bit of “bleakly beautiful isolationist techno”. Actress protégé Lukid braves similarly chilly conditions on Lonely At The Top highlight ‘USSR’, a wonderfully evocative exercise in crumpled coldwave. Everything about ‘USSR’ – the crackle of radio static; that thrumming bassline; hi-hats that sound like the ticking of the Doomsday Clock – is calculated to get neck hairs standing to attention, and it’s right up there with the GLUM boss’s best work. [Audio]


57: CHROMATICS
‘BACK FROM THE GRAVE’
(from KILL FOR LOVE, ITALIANS DO IT BETTER)

For all its charms – and they were abundant – Chromatics’ long-awaited Kill For Love didn’t half go on a bit: the 17-track running time and ponderous groove pieces put the Portland outfit’s brand of kohl-eyed disco under serious strain. You couldn’t say that about ‘Back From The Grave’, a fantastic post-punk pastiche that jettisoned the group’s favoured mode of heartsore melodrama in favour of something tauter and stranger. Between the pealing guitar work and Ruth Radelet’s LaBelle-via-Lacan lyrics (“Father you’re gone / Lover you’re gone / And Other you’re gone”), you’re looking at the year’s classiest cri de couer. [Audio]


56: JUICY J feat. LIL WAYNE & 2 CHAINZ
‘BANDZ A MAKE HER DANCE’
(TAYLOR GANG / KEMOSABE / COLUMBIA)

Juicy J’s post-Three 6 Mafia career has been the rare feel-good hip-hop stories: a rapper able to stay viable (and profitable) as the form he pioneered gains mainstream popularity. As the rap world moves from coke and weed to lean and molly, Juicy J has become the spirit animal of getting trippy. ‘Bandz A Make Her Dance’ is the year’s finest strip club anthem thanks to that unforgettable hook, Juicy’s flip of “you say no to drugs / Juicy J can’t” into a more (in)appropriate refrain, and the smoky horror movie beat courtesy producer-of-the-year Mike WiLL Made It. As for the featured performers, Lil Wayne holds his own on his verse, but 2 Chainz is a much better fit at this point, especially with half of his verse slowed and throwed. [Audio]


55: FUNKINEVEN & FATIMA
‘PHONE LINE’
(EGLO)

Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, ‘Phone Line’ is a Brit-gobbling chart-topper. The Eglo regulars’ latest combines the immediacy of FunkinEven’s beloved 303 sesh ‘Roland’s Jam’ with the elegance of Fatima’s earlier work with Floating Points, and the results are a major leap forward for both parties. ‘Phone Line’ is a juddering pop masterclass – ‘Don’t You Want Me’ with added nitro, or ‘Love Machine’ played by a quartet of modems.


54: BAAUER
‘HARLEM SHAKE’
(JEFFREE’S)

In 2012, a certain cross-section of EDM-minded hip-hop producers helped make “trap” a four-letter world in both the electronic and rap worlds… and Baauer was the head of the class. His calling card, ‘Harlem Shake’, is a big, dumb hip-hop banger, all rubbery synths and snarling samples. It’s as addictive as it is simple, putting a marker down for a style that has been widely imitated but with far inferior results. Mad Decent boss Diplo has used sub-label Jeffree’s as his laboratory, and this track just might prove to be Frankenstein’s monster. [Audio]


53: BUSTA RHYMES feat. CHRIS BROWN, MISSY ELLIOTT & LIL WAYNE
‘WHY STOP NOW’ (REMIX)
(CONGLOMERATE / UNIVERSAL)

Busta Rhymes’ resurgence has been one of the more interesting hip-hop sub-plots of the last few years: after several years of seeming like a spent force, 2010 and 2011 saw the dungeon dragon come back strong, stealing the show on Cam’ron and Vado’s ‘Rubber Band Stacks’ and Chris Brown’s ‘Look at Me Now’. February’s remix of ‘Why Stop Now’, however, is the best release under Busta’s own name in years. Sak Pase’s beat ramps like ‘A Milli’ strapped to an electric chair, Missy Elliot touches down to show pretenders who’s still the boss, and even Lil Wayne – speaking of spent forces – emerges from a year of sleep-walking to shout out Odd Future and reveal that his blunts last longer than friendships. We don’t doubt it. [Audio]


52: TESSELA
‘D JANE’
(PUNCH DRUNK)

The West Country techno producer spent the year batting off Blawan comparisons, but his first 12″ for Peverelist’ Punch Drunk label marked him out as a singular talent with plenty to say. Well, plenty to shout: ‘D Jane’ is a fist-swinging rumpus that refuses to go quietly. There are some nice ornamental touches and neat compositional ideas, but, ultimately, everything comes down to Tessela’s jaw-dropping drum programming – the sound of a game of Jenga endlessly collapsing. [Audio]


51: MIKEQ feat. JAY KARAN
‘LET IT ALL OUT 2012′
(from LET IT ALL OUT EP, FADE TO MIND)

The last year has seen the underground ballroom world percolate into the mainstream for the first time since a certain cone-bra’d diva co-opted the scene over two decades ago. While many people have been DJing balls and crafting vogue-ready songs for years, the “Ha” crash has never sounded better than in the hands of New Jersey’s MikeQ. On the title track to MikeQ’s Fade to Mind debut, Jay Karan hisses “I wanna see a bitch let it all out.” And let it all out he does: his 2012 reworking of his own track – digitally released, in fact, at the tail-end of 2011 but given a physical release this year – is everything we love about modern ballroom. It’s sleek, stark and sexy, and ready for dance floors everywhere. [Audio]

50: GEEEMAN
‘BANG’T’
(CLONE JACK FOR DAZE)

Sure, label boss Serge told us that it wasn’t deliberate, but institutional Rotterdam label Clone’s Jack for Daze series seemed to, well, jack with a previously unheard vigour this year. On ‘Bang’t’, local boy Gerd – the definition of reliable, since 1994 – took things back under his Geeeman alias, reminding a new generation how effective a simple mono bassline, hand claps and a man talking about banging it can be in the right hands.


49: BENEATH
‘STILL HURTS’
(from NO SYMBOLS 002, NO SYMBOLS)

It’s hard to pick just one track to represent Beneath on this list: the Stoke-born producer has caused such an impact not because of individual tracks, but his whole personality and aesthetic. The resistance to light, the reliance on cutting dubplates for his live shows, the reluctance to give interviews or release on any old label (so far, there’s been only two Beneath interviews to date, and just the one release outside of own his No Symbols imprint), the readiness to admit that he doesn’t do happy music because he’s not a happy person – the music may be great, but what really gets us behind Beneath is what a breath of fresh air he is, and it’s hard to pin all that on one song. However, if you pinned us down and held that proverbial gun to our head, it would probably be the growling ‘Still Hurts’, a favourite of ours since Beneath’s early mixes that was eventually housed on his second No Symbols EP. [Audio]


48: SCHOOLBOY Q feat. A$AP ROCKY
‘HANDS ON THE WHEEL’
(from HABITS AND CONTRADICTIONS, TOP DAWG ENTERTAINMENT)

Black Hippy’s answer to Yohan Blake had a wonderful year, dropping the elegant, probing, sonically adventurous Habits And Contradictions. Strange, then, that his finest moment was also his dumbest – a party anthem that felt like having your adrenal glands prodded with a cocktail umbrella. With the conviction of an Andrew WK lecture, ‘Hands On The Wheel’ gleefully concertinas a twelve hour bender into three and a half rollicking minutes. Q’s a fine host, and Dat PMF showcases his remarkable ear for a hook. No other track this year made getting blasted sound quite so triumphal. [Audio]


47: S-TYPE
‘BILLBOARD’
(from BILLBOARD EP, LUCKYME)

S-Type has been kicking about the peripheries of the Glasgow / Edinburgh hype storm for some time now, but on Billboard, his debut EP for LuckyMe, he really announced himself as something special. Euphoric, Dirty South-indebted dance music that doesn’t descend into the Lex Luger kit x Dutch house synths template that became so prominent this year, it’s tempting to say that ‘Billboard”s screaming out for a big name US vocal – but who would do it justice? [Audio]


46: CASSIE feat. YOUNG JEEZY
‘BALCONY’
(BAD BOY / INTERSCOPE)

Smarter, more subtle and ultimately more seductive than Cassie’s comeback single ‘King of Hearts’, ‘Balcony”s beat – courtesy of Rico Love – seems to hang in the air, cold and still, the drums just about invisible. You can practically see its breath, and it couldn’t provide a more perfect soundtrack to ‘Balcony’, Cassie’s tender ode to being on top of the world in more ways than one. [Audio]


45: A$AP MOB
‘BANGING ON WAXX’
(from LORD$ NEVER WORRY, MIXTAPE)

2012 saw rap’s king-in-waiting stuck in post-mixtape, pre-album limbo. Even if nothing the A$AP brand knocked out matched the highs of Live.Love.A$AP, the Harlem crew still made the best of their star’s fallow year, with Rocky turning out the spry ‘Celebration’ and low-slung Hit-Boy jam ‘Goldie’. Our favourite of the bunch, however, was A$AP Mob’s Rocky-free slow burner ‘Banging On Waxx’. Buried on the tepidly received Lord$ Never Worry tape, this groggy banger caught the click on furiously catchy – and wonderfully odd – form, and offered a fine platform for one-to-watch A$AP Ferg’s quavering flow.


44: TNGHT
‘HIGHER GROUND’
(WARP / LUCKYME)

We’ll give it to you straight – 2012’s biggest crossover hit was far from perfect. ‘Higher Ground’ haemmorages momentum about halfway through, and that straight-outta-GarageBand vocal sample is surprisingly artless, particularly given Hudson Mohawke and Lunice’s pedigree. And yet, and yet – TNGHT’s calling card had more swagger, flair and potential energy than just about any of its (many, many) rivals. Witness ‘Higher Ground’ electrifying a dancefloor, and those blemishes suddenly don’t matter a jot. [Audio]


43: M.I.A.
‘BAD GIRLS’
(INTERSCOPE)

‘Bad Girls’ is M.I.A. at her best: female empowerment (“Live fast die young, bad girls do it well”) over an unforgettable, exotic beat (the belly dancing trunk rattler provided by Timbaland associate Danja). The spiritual successor to ‘Paper Planes’, ‘Bad Girls’ is even more widescreen than her 2007 breakout. An even greater feat? The song is powerful enough to make us forget about 2010’s mostly-regrettable /\/\ /\ Y /\. It’s a double-edged sword, however: will her forthcoming Matangi be able to live up to this? [Audio]


42: HOW TO DRESS WELL
‘& IT WAS U’
(from TOTAL LOSS, WEIRD WORLD)

The finger-snapping, Babyface-referencing ‘& It Was U’ removes much of the gauzy ambience that has characterized Tom Krell’s work as How To Dress Well. The result is his most immediate work yet, and a song that should turn the last doubters of his R&B bona fides into believers. ‘& It Was U’ is built upon layers of falsetto, a shuffling percussion track, and not much else, proving that Krell’s naked vulnerability is best when taken to its logical conclusion. [Audio]


41: MIGUEL
‘ADORN’
(RCA)

On Miguel’s Art Dealer Chic EPs, released at the start of 2012, he established himself as a singer walking a tightrope between the smeared noir’n’b of The Weeknd and the more traditional style of an R. Kelly or Jeremih. It was a balancing act that didn’t always work on Miguel’s second album Kaleidoscope Dream – sometimes, on tracks like ‘Don’t Look Back’, it felt a little too soaked in bombast, as if Sting could approach with Cheb Mami in tow at any moment – but on lead single ‘Adorn’ the planets simply aligned. An incredibly simple song, there are no peaks and troughs to ‘Adorn': it simply slips into a loved-up trance where years pass like months; an uncanny reflection of the sort of relationship that it references. [Audio]

40: AVA LUNA
‘ICE LEVEL’
(from ICE LEVEL, INFINITE BEST)

The Brooklyn seven-piece might facetiously tag their music as “nervous soul,” but if the shoe fits… The title track of Ava Luna’s debut full-length is the album’s strongest: a two-part suite that moves from Becca Kauffman’s swelling, ‘Say My Name’-esque verses to bandleader Carlos Hernandez’s Stax-era tremor, all with gorgeous vocal harmonies, a cinematic string quartet, and a certain post-punk uneasiness.


39: MELÉ
‘GOLD CASIO’
(from VANELE VOL.1, MIXTAPE)

TNGHT, Baauer, that ‘Mercy’ remix – big instrumental hip-hop bangers were more in demand than ever in the world of dance music this year, but on ‘Gold Casio’, Liverpool’s Melé had all the competition beat. Gun-shots, hand-claps, big 808 kicks and a wide-eyed drop – it’s all here, and it never got old. [Audio]


38: BLAWAN
‘WHY THEY HIDE THEIR BODIES UNDER MY GARAGE?’
(HINGE FINGER)

It might not have captured the zeitgeist as effortlessly as 2011’s white label smash ‘Getting Me Down’, but ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?’ is still a monster — in this case, a horror movie monster, lurching in the darkness of a record bag. Utilising the same bag-of-bones percussion as ‘Getting Me Down’, the track pushes the former’s rumbling bass in a much more sinister direction. And that’s before the titular sample is warped and looped past the point of no return. Brandy who? [Audio]


37: LE1F
‘WUT’
(from DARK YORK, GREEDHEAD ENTERTAINMENT / CAMP & STREET)

Dark York did what it said on the tin – offered a snapshot in negative of hip-hop’s first city at its freakiest. Le1f’s breakthrough tape made for sinister listening, but its standout moment also happened to be its cheeriest. Produced by genre-splicing larkers 5kinandbone5, ‘Wut”s a winningly goofy club smash – a Rich Harrison chart-breaker as performed by MIDI Orchestra. Le1f’s never sounded more diverting: he’s imitating Twista’s machine-gun flow one moment, croaking like a randy lizard the next. The audacious, Pokemon!-referencing video only helped to amplify ‘Wut”s nutso charm. [Audio]


36: MADTEO
‘RUGRATS DON’T TECHNO FOR AN ANSWER’
(from NOI NO, SAHKO)

Noi No was about as claustrophobic a record as we heard all year, full of forbidding timbres and strange subconscious chatter. Still, unlike R.I.P or From the Far Future Vol. 2, Madteo’s got a mordantly humorous streak: vocoder frenzy ‘Vox Your Nu Yr Resolution’ and the droll ‘Il Capoline’ were two parts Burroughs, one part Jam. Taking its cues from Hype Williams’ ‘Ooovrrr’, ‘Rugrats Don’t Techno For An Answer’ reimagines Drake’s 2011 hit ‘Marvin’s Room’ as a slice of electroshocked funk in the Jam City mould. Spooky and spry, it’s at once Madteo’s finest offering and his neatest gag. [Audio]


35: EVY JANE
‘SAYSO’
(KING DELUXE)

Vancouver’s Evy Jane (Evelyn Mason and Jeremiah Klein) are another duo swimming in the deeper end of the R&B pool, but with nods to the soulful, nocturnal sounds of Portishead, Massive Attack, and Burial. On ‘Sayso’, Mason’s voice cuts through the fog of Klein’s production, which is built on a sparse kick-snare pattern and reverberating bass tones. Mason’s melody is seductive and mysterious; when she was writing it, she asked that eternal question: “What kind of melody would R Kelly sing?”


34: MYKKI BLANCO
‘WAVVY’
(from COSMIC ANGEL: THE ILLUMINATI PRINCE/SS, UNO NYC)

“Welcome to Hell bitches, this is Mykki Blanco / New World Order motherfucker, follow pronto.” And with that, Mykki Blanco went from Internet art project to singular figure in the New York underground. The full picture wasn’t clear when the track premiered, but ‘Wavvy’ checked all the right boxes: Brenmar’s off-kilter beat alternates between twinkling and percolating but always bangs, and Blanco crafts a drug-fueled party rap in a way only he can. One could write a thesis about the gender, race, and sexuality issues inherent in the song (and project), but that was never the plan: Mykki Blanco is “more show biz than politics,” and we’re all just guests at the show. [Audio]


33: TINASHE
‘BOSS’ (RYAN HEMSWORTH REMIX)
(SELF-RELEASED)

The original ‘Boss’ was a highlight from former Stunners singer Tinashe’s In Case We Die mixtape that felt a little self-conscious in its blend of ultra-compressed Southern snares and oscillated samples over bassy, Dark-with-a-capital-D synths – the potential was there, but the overall feeling was a little bit CREEP, if you know what we mean. Enter Ryan Hemsworth, one of 2012’s smartest remixers, to breathe some air into proceedings: by adding a fluttering vocal loop and some light-footed piano, and stripping out some of the suffocating darkness, he brings ‘Boss’ right into the light. [Audio]


32: AMBER LONDON
‘LOW MF KEY’
(from 1994 EP, SELF-RELEASED)

First included as a bonus track of sorts on Spaceghostpurrp’s God of Black, ‘Low MF Key’ then featured on Amber London’s own 1994 EP, though it’s worth noting that the record’s claim that it’s produced by Spaceghostpurrp is a little misleading – it’s simply a Doc Million track slowed down with added thunder. Regardless, ‘Low MF Key’ has to go down as the most memorable individual moment of Raider Klan’s ‘90s-fixated oeuvre to date; an ode to staying under the radar (“windows so dark you need a flashlight to see”) that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Chronic. [Audio]


31: LOGOS
‘KOWLOON’
(KEYSOUND)

‘Kowloon’ – a track we’ve been bumping since early 2011 – really should have had its moment on last year’s end-of-year list. The road to release can be long and hazardous, however, and it wasn’t until Spring 2012 that Keysound finally got the damn thing out on shelves. Still, frozen goods keep for years, and Logos’ frost-flecked eski tribute remains as spellbinding as ever. ‘Kowloon”s model of phantasmagoric grime is bleak and beautiful – almost beatless, and just about peerless. [Audio]

30: WILEY feat. RIKO, MANGA & FLOWDAN
‘F OFF’
(SELF-RELEASED)

Wiley’s karmic balance sheet was predictably convoluted this year – execrable chart grab ‘Heatwave’ plunged him into negative equity, whilst his killer Step freestyles helped nudged him back up into the black. Still, Wiley can knock out Tulisa collabs on a bi-annual basis if he keeps cropping up on cuts as magnificent as ‘F Off’. This out-of-nowhere download, originally rumoured to appear on an (presumably mothballed) Manga/Wiley joint album, saw Roll Deep’s A-Team on vibrant form over a magmatic instrumental. It’s Bow’s answer to ‘Bring The Ruckus’ – swampy, spirited and thrilling from top to tail.


29: EVIAN CHRIST
‘MYD’
(from KINGS AND THEM, TRI ANGLE)

Evian Christ is more tapped into the hip-hop world than the underground pop catacombs that the Tri Angle label is usually associated with, and ‘MYD’ is a masterclass in hip-hop simplicity. One drum kit, one loop – sampled from Black to Comm’s ‘Traum Gmbh’, spotters – and a vocal line cut from a slightly more well-known song is about all that’s present on ‘MYD’, but the way that Evian Christ brings it to the boil is nothing short of alchemic. [Audio]


28: NAS
‘THE DON’
(ISLAND DEF JAM)

Once a decade, Nas hurls down the gauntlet. 1994’s Illmatic remains one of rap’s most forceful introductions. 2001’s ‘Ether’, meanwhile, saw a tired Nas unexpectedly release the most scabrous diss track of the 2000s. So it proved in 2012: after five anaemic LPs, ‘The Don’ was a hulking, red-blooded beast of a comeback. The beat might have been written by committee – Da Internz, Salaam Remi and the late Heavy D all had a hand – but it’s still remarkably purposeful, with Nas bobbing and weaving like a chap half his age. Late style, done brilliantly. [Audio]


27: OBJEKT
‘CACTUS’
(HESSLE AUDIO)

Objekt is open about the way that he strives over his tracks (“Hating a track so much that I scrap 80% of it (and again and again, 20 versions later) is an integral part of my creative process,” he told Dazed) and on ‘Cactus’, the Berlin-based Brit’s first non-white label single, you can tell. The track’s background sounds filled with lost samples and scrapped tones, to the point where you can feel its fullness far more than you can hear it, and where most producers would settle on a drop that potent, Objekt is constantly changing its context: the drums are almost Autechre-esque, in the way that no one bar seems to be quite the same, and even the bassline itself never seems to sit still. It’s rare for a track with percussion this stuttered and twitchy to really bang, but on ‘Cactus’ – just as on last year’s ‘Unglued’ – Objekt manages it. [Audio]


26: JAI PAUL
‘JASMINE (DEMO)’
(XL)

Two years after ‘BTSTU’ sent the internet into paroxysms, we can’t have been the only people starting to wonder if Jai Paul hadn’t been some sort of collective hallucination – a figure conjured up by starved pop fans hungry for something cosmopolitan to sink their sweet tooth into. After almost total silence, though, came ‘Jasmine’, a surprisingly coy bit of deep-fried R&B, situated somewhere between The Weeknd, Talking Heads and The Beta Band. Less showy than its predecessor, ‘Jasmine’ – graceful, subtle, swathed in a fog of incense – has already proved the more enduring of the two. A surprise Big Boi collaboration rounded out Paul’s year, and big things beckon in 2013. [Audio]


25: BOOKWORMS
‘AFRICAN RHYTHMS’
(L.I.E.S.)

This rugged, intensely hypnotic house killer has been kicking around as a digital file for years – we first heard it on Jam City’s 2009 FACT mix – but it wasn’t until 2012 that it got the attention it deserved, thanks to its appearance on the B-side of a vinyl release for Ron Morelli’s rampant L.I.E.S imprint. A-side cut ‘Love Triangles’ wasn’t too shabby either.


24: JOY ORBISON & BODDIKA
‘SWIMS’
(SWAMP81)

We know: ‘Swims’ has been played in clubs and lusted after on YouTube for so long that its January release this year inevitably seemed like an anti-climax, but it’s still the most memorable release to come from Joy Orbison and Boddika’s fruitful dalliance. That sample helped – we can’t see Robbie Tronco’s iTunes sales having another year like this one for a while – but really, it’s the slamming cowbell drop after a good two and a half minutes of tweaks that really sends ‘Swims’ over the edge. Swamp81 MC Chunky’s claims that a new revolution would start with a cowbell might have been a little optimistic, but we can’t remember the last release that had us air-banging to one with quite so much vigour. [Audio]


23: GRIMES
‘GENESIS’
(4AD)

Claire ‘Grimes’ Boucher distilled the promise of her early work into the year’s finest bit of weird, outsider pop: the otherworldly, undeniable ‘Genesis’. Sawtooth synth and Eastern strings melt into a shifty, synth-pop groove, as Boucher’s sing-song vocals bounce off each other into infinity. The lyrics are vague wisps until they land on something more tangible, describing Grimes’ promise quite aptly: “Holding on / I am a vagabond / It’s always different / I am the one who falls.” [Audio]


22: SILENT SERVANT
‘TEMPTATION & DESIRE’
(from NEGATIVE FASCINATION, HOSPITAL PRODUCTIONS)

The highlight of his fine debut album, ‘Temptation & Desire’ found Sandwell District operative Juan Mendez achieving an extraordinary, completely natural-sounding fusion of ’80s minimal synth tropes and sleek, contemporary techno production. Worth having a car just so you can listen to it while driving at night. [Audio]


21: USHER
‘CLIMAX’
(from LOOKING 4 MYSELF, RCA)

Not to take anything away from Usher (who explores his full emotional and vocal ranges on the song), but Diplo is the star of ‘Climax’. The Mad Decent uber-producer has said he wanted to “take the strip club to the stadium,” a concept that works much better than it should. The song is as weighty and melodramatic as the best slow jams, but with a dance-floor energy that never acquiesces to the paint-by-numbers drop on which so many EDM-infused pop songs have relied. Ironically, ‘Climax’ doesn’t have the type of build-and-release that you’d expect from this pair; to continue the unfortunate metaphor, it’s actually a more tantric affair. [Audio]

20: FUTURE
‘TURN ON THE LIGHTS’
(from PLUTO, EPIC)

It took a while to grow on some, but Future’s Pluto seemed to win around even the Atlanta singer’s staunchest critics this year (Alex Macpherson aside, of course), and ‘Turn on the Lights’ is by some distance his finest moment to date. It’s hard to pin-point exactly when it undergoes its metamorphosis – though it’s probably “If you wanna live better”, aided by Mike Will’s uncanny beat change – but what starts as a simple tale of love in the club (“Is that her, in the VIP line, with the Vuitton?”) eventually evolves into a torch-lit quest, Future turning half the world upside down trying to find his girl and sounding more desperate with every line. Tainted slightly by an unnecessary (and crap) remix with Lil Wayne.


19: PREDITAH
‘CIRCLES’
(EARTH616)

Grime experimenter Preditah was far from a one trick pony this year, with ‘Air Waves’ and ‘Gargoyle VIP’ humming and whirring with the best of them. Nothing touched Earth616 heater ‘Circles’, though – not just the most ubiquitous grime riddim of the year, but also one of the most exuberant beats of any size or stripe to emerge from the capital in ages. Like grime’s founding urtext ‘Pulse X’, ‘Circles’ is really two songs in one, skipping back and forth between Atari-ready 2-step and a scrambled eski riddim. Nimble and fleet-footed, ‘Circles’ ran rings around the competition. [Audio]


18: CONRAD SCHNITZLER
‘ZUG’ (MAX LODERBAUER & RICARDO VILLALOBOS SORGENKIND-MIX)
(from ZUG – RESHAPED AND REMODELED, M=MINIMAL)

Partnering up with Max Loderbauer (NSI, Sun Electric, Moritz Von Oswald Trio) has given Ricardo Villalobos a new lease of life, and the remix work they’ve done together – including last year’s hugely ambitious Re:ECM set – has dazzled with its depth and sophistication. This year they supplied two versions of the late Conrad Schnitzler’s ‘Zug'; the elongated Aktion-Mix fulfilled the Chilean’s obligations to the dancefloor, but it was the more abstract, introspective and dizzyingly complex Sorgenkind-Mix that really impressed. Many are in danger of forgetting just how outrageously talented and envelope-pushing these guys are; don’t be one of them. [Audio]


17: KODIAK
‘SPREO SUPERBUS’
(NUMBERS)

Numbers didn’t do stacks in 2012, although they get major props for Lory D’s lunatic Strange Days Vol. II and a smart curveball in their reissue of Unspecified Enemies’ ‘Multi Ordinal Tracking Unit’. Drop a ‘Spreo Superbus’ once a year, though, and you’re totally entitled to put your feet up. Enigmatic London duo Kodiak caught plenty of heat for this hi-octane UK funky/big beat hybrid – it was a toss-up whether to include the original or Actress’ brilliantly eerie remix, but the original’s kinetic energy and lustrous sheen gave it the edge. [Audio]


16: JEREMIH
‘773 LOVE’
(from LATE NIGHTS WITH JEREMIH, MIXTAPE)

“Mike Will Made It.” In 2012, those four simple words signalled something phenomenal about to happen. In the case of ‘773 Love’, all it took was a filtered, sweeping synth line and a muted groove: R&B crooner Jeremih did the rest. The ‘Birthday Sex’ singer cooed his best R. Kelly impression (as he did across all of Late Nights With Jeremih) for a euphoric booty call jam that represents arguably both artists’ best effort to date. [Audio]


15: GIRL UNIT
‘ENSEMBLE’ (CLUB MIX)
(from CLUB REZ EP, NIGHT SLUGS)

Girl Unit returned to Night Slugs for the follow-up to massive past single ‘Wut’ with the Club Rez EP. While the title track is a trance-rap epic, the most impressive cut is the first one. For the first minute, ‘Ensemble’ (Club Mix) seems like some simple, mutated techno, layering on twitchy percussion, but it quickly becomes something very different. A gut-rupturing bassline and squeals of electro-funk synths do cybernetic battle before the song really opens up: this is what happens when Girl Unit channels Prince instead of Project Pat.


14: DARQ E FREAKER feat. DANNY BROWN
‘BLUEBERRY (PILLS AND COCAINE)’
(SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY)

Grime’s maddest professor and rap’s most unhinged newcomer are, in theory, optimum collaborators, and ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’ was one of those rare things: a track that sounds exactly the same in practice as it does on paper. Darq E Freaker’s winning formula – cooked up on the beat for Tempa T’s ‘Next Hype’ and refined on 2011’s ‘Cherryade’ – is deployed with algorithmic efficiency, and Brown’s randy bellow pushes things into the red. ‘Blueberry’ didn’t just slay rooms – it sloshed kerosene over them and razed them to the ground. [Audio]


13: FRANK OCEAN
‘THINKIN BOUT YOU’
(from CHANNEL ORANGE, ISLAND DEF JAM)

If nostalgia, ULTRA saw Frank Ocean pick lovingly over his past, 2012 saw the singer taking on the difficult job of actually making history. Ocean’s candid open letter about his sexuality was heralded by many as a genuinely transformative cultural intervention. Channel ORANGE, meanwhile, was hailed from the rafters as this decade’s great soul record, a nonesuch on a par with Innervisions or Voodoo. There’s some truth in both claims, but we’d venture that Ocean’s best chance of building a legacy is actually ‘Thinkin Bout You’ – a perfectly formed little love song that seems destined for inclusion in the Great American Songbook. Channel ORANGE had its more bombastic moments – the 10-minute fallen woman narrative ‘Pyramids’, or searing confessional ‘Bad Religion’ spring to mind – but nothing matched ‘Thinkin Bout You”s simplicity, immediacy and nested despair. [Audio]


12: RICK ROSS feat. GUNPLAY, STALLEY, WALE, MEEK MILL & KENDRICK LAMAR
‘POWER CIRCLE’
(from SELF-MADE VOL. 2, MAYBACH MUSIC GROUP / WARNER)

Chrtistmas is imminent, and we’re looking forward to the usual family fun: tableside squabbles, in-jokes, drunken speeches from embarrassing uncles, and the rest of it. ‘Power Circle’ succeeds so brilliantly because it makes Maybach Music Group feel like a real family – a dysfunctional unit that, for all their foibles, love each other after all. Over Lee Major’s gloriously over-the-top beat, everybody works the spotlight: the hysterical toddler (Gunplay); the bright nipper (Kendrick Lamar); the resentful middle child (Wale); and the doddering grandad (Ross, sounding as divorced from reality as ever). There are sub-par verses (we see you, Stalley) and infelicitous moments (Wale: “We don’t mess with weak squares in the power circle”), but they only make this nine minute induction all the more heartwarming. As warm, bright and daft as a reindeer jumper. [Audio]


11: ALDEN TYRELL feat. MIKE DUNN
‘TOUCH THE SKY’
(CLONE JACK FOR DAZE)

2012 had its fair share of singalong house jams – hiding bodies, walking and just, like, doing your own thing some of the numerous subjects covered – but Clone’s in-house mastering engineer Tyrell hit the jackpot with ‘Touch the Sky’, a wigged-out collaboration with Chicago veteran Mike Dunn that moved us like few others. [Audio]

10: BLOOM
‘QUARTZ’
(GOBSTOPPER)

Grime producers really came correct this year. Those who’ve travelled through the lower circles of this list will already have encountered Champion, Trends, Logos and Preditah. In part, ‘Quartz’ – the debut release from Belfast newcomer Bloom – takes top billing because it synthesises all of the above into one neat package: it rages like ‘Crystal Meth’, twinkles like ‘Kowloon’ and bangs like ‘Green Forest’. Ultimately, though, ‘Quartz’ was reading from its own hymn sheet. The intro shares as much with Autechre as it does with eski, and only Theo Parrish’s loony ‘Any Other Styles’ matched Bloom’s punch-punch-kick drum programming. It’s chatoyant as diamond and rugged as rock. In Bloom’s words: “I just wanted to make people’s reactions go “What the hell is that?””. Mission accomplished.


09: VATICAN SHADOW
‘CAIRO IS A HAUNTED CITY’
(from SEPTEMBER CELL EP, BED OF NAILS)

Dominick Fernow’s “militant religious industrial” project Vatican Shadow has become synonymous with a claustrophobic and avowedly lo-fi techno sound, so the relatively sparkling and expansive ‘Cairo Is A Haunted City’ came as a wonderful surprise, its intricately wrought, star-gazing synth patterns the equal of Carl Craig in his pomp, its drum patterns near-Drexciyan in their aqueous electro attack. Despite this change-up in production terms, the mood remains impeccably murky, paranoid and battle-fatigued – in other words, Vatican Shadow to the core. [Audio]


08: ODD FUTURE
‘OLDIE’
(from THE OF TAPE VOL. 2, ODD FUTURE / SONY)

For all of Frank Ocean’s solo success, the OFWGKTA brand was looking pretty iffy in 2012, with the clique apparently more interested in turning out hideous videos and fronting naff TV vehicles than knocking out much good music (concession: that Newsnight appearance was priceless). The patchy The OF Tape Vol. II had more flubs than triumphs, but, hidden away at the end, was ‘Oldie’ – a neat summation of everything that made the Odd Future legend so beguiling in the first place, and, considered alongside its exuberant video, the best crew cut of the year. As per the best Wu-Tang joints, ‘Oldie’ just sounds like sparky kids kicking loose. Hodgy Beats is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; non-rapper Jasper Dolphin gets a crack at the mic; Tyler delivers one of his best verses; and – shock twist! – Earl Sweatshirt returns from the dead. Tell’em, Tyler: “I was 15 when I first drew that donut / 5 years later, for our label, yeah we own it.” [Audio]


07: KUEDO
‘LIVE WORK AND SLEEP IN COLLAPSING SPACE’ (LAUREL HALO REMIX)
(PLANET MU)

Laurel Halo’s Quarantine was, in the truest sense of the world, an experimental record – a forensic attempt to knock the building blocks of contemporary pop slightly out of whack. Her remix work, however, kept the hanky-panky and self-sabotage to a minimum. Halo notched up numerous successes – check her remix of Lianne La Havas’ ‘Forget’, an amazing bit of amniotic electro – but her real triumph was this breathtaking edit of Kuedo’s Planet Mu single. In a year when so much music was loud, busy or brutal, Halo’s remix felt like a sanctuary. Over gently shuddering dub techno, the Ann Arbor native flaunts her remarkable talent for strange sonic details – pranging zithers, bubbles colliding, lowing computers, the glow of dawn. Undiluted succour for the soul, wreathed in a chalk circle. [Audio]


06: ZEBRA KATZ feat. NJENA REDD FOXX
‘IMA READ’
(JEFFREE’S)

In a year where ballroom beats and queer rap were both, well, in vogue, ‘Ima Read’ did what so many “Ha” crash-sampling tracks could not: fuse the provocative energy of the ball with the street-ready edge of hip-hop. Enter Brooklyn rappers Zebra Katz and Njena Redd Foxx. The pair grab the spartan, bass-heavy beat by the nape of its neck, never letting go as they run down a fierce laundry list of threats and promises. [Audio]


05: JESSIE WARE
RUNNING (DISCLOSURE REMIX)
(PMR)

It would be churlish of us not to give high billing to this, one of 2012’s biggest crossover successes, and the tune that served as a calling card for two of its most significant breakthrough acts, Jessie Ware and Disclosure. It’s an inspired alloy of locomotive 4/4 thump and spry garage skip, with lush chords that build inexorably to hands-aloft trance-abandon, but Disclosure’s precocious genius likes in the way they chop up Ware’s vocals with a ruthlessness that borders on the Akufen-esque, without compromising their pert, punchy pop appeal.


04: KENDRICK LAMAR feat. GUNPLAY
‘CARTOON AND CEREAL’
(SELF-RELEASED)

Much has been made of the fact that ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ didn’t make the cut for Kendrick Lamar’s world-beating Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, and yes, it’s both remarkable and admirable that someone could release 2012’s best hip-hop single and then sideline it because it doesn’t quite fit the album’s narrative (although, depending on who you believe, some sample clearance gremlins might have had a part to play). But as frequently established this year, Compton’s Lamar plays by his own rules – and on ‘Cartoon & Cereal’, he’s not the only one. If Gunplay’s verse on ‘Power Circle’ was an absurd announcement of a new cowboy in town, then ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ was his pitch for an Oscar nomination, tackling slavery, prison time and painting a ghoulish picture of a beleaguered hustler left exposed (“No mic, no cameras, no lights just pain / Mama how much trauma can I sustain?”). Kendrick, meanwhile, takes a backseat – he’s almost in a director’s role here, Gunplay clearly working under Lamar’s guidance – gazing back over simpler times and the first time he encountered death. When the two come together for the hook, the results are sheer hellfire. [Audio]


03: KING BRITT PRESENTS FHLOSTON PARADIGM
‘THE CHASE’
(from CHASING RAINBOWS EP, HYPERDUB)

2012 was a banner year for Hyperdub. Obvious highlights include Laurel Halo’s opinion-dividing but deservedly much talked-about Quarantine and December’s Burial 12″, but for us Kode9’s most inspired A&R decision of the past 12 months was to put out an EP by Fhloston Paradigm, the Logan’s Run-inspired sci-fi electronics project of Philly house veteran King Britt. The Death Star-storming title track and astral synth wig-out ‘Liloo’s Seduction’ were both wonderful, but it was ‘The Chase’ that blew us away: eight minutes of brain-scrambling, broken beat-driven techno that felt, and continues to feel, like the sound of the future we’ve all been waiting for. People, it’s here. [Audio]


02: JULIA HOLTER
‘MARIENBAD’
(from EKSTASIS, RVNG INTL.)

One of the buzziest events on the London arts scene this year was long-running immersive theatre event You Me Bum Bum Train. Participants (note: spoilers ahead) are typically invited to take an Alice In Wonderland-style journey through a succession of outlandish scenarios. Push through a door and you find yourself in TV studio commentating on a snooker game; turn a corner, and you’re a conductor, commanding a full orchestra; spin around, and suddenly you’re a trainee hairdresser being asked to give somebody a scalp massage. Some participants laughed uncontrollably. Some cried.

‘Marienbad’ was YMBBT‘s musical equivalent – a labyrinthine, endlessly inventive shaggy dog story of a song. Holter’s 2011’s out-of-nowhere LP Tragedy was hardly short on ambition, but ‘Marienbad’ goes the extra mile. ‘Marienbad”s chapter list goes something like this: prim chamber-pop, redolent of Joanna Newsom and Natalie Beridze; a baroque knees-up, carried by some dazzling harmonies; Reichian phase music; dub chamber tomfoolery; and, finally, Chromatics-style bruised disco. It’s a dazzling display of dexterity – the sound of ten china plates, all spinning at once. [Audio]


01: ANDRÉS
‘NEW FOR U’
(LA VIDA)

Once upon a time – as recently as the start of this year, in fact – FACT used to casually refer to Andrés as the most underrated man in house music. No more: with ‘New For U’, the former Slum Village DJ and Moodymann running mate finally saw the sort of love that his output has deserved for over a decade. A beautiful blend of house, disco and soul – the lines between each melted into each other like butter in the sun – in some clubs it was inescapable, a status aided by Ostgut Ton label manager Nick Höppner closing his Panorama Bar 04 mix CD with it this Summer. We doubt we’re the first publication to pick ‘New For U’ as our track of the year, and something tells us we won’t be the last, but that’s because it’s simply 2012’s most transportive, blissful, God-damn undeniable single – as sorrowful as it is smile-raising, it went down like honey from the very first listen, and it never felt like anything less than a classic.

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