22.12.14

Favourite Songs of 2014 (Part 1)

Usual rules apply. One song per artist, with allowances for features. A large body of work that has impressed this year is liable to push entries up the ladder. Part 2 will have to wait until I gather the courage to write through the top 14. To the list:

28. Fracture & Sam Binga - Grippin' Grain
Having done a couple of these lists now, I've realised how certain songs from different years mirror each other. Which leads on to the rather depressing thought that there may only be a limited amount of "types of song" that we're destined to keep attaching ourselves to. We replace the old version with the new one, but how often to we ever fall in love with something genuinely new? Perhaps the answer is that the music we look for serves only a particular number of individual purposes, and as long as these remain the same, we'll continue to go back to the same familiar formulas. Case in point: this no-frills piece of footwork-indebted drum and bass, remarkably similar to last year's scuttling 'Unofficial Jah' by Dom + Roland. Always there for when you need your ears cleaned by rapid-fire metallic percussion. Until next year's model comes along.

27. DJ Q & Flava D - PS
UKG vocal science at its most delectable. The unintelligible syllables are chopped and mixed by chefs so skillful, they threaten to distract you away from the chunky baseline they've laid down underneath. An effervescent and elusive female vocal provides a chorus in which to breathe between mouthfuls.

26. Sean Paul feat. Konshens - Want Dem All
ILX makes me passingly aware of the bounty that spills out of the Caribbean each year, but I never investigate as fully as I should. This banger somehow managed to force its way onto the list. EDM adds a superfluity of bells and whistles to the dancehall chassis while the man with the steadiest flow in Jamaica rides serenely above it all, waxing with gluttony and bending language on the hook, exhorting the listener to "move your body-dy-dy!"

25. Tirzah - No Romance
Although her score for Under The Skin received the plaudits this year, my preferred 2014 output from Mica Levi was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The noisy clutter of her work with the Shapes piled up at one end of the room to make space for a loping beat and the louche chants of the thoroughly unambitious Tirzah.

24. Kiesza - Hideaway
I find it impossible not to like Kiesza, the go-getting Canadian former marine who has turned her prodigious discipline to making faultlessly on-trend UK house-pop. The one-take video (13 million views) is certainly impressive – I particularly enjoyed the red shoes nodding both to Oz and The Red Shoes. The beat is serviceable, but the real draw is Kiesza's rich and piercing vocal, adding just the right amount of melodrama to the song without watering down its emotional punch.

23. Zed Bias feat. Stylo G & Scrufizzer - Shizam
Zed Bias was obviously pleased with his Madd Again! remix of Scrufizzer's 'Kick It', enough to invite Scru to grace this dancehall-tinged single for Black Butter. Bashment star Stylo G (responsible for one of my favourite songs of 2013) more than holds his own against Scru's trademark "fizzy" flow. My Nu Leng's more sedate and accessible remix seems to have gained more converts this year, but for now I prefer the energy of the original.

22. Ziro feat. Trim - Lost
Nu-grime is crying out for new MCs, but the high value attached to Mumdance's track with Novelist strikes me as an instance of demand outstripping supply. As this lists will show, I've generally remained more loyal to the old guard's beats and bars. That said, Trim's (literally) offbeat flow has always shone on the stark and weird end of grime, and this track proves he has the most to offer the Boxed producers.

21. Dark0 - Gaia
The closest nu-grime comes to a end-of-the-night, hands-in-the-air, stadium-sized anthem. In fact, hardly any grime remains on its polished surface. Dark0 splices together Ruff Squad's emotion-drenched melodies, Kid-D's breathy vocal snippets and Rustie's brazen digital maximalism. And to add an extra layer of new age gloss, he calls the thing "Gaia". In the cold light of day it isn't even that affecting – it's so OTT it almost sounds like a prank. But I can just imagine the synths cutting through a set and elevating everything to a whole new level of epic.

20. Hannah Wants & Lorenzo - Breathe
I find a lot of electroline dull when it's not actively annoying, so it makes sense that I would fall for a track that's cleaned up and released on Shadow Child's label. Swung drums, deep bass stabs, prevalent pads and a shimmer at the edge of the vocal sample. Like a gust of fresh air gently rocking your hammock as your yacht cruises towards ever more balmy climes.

19. TRC feat. Lily McKenzie - Closer
There will always be a need for throwback vocal garage tunes a la turn of the millennium Artful Dodger. TRC is yet another bassline survivor following DJ Q, TS7 and many others back to the UKG source. Lily McKenzie's vocal betrays just a smidgen of grit, but her chorus is all multi-tracked lightness, conveying the careful push-pull between defiance and submission in the lyrics.

18. Throwing Shade feat. Emily Bee - Sweet Tooth
Nothing anyone can say will shift my conviction that this is a chillwave song pure and simple. A warm haze envelops a lilting synth line while Emily Bee coos "He's so sweet, rots the teeth" in between trickles of lascivious laughter. She sounds sinister, but she isn't. She's just expressing the surfeit of delight that comes with gazing at cute boys. Like sugar, it's not good for you, but we all need a binge sometimes.

17. Bok Bok feat. Kelela - Melba's Call
Much of last year's Cut 4 Me mixtape was very good, but this is superior. Bok Bok somehow manages to find an intersection between Jam & Lewis and R&G – rude bass groans bumping up against synth and snare stabs straight out of Janet's Rhythm Nation. Kelela is by turns resigned and pleading, in control and out, admonishing and seducing, with the stops and starts of Bok Bok's production releasing tension only to build it up further.

16. Dej Loaf - Try Me
Reading so many EOY lists this month was eventually going to turn up something that would make it onto my own. Dej Loaf sounds like a 12-year-old with a blocked nose, which makes her threat to "put a burner to his tummy and make it bubbly" all the more surreal and frightening. Dej rambles about the death of one cousin, the incarceration of another, and "a heart full of demons" over a glistening beat from DDS that wouldn't sound out of place under an R&B slow jam. It's this contrast between sound and substance that makes the track such a compulsive listen.

15. Kero Kero Bonito - Flamingo
Should declare an interest: my girlfriend is very good friends with Sarah from the band. But then again, they are so approachable you feel like almost everyone is. Pace all the talk of PC Music's insincerity, what's striking about KKB is their generosity – a leave-your-baggage-at-the-door attitude to pop which makes room for sing-it-back choruses, weird noises, bad jokes and raps in Japanese. 'Flamingo' can almost serve as a manifesto for the band, except that most of their songs already sound like manifestos. "Show off your natural hue" Sarah urges over a loping beat, "if you're multi-coloured, that's cool too". Gareth Campesinos! once described erstwhile tour mates Johnny Foreigner as a band you can live your life by, and KKB are the same. Sign yourselves up. Pin the badge on your satchel. Their new single proves they are only getting better.

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