1. M83 – Midnight City
Layers of synthesizers congregated into 4 chords and punctuated by cascading drums. Some breathy vocals, a few sparse lyrics about city’s being churches and the mutating skyline. That’s all it takes to make a great record, and yet event music like this comes around so infrequently. The world has finally caught up to M83.
2. Azealia Banks – 212
Where did she come from? The track hits you in the face like the proverbial brick wall that Banks dances in front of in the video for this Baltimore club track.
It's funky, somewhat dirty and unavoidably catchy.
3. Jacques Greene - Another Girl
If James Blake took ecstacy one night and somehow found his way back to the studio, I dare say he might cook up something tasty like this. a shuddering, Brandy-sampling shot to the heart and feet, 'Another Girl' builds to its happy place and takes residency.
4. Kendrick Lamar – A.D.H.D.
Lamar uses his Compton heritage as a foundation for his music, but he refuses to let it spill over and soil his uniquely abstract take on R&B. A.D.H.D. is a perfect gateway for non-fans, a woozy, addictive groove grounded out through Lamar’s vivid storytelling.
5. Pusha T - Trouble On My Mind (Feat. Tyler, The Creator)
Pusha recalls the Clipse's glory years here, with new kid Tyler the Creator filling in for brother Malice. The two can't be more dissimilar, but this track is the melting pot where the two street-wise minds meet. The result is a hard-knock, no-frills classic.
6. Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - We Found Love
Every now and then simplicity trumps all before it. Case in point.
7. Beyonce – 1 + 1
Beyonce turns out original classics like most people brush their teeth, yet most of what we’ve come to know as her ‘classics’ are more up-tempo gems like ‘Single Ladies’ and ‘Crazy in Love’. So when this track dropped (along with many jaws), it was a refreshing turn and a stunning result. Channelling Sam Cooke and belting out with rare restraint, Beyonce and super-producer The-Dream nail this old school aesthetic with a song that is timeless.
8. Nas – Nasty
Nas didn’t release a record this year, which is probably a good thing, as undoubtedly it would have overshadowed this great track. It’s a simple Salaam Remi head-knocker, with Nas spitting rapid-fire lyrics
that don’t stray too far from his ‘gods son’ persona. The difference is the dexterity of the flow, a throwback to a time before you-tube rap convinced everyone and his brother they could rap.
9. Jay-Z/Kanye West – Otis
Thank god they cleared that Marvin Gaye sample. A simple Kanye produced beat, it recalled his early ‘College Dropout’ sound and gave the two a chance for some old school back-and –forth flow. Some great
lines abound too, mostly from the always entertaining Ye, and the clip with the stripped-down Maybach was dope.
10. Nicki Minaj – SuperBass
Nicki came through like Dungeon Dragon in 2011, and although Pink Friday was a colossal disappointment, it still contained this frothy gem. Originally a cast-off buried deep in Pink Friday's tracklist, it went viral and ear-wormed it's way into pretty much everyone's Ipod by years end. It's sorta sad, but ultimately optimistic and has Nicki goofing off like we wish she would more often.
11. Jamie XX – Far Nearer
The song announces its arrival softly, the smattering of steel drums slowly syncopating, waiting for the dubby vocal drop to arrive. When it does, it twists in and out of the mix like Burial, if Burial was headlining a Jamaican block party. There’s nothing particularly dramatic here, just everything slotted together beautifully.
Jamie XX had his hand in a number of striking songs this year, this one is the most fun and most accessible.
12. The Dream – Body Work
It was a quiet year for The-Dream, but even a quiet year is a big one. He wrote/produced some of the best stuff on Beyonce’s album (Girls, Countdown, 1+1) and found time to release a free album (1977). Body
Work was meant to be a single of his new studio album, but due to label dramas, the album is still sitting on the shelf. Luckily, The-Dream dropped the single for free anyway.
The track builds on everything The-Dream does best. Walls of cascading synths, layers of vocal ad-libs, there all here, there’s just more of them. On top of all that is some of most literal sensuousness he’s ever spat, with a double entendre of a chorus that lets us knows his subject has a) a nice chassis and b) a body he wants to see ‘work’. It’s The-Dream 101, but when it’s done like this, it’ll love you down.
13. Cut Copy – Need you now
Slow building beats, with lyrics about longing atop a chugging dance track. This is what slow-burners sound like, somewhat like shaking a coke for five minutes straight before releasing its spray in a gushing torrent.
14. DJ Khaled feat. Drake, Lil Wayne & Rick Ross
The definition of a summer banger.
DJ Khaled - I'm On One (Feat. Drake, Rick Ross &... by BlakMusicFirst
15. Katy B - Broken Record
Katy B's album was one of my favourites this year, and 'Broken Record' is one of many highlights from it. The song is deceptively good, with Katy B not having to resort to diva-like histrionics to get her point across.
Instead of bellowing the beat into submission, she rides it like a surfboard, navigating her way around Geeneus & Zinc's rollicking soundscape.
16. Jamie XX & Gil Scott-Heron - I'll take care of u
Before the tune was co-opted by Drake and Rihanna for a highlight of Drake's huge new album, it was all Gil Scott-Heron's. His raspy voice was dragged along the sparse yet beautiful Jamie XX instrumental, sounding forever intimate and full of longing whilst still leading feet to fields and floors.
17. The Rapture – How deep is your love?
Where were the Rapture? And were they ever coming back? Via a sparse video clip showing a hand placing a needle on a record labeled 'How Deep is your Love?', our questions were answered. The piano loop, a throwback to house in a year drowning in them, was strident enough to separate it from the pack, and with Luke Jenners squall and the Rapturesque basslines, The Rapture crafted a song almost good enough to salvage their entire comeback album.
18. Soulja Boy - Zan Wit That Lean
With a track almost as addictive as 'Superbass', Soulja Boy somehow managed to manufacture a crossover hit that doesn't even seem like one. How come when Kwony Cash sings 'I keep my hammer on me' all I can think about are balloons and fairy floss?
19. The Weekend – The Morning
Abel Tesfaye voice couldn’t sound good over much else. Squelching synths anchor looping guitars and some background drums that sound like muted fireworks. The Spartan backdrop is aching for Tesfaye anxious coo, and he obliges, describing the bleached-out pre-dawn debauchery before him with a detached nonchalance and a keen eye. You could only feel at home with this if you lived in strip club.
20. Frank Ocean – Novocane
Ocean dropped his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra at the start of this year on an unsuspecting public. Like the rest of the album, ‘Novocane’ was nihilistic, yet romantic and more importantly, it knocked.