Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Best Tracks of 2014: 10-1

10. Röyksopp & Robyn - Monument

The album mix of 'Monument' is almost ten minutes long, and it takes its damn time getting anywhere. Robyn marshals the first section with her robotic delivery, before the track then becomes more abstract, slowly weaving its way towards the end. This is late night soundtrack music in much the same vein as Twin Peaks or Blade Runner. The latter comparison becomes particularly apparent with the arrival of a saxophone cutting through the mist - like a warped form of lounge music set to a motorik pulse. It's not hard to picture Ryan Gosling's Driver character tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

9. Skepta - That's Not Me (feat. JME)

Skepta took it back to basics on this anthem which reached #21 in the charts, won a MOBO on the back of an £80 video, and became the basis of a hundred think pieces on the so-called grime revival. Grime never really went away, but 'That's Not Me' made the media sit up and start paying attention again. Skepta knocked up the throwback beat on Jammer's old Korg synthesiser, but it was his assured performance on the mic that took this one to the next level and gave real heft to a seriously strong year for the genre.

8. Beyoncé - XO

One of the most purely romantic pop songs of recent years. A declaration of love in and out of darkness, an urge to living in the moment. Assisted by an IMAX-sized beat courtesy of The-Dream (one of the decade's premier romantics), Queen Bey not only bested their previous collaboration 'Halo', but delivered perhaps her finest single to date. Surprise album releases have rarely felt this generous.

7. GFOTY - Bobby

Ok, ok - not strictly released in 2014 (see also: most of the PC Music tracks on this list), but we slept so hard on A. G. Cook's gang of post-Internet pranksters that we had to give them some props at the end of their breakout year. If we're being traditionalists, 'Bobby' is one of the most fully realised songs to come out of this camp, but it's still a singularly odd listen. The squeaky noises sound like a dial-up connection breaking into giggles, while the whole thing is underpinned by these ominous bass pulses. GFOTY (short for 'Girlfriend of the Year') has these wonderfully detached vocals, inviting us to look behind the words to find meaning, when actually it's all there for us on the surface.

6. Big Sean - I Don't Fuck With You (feat. E-40)

One of the year's best rap songs came from an unlikely source. Big Sean's cornball tendencies are still firmly in place, but he really stepped up his game on this one, perhaps remembering how he got so firmly upstaged by Kendrick Lamar on 'Control'. In 'IDFWU', Sean lets an ex know in some detail how he's doing just fine actually, he's got new girls and new cars and a new crib and he's doing JUST FINE. Methinks he doth protest too much, but still, there are some great lines here ("Fuck your two cents if it ain't going towards the bill"), and a brilliant E-40 verse and a soulful beat switch seal the deal. The beat, a DJ Mustard and Kanye West collaboration, sounds exactly how you'd imagine - a wonderful collision of Mustard's ratchet style and Kanye circa College Dropout. Between this and Rick Ross' 'Sanctified', I'm seriously hoping the pair have more in the vaults.

5. Mumdance & Novelist - Take Time

Wisely deciding to collaborate with Novelist after an NTS session, Mumdance used the TR-909 to construct this deceptively simple instrumental from scratch, razing the grime template to the ground and building it up again from the ashes. There's a lot of dead space in this beat and Novelist navigates it like a boxer, choosing his moment before delivering a killer punch. His flow is supremely confident, but casually so - a difficult task over such an unusual riddim. Mumdance's prolific output shows no signs of letting up this year, and Nov is perfectly placed to capitalise on his position as the hottest new MC. All hail the Lewisham Don.

4. Schoolboy Q - Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)

Following up the one-two strike of 'Get Lucky' and 'Blurred Lines', 2014 saw Pharrell continuing his chart dominance. From his own 'Happy' to Ed Sheeran's 'Sing', the guy's been pretty ubiquitous recently. Thankfully, 'Los Awesome' sounds like nothing else he made this year, or indeed anything since his Neptunes years. It's a nasty, snarling beat, fit for the gutter. Schoolboy Q proves up to the challenge, delivering a uncompromising gangster rap barrage. Unfortunately for him, Jay Rock's verse is nothing less than a triumph, continuing his impeccable track record of upstaging TDE artists on their own songs.

3. Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You)

Probably the consensus song of the year, and one of the best underdog stories as well. The (relative) success of Future Islands' massive synth-pop hit after an electrifying late night performance on Letterman was proof that, for some bands at least, years of hard graft and endless touring can pay off in spades. Lead singer Samuel T Herring performs like he's had the DNA of all the great frontmen - Bruce Springsteen, Ian Curtis, Iggy Pop - spliced into his body. But this was no cynical ploy for viral domination - Herring has been shaking his hips and unleashing death metal growls in dive bars for years - and thankfully, the song itself has had staying power far beyond the crazy dancing GIF. Herring's vocal range is incredible - not technically, but in terms of how many different emotions it can elicit. This is the key to Future Islands' success - a desire to really connect with people, a directness and a refreshing lack of irony. This is pop without the facade.

2. Hannah Diamond - Pink and Blue

 Couple With HeartHeart With Arrow

1. Todd Terje & Bryan Ferry - Johnny and Mary

The best song of 2014 wasn't actually from 2014 at all, but from 1980. Robert Palmer's 'Johnny and Mary', once used in a series of Renault adverts, became the centrepiece of Norwegian space disco wizard Todd Terje's debut album. What's more, he got the one and only Bryan Ferry to do the vocal. Ferry's delivery is fragile, quavering - perfect for this tragic tale about a seemingly paralysed couple. For Terje's part, he transforms what was once a peppy pop track into something more graceful and delicate. The synths sounds both yearning and exhausted, just as they did on Roxy Music's masterpiece Avalon.

Terje's decision to interrupt what is essentially a party record with this bummer of a song is a bold one, but somehow it works. When people talk about the heart of a record, too often they mean nothing more than simply the mid-section. Here, 'Johnny and Mary' is the throbbing, aching heart at the centre of Terje's Club Tropicana lounge bar schtick. It's Bill Murray at the hotel bar in 'Lost In Translation', Harry Dean Stanton framed by neon in 'Paris, Texas'.

This collaboration wasn't without precedent. Terje had previously done a remix of Roxy Music's 1975 single 'Love is the Drug', along with remixes of Ferry's own 'Alphaville' and 'Don't Stop the Dance'. And it may yet have more life in it. At the tail end of 2014, Ferry released a new solo record, Avonmore. Down to the Celtic font used for the cover art, it sounded and felt like a carbon copy of Avalon, the end of the party for Roxy Music and a glorious ride into the sunset. Avonmore ended with 'Johnny and Mary', extending the fadeout. Rarely has a track felt so well placed.

No comments:

Post a Comment