First part of my annual rundown of favourite music listened to this year, along with some attempts at justification for it. Usual rules apply: individual songs are liable to be pushed up the list by the work of the artist as a whole. The top 15 will have to wait until the new year, when I find some time to write about it...
31. Kelela - Bank Head (Extended)
Kingdom's instrumental emerged in January on the uneven Night Slugs Allstars 2 compilation, where it was overshadowed by (previously released) tracks from Girl Unit, Lil Silva and Helix. It appeared again in May on his Vertical XL EP for sister label Fade to Mind, with a vocal by then unknown singer Kelela. It stood out then next to the skeletal grime it introduced. In October, an extended version forms the centre-piece of Kelela's first mixtape CUT 4 ME where she sings over productions from Bok Bok, Jam City and Nguzunguzu. And it still stands out, perfected by the addition of additional layers of vocals and the space for them to stretch out and soar.
30. Storm Queen - Look Right Through (Lil Silva Remix)
Lil Silva drapes all manner of reverberating percussive lines and exotic noises over the 4x4, and makes this hymn to loneliness a potent addition to any dancefloor. A shame that Kelela didn't pick out a couple of his riddims to sing over, really.
29. E.m.m.a - Dream Phone V.I.P.
Blue Gardens, a shimmering, aquatic take on grime and funky, soundtracked a lot of wet early morning commuter journeys on the tube. I found the album quite unassuming on first listen, but it wormed into my life so easily I almost didn't notice how much I've ended up listening to it. It works best as a whole, and I've struggled to pick out a single track to exemplify it. The ones with Rebel MC and Sully stand out because they are heavily stamped with the collaborator's identity, but E.m.m.a. herself is harder to pin down. I've settled on Dream Phone, where she pushes her synths to sound almost shrill and harsh: a carefully calibrated balance between pleasant and painful.
28. Dom & Roland - Unofficial Jah
I spent quite a bit of time this year buried within the shattering breakbeats of No U Turn's Torque and Metalheadz's Platinum Breakz compilations, as well as a ruthlessly filleted version of Goldie's two disc Timeless. Nothing quite brought that back to the present like Dom & Roland's remix of Goldie's Jah The Seventh Seal. Those scuttling drums running underneath that massive half-step stomp - quite something.
27. Mumdance & Logos - Drum Boss
Cold Mission has now replaced Blue Gardens on those wet commutes. Keysound Recordings, (who released both albums, a heap of great EPs as well as a very good compilation) ruled the post-dubstep label roost this year, and Logos is the sharpest weapon in their arsenal. This track with frequent collaborator Mumdance (which appeared on Tectonic as it happens), is probably his most destructive.
26. Kelly Rowland - Kisses Down Low
Ms. Rowland seized on Lil Wayne's promise to "turn that thang into a rainforest" for her comeback single: championing the joys of cunnilingus in the most full-throated way possible, replacing the sighs and moans of Motivation with a huge pop chorus and Mike WiLL's hazy synth-work. Gloriously silly.
25. Busta Rhymes feat. Nicki Minaj - #Twerk It (Remix)
Though not quite as silly as this. The hashtag is entirely appropriate, highlighting how brazenly the chorus is crowbared into the minimal bed of gloops Busta and Nicki rap over. The emphasis shouldn't be on 2013 most notorious dance craze, but two of New York's best MCs putting on their finest yardie accents.
24. Helix - Whoosh Ice Dispenser
Now that Ramadanman isn't delivering the goods anymore (that name change was ruinous) we'll have to rely on Helix, although the rest of his Club Constructions EP somewhat dampens our confidence. This is a blitzkrieg of percussion interspersed with blasts of static: almost as if the track is gasping for breath. You will be too.
23. Pev & Kowton - Raw Code
Peverelist, on the other hand, is nothing if not dependable. If anything, he's getting even better. Less frenetic than the Helix track, but it digs deeper (particularly that bass). The way the different elements overlap is nothing short of mesmerizing.
22. Kevin Gates - Just Ride
Mainly because of Curren$y on the second verse, so languid I wouldn't be surprised if he was horizontal when he recorded it. But touching as well: "I was five, pictures of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on my wall. Now if I wanna see one I just step in my garage" - which is pretty much the story of street rap condensed into two bars. Also that pleading chorus by Gates, ostensibly bored by talking about his wealth, but really asking for a short respite from all the work he has to put in to accumulate it.
21. Joanna Gruesome - Secret Surprise
Turns out I still miss those guitars. My Los Campesinos! fandom being effectively dead and buried, when I heard that these guys were also from Wales and use their band name as their surname, I thought I may have found a replacement. Stupid reasons to get interested, really. And Joanna Gruesome are a different proposition, their washed out vocals lacking that bite I was looking for. But this is the exception: a scream of "I dream of pulling out your teeth!" is joined by a big dumb thrashing riff and I'm five years younger again.
20. Droideka - Get Hyper
My favourite moronic EDM-flavoured drum and bass seemed to come out last year. This one's a bit different, the two-step rhythm of so much drum and bass accentuated with toasting by a garage MC: "now badboy, are you ready for the bass? My DJ yo get on the case". Que enjoyably squelchy mechanoid farting.
19. Threnody - Emergency
Big Dada's Grime 2.0 compilation was a rather odds and sods collection, and its highlight is actually the very last track, a six minute long ode to midnight dangers, all horror film glints and violent bass pulses between harrowing empty space.
18. Instra:Mental & dBridge - White Snares
The highlight on the Nonplus Think and Change compilation (depressingly it was the oldest track on there). A pretty arpeggiating melody line is suspended above warm bass and stop-start drums, while a male and female voice, faded and echoing, call to each other. It has the feel of winter about it, something to put on during a walk in the snow (if we had any).
17. Kowton - And What (Kahn Gyal-Dem Edit)
Simple really. Just throw a Brandy vocal over a Kowton beat and you have your future R&B piping hot and ready to devour. I liked Kelela's mixtape a lot, but this is twice as captivating as anything on there.
16. DJ Rashad - Rollin
While the jungle flirtation of Let It Go is diverting, Rashad's hip-hop indebted Rollin is the superior track for me, all because of the way he continuously finds new ways to wring torrents of emotion out of those two lines of chipmunk soul.