The 50 best tracks of 2014
Here we go then: the last of our main 2014 features.
As ever, our 50 Best Tracks are just that – something doesn’t have to be a fully-released single to quality, with mixtape cuts, Soundcloud uploads (as good as a single for the year’s best label, lest we forget) and album highlights all featured. For the most part though, this is a list of singles: from our top 10, all but one were available as standalone singles, and all but two had music videos. FACT, eh? Ever the traditionalists.
More End of 2014 features:
The 20 best albums of 2014
The 20 best reissues of 2014
The 20 best labels of 2014
The 20 best cassettes of 2014
The 20 best mixtapes of 2014
The 20 best free mixes of 2014
The 20 best videos of 2014
The 20 best album covers of 2014
Has 2014 been the best year for dance albums in recent memory?
Power ambient – the sound of 2014
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/51)
Que’s breakout this year was undoubtedly 2013’s ‘OG Bobby Johnson’, with its skeletal bass drops informing the year’s sound, but its follow-up ‘Jungle Fever’ might be even better. The Atlanta rapper considers the benefits of an inappropriate relationship with his – white – teacher, and while the beat might be basically ‘Versace’ on a budget, it’s guaranteed to keep the strip club goin’ up any night of the week.
49. PENDER STREET STEPPERS
Chipper house from Vancouver’s Mood Hut, who, alongside an ace release from solo Stepper Jack J, had the market for soulful house shufflers sewn up this year. First heard on PPS’ low-key 2013 cassette release Life in the Zone, ‘M Flight’ is light and tangy as sorbet, and earned club play in unexpected quarters as a result. Golden coda, too.
‘Benz Friends’ ft. Andre 3000
(A1 / Freebandz / Epic)
The most surprising track on the uneven Honest, ‘Benz Friendz’ reminded us what Future can do when he’s hungry, even if it takes having his idol on the track. Andre 3000 came out of semi-retirement for this, effortlessly dropping the kind of lines that have kept hopes high for a Three Stacks solo album because – let’s face it – that OutKast album is never happening.
‘Advice to Young Girls’
While Dean Blunt evolved into romantic collagist and, on this year’s record, unlikely indie revivalist, his former Hype Williams partner has shifted towards the UK’s skewed dance lineage. The highlight from her debut album Because I’m Worth It is a collaboration with Actress – a hell-raising instruction manual for young girls intoned over a sparse, lumbering backdrop of soft organs and snuffly hi-hats.
‘Black Dragons’ ft. Riko
Once got wheeled so hard on Boiler Room that it broke a CDJ.
45. DANITY KANE
‘Lemonade’ ft. Tyga
(Stereotypes / BMG)
The union of Dawn Richard, Shannon Bex and Aundrea Fimbres couldn’t even stay together until the release of the third Danity Kane album, but we’ll always have ‘Lemonade’: the better of two songs that turned the legendary ‘Grindin’ beat into R&B fodder this year. When life hands you haters, make haterade.
44. JOHN BARERA & WILL MARTIN
This list is, pound for pound, probably our aggiest in living memory, so, in the name of balance, here’s ‘Awake’, which scratched a similar itch to our favourite track of 2012. Barera, better known as a techno operator, and Martin lifted our spirits with this open-hearted roller disco jam, which sounds like it could have cropped up on a Roulé 12” c.1998.
43. JAM CITY
We can’t knock the cavalier attitude of an artist who, faced with his difficult second album after a seminal, potentially career-defining first, casually bins every facet of his trademark club-damager sound and wades into wonky, waterlogged bedroom-funk. ‘Crisis’ is irresistibly gooey, a muffled yacht rock blancmange that shunts forwards on hulking slabs of bass, and if Jack Latham’s freshly debuted vocals are too soggy to make out, who cares – we’ll trade him for those silvery disco licks.
42. YEMI MARIE
(Prize Music Entertainment)
Snatching fragments of bop lynchpin Dlow’s popular ‘Dlow Shuffle’ and fusing it with silky-smooth r’n’b proved a surefire way to our hearts, and in doing so young singer Yemi Marie chanced upon a formula that we’re begging her to repeat. It’s not the most obvious fusion of styles, but it feels so natural that we’re half-expecting a bop-pop hybrid to make its way into the Billboards come 2015.
41. MERIDIAN DAN
‘German Whip’ ft. JME & Big H
An Aphex blimp, Hawtin dashing monitors, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin – 2014 was packed with eye-popping news stories, but few were quite as curious as ‘German Whip’ – the tale of a Meridian also-ran (and part-time boxer) who stumbled upon grime’s biggest vocal anthem in years and got signed to PMR, home of Disclosure and Jessie Ware. Whether Dan’s whip runs out of gas remains to be seen, but at least he got more out of the deal than Big H – no wonder the poor sort had to ask Jammer for more P.
40. FALSE WITNESS
(Lit City Trax)
New York’s False Witness anchored a strong year from Lit City Trax with ‘Makina’, a kunq concoction that bounds between tribal house, Caribbean grooves and rave nostalgia and poses a question that is certainly apropos in 2014: “What political machines of oppression are you buying into? Which societal mechanisms do you have to destroy?”
39. DJ MILKTRAY
Kid D on No Hats No Hoods, a Radio 1 special and the lost Katie Pearl album – much was made of an r’n’g resurgence this year, but some of the sound’s biggest anthems came from a circle of producers taking inspiration from the pitch-up-and-chop-up style of Dipset and Blackjack. Finn’s ‘Keep Calling’ and DJ Milktray’s ‘Hotel’ were the best of the bunch though (shout to Gundam’s superb Flirtation EP, and side-eye to a host of new producers already copying the three of them), with ‘Hotel’ in particular never failing to take clubs into third gear.
38. OG MACO
‘U Guessed It’
At one point on ‘U Guessed It’, OG Maco wonders aloud, “Y’all couldn’t hear me!?” That was never the case with the Atlanta riser, who shouted, screamed, growled and hollered his way into the rap conversation and was never better than on his barely-there breakout. And while it’s since been excised, Key’s “fall asleep in intersections” lyric still gets a chuckle.
Of all the PC Music tracks calibrated to piss people off, this AG Cook/SOPHIE collaboration is arguably the biggest nose-tweaker – too janky and gaudy to win over the skeptics, but also mainstream enough to leave fans of PCMus’ weirder output scratching their heads. Even without the stylised ugliness or gleeful retroism of PC Music’s best work, though, ‘Hey QT’ has two assets that guarantee its place on this list: bright-eyed cheer, and the sort of chorus that, played loud enough, could feasibly heal the lame.
‘Break A Mirrored Leg’
After a long pre-release gestation – the track first did the rounds in 2011, credited to Josh Sixty – ‘Break A Mirrored Leg’ finally arrived, and reminded us all why it got a Hessle Audio co-sign back in the day. Jabbing, shoegaze-y techno, like a Luke Abbott tune with a roman candle rammed up its fundament – and amidst a lot of gloom, the sprightliest thing Young Turks released all year.
Where on earth did ‘Circles’ come from? Over an instrumental that sounded like a pimped-out ‘Pyramid Song’, Chief Keef affiliate SD seemingly disregards the rules of drill – hell, of rap – and collapses in on himself, hanging on to that sing-song hook like it’s a lamppost in a hurricane. If you’re one of those people who never normally have time for Keef et al, this piece of top-notch Chi-cadelia is a perfect place to have your preconceptions (and mind) blown.
34. TRC VS. MURLO
‘You & Me’ ft. Ruth
TRC makes the best vocal garage this side of DJ Q and Mike Deliquent, and like many great garage singles, ‘You & Me’ was only made better by its remixes. The ever-cheery Rabit had already boiled the track down to blackened drums and chamber noise, but Murlo’s honey-soaked r’n’g overhaul gave it a welcome fireman’s lift into the daylight.
‘The Way I Feel’
Doss’s breakthrough single proved almost as divisive™ as you-know-who at times this year, but even the cynics struggled to accuse ‘The Way I Feel’ of being cynical. It’s posh trance, sure, but it’s not poking fun at the genre; Doss instead offers a sincere take on the style, and it’s as gorgeous, euphoric and addictive as anything from the trance daddies of yore.
A nasty gem from the avalanche of revivalist jungle tracks we’ve enjoyed and endured over the past 12 months, featuring buckets of suspense, several head-clutching drops (yes, we’re still soft for a Big Drop from time to time) and hardware popping off like an explosion in Homebase.
31. BOBBY SHMURDA
God bless 2014 – surely the first time in history where the year’s most ubiquitous after-party anthem, the year’s best dance move and the year’s most Vined activity (fuck an ice bucket challenge) were all one and the same.
‘Club Goin Up On A Tuesday’
The most unlikely star in rap, Makonnen went from unknown underground fixture to Grammy nominee in less than six months. The thrillingly off-kilter singer-slash-rapper laid out an ode to midweek partying over Sonny Digital’s mad scientist beat, caught Drake’s ear and the rest was history – we still prefer the version without Mr. OVO, though.
29. JT THE GOON
A raft of release delays didn’t make this 2014 reboot of Jammer’s ‘Chinaman’ any less welcome, and it certainly hadn’t left our heads by the time it finally dropped.
28. FKA TWIGS
The year’s best video, and the early climax of one of its best debuts: a sex jam as sad as it is sultry, packed with depth and detail.
27. MARQUIS HAWKES
‘Can’t Find A Reason’
Marquis Hawkes has spent the last few years churning out sample-driven house with alarming consistency, and the potential of a bigger audience via Houndstooth’s co-sign simply saw the veteran up his game – ‘Can’t Find a Reason’ is his catchiest, and best, moment to date.
After the runaway success of ‘Bipp’, spuds to SOPHIE for only getting weirder. If Bernard Parmegiani was commissioned to write a crunk song, the results might sound something like ‘Lemonade’ – elastic, chintzy, and bristling at the edges of what a pop song can, and should, sound like. Tactual genius – although, it becomes a very different record if you spin that bonkers new Yellow Tears record first.
25. THE BUG
‘Function’ ft. Manga
In which Kevin Martin pitches for some of that TNGHT dollar, and comprehensively out-knocks the competition. ‘Function’ isn’t the first of the ‘Devils’ tracks on The Bug’s third album, but it’s the one that, after 20 minutes of ambient drift and souped-up trip-hop, hits like a (to quote another Bug collaborator) pencil through your temple. As chatters-for-hire go, he couldn’t have done much better than Manga, whose gasping, strangulated flow scythes through the strum und drang. Not much else could scalp the roof of a club quite like it.
‘Dope Boy Magic’
Stark and aggressively minimal, ‘Dope Boy Magic’’s urgency is only heightened by its phenomenal, skeletal production. As other artists tried to create their own grime pastiches, Zmoney and his collaborators created a comparable energy almost by accident.
This gert filthy belter from the shady duo entered our lives via Perc’s FACT mix, where it marks the moment we tip from a relatively decorous hammering into darkly hilarious all-out assault. Thigh-slappingly good industrial techno japes to make you cackle out loud.
22. DEJ LOAF
It took some of us a while to get the hype around Dej Loaf’s breakthrough, but we couldn’t stop playing this melancholic anthem. The 23-year-old Detroit rapper’s soft-edged voice is deceptive: there’s nothing in rap harder or more threatening than what Dej does with subtlety and grace, and when rappers like Fat Trel can’t outdo you on freestyles, you’re doing something right.
21. ANDY STOTT
‘Faith in Strangers’
Stott’s put in the hours over the years, so he’s more than earned the right to write a soppy pop song – and double credit to him for turning out something that ranks up there with his finest work. Arriving at the tail-end of the oppressive (and excellent) album of the same name, ‘Faith in Strangers’ is a breath of perfumed air – a post-punky ballad with an electro sound palette and a lovely sodium glow, and the best showcase yet for chum/muse Alison Skidmore’s vocals, too.
20. SLUG CHRIST
‘On It (Seven Grams)’ ft. Stalin Majesty
Awful Records’ resident based-goth Slug Christ teamed with fellow darkness-dweller Stalin Majesty for ‘On It (Seven Grams)’, a song that had us wailing “AK with a beam on it” at CMJ, on the radio, and — let’s face it — alone in our blacklit bedrooms. From the first wave of smokey ambience to the last notes of its music box melody, this one had us transfixed.
19. FRANK & TONY
‘Bring the Sun’ ft. Gry
(Scissor & Thread)
Frank & Tony’s shimmering deep house is a beam of bright light cracking through a grim backdrop, and the aptly titled ’Bring the Sun’ might be their finest moment – it’s certainly the highlight of this year’s You Go Girl. Blessed with a vocal from Danish singer Gry Bagøien that’s so smokey it needs a health warning, it does everything at its own treacle-logged pace and is all the better for it.
18. HANNAH DIAMOND
A negative-of-sorts to 2013’s ‘Pink and Blue’, next time someone accuses PC Music of merely being fluff play them ‘Attachment’: a poignant ballad that’s both timeless and tailor-made for the digital age.
Who, under the age of 35 at least, makes techno with the same authority as Objekt? In some ways his debut album Flatland saw him return to his soundtracking routes, but ‘Ganzfeld’ was a reminder that no one can hold down a dancefloor quite like Hertz. The fact that it out-Aphex’d half of Aphex Twin’s first album in 13 years merely proved a hilarious bonus.
JRPGs, grime, Vine: We must have read the same article on Dark0 a hundred times this year, and we probably wrote half of them ourselves. The North-West Londoner had one hell of a breakthrough year though: his Fate and Chaos EPs expanded on and developed the rushing melodies of last year’s I Ain’t A Sweet Boy, and his careful curation of K9’s Mad In The Cut resulted in grime’s best vocal mixtape in God knows how long. Dark0’s most beautiful instrumental moment by far, ‘Gaia’ almost felt like a victory lap before the point, but don’t hold that against it: not since ‘XE2’ has a grime beat swept us away with such regularity.
15. SD LAIKA
According to some sources, Milwaukee’s Peter Runge is done with releasing music, and any psychoanalytical close reading of ‘Meshes’ – about as churning, muddled and downright nasty a track as we heard all year – suggests he could probably do with the break. Listening to ‘Meshes’ is, in the best possible way, like weathering a particularly vigorous noogie – a creolised version of battle grime and meanie industrial techno that takes 0.0 prisoners. Pure toxic moonshine – have a huff.
14. LEON VYNEHALL
(Clone Royal Oak)
Absent from his equally superb Music For The Uninvited mini-album, ‘Butterflies’ is a euphoric peak-time charmer knocked up from a swaying piano groove, bags full of itchy percussion and seductive vocal sample. It’s strictly classic fare done with contemporary verve, and it marks the young producer out as a major new talent.
Gage’s trunk-rattling ‘Telo’ has been on rotation since it dropped, and doesn’t show any signs of losing its unorthodox appeal. Rhythmically it’s almost too clever to work – squint and it’s almost, welp, IDM – but Gage understands the importance of keeping things simple as much as he does the power of a tune that sounds like it’s simply slapping the shit of of you.
What’s not to love about ‘Red’? Jamaican-in-Atlanta Zuse fused dancehall’s ragged energy with the ATL’s weird new wave (courtesy of a killer beat from FKi) and it sounded like nothing else on the planet.
11. DAT OVEN
‘Icy Lake’ (Total Freedom Remix)
(Fade To Mind / Night Slugs)
Total Freedom rescued ‘Icy Lake’ from the murky depths of the past, and his remix is the most striking moment on the track’s Fade to Mind and Night Slugs re-release. The horrific melody and percussive assault sound best when fused to TF’s favorite samples: hellish howls and sultry coos punctuated by broken glass and mechanical violence.
‘Look At Wrist’ ft. ILoveMakkonen & Key!
With six muttered repetitions, Awful Records founder Father inadvertently rustled up 2014’s alternative rap anthem. Father’s rapping is so low-key that it’s in danger of falling through the earth’s crust entirely, but we’re struggling to think of a more fitting tribute to the Based God himself than a blank-faced earworm that sounds like it’s being beamed over from another universe. Even Drake’s a fan – go figure.
09. AG COOK
2014’s constant comparisons between PC Music and J-Pop miss the point – affiliate SOPHIE aside, the stable’s sound owes more to classic British dance and pop music than anything from Japan or Korea. That’s rarely more obvious then when listening to label boss A. G. Cook: as a DJ, he mixes music from his own camp with happy hardcore, dance crossover hits and dubstep, and ‘Beautiful’ fits so uncannily into a lineage of star-eyed euphoria anthems that until you actually google them, you’d swear the lyrics are ripped straight from something of this ilk. This is PC Music of course, so there’s enough production flourishes to remind you that actually you’re listening to something very, very modern – is that a sampled coin-toss for a snare, there? – but nothing the label released this year felt like a classic quite the way ‘Beautiful’ did.
08. RICH GANG
‘Lifestyle’ ft. Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan
Young Thug’s year included plenty of highlights, thanks to a seemingly ceaseless stream of brilliant one-offs and mixtape cuts, but ‘Lifestyle’ stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Even at his most triumphant, Thug doesn’t forget the past (the shit he’s done to get here) or lose sight of the prize (“I do this shit for my daughters and all my sons”). Thug drips with emotion, boasting, brooding and beyond; pairing him with the similarly melodic Rich Homie Quan was Birdman’s best move in years.
PAN’s best release of a strong year, M.E.S.H’s ’Scythians’ manages to shake up a genre that’s been in danger of stagnating. Instead of trading innovation for nostalgic admiration, M.E.S.H. pulls elements from a plethora of sounds – dub techno, house, jersey club – and fires them through processes until only bare traces remain; a series of faint fingerprints that requires multiple listens to truly decipher.
06. APHEX TWIN
‘minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]’
Yes, it’s essentially a reconstituted ‘Windowlicker’, but the first flare from Aphex Twin’s grand comeback album had everything we’d missed from RDJ – melodic smarts, labyrinthine track structures, nifty feints and dummies, sheer bug-eyed joy in sound. It was something of a false dawn – the bulk of Syro was seriously pallid by comparison – but ‘minipops 67’ suggested there was plenty of pep in the old mutt yet.
‘2 On’ ft. ScHoolboy Q
The year’s biggest and best r’n’b track, and the high water mark in a year packed with “Mustard on the beat” drops. The heavyweight Cali producer dominated the charts in 2014, and his collaboration with ascendent r’n’b starlet Tinashe condenses his sound while pushing it well beyond the established ’Rack City’ template. Iggy who?
04. MISS MODULAR
‘Reflector Pack’ (4×4 Mix)
Despite its simple 4×4 structure (ignore the 8-bar version which comes first on the EP and head straight to this one), no dance track seemed to pull in more directions at once than ‘Reflector Pack’ – Her Records’ quasi-crossover hit and 2014’s biggest rush.
The most anthemic cut on a flawless record, ‘Everything Nice’ distilled all that was great about Where We Come From into four minutes of bliss: Popcaan’s ray of light positivity and Dubbel Dutch’s slo-mo groove and linen-soft synthwork combine for a song that was blasting out of car stereos from Kingston to Kings County.
‘Take Time’ ft. Novelist
There’s not a lot to ‘Take Time’, and that’s exactly why it works. Mumdance’s riddim is about as simple and skeletal as they come, made up of TR-909 pulses and a pinch of carefully placed reverb – he’s since described his job as creating a “firework display” around Novelist – and Nov’s vocal performance is powerful and assured beyond his young years. The most simple of bangers.
‘That’s Not Me’ ft. JME
(Boy Better Know)
If you read our Tracks of the Decade So Far then you’ll have seen this coming. 2014 was grime’s strongest year in a long time in both the undergrowth and overground, and although that was the result of a joint effort – Butterz, Boxed, Novelist, Spooky, Gobstopper, Just Jam, No Hats No Hoods and more all did their bit – nobody made the year sit up and take notice like Skepta. He’s got past form – as we pointed out in that Tracks of the Decade blurb, he first raised the levels on pirate radio when he joined Roll Deep from Meridian back in 2005, and his 2012 album Blacklisted charted with zero press – but 2014 will go down as the year where Skepta both captured the zeitgeist by completely disregarding it, and became a worldwide star by shunning stardom.