Great music came in all shapes and sizes in 2014. In an age increasingly defined by the range of options at our disposal as opposed to any one style or trend – you were as likely to be singing the praises of a cassette reissue of obscure Egyptian Acid as you were to be eagerly anticipating the latest Dubplate heater. With their fingers perpetually on the proverbial pulse, our writers reflected this with their monthly choices of the best music around – something which continues as they round up an excellent 12 months. Here we have polarizing Hip-Hop hits, unexpected posthumous mixes, startling comebacks and exciting breakthroughs on a list which we hope will have you nodding your head in agreement or spitting mince pie out in disgust. Merry Christmas.
EshOne – ‘Ups & Downs VIP’ (Elk Beats)
The 140BPM focus of 2014 fell mostly on Grime, but a little away from the spotlight Dubstep was still doing its thing. One of the best releases of the year was EshOne’s ‘Ups & Downs VIP’ – a gritty, certified ‘screwface’ inducer. It might not have had the dubplate hype of Loefah’s ‘Woman/Midnight’ or Kromestar’s ‘Mere Shere’, but it had been doing damage for a year prior as a staple promo in DJs such as Kahn and Joe Nice’s sets. It dropped on EshOne’s new Elk Wax imprint as 10″, with ‘Flight VIP’ on the flip.
Dorian Concept – ‘Draft Culture’ (Ninja Tune)
I slept on this when it was initially released as a single sided 12″, but when I listened to Dorian Concept’s ‘Joined Ends’ LP it stood out as one of the most powerful tracks on the record. ‘Draft Culture’ sits a little more aggressive than the fairytale synth rides on the rest of the album, but still utilises the cinematic phrases that make Dorian Concept’s music so enticing. Special mention to Ninja Tune as well, who had an amazing year of releases.
Ron Hardy – RA.415
If you’re not into this, I don’t really have much hope for you. Banging House and Disco edits, with a sublime ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ megamix from the maestro. Maybe it doesn’t have quite the same energy as it would have done back at C.O.D. in ’87, but as a musical archive, you can’t really fault it. For all its faults, Resident Advisor done good here.
Bobby Shmurda – ‘Hot Nigga’ (Epic)
Grimey shooters dressed in G-Starrrrrr. It’s base, crude and “everything that’s wrong with Hip Hop”, but there’s something about this track that just does it for me. A tough instrumental and superbly ignorant lyrics, it doesn’t matter that anything else Mr. Shmurda has put out is kack.
Percussions – ‘Ascii Bot’ (Text Records)
Who runs the world? Four Tet. And he set the bar unattainably high in 2014, with releases under his Percussions moniker. A favourite alongside ‘KHLHI’ was ‘Ascii Bot’. Almost Reich-like in his repetitive ‘Electric Counterpoint’ treatment of the opening sample, ‘Ascii Bot’ is a dancefloor-orientated song with a brain. It’s as if a chart-topping producer did a collab with a wise musicologist. This song was a highlight of many day parties and festival sets over summer. It’s a track with longevity, which automatically transports you to those exact memories as soon as the opening loop is heard.
Aphex Twin – ‘XMAS_EVE10 (Thonaton3 Mix)’ (Warp Records)
It took him thirteen years to resurface, and even then, it was with an album of tracks which perhaps even pre-dated my birth, but the proof of Aphex Twin’s enduring genius was in the ‘Syro’-flavoured pudding. Never disappointing us with abstruse song names that sound like a Windows 95 computer in meltdown, ‘XMAS_EVE10 (Thonaton3 Mix)’ was an album highlight. The eerie opening of vast spacial sound effects and computerised vocals at a sub-level pitch still failed to prepare us for what was to come in this track, which is perhaps one of Aphex Twin’s most melodic and heartfelt moments on the album. Just another reminder to the world that, despite his ever-growing mystery and questionable hibernation patterns, Aphex Twin continues to shit on us all.
Fatima Al Qadiri – ‘Shanzhai’ ft. Helen Feng (Hyperdub)
I have no idea why I like this track so much but, when it first came out, I found myself listening to it over and over. It’s completely unique, at least compared to anything I would normally listen to, and very relaxing. Props to Hyperdub.
Answer Code Request – ‘Thermal Capacity’ (Ostgut Ton)
Could have easily picked ‘By The Bay’ from the same album, but this track takes my prize as 2014’s best. Heard in the right context – ie. either as the last track of ‘Code’ or at a particular nightclub – I find ‘Thermal Capacity’ to be about as moving as techno can be.
AG Cook – ‘Beautiful’ (PC Music)
‘Beautiful’ exists at the confluence of the worst excesses of stompy Glaswegian ‘thinking man’s EDM’, every Dance Pop tune that isn’t the peerless ‘We Found Love’ and the sickly sweet Happy Hardcore that leaked out into my provincial town square from the youth club growing up.
More than anything else in the alternately vaunted and taunted PC Music catalogue though, AG Cook’s mission statement – the one he put his own name to, free of ‘collaborators’ or complications, the one that perennially sits atop his label’s Soundcloud page – works best when taken purely at face value. The only time I was fortunate enough to hear this played out in a club in 2014 people were crowdsurfing. Every time it was dropped at a house party, people stopped pretending to like one another and actually liked one another. The tune itself is great, but the effect is has on people is beautiful.
Rustie – ‘Attak’ (feat. Danny Brown) (Warp)
Perhaps more than any other rapper, Danny Brown has harnessed the current banger era’s full potential, spitting brutal, honest, often hilarious double-time boasts and toasts like some cross between ODB, Kendrick and the drunk on the corner. In the year of Grime’s (critical) renaissance, it’s a cruel twist that anything London produced was trumped by a Scottish producer and a madcap Detroit MC, but ‘Attak’ was undeniable.
Rustie wrote the best classic guitar riff of the year without a guitar in sight. The echoes of crotch-thrusting radio fare and underground experimentation writ large in ‘Attak”s caterwaul neatly summed up Russell Whyte’s appeal at his best (an appeal that has otherwise entirely eluded me). After the shrapnel is cleared away and Danny has stumbled off into the distance, it’s that riff that is still ringing in your ears.
Lee Gamble – ‘KOCH’ (PAN)
Not so much a collection of tracks as it was a headspace, Lee Gamble’s third album was amongst the most involving pieces of music to be released in recent years. For 80 minutes the producer embarked on a journey aeons beyond his previous micro-dissections of the Hardcore continuum and in to a sonic hinterland that was as unsettling as it was beautiful. The likes of ‘Motor System’ were curt but impactful nods towards the floor, but mostly ‘KOCH’ was designed for headphone based introspection – with the vast fathoms of exotically swirling ambience holding myriad rewards for attentive listeners.
Dej Loaf – ‘Try Me’ (Self Released)
With 2014 seeing rappers such as Migos, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug dominate with hooky sing song like flows, it was perhaps only right that one of Hip-Hop’s most exciting hits was based around this trend. Riding shimmering synths that evoke her city’s formidable legacy in electronic music, 23 year old Detroit MC Dej Loaf’s treated rap-sung lyrics sound unstoppable on ‘Try Me’. Lashings of post-‘808’s & Heartbreaks’ era emotional honesty blend seamlessly with cartoonish threats of violence to create an anthem that’s both undeniably original and maddeningly catchy.
Gantz & El Mahdy Jr – ‘Rising’ (Deep Medi)
I’ve gone for this purely because I couldn’t stop playing it for almost a month. The collision of two sounds – Gantz’ take on the classic Medi template and the enchanting, spiritual calls of Turkish vocalist El Mahdy Jr – makes for a thoroughly rewarding listen that tugs at the spiritual chakras in a way music of this ilk rarely does. Best of all, it feels real and authentic – it’s music from a place.
Murlo – ‘Roman Baths’ (Rinse)
For all Murlo’s brilliance this year, it’s ‘Roman Baths’, with it’s sweet, idillic textures and grandiose aesthetic, that enveloped the most acute of visual-listening experiences for me. Transporting you to worlds of his own imagination – and they are places I personally could stay in for a long, long time – even if you are not caught up in the cinematic appeal, on a purely musical level, Murlo’s technical approach to production is stunningly left-field. This is the weirdest (and best) of the lot.
Call Super – ‘Suzi Ecto’ (Houndstooth)
This record has been receiving a huge amount of praise over the last three weeks and rightly so; it is probably one of the finest pieces made this year in the world of electronic music. At times a blissful search through ambience and space, at others thick with dark and brooding textures. Here, JR Seaton has created a galaxy of sounds that suck the listener in, there is a story in it for each of us that becomes more complex and intricate the further in you go.
Marco Shuttle – RA.441
The London-based, Italian Techno master uses 90 minutes to explore some of the finest selections in ambient and psychedelic trips, phenomenal Techno workouts and the timeless ‘Glen 21’. Not usually a sound to remain still whilst listening to, this mix could be just as good for achieving meditative states in a horizontal position, as it could be for a riling a dance floor into delirium.
Kyle Bobby Dunn – ‘Kyle Bobby Dunn and the Infinite Sadness’ (Students Of Decay)
Kyle Bobby Dunn manages to tread a fine line. He can make some of the most effective heart-wrenching Ambient music out there whilst at exactly the same time take the piss out of what he’s just done. Drone (Ambient music at it’s purest and most minimal) often suffers from a case of ‘soppyness’ and excessive earnestness almost to the point of jumping into new age territory. Bvdub’s 2014 album ‘Home ‘that’s otherwise excellent falls down at this hurdle. It’s great to know with track titles like ‘Boring Foothills Of Foot Fetishville’ and ‘Duck Faced Fantasy’ Kyle can have a laugh while you blissfully zone down.
Frank and Tony – ‘You Go Girl’ (Scissor & Thread)
Atomosphere and authenticity. Those two simple things are what modern faux-Deep House lack. Following in the footsteps of contempories such as DJ Sprinkles, Frank and Tony deliver a pensive, meloncholy and reflective long player. These club ready tracks superbly capture the lost art of considered early House music. A joyous and hedonistic sound derived from oppression, insecurity and injustice.
Seven Davis Jr – P.A.R.T.Y (Live Bonus 12″) (Apron)
The arrival of Seven Davis Jr has, undeniably, been one of 2014s more prominent breakthrough stories, taking advantage of the heat surrounding his 2013 releases for IZWID and Must Have records with solder hot jams for The Love Below, Classic and Funkineven’s Apron imprint. Released mid-December, the ‘P.A.R.T.Y.’ (Live Bonus 12″) restitches Davis Jrs Apron debut from earlier in the year, using a distinctly purple thread. The four on-the-fly versions manage to breath even more life into the jacking soul of the originals. Keep your eye out the for his debut album in 2015.
Tirzah – ‘No Romance’ (Greco-Roman)
This wonky number was highly anticipated when it came out in April and I’m genuinely surprised on how much it was slept on in the end. Gentle and convincing, Tirzah & Michachu’s lo-fi take on Pop is one of the genres greatest achievements of the year. Real showmanship lies in simple songwriting.
Dopplereffekt//Objekt – ‘Hypnagogia’ (Leisure System)
TJ Hertz came into his own in 2014 with a long play debut in ‘Flatland’, but it’s ‘Ganzfeld’ on the b-side of this split release on Berlin’s Leisure System that struck the deepest chord. From the first time we heard that tremendous baseline fluctuate, it was a certain fact that it would be contending for track of the year. Less immediate but masterful in precision Gerald Donald shows he’s still got the Midas Touch via his Dopplereffekt project with ‘Delta Wave’. Here with To-Nhan Le Thi, Donald has procured a fresh take on that anxious vitality of his expansive back-catalogue. Allow yourself to be swept through the threshold of consciousness…