Making a list and checking it twice: Tim's 2011 Pop Revue

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The ILX Version.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:11 (six years ago) Permalink

101. Delilah - Go

A curious feature of what on ILM is called "uk urban" - that grime / R&B / dubstep interzone which seems to increasingly dominate the UK pop world's vision of itself in 2011 - is how serious and emotional it often is. I suspect this is a result of a couple of different trends intersecting: the funereal pace of the typical (pseudo)dubstep rhythmic undercarriage encourages poses of (variously) frustration, confusion, resilience, defiance and and hysteria more than it does the comparatively simple romance-in-the-club charms of, say, prime 2-step, while also demanding a lot of melodic detail to fill in the gaps where the beats might be. Add to that, I think, a sensibility that when asked "what is the soul music of the streets?" reaches for Blue Lines rather than "Return of the Mack", and you get a lot of people trying to make the next "Unfinished Sympathy" or "Safe From Harm". "Go" is what happens to this idea when you remove most of the drums: a tense, synth-driven ballad that liberally interpolates "Ain't Nobody", in the process transforming it into, naturally, a tale of dangerous obsession, Delilah's delicate breathy performance the best indication of the arrival of 90s revivalism you'll find. The most winning quality of "Go" is its unlikeliness, the kind of tune I keep playing back just to check it's how I remember it.

100. 151 Feva Gang - Kush Groove

At first glance a ridiculous record - enthusiastic hazy lazy pimped out party rapping over "Music Sounds Better With You" and, yeah, that's it - "Kush Groove" actually is part of a sadly limited tradition of rap as summery disco throwback which if fate had been kind would have been a big thing again before rap as buzzy euroclub throwback was. The last track I remember rocking this notion this hard was De La Soul's "Simply" - if you have other suggestions please let me know. My love of "Kush Groove" is also typical of modern pop culture, in that I came for the lols and stayed for the vibes; it helps that there's nothing smug or smarmy or cynical feeling about the tune or 151 Feva Gang's lackadaisical (rather than lazy, whatever they say) shoutalong performance. It's precisely the serendipitous ease of this collision that makes it so charming, a happy radiosurfing accident whose sole concern is how enormous a grin it can elicit. Extensive testing suggests its powers crest on the third play in a row.

99. Ms Jaie - Fall Outta Love (Paleface Remix)

Post-Burial R&B vocal cut-ups in British dance music is a thing that seems more prevalent than it actually is, perhaps because as a move it's fairly high-stakes and ostentatious. To my unusually raised (by 2-step) standards this modern practice is fine in theory but often not as functional or as pleasure-centered as I'd like (I do still often like it though, e.g. Blawan's "Getting Me Down" obviously, but also Dubble Dutch's respectful remix of Deborah Cox's "It's Over Now"). By contrast to the high-impact pyrotechnics of such efforts, the trad-housey bump of "Fall Outta Love" might seem conservative and tentative, but I found over the course of this year that this was a slowburner of epic proportions, Ms Jaie's yelps and squeaks stuttering and strobing across the bouncy groove with an irresistible, hypnotic intensity, breaking into the rhythm with the same quality of uncertainty and determination that propels the singer to leave her no-good man forever.

98. Clapz II Dogz - Between The Edit

Rather than sitting in any particular style or trend, most of the slow house/disco stuff I liked in 2011 kind of bled between deep house, slo-mo, disco edits and balearic, in a state too smacked out and bleary to observe clear sub-genre delineations. "Between The Edit" may have a very boring, functional name for what sounds like the gates of heaven inexorably opening to allow a flood of manna to descend, but this also makes a kind of sense. The tune is a love letter to loops, each element in thrall to the rigor of loop-logic: that EQ'd to infinity diva vocal, the gauzy amorphous synth chords, the sweeps of sparkledust, that bumping bassline at the end of every 8 bars that seems to say "here we go again", the intensity ratcheted up on each repetition. "Between The Edit" is one of those rare tunes of which you can say "it seems longer than it is" and mean it as a compliment: for much of its length time just seems to stop.

97. Katy B - Witches Brew (Silkie Remix)

This remix handily solves two problems for me: Katy B's album is fine ,but with the exception of songs released last year nothing on it codes to me as a standalone effort I'd want to write up here, while Silkie's City Limits 2 only makes me think "not as good as its predecessor" when I put it on. Happily Silkie concocts a standout when he approaches the closest thing to a new standout on On A Mission. Katy's vocals on "Witches Brew" were already amongst her most irresistible, the dovetailing components of its verses and choruses attaining a sense of pop-inevitability that I felt the overly busy, breakbeat-driven arrangement of the original struggled to match. Silkie's remix is no less (in fact possibly more) busy, but its syncopated garage bustle adopts the same logic as Katy's vocals, the endless tumble and skip of the groove demanding its own forward movement, a dance you couldn't bust out of even if you wanted to (which you don't).

96. Paula Cole - Feelin' Love (Psychemagick Reem Mix)

I was actually quite into Paula Cole when I was 14, but hadn't listened to her almost since then, so there was a very odd sense of recognition and rediscovery when Dane pointed me to this amazing new house mix of a forgotten (ahem) Paula "deep cut". This is Paula doing sexed up soul, which from memory only partly works in its original form, but is a perfect foil for the gorgeously warm groove it now floats across. Every bit of this is exactly as it should be and no more: the intensely glowing bassline, the thwacking snares, the unexpected piano vamping. Basically, this is generic house music at its best, the kind of house it's easy to forget still gets made not because it's disappeared but because its charms aren't really suited to dance music's ever-increasing cult of personality and genre-turnover, and, well, the fact that there's not really much to say about the tune except that it's very, very sexy.

95. Nikkiya - When I Was High

The imagined conceit behind "When I Was High" - what if Lina circa Stranger on Earth thought she was Kelis circa Kaleidoscope? - is such a fine one that it's no criticism at all to say that Nikkiya never really moves beyond that perfectly formed "what if" here, the harp ripples and histrionic string riffs and snapping beats and Nikkiya's sensuous but ambivalent performance all suspended in a space of impossible-to-repeat seductive slyness. So many tricks to love here: the eerie harp-assisted echoes of the refrain "life seemed so damn good", Nikkiya's jazzy rhythmic lilt on "I'm in my ma-ma's room, snea-kin her supply", her almost indifferent aside "I'd rather be happy even if it is a lie." All up, it makes for the kind of leftfield one-shot that R&B still seems to excel at (albeit now mostly out of the public eye) better than just about any other genre.

94. Hot Natured - Forward Motion

I assume that making irresistible Chicago male diva throwbacks is actually harder than it looks, because otherwise it makes no sense that there's only about three or four decent efforts each year. The 2011 model isn't quite a "Reckless With Your Love" (let alone a "Music is the Key" etc.), but it hits all the right notes with an insouciant ease that seems to say "well, we weren't even aiming for that you know, we was just cruising." It took me a little while to realise that the idea behind the Hot Creations label was to basically repeat the past glories of Get Physical some 7 years ago, only more obvious than before, but now every track I hear just underscores the point in a way more pleasurable than dispiriting. 90% of the charm here is the way in which the smooth vocalist mirrors the rising and increasingly hammering bassline (or is the other way around) as if to signpost the hook with highlighters and swirls and sparkles; but if "Forward Motion" treats its audience like they're a bit stupid then it also meets them there, as chuffed with its big dumb hook as you would be if it was yours.

93. Chipmunk & Mavado - Every Gyal

If there is a point to UK (post)grime rappers in 2011 beyond straight parochialism (or provincialism, take your pick) then it's the comical seriousness they seem able to bring to even the most cynical of cross-over attempts. "Every Gyal" isn't really cross-over given it basically crosses from one para-urban tangent to another; this was very big on BBC 1Xtra's dancehall charts but I never saw it mentioned elsewhere unless maybe r|t|c recommended it beforehand (and he probably did). But there's always something inherently cheesy and opportunistic about rap/dancehall fusions whether in the US or the UK, dancehall's quasi-religious veneer of righteousness (however thinly this has already been spread within the confines of dancehall proper) grafted onto the local dreams of some rap rising or falling star for a strictly rationed dose of cross-cultural frisson. Which, of course, is one of the reasons to love this kind of thing on principle. Here, the still-aptly-named Chipmunk gets to match his urgency (more pre inter-school football than block war) with the reliable portentousness of Mavado, sounding typically and delightfully lugubrious, while the beat is basically the best fusion of 2011 trance-synth drama and Jamaican strut possible, the bass in particular being fucking on. It's almost too much drama for Chipmunk to master, but perhaps that's what makes "Every Gyal" so winning; the sense of its star grappling with the task of making shit get real in a code he barely can decipher.

92. Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris - We Found Love

I always liked gay clubbing, but my friend Catherine taught me to love it, inhabiting its world of ritualised declamations with an intensity that I would find scary if I didn't know exactly where it came from. I was ambivalent about "Only Girl In The World" right up to the point where I heard it (or, perhaps, witnessed it) on a dancefloor in her presence, and then it became the most fabulous thing ever. By the time "We Found Love" emerged, so indoctrinated was I within this psychological headspace that I got the tune almost immediately, but I understand why many don't: it's like a creature that has spent all its time feeding one obsession until all its extraneous body parts (actual groove, melodic complexity, any kind of meaning, more than 2 ideas over the course of three minutes) wither and waste away; this in itself is a kind of nobility, a full-blooded (if not full-throated) commitment to a very specific idea of pop that is prepared to sacrifice everything else in the pursuit of its cause. I "got" this early, but became sentimentally attached to it a bit later, when I witnessed for the umpteenth time how unifying this music is not for twinks in gay clubs (though them too), but secretaries in middle suburbia (who, to be really real, are basically twinks in betraying thirty year old female bodies; the dress sense and conversations both are pretty similar), for whom, I surmise, "We Found Love" feels particularly, intensely, pure. In the clip, Rihanna imagines herself on a British estate, but the truer video would have been rather more boring, in a check-out line or at a desk temping in an anonymous office, all those hopeless places where you find - not love, but all the shadows and traces and drunken fumblings left in the wake of its rumored passage.

91. JG vs Dev - Bass Down Low (Bassline Remix)

I'm not a priori opposed to brostep or its masculine hi-jinx, but it does seem like a puzzling missed opportunity that brostep rarely if ever does smutty, or at least not terribly well. Even when you get comedy dirge-step remixes of R&B tunes the effect is less robo-smut than a boot stomping on the face of sex forever (though there's one massive exception forthcoming). It would be several bridges too far to suggest that bassline consistently succeeds where brostep fails, but when it does succeed it does so without even seeming to try, which is how you know its constitutively better suited to the task at hand. Dev sounds like she's been pitched for bassline remix purposes even when she's singing normally, so she forms a perfect skeletal structure around which JG can lace stuttering and snapping beats, shrill synth-strings and, of course, turgid rumbling bass (though rather less than you might expect). At its best, bassline is utterly compulsive, by which I mean that there's not much left but compulsion, its febrile jerks and tremors almost the entire point; imagine if Front 242 had made miami bass, basically. "Bass Down Low" captures exactly that feverish but pointless expenditure of energy, its rigidly reticular rhythm and deadened vocal chant the latest in a long line of rave's depictions of stimulation beyond endurance.

90. CJ Hilton - Cold Summer

"Cold Summer" has one of those attention-grabbingly real sounding old school beats that gets heads talking, but in truth this is just the densely woven lattice supporting Hilton's deliriously great vocals, his feathery falsetto skipping across the arrangement like a stone across the surface of a lake, that is if a stone somehow could strut. The build from the bridge to the chorus here is particularly startling, a skyscraper spontaneously erecting itself layer of multi-tracked vocal by layer. The question that usually occurs to R&B skeptics at this point is, "can something so rigorously formalist really feel?", but Hilton is as fine a paragon as any of R&B's eternal truth that cutting loose and binding yourself in ever more tightly are essentially the same gesture. "Cold Summer" depicts the endless winter after your lover has departed as an endless winter for everyone, and if Hilton loses himself in the spider-web melodic strands of genre it's because he'd rather be lost than found, the resulting compensations of craft the only bulwark against desolation. If you can't find such formalised sighs of frustrated longing at least as compelling as a holler of pain, then perhaps you haven't really been through a proper break-up, haven't felt its contours which match the well-sculpted lines of popular myth even from the inside. Hilton sings like he's holding something back, and he is, and it's killing him.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:24 (six years ago) Permalink

89. Alexandra Stan - Mr Saxobeat

It seemed like, in 2010, europop finally woke up (or, at least, in a substantive manner) to the idea that perhaps sounding more euro might be a good idea. So, before the prickly house synth chords take over entirely, "Mr Saxobeat" leads in with a vaguely Balkan horn riff, and something of the riff's sly hip-swiveling inheres in the tune even when it's not there - in Alexandra's rolled Rs as she sings "makes me move like a frrrreak", in the percussive "oh oh oh oh yeah, unh yah" male groans of the chorus, in the tune's general bubby effervescence, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bad hangover after a lot of cheap champagne. The song doesn't make a lick of sense, of course, but I stopped expecting that from europop at about the time of La Bouche's "Be(at) My Lover" (as per the fashion of the times, though, Alexandra is a far wispier singer). Of course, apart from that tendency towards lyrical inanity and Alexandra's accent there's not a whole lot to distinguish "Mr Saxobeat" from a contemporary R&B single, unless, could it be, a certain innocence about the whole enterprise upon the part of Alexandra and her collaborators: such incorrigible bounciness feels less like a cynical cash grab when this sound already and indisputably is your culture's lingua franca.

88. Icicle ft. Robert Owens - Redemption

I definitely like the idea of the Autonomic sound (a fusion of drum & bass with clean-lined atmospheric dubstep, basically), in large part because of how it transforms what you might call dubstep's penchant for rhythmic suggestiveness, clipping along at a sprightly pace but always tracing the outlines of something even faster, murky imprints of polyrhythms that come clattering out of the fog only to disappear again. Problem is, I haven't really been that bowled over by that much of it in actuality, for reasons that are hard to define; I'd say it all gets a bit tasteful and samey, but in truth that's just the default criticism I nearly always have for a sub-style I haven't immersed myself in, and I've taught myself not to trust it. At any rate, this I love. I suspect that Icicle is some kind of johnny come lately autonomic bandwagonist, but on "Redemption" and its sister track "Step Forward" he has the inspired idea of combining the misty tundra vibez of the autonomic aesthetic with Robert Owens in primo isolationist soulful melancholy mode, and the effect is predictably massive: like if Lexis had handled the rhythm section for the mid-period Main Street Records singles. I also wonder if the edge that these songs have on all the other atmospheric dubstep vocal tracks floating around is their inheritance from latter-day drum & bass of a certain aerodynamic singleness of purpose. Whereas most everyone else is still beholden to Burial's papery messiness on some kind of deliberately-flawed "sound of urban decay" tip, "Redemption" is sharp and clean enough to cut your heart out with.

87. Monique Lawrence - Casanova (Fuzzy Logic Remix)

The perhaps singular talent of Fuzzy Logik is to insert the most uncomfortable, feet-confounding beats into the most flawlessly shiny pop songs: whereas 2009's soulful "In The Morning" seemed constantly to trip and stumble over itself, "Casanova" feels like a Monique (the other Monique) song set to the most complicated game of skip-rope ever, the kicks and snares stabbing relentlessly in the spaces in between where the beats should be as if afraid to pause for breath even for a moment. This restless groove powers Lawrence's ceaseless back and forth between suspicion and seduction, her verses and choruses and middle-eight likewise running into one another until she is agitated to the point of either walking away from her man forever or holding out her wrists for the handcuffs. On first listen "Casanova" seems too unbalanced and jittery to really make it as an anthem, but its freestyle-aping vibe makes more and more sense the more you play it , its nervous excess of energy (not just those beats, but two basslines, spiraling synth arpeggios and a gossamer web of sighing harmonies, all wired up on something) attaining a kind of pop-universalism through sheer effort. I often get stuck in patterns of playing this four or five times in a row, because the grace of the fencing match between it's various ideas is so unexpected and so involving that I feel like just watching it all day. And there I go again.

86. Tarrus Riley - Natural

I think one reason I used to fall for Sizzla's club-centric tracks so hard and so often was in how the more spiritualistic qualities of Sizzla's performances - not the lyrics, but the way in which a certain yearning and righteousness was permanently imprinted in the very grain of his vocals - collides with the despiritualised sexuality of dancehall's best bangers, offering an implied fall-of-Eden narrative in one direction and redemption-through-passion narrative in the other. Tarrus - less idiosyncratic and ruined-sounding than Sizzla, more in the vein of a kindly, charismatic patriarch - offered a number of such collisions this year, with "Natural" my favourite by a small margin. "Me love how ya natural" he extols, "and you no depend 'pon chemicals fi look hot...", invoking a socio-political, educational frame of reference in what is otherwise a sex tune, and adding some dignity to what are essentially pick up lines ("when the most high made you, he must have had me on his mind..."), but Tarrus' voice is better suited to this kind of grandfatherly commendation than full-blooded gangsta seduction in any event. The arrangement, too, treads a fine line between booming physical intensity and a certain simple largesse that offers a nobility beyond its appearance as uncompromising club banger, the cavernous bass aspiring to something bigger and deeper than it is, while the reliably slamming snares keep it always tethered firmly to the earth (see also: the half-uplifting, half-menacing "Armageddon Time").

85. SE62 - Dreaming

Deej put me onto this amazing disco edit, not quite in the same pantheon as "A Lifetime Groove" - perhaps because less heart-tuggingly imploring, and more firmly ensconced within that state of unconcerned euphoria that is so often the disco edits scene's most successful modus operandi - but totally irresistible nonetheless. As is typically the case, "Dreaming" makes magic out of a handful of very simple elements: blissed out guitar, ocean washes, some spectral disco diva vamping and a simply gorgeous liquid saxophone solo that bubbles up and across the groove with a utopian, carefree joy, like Norma Jean Bell trying to make her own "Pacific State". The solo ends too quickly, and the tune soon follows it, making this one of the most replayable edits I can think. Most contemporary disco edits are obsessed with the shamanic powers of repetition - archeologists of the hypnotic groove, uncovering nuggets of endlessly loopable motifs in the most unlikely of places - and "Dreaming" is no different, but it also pays tribute to the chimerical flash and brilliance of that which won't stay still, its e'd up fluidity offering the tune its own running narrative of "I can't believe this is happening" ecstatic wonderment.

84. Maria Minerva - Noble Savage

"Noble Savage" sounds like the kind of rudimentary dirty sharehouse kitchen sink disco you might expect from reading about it, Maria's echoing vocals smeared across ramshackle percussion and stiff snares. Quickly, though, it descends to darker and more machinic territory under the weight of a succession of noisy loops juddering across one another like a giant printing press, creating a vibe that reminds me of all sorts of 90s dance music and quasi dance music - Aphex Twin, Orbital, Bomb the Bass. in other words, dance music from a time when big, pop-industrial noise loops still sounded like the future. The last 10 years of dance music have been thoroughly dominated by retro organicism on the one hand and hyper-detailed digital pointillism on the other (or occasionally both, even) that - the reliable turnover of Detroit techno revivalism aside - it's easy to forget the charms of dance music that sounds mechanical more than anything else. Of course Maria's trademark half-awake bleariness remains evident, even dominant, so the end result sonically (not vocally) is as if Person Pitch took all its cues from Depeche Mode (in "Stripped" or "Behind The Wheel" mode) rather than the Beach Boys. I can't really get excited about the sociological elements of 100% Silk et. al. - indie hipsters discovering dance music - but if one of its side-effects is a further opening up of this sonic space then I'll happily sign up.

83. Ron Basejam - Looter

No idea why this wasn't a massive anthem in house clubs everywhere, sounding as it does like the peaktime moment at a party at the very end of time (this is both typically me hyperbole and also literally true). In fact, I never even heard this played out once, though I guess 2011 didn't seem like a year when DJs were that interested in the killing machine brand of house tune (or the house brand of killing machine tunes). Reminiscent of Carl Craig's mid-00s work, or even Redshape, "Looter" both condenses and sexes up that particular strain of melodrama by dropping it into a patiently grinding house groove, less urgent perhaps but maybe even more ominous because the beat knows you will succumb to it eventually and is content to simply wait for you. I am fond of this trick on principal because the result (if done well) always has a weird resemblance to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", but in truth "Looter" is both chillier and more clinical than that for all that it's also more firmly-post disco. It works better for that, too, the almost cynically hyped-up vocal samples ("Woo-Wooh! Wooh! Wooh! Baby!"), a single-note bassline and searing mid-range lasers that together could destroy whole cities and the eerie floods of sci-fi synth washes ll registering no purpose or quality except single-minded dancefloor destruction.

82. Noisses ft. Serocee - The Don (The Living Graham Bond Remix)

I'm biased on this general issue of course, but it's hard not to conclude that the post-dubstep diaspora (or its critical champions at any rate) consistently underrate rhythm. This statement seems perverse and counter-intuitive given post-dubstep largely has been responsible for the critical rehabilitation of syncopated rhythms in middle-class dance music, but when you look at the stuff that tends to do well, it's clear that a privileging of just about anything other than rhythm - songfulness, bright melodies, R&B vocal samples, atmospherics, genre eclecticism, huge and turgid basslines - offers a fairly easy path to micro-fame, whereas those producers that actually focus on teasing out ever more thrillingly nuanced, energising beats end up being relegated to the purgatorial outer circles of, if not damnation, then certainly faint praise. The Living Graham Bond probably can blame his truly awful moniker more than this distressing trend for the fact that he has almost zero profile to speak of, but either way it's a shame that tunes like his remix of "The Don" don't get more hype: this is like the finest tune that Basement Jaxx and Altered Natives both somehow failed to make, a dancehall/funky/speed garage fusion of gorgeously layered rhythm patterns cunningly disguised behind a patina of no-nonsense party vibes and massive bass. "The Don" isn't even obviously, ostentatiously syncopated, instead twisting its rhythmic perversity like a golden thread around a strong steel cord of house groove. Maybe that's the problem profile-wise, but the percussion is so maddeningly addictive that I can only conclude the entire world has cloth ears for not noticing.

81. Steffi - You Own My Mind

Dreamy deep house revivalism now has been "back" for several years, but even this is underestimating its easy omnipresence; it's only "back" if you can pretend that at some point it went away. Whereas I like to think that I've been paying attention, and that this particular strain of soothing songful escapism is and always has been the gorgeous friend that you can drop into any social circle and know they will always charm everyone present with their generosity. Could you get sick of this vibe? Could I? Theoretically it's possible, but deep house has the dubious advantage of being either brilliant or ignorable, which means that most years I fall in love with about four examples and jettison any awareness of the rest. "You Own My Mind" isn't even the most gregarious Steffi anthem of 2011, but it's the one I return to most, its melancholy sweetness capturing a vibe that it seems only a particular strain of songful deep house can. Think "New Day", "Do It Now", "Moved": anthems of ceaseless yearning, conflicted submission and wistful desire, simultaneously bewildering and nourishing. It's possible that only vocal deep house has fully mastered this terrain, the emotional landscape of being comforted by your loss of control over your life, and the unexpected relief to be found in making your happiness entirely subject to the whims of another. As you might expect, "You Own My Mind", all drifting synth clouds and warmly understated vocals, presents such subjugation as entirely natural and desirable.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:24 (six years ago) Permalink

80. Shox - Strung Out

Just how dark and eerie can UK funky get? Precisely this much: coming on like Ill Blu with a serious case of social dislocation (and it was via an Ill Blu radio set that I discovered this, naturally), "Strung Out" concentrates funky's rhythmic sensibility into a stiff, proud strut of defiance, around which it laces glassy organs, machine bleeps, urgent string riffs and a successions of ominous bass drops, all designed to announce in strident fashion that shit just got very real indeed, and is only gonna keep getting realer. Apart from spiraling upwards relentlessly through a succession of increasingly histrionic breakdowns, "Strung Out" doesn't do an awful amount; it doesn't need to though, reasoning correctly that sometimes just continuing to burrow ever more deeply into the dark, mysterious core of the groove is enough. In practical terms this means that "Strung Out", like most funky, sounds better in the mix than as a standalone track; but beyond this, for me, it speaks of a certain noble insistence on privileging the physicality of dance grooves over and above any other consideration; rather than ostentatious switch-ups, the listener is gifted with the tune's oh-so-right seeming logic of escalation, the beat pounding its way ever more forcefully into your brain, each measure necessitating the next, and the next, and the next.

79. Creep ft. Nina Sky - You

Much of the charm of "You" is encapsulated by its video clip: the high contrast black and white that could signify stylisation, honesty or deadness, obscuring everything in shadows and bright light, the sudden rhythmic back and forth jump cuts blurring the identity of the narrators, the uncertainty of whether the girls in Nina Sky are singing to, with, or away from one another. Rather than all-out shock, "You" unsettles by its ambiguity. The heavily echoed handclaps and those startling snare breakdowns may be the most immediately noticeable aspects of the arrangement, but "You" ultimately is more of a melodic masterpiece than a rhythmic one, its gossamer web of reversed strings and tinkling piano keys both comforting and filled with a nameless dread. In this, "You" simply picks up and foregrounds intensities already present in R&B; the song is like a very slight gothic twist on Ashanti's "Rescue Me", millennial R&B at its most prettily and eerily bloodless, and wherein the music evoked both desire and fear not by deliberately juxtaposing them, but by finding a certain sonic and vocal space where one merged imperceptibly into the other. What strikes me as most remarkable about "You" is that it is exactly what you might hope for from its concept, neither mocking nor eviscerating the feel of the R&B it serenades, and yet somehow still setting its vantage point quite firmly on the other side of the mirror. To better understand how rare this vibe is, listen to Creep's new single "Animals", which despite having the same basic formula ends up sounding more like Lamb or something. A lot of this distinction has to do with the singer, admittedly, and it's difficult to imagine voices more perfect for "You" than those of Nina Sky, who don't need to switch up their sound for the occasion at all - always already understated and trembling with carefully veiled yearning or desire, they've perfected the art of seeming to think much more than they tell.

78. Dennis Ferrer - Hey Hey (Sabo Remix)

There were (a few) better moombahton tunes this year, but none exemplified the rhythmic possibilities of the style better than this remix. The original "Hey Hey" moves along two rhythmic axes: house's brisk pulse, and the stern, assaultive counter-rhythm that always struck me as sounding like hail on a tin roof. After dutifully slowing down the track, Sabo creates a third rhythmic axis by adding a reggaeton-style dem bow rhythm, around which he festoons whispering hi-hats, drum rolls and a myriad of echoes and rolling bongo patterns. The interaction of these various components within a groove that somehow manages to cohere is a joy to behold, seeming to require at least four hips and seven limbs in order to do its gentle beat-assault justice on the dancefloor. Apart from this, the remix basically abides by moombahton's unwritten rule of changing as little as possible once you've moombaht-ised the original tune, but in this case that is exactly what you want. Ultimately the magnetic rhythmic concept of moombahton is precisely this: slowing down the beat isn't just exciting for its own sake, but also for the way it creates space for the groove to move in so many different directions while still getting where it needs to go. This very sense of confusion can facilitate a kind of anthemism, the giddy pinnacles of a beat that is doing everything at once; when this remix explodes into its final climax about a minute from the end (in a very efficient four and a half minute or so tune), it makes me want to pump all three of my fists.

77. King Louie - Kush Too Strong

Deej got me onto King Louie in a fairly big way, and I had to think pretty hard about which of his tunes I wanted to write up, but "Kush Too Strong" was my first and greatest love, a hymn to kush that sounds half afraid of its subject matter. This sense of fear is less down to Louie - the songtitle is more of a boast than a complaint, though the ambiguity of the double meaning is surely deliberate - than the music, a thick bed of synth chords all engorged and expiring that floats and expands to fill the space like smoke, while the rhythm skips with severe, slowed-down formality in the background. It's simply gorgeous stuff, but it also sounds enervated and frail, spent by the excess it celebrates. It's this which turns Louie's chorus recital of attributes and events ("I take her home / she let me bone / my shoes are chrome") into something more like ritualistic invocation than bragging, a way of controlling and constraining and directing the dense vibe. I'm not a priori opposed to the "cloud rap" I've heard (and I don't hate Drake, though nor do I like him) but I find myself responding to its purported signature sonic impulses much more readily in the context of street rap and commercial R&B, where flotation tank wooziness is less of a raison d'être and more targeted in its deployment, and hence more emotionally affecting. The idea of subsiding into disorienting drift is much more enticing when it's in the context of characters and sounds that had a firm grasp on reality to begin with. After all, no one actually lives all the time like "Kush Too Strong" sounds, do they? Do they?

76. Damu - Breathless

Damu's Unity was basically dubstep's belated but welcome (unwitting) riposte to my perennial complaint that the rush to cut out 2-step garage's girliness in order to meditate on the bass weight had been way too hasty. Well really I guess the debut Joy Orbison single was the opening shot, but listening to Damu's material this year was one of the first times I connected with this kind of trebly, sugary endorphin rush nu-garage in a really strong way - finally, music that seemed to capture the ecstatic magic of prime 2-step rather than merely gesture towards clinically (c.f. most "future garage") - take a bow also Maya Jane Coles, whose thoroughly lovely "Can't Hide The Way I Feel" under the Nocturnal Sunshine moniker could easily have subbed in this spot. The histrionic, cavernous pseudo-grime of "Ridin" was Damu's (relative) "hit" this year, and is fabulous as well, but my favourite of his 2011 tunes was the charmingly frictionless "Breathless", a tune which vaguely and unexpectedly resembles Gang Gang Dance's "Glass Jar" in its swirl of endless promise, a constantly surging anticipation of joy, fulfillment, arrival. It was also (give or take the nearly as brilliant "L.O.V.E.") Damu's most unabashedly girly effort. What do I mean by "girly" in this context? Mainly, a sense of romance and uplift that cannot be contained within an emphasis on depth (or more specifically, "deepness"), but swells up to overtake the music's rootedness in the rigorously physical or spatial. All strobing "Mandarine Girl" trance riffs and chiming vocal chords and rippling faux-xylophone arpeggios, "Breathless" builds its syncopated house undercarriage less for the sake of groove than to provide a foundation from which to lift its climaxes higher, then higher again, then higher still.

75. Raphael Saadiq - Good Man

I like the OG rock moves of much of Raphael's Stone Rollin' well enough, but I have to admit to framing the album in my head as one long build-up to the voluptuous soul of "Good Man", a marvelous condensation of Isaac Hayes balladry into a neat and tidy sub -four minute pop stunner. Those strings! The female vocal refrain! Raphael's falsetto "Without YOUUUUUUUUUUUU!" as elegant horns let out a gradual exhalation of vanity and ego! Most of all - or rather, what all these things combine to create - I love the tune's brooding sensuality, which derives its force from its covalence, the female chorus repeating back to Raphael his self-justifications ("I'm a good man, food on the table, working two jobs, ready willing and able") in a manner which calls his protestations into question even though it's not clear whether they're sympathetic or mocking; the back and forth between these rehearsed recitals and Raphael's almost freeform sorrowing exposes the gulf between the good man's outward face to the world and his crumbling sense of self. Like "Walk On By", whose most slyly seductive moments it echoes, "Good Man" realises that soul, with its juxtapositions of velvet smooth surfaces and sudden eruptions of raw emotion, remains perhaps the best vehicle for capturing the tussle between pride and all that pride attempts to conceal.

74. Sneakbo - The Wave

"The Wave" started off life as Ill Blu's massive stupid bleep-house instrumental "Alright Mate", straighter and trancier than their usual fare, and so also the perfect foundation for a massive stupid pop-grime tune - I wonder if the duo always knew this or the realisation stole upon them slowly. Sneakbo is basically a glorified hype MC here ("jetski's gwan dagadagada!"), which is really all you need given this tune, like so many pop tunes in 2011, is in truth primarily about the dancefloor breakdowns when the ostensible star of the show exits stage left and allows the beat to do its thing. And the beat here is a monster, its inheritance from uk funky the absolutism of the rigid synth arpeggios, whose minor deviations from the stomping 4X4 kick create in themselves a kind of syncopation that utterly contradicts the tune's resemblance to pop-trance. This of course is the great secret of uk funky - the way in which syncopation forms a governing principle not tied down to any particular rhythmic manifestation - and what makes tunes like "The Wave" (and before it Dotstar's "Ransom") most exciting is how they imagine a way-out for the plodding tranciness (or alternatively deadening dubstep facsimiles) of uk urban pop - tunes single-minded and stompy enough for the charts (at least in theory) but captivating in their rhythmic restlessness.

73. Lady Saw - Matrimoney

Some riddim names are quite totalitarian in their determination of the groove's associations. I thought of this twinkly riddim as a kind of wedding procession even before I heard Tifa's "Wedding Chapel" and Lady Saw's title track effort: that said, a tune as jaunty and mischievous really could only soundtrack a shotgun wedding or drunken elopement. It'd be a fun little riddim by itself, but it's Lady Saw who really raises it to the next level with some of the best lyrics of the year: "Matrimoney / ceremoney / testimoney / alimoney / take a hint, it's all about the money / for you and I to live in peace and har-money." The brutal reduction of romance to economic realities is hardly a new subject matter in pop, but it's hard to think of an example quite this blunt and mercantile, not to mention filled with so many puns. Something about Lady Saw's thick-voiced, full-frontal sexuality makes the exchange still sound enticing, a shower of funds just another example of the worship you'd gladly provide for the pleasure of her presence - here, as always, female dancehall stars distinguish themselves from (or, at least, within) the Lil' Kim mode by never even thinking of sounding defensive or defiant; absolute power is simply taken for granted (for more of this check my other favourite Lady Saw tune of 2011, "Wife A Wife").

72. Kelley Polar - I'm Not What You Want

I quite like the idea of Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan as some kind of jobbing studio vocalist working with only the most luxuriant of electronic revivalists. There's an occasional glimpse of glittering superficiality in Junior Boys' own work but it seems to really flower when Jeremy works with other people; in such moments he sounds like Martin Gore if Martin Gore spent all his time singing while staring into the mirror (rather than at pornographic snuff films, or whatever it is Gore actually watches), voluptuously sighing and vamping like a body builder flexing his biceps. "I'm Not What You Want" is the best effort in this vein yet, musically taking Kelley Polar closer to the finger snapping electro-pop precision of Scritti Politti circa Cupid & Psyche '85 (though still featuring dizzily gorgeous live strings) while emotionally poised between that tradition on the one hand and the beautifully empty wounded sighs of David Cassidy's "Romance" and Bryan Ferry's "Slave To Love" on the other - songs that gesture towards impossible feelings but also smile knowingly at the arrogant futility of their gestures. I think the last time this vibe was reached for so precisely was on the first Future Bible Heroes album, and there's a startling and pleasurable sense of familiarity about rediscovering it in a different time, place and context: the elevation of an appealing (because) fantastical notion of eighties plasticity to absolute artform.

71. Teedra Moses - Another Luvr

There are few artists I feel as emotional about as Teedra - some of girl's songs are as close to the center of my heart as it's possible for anything to get - but I didn't end up listening to her 2011 mixtape Luxurious Undergrind an awful lot. Teedra's idea of "champagne soul" is great, of course, but for the most part it seemed to translate as smooth and goes-down-easy rather than flushed and headspinning. Teedra, of course, is almost without equal when it comes to holding back and delicately outlining what others would draw in crude strokes, but just because you can do subtle doesn't mean that subtle is always the correct approach. In truth Teedra's finest past moments - "Complex Simplicity", "Backstroke", "For A Lifetime" - are those which take her smoothness out to the precipice, poised delicately over endless chasms of deep feeling. Not becalmed at all, but terrified, delirious, intoxicated, overwhelmed. That all said, "Another Luvr" is as fine a piece of "champagne soul" as you could imagine, so utterly suave and casual and just so, its misspelt name an attempt to capture the faux-careless insouciance of Teedra's pose here, her sinuous vocals curling around the mysteriously bubbly groove (vaguely latin disco-boogie? I love the sanded-back and submerged glower of the bass riff) with a dismissive unconcern that is half totally sincere and half totally a put on, a perfectly executed reverse-psychology seduction; it's a mark of Teedra's peerless mastery of ambiguity that she can simultaneously inhabit both states so utterly. Typical Teedra, then: a kiss-off that sounds like a rain of kisses.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:25 (six years ago) Permalink

70. Ronny & Renzo - Heartbreak Theme (C2 CinermxMix)

I think Ronny & Renzo hit their creative zenith with 2009's "Me, Myself & Good", which was their biggest and also final torpid darkside disco groove, a steady descent into an endless maelstrom of machine loops and apocalyptic horns. Since then, as if aware that they probably can't top that, they've been drifting in more of a steely grey house/techno direction, and while the results are still unimpeachable, the one drawback is this is a much more crowded field. "Heartbreak Theme" is as reliably epic and widescreen as ever, spending its near eleven minutes gradually shifting from misty dub-house through to eerie Blade Runner synth work, absolutely enveloping and not a little unnerving, and featuring a very very melancholy rave arpeggio breakdown that itself gets swallowed up in a bottomless well of robot hums. It's fine stuff, but this is Carl Craig's home turf, and like a master craftsman coming in to lay the finishing touches - a bruised bassline here, percussive effects so tactile you could almost touch them there - with a minimum of fuss he raises "Heartbreak Theme" to the level of world-beater, its aching synths spiraling out with an intergalactic sense of yearning, the lonely cry of an entire solar system of people about to be lost forever. Rather than ever quite turn into all-out banger, "Heartbreak Theme" broods with ominous disquiet, preferring to fill your head with visions of the destruction it could mete out rather than put on a demonstration - a weapon more scary for never having been used. When that ghostly arpeggio finally arrives again the sense of accumulated dread is near overwhelming, a climax as only Craig knows how to do them.

69. Richelle - Mascotte

Nominally post-dubstep or "global bass" or whatever, "Mascotte" resembles nothing so much as a megamix of Jammer instrumentals circa 2002, a dizzying mutational melange of reedy pipe synths, urgent strings, lugubrious tuna horn bass and chattering beats somewhere between juke, "Grindin" and "Countdown". That chatter effect is very 2010-2011, but rather than merely deploy it as a nod to the sound design du jour, Richelle seems interested in how giant bassdrum stomp and ceaseless electro snap can interrelate with one another to create rhythms that work topographically, impacting different parts of your body almost violently, while tickling your ears with their intricacy (the b-side "Bendin" betrays an indebtedness to funk carioca, which makes sense in this context - the best Brazilian funk being that which simultaneously explores ideas of rhythm as absolutely rigid and absolutely loose); as with early grime, Richelle gets so caught up in the internal conflict of the groove that the fact of the production sounding a bit cheap and rickety is strictly a secondary concern (that, or "Mascotte" is deliberately fetishising grime's cheap adventurism; I'm not sure which explanation is correct). Beyond the basic sonic architecture, Richelle steals from grime its short attention span in a mix context, with a new motif or idea or sound intruding every ten seconds or so to send "Mascotte" careening in a new direction, in a game of ante-upping that presumably only ends due to sheer exhaustion. I was actually very surprised when I discovered it was all one track.

68. Mr Vegas ft. Teairra Mari & Gyptian - Pum Pum Shorts (Remix)

Tracks which blur the line between dancehall and US rap or R&B aren't merely fun for how they familiarise the former while spicing up the latter; the best efforts create a third space of stylistic ambiguity where the switch back and forth between the different components itself generates a kind of friction, heightening the drama and raising the stakes. "Pum Pum Shorts" (or "Boy Shorts") was already a fine Mr Vegas track from 2010 - topical (sorta), boasting a fantastic sing-song melody from Mr Vegas, and possessing one of those ridiculously sexed-up beats mainly comprising of luridly quivering radioactive synth-bass, the sound of booty actually shaking (does anyone remember Sizzla's "Love & Affection"? Just like that). The remix simply and straightforwardly ups the ante: it would be enough that Gyptian faux-morosely interpolates the Lambada (probably a nod to J Lo rather than Kaoma or the like), but the real star of the show is Teairra, who after several vamps offers a stunning guest verse of her own, sung, but too swaggering to really code as R&B (I'm reminded of Beyonce's version of "In The Club"). In a succession of great bits my favourite is her high-pitched delivery of "Baby make me scream and sho-ou-out / throw me a pillow if I get too lo-ou-oud / but I gotta protect my clou-out / so you better not run your mo-ou-outh". I only noticed several repeat listens in that everyone on "Pum Pum Shorts" is walking a different singjay tightrope, which is maybe one reason why its culture-clash sounds particularly definitive: everyone here is too lust-struck to sing and too lust-struck not to. Some gratuitous extra recommendations: Mr Vegas' stripped down, booming "Certain Law" with Harry Toddler, and Teairra's simply wonderful, massive "Body", a 2010 track too but I think it only got a video clip this year.

67. Gail Scott ft. Lil' Twist - Dip It Low

"Dip It Low" makes for unusually unmusical R&B: Scott sings in a flat, affectless monotone with barely a movement up or down the scale, while the beat trudges methodically behind her, pushed along by the repeated (slightly) screwed chant of the title; Lil' Twist's high pitched, yelpy rap is probably the most melodic thing here.The song is attractive for precisely these reasons, its stern, workmanlike devotion to booty somehow more affecting than a more histrionic and worked-over approach would have been. But it's not like this is one of those grimly robotic club numbers that have been held up favourably in contradistinction to R&B's more emotive tendencies for the past ten years plus; there's a certain charming smallness to "Dip It Low", a cobbled together amateurism that I find totally endearing and lovable: you can hear it in the sudden floods of trancey synths, the almost perfunctory guitar licks, Scott's dead-eyed rhythmic vocals. All of which make the tune sound fairly 2011, and for reasons both rational and inscrutable in my head I associate it with Nicki Minaj "Moment 4 Life" - except with ostentatious self-aggrandisement replaced by no-nonsense floorwork. There always needs to be more tunes like this: rather than apocalyptic club anthem or overblown autobiography, the meaningless "Dip It Low" vies for the status of the secret personal favourite, its firmly set horizons making it infinitely playable and personalised. But there's room for surprise here too: when in its closing bars the background melody takes on a slight oriental lilt, the effect is like watching the sun bursting out from behind clouds.

66. Mousse T - Horny (Radio Slave & Thomas Gandy Just 17 Mix)

Dance music revivalism accretes rather than shifts: like a survey of the last ten years of house music, this tune revives, well, "Horny" obviously, but also "The Whistle Tune", primitive early Chicago records and most of all massive early 90s piano house (and I mean massive). After a typically Radio Slave-ish brooding opening (shared by his more available "Off World Dub" version), the Just 17 mix of "Horny" quickly adds a lovely bouncing bass line, an unnecessary but charming whistle hook, and then some of the most fabulous piano vamping ever, brilliant in its own right and also housing the central hook as well as or better than the original - pounding into your head with an enthusiastic insistence over a lazy handclap swing while the belated announcement "I'm horny" elicits the kind of goofy hysteria you'd expect at a much less stylish venue than wherever you actually managed to hear this. I've been waiting patiently for people to start reviving tunes like Jinny's "Keep Warm" and K-Klass' "Let Me Show You Love", and frustratingly the dance world seems determined to disprove my previous confident predictions of their imminent entrance into fashionability; hopefully this distressing state of affairs will end soon, but in the meantime this track is the perfect salve for my wounded pride.

65. Gunplay ft. Waka Flocka Flame - Rollin

I always have immense difficulty writing in any detail about apocalyptic street rap, and "Rollin" as much as usual, mainly because I have little insight to shed on Gunplay's shouty performance. For such a heavy anthem the lyrics for "Rollin" are still pretty sharp and distinct, but I've never really tried to learn them except for the chorus and the great hype-inducing intro ("My dog says we gon' be rich one day / lay it down, don't say a sound, gunplay!") because for the most part the enjoyment for me resides in the ceaseless head nod to the tune's exhausted-with-destruction grind, seismic bass shudders, clock tick drums, punctuation mark gunsounds, and gratuitous but essential foghorns (which seem to merge almost imperceptibly with the chanted songtitle). As with my previous favourites in this style ("B.M.F", "Hard in da Paint" etc.) for all its monolithic implacability there's a certain surprising grace and agility to the way in which "Rollin" ponderously descends downhill, like a massive boulder somehow navigating a car driving test route: still utterly destructive, and perhaps somewhat indiscriminately, but always intentionally. Which counts for something, I think.

64. Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay - 212

The beat on "212" isn't nearly as weak as detractors say it is: in 2012 you've basically got to outright distrust any critical line premised on the all-importance of bass to dancing - how passe, frankly. In fact, the beat's simple combination of clattering snares and post-electrohouse bleeps (D. Ramirez's "Yeah Yeah", basically) is more than enough for any dancefloor's needs, if anything offering the tune a certain bouncy levity which I think works in its favour (I'd go so far as to say that too many tunes in 2012 are weighed down by their over-privileging of bass). Of course "levity" isn't something people tend to look for in dance tracks unless there's something else on which to focus, and of course the focus of "212" is Azealia all the way. I liked her, of course, but didn't really properly feel her performance until I heard this played out, which not only saved the song from seeming like a strictly internet nerd phenom (though barely: nowadays most no-name club DJs seem to be internet nerds in any event) but also underlined the achievement of crafting a song which has people singing along even if they've never heard it before - and in particular, the crass populism (a musical impulse which ought never be resisted) of choosing to EQ-loop the most memorable line just to drive the gimmick home; all up, on the scale of 1 to "Whatta Man" it scores pretty highly. More than Azealia's words, its her faux-disaffected voice for a good two thirds that sells "212", not as something you can believe in, but as something you can have fun trying on for three minutes like a mask in a two dollar shop; if she is vulnerable to charges of playing dress ups, the upside is that it's a game the listener is welcome to join.

63. Lana Del Rey - Video Games

My friend Catherine has an on again / off again Italians Do It Better style icy disco diva project, which actually slightly predates the rise of IDIB, but that particular aesthetic has been "in the air" for some time prior I guess. I like to think of myself as some kind of svengali advisor, but in honesty I've not been very helpful; my most substantial contribution was a few years back, recommending she make a bloodless snow queen take on Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven". Her resulting demo was pretty great - sadly I wasn't consulted when the soundtrack for Drive was being compiled (I also recommended "No Ordinary Love", but Catherine never got around to it, and now Diddy - Dirty Money have beaten her to the punch). "Video Games" adds harps and some Nancy Sinatra via Shivaree sultriness to the mix (meaning that basically all of its influences are filtered through popular nineties film auteurs), but otherwise it's pretty close to my original idea, a ghostly pledge of devotion whose unreality is self-reflexive, the incorporeality of the expression of desire a reminder that desire always is incorporeal, a projection onto a blank canvas who just happens to be a living, breathing, thinking, wanting human being. Del Rey literalises and lyricises this dynamic, becoming the personification of accommodation: "I tell you all the time / heaven is a place on earth where you / tell me all the things you wanna do". Asking the question "does she mean it?" is about as useful as asking if coke ads or pornography or hallucinations mean it. What makes "Video Games" moving as well as clever is partly how pretty it is - a prettiness which vaults over Del Rey's archness - and partly the throaty tremble in her voice, the way lines like "I say you the bestest" are delivered with a Betty Boop stylised fragility (simultaneously too-young and old as the hills) that convinces even as it smirks at itself, as if Del Rey is watching herself sing from out of a mould she's been poured into and cannot escape.

62. Swindle ft. Roses Gabor - Spend Is Dough

"Spend Is Dough" opens with a portentous "the audience is listening" style intro, which you guess is a red herring even before it devolves into the song itself, as light and fleet-footed a vocal dance number as you could imagine. Lex said (or implied) somewhere that this is his favourite uk funky tune of 2011, a statement which surprised me only in that it hadn't occurred to me to think of "Spend Is Dough" as a uk funky track, less because it fails to be one and more because it succeeds so well at being a mongrel tune that can slide easily into a dozen different contexts - uk funky, sure, but also grime, bassline, post-dubstep in its R&B-loving guise, straight house, and, of course, pop - in the finest tradition of Basement Jaxx. That mental categorisation probably cemented itself in my head after r|t|c jokingly tried to pass the tune off as a superior Jaxx number somewhere (it actually reminds me of "U Can't Stop Me"). Needless to say, it's far better than anything that duo has done in many many years. Probably the single feature of the tune that most supports this chameleonic quality is the way the snappy, stilted groove (danceable, but unexpectedly or perversely so) moulds itself to suit Gabor's vocals, flitting between high pitched chants and a kind of sing-song dancehall style patter (but not patois), rather than try to make sense on its own. It's no criticism to say that "Spend Is Dough" doesn't really make sense as an instrumental tune. There's hardly any deficiency musically: the sharp handclaps on the four, the sludgy bass riffs, the rollicking background percussion, all betray a total mastery of groove. But such mastery is required to subordinate the groove to an ulterior purpose with such exacting precision.

61. King - Hey

Thanks to Rev for putting me onto King's The Story EP, which contains just three songs of utter perfection (the release's brevity underscoring my anxiety that its particular brand of perfection may be unrepeatable). Of the three, "Hey" is most perfect of all (very very slightly ahead of "Supernatural"): a gossamer web of sparkles, deliquescing guitar licks and the R&B trio's gorgeous harmonies, gradually drifting into a slow motion four by four thump that for once (and unusually for this post Flying Lotus world) sounds utterly graceful and without a hint of self-conscious awkwardness. It's musically gorgeous, but what astounds most of all about "Hey" (and their other songs) is the sense of boundless generosity that flows out of King's vocals, a kind of gentle delight at the world that sounds as pleasurable to give voice to as it does to lend ears to, and it's for this reason that the surprised awakening of love that "Hey" makes its focal point feels so sincere, so tangible. This is not really about "soul" per se, not least because I simply have no idea whether King would work nearly so well making music expressive of some inner pain, and on the evidence of The Story, it's entirely possible that they wouldn't even want to. Perhaps they would and they will, but for now "Hey" stuns not by harrowing depths but by its sublime surfaces, a gorgeous study in beauty for beauty's sake, and comfort and nourishment for the joy of giving and receiving.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:29 (six years ago) Permalink

as if Del Rey is watching herself sing from out of a mould she's been poured into and cannot escape.

yes! i've been thinking of her performance on that line particularly as though she's having an out-of-body experience, watching herself *act* this devoted girlfriend part - as you say, detached but unable to stop herself playing it.

lol @ placing "212" and "video games" next to each other, should've gone with "gucci gucci" for the triple.

all i see is angels in my eyes (lex pretend), Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:48 (six years ago) Permalink

i think i've said of "spend is dough" elsewhere that it's the kind of song basement jaxx would be making nowadays if they were still any good - surprised to see it so low on your list

all i see is angels in my eyes (lex pretend), Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:48 (six years ago) Permalink

As per your list I think lex, the order from about 21 up is pretty arbitrary!

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:56 (six years ago) Permalink

What really breaks my heart are all the tunes that I wanted to write about but couldn't even fit into a top 101. Is there a music crit hashtag equivalent of #firstworldproblems?

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 22:59 (six years ago) Permalink

yeah i had to honestly put "video games" in my top 20 given how much i played it on loop last year. i wish discussions of it didn't turn into referendums on *her* though, it's like you have to either love her or hate her, whereas i love the song, partly because of how stylised it is, but i'm not so taken with how she applies the shtick elsewhere.

only realised quite recently what makes "212" such a great song - pretty simply, it's the way the "ayo" section functions as a massive dancefloor break, which means that WHATCHU GON DO WHEN I APPEAR becomes a huge, huge moment - you could argue about the relative merits of azealia vs other new bratty female rappers like brianna or reema major, but their big singles last year didn't have *that moment*.

all i see is angels in my eyes (lex pretend), Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:01 (six years ago) Permalink

Both songs are more enjoyable the more I can divorce them from their status as internet events.

Tim F, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:15 (six years ago) Permalink

i wish discussions of it didn't turn into referendums on *her* though, it's like you have to either love her or hate her, whereas i love the song, partly because of how stylised it is, but i'm not so taken with how she applies the shtick elsewhere.


I think Video Games is a marvelous song, if not a little lyrically juvenile. While I have no real opinions of her as an artist or person, I think this one song may have been a fluke though. Nothing else she's got does a thing for me.

Johnny Fever, Wednesday, 4 January 2012 23:18 (six years ago) Permalink

Both songs are more enjoyable the more I can divorce them from their status as internet events.

I can add some empirical backup to this as I basically missed the internet blowups of these and love both of them with no reservations

but basically I came here to say, thank God for Tim Finney

TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 5 January 2012 10:22 (six years ago) Permalink

where have i heard 'hey' before???

ok just got it. it's sampled (?) on the kendrick lamar album.

love it

tpp, Thursday, 5 January 2012 11:57 (six years ago) Permalink

ok wow that King record is amazing

TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 5 January 2012 12:36 (six years ago) Permalink

it really is. and the ron basejam one. thanks tim!

tpp, Thursday, 5 January 2012 12:38 (six years ago) Permalink

the king ep is my #1 album :)

The Reverend, Thursday, 5 January 2012 12:41 (six years ago) Permalink

is there no place to buy it as a physical item?

TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 5 January 2012 12:43 (six years ago) Permalink

i don't think so

The Reverend, Thursday, 5 January 2012 13:12 (six years ago) Permalink

i've been meaning to make a king thread all year :/

The Reverend, Thursday, 5 January 2012 13:13 (six years ago) Permalink

so excited to read this, tim!

max, Thursday, 5 January 2012 13:53 (six years ago) Permalink

ok wow that King record is amazing

― TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:36 PM (1 hour ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

questino (seandalai), Thursday, 5 January 2012 13:57 (six years ago) Permalink

unbelievable remix of "hey hey" as well - i think this is the first time i've liked moombahton!

TracerHandVEVO (Tracer Hand), Friday, 6 January 2012 12:04 (six years ago) Permalink

60. TOK ft. Sleepy Hallowtips - Heroin Needle

Thanks to r|t|c (surprise!) for "Heroin Needle", which must have been the scariest fake Ward 21 track of 2011 from the masters of fake Ward 21 isms (to the point where I'm half inclined to accuse Ward 21 of fake TOK isms): a relentless onslaught of knocking beats and sawing cellos and horns and of course TOK themselves. As always, the primary appeal of TOK (together with Sleepy Hallowtips here) is how each of their voices is so utterly different from the others, from baritone grunt to snitchy high-pitched squeal to strained holler to methodical menace - but whoever is rapping here, they sound like they plan to ride right over the listener with a kind of dogged determination that requires neither rhythm or rhyme. That they manage to hold onto both is as remarkable as the beat managing to keep it together; none of these things seem assured while you're listening. One thing I love about dancehall is how unproblematic the contrast of voices on a tune like this is taken to be. It's tempting to say that TOK don't sound like they really care about convincing the listener. This isn't quite right: they care, but it's what they want to convince you of that's slightly different - on "Heroin Needle" all they demand of you is a generalised suspension of disbelief, a willingness to sacrifice yourself to the torrent of their overlapping voices for barely more than two minutes.z

59. Sess 4-5 and Keedy Black - I Luv Dat Boy

"I Luv Dat Boy" is bounce rap X R&B I guess, but something about its delirious, unsettling artificiality reminds me most of Swizz Beats' populist tracks circa 1999 - "Gotta Man" and "Girls' Best Friend" etc, those tunes that at once were addictively charming and yet somehow unreal and dangerous, like a sugary treat banned in most first world countries for causing sugar high mania. I also flash on the first wave of crunk&b, especially fake examples like Houston's "I Like That", tunes so impressed with their ingeniously smooth blending of lightness and lasciviousness that they ended up sounding like one long smirk (only a smirk that you want to smirk along with). Chalk it up to the song's sickly-sweet female chorus and blunt stuttering kicks, not to mention Sess 4-5's sturdy collection of sex jokes and metaphors (let alone Keedy's own rap: "he fuck me like he should... I love that mushy stuff... Oooooooh and I like it"). But most of all, just its general too-intense joie de vivre, handily lifting it above and beyond its constituent parts. "I luv dat boy! / he make me feel!" Keedy sighs inanely and somewhat out-of-tune-ly on the chorus, like an expiring lovestruck animaniac. It's a pose I unexpectedly identify with. NB. Deej got me onto this, as well as the marvelous mix-tape N.O. to the B.R. which houses it and heaps of other fabulous tunes besides - definitely one of my favourite "albums" of 2011.

58. Phaze 2 - Spaceship (Billy Kenny Remix)

I'm not sure if this is considered Bassline? But I heard it on DJ Q's excellent BBC 1xtra show, so mentally I class it that way. I suspect Kenny is actually one of those disloyal grasping types operating in some kind of dutch house / bassline / pop-grime / commercial club urban interzone. But what is it really? What indeed: how do you square its snapping shares, oddly slow and stalking creep that steals just enough from 2-step to get away with the theft entirely, and that ridiculous bassline, not actually like "Bassline" at all (more on that later)? It doesn't really matter, given "Spaceship" is congenial enough to slide cleanly into just about any setting. A masterpiece of construction, from the opening blade-like synth slashes to the wonderfully awful lyrics courtesy of Phaze 2's original tune ("This ship was built by NASA, baby / new improved sexual arousal / show me your planet, lady / allow my tongue to orbit all around you..."), into the discombobulated bassline, bouncing around like some kind of damaged android comprising no head and six thighs struggling to do up its zipper on the dancefloor. And then the most gorgeous, scintillating, live-feeling syncopated electro arpeggio imaginable, the kind of thing you might expect to Isolee to unleash if Isolee was in the habit of making tunes for Tinie Tempah and the like.

Tim F, Wednesday, 18 January 2012 10:41 (six years ago) Permalink


Best EOY list.

Looking forward to more. Thanks Tim!

MikoMcha, Wednesday, 18 January 2012 15:59 (six years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Soz for the delay everyone.

57. Beth Ditto - Do You Need Someone?

I liked all of Ditto's sparkling nu-disco eponymous EP, but this final tune far and away most of all, in part because it's the one that drifts furthest from Ditto's habitual self-sufficiency into territory that emphasises the unknowable darkness of the idea of pop she's playing with as well as its sweetness. Beth offers herself up to a taken guy while scorning his girlfriend, in lyrics that could have been written by Taylor Swift, but I suspect there's a qualitative difference to this presentation of quasi-delusional devotion in such a glamorous electronic setting, Beth appearing as unreal as the dude she slavers over. While the lyrics cast her on the ground looking up, she sings from the stage looking down, a glassy diva backed by a kaleidoscopic swirl of rhythms, hooks and effects, the rococo overproduction as much 1985 as it is 1982, a shifting pattern of garish wall-hangings masking the ministrations of a master manipulator. It's really that dense, heady arrangement - together with Beth's distant, perfect chorus - that makes this, so carefully sculpted and pruned that turning down its open invitation would seem a calculated affront to beauty.

56. Yelawolf ft. Trae The Truth - Shit I Seen

"Shit I Seen" almost makes me wish that Yelawolf would go down that louche cinematic route of Rick Ross from a few years back. I'm talking about backing music not flow obv, since in so many ways Ross and Yelawolf could hardly be more different. This partly can be discerned in what a louche cinematic sound means for each of them; hardly celebratory or triumphant or even in control, "Shit I Seen" sounds jittery and nervous - somehow a more extreme adjective for rap than "paranoid" - the cocaine glitter already implying its flipside truth that things aren't what they seem, today's glossy drama the direct result of yesterday's loss-filled trauma, unable to compensate for it (Yelawolf of course is an expert at nursing grudges; he can't rise above anything). It helps that for such an expensive-sounding arrangement (trilling flutes, harps, calm trumpet refrains) "Shit I Seen" is so tense and portentous, its rolls of kicks hurtling towards a big crunch that makes even Yelawolf's most ego-puncturing stories (like when a friend brings a gun into the club and while his crew is all laughing Yelawolf is "scared as fuck") seem like epic revelations.

55. Danny Daze ft. Louisahhh - Your Everything

When I started this poll I already expected "Your Everything" to carry the burden of standing in for Lee Foss' brooding "Keep My Cool". Then Infinity Ink's gorgeous "Games" came out and I had no space for it, so now the tune basically has to act as representative of everything great about Hot Creations' seemingly endless parade of ludicrously bottom-heavy disco-house efforts. Wallowing in their big basslines and dreamy synth chords like hippopotami, each of these tunes in their own way recalls the scintillating, spacious surround-sound disco aesthetic of early Get Physical, tunes like DJ T's "Freemind" and M.A.N.D.Y.'s "Our World (Our People)". If eight years or so seems too soon for a revival, remember that those particular tunes, for all their modishness within the exploding electro-house scene, were most remarkable for how they gestured towards something timeless and idealised in the disco-to-house continuum, perfectly empty prisms for house is a feeling expansiveness. Hot Natured releases can be a little bit more camp than that, a little more perverse: on "Your Everything" the lugubriously swampy bassline pounds home a world-wearied whispery baritone while the beats rip and tear around them and descending clouds of moans and sighs drag the groove down into a bottomless well; but this perversity, such as it is, is also formalised, stylised, a tribute to its own inescapable intertwining within house music's ever-regenerating DNA.

54. Big K.R.I.T. ft. 2 Chainz, 8Ball & MJG - Money on the Floor

I was too young (or rather, too young and Australian) for any original g-funk except for "Gin & Juice" and "Regulate", and a decent chunk of my rap listening since has been some kind of half-conscious process of compensation, frequently drawn only to the smoothest, slivery synth efforts smothered with the slickness of dudes who know they don't have to work hard to get what they want, be that housed in actual g-funk revivalism or in other more new-fangled styles that just happen to facilitate that vibe. "Money on the Floor" is my favourite take on this general idea in ages, its throbbing creep (stop/start bass, shimmering guitar, gorgeously probing synth lines) and sliding chorus evoking impossible analogies of cords of soft metal burnished to a deep gleam twisting around one another. Big K.R.I.T. sounds indifferent to the majesty of the beat, or rather he simply takes it in stride, his verse accelerating and decelerating easily and seductively. The succession of guests here also is so perfect, each of 8Ball, MJG (especially) and 2 Chainz's voices upping the ante merely by grabbing the camera and pointing it to yet another corner of irresistible debauchery; but somehow the heavy inevitability of the slowed-down sampled vocals in the chorus seem most delightful of all. The video is perfectly judged as well.

Tim F, Friday, 3 February 2012 09:58 (five years ago) Permalink


etc, Friday, 3 February 2012 11:32 (five years ago) Permalink


uberweiss, Friday, 3 February 2012 15:13 (five years ago) Permalink

Looking forward to more of this, but I do feel for Tim having to live up to the standards he sets himself.

MikoMcha, Tuesday, 7 February 2012 15:31 (five years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Is more of this happening? I'm curious to see how it ends!

Somewhere between Fergie and Jesus (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 17 March 2012 23:05 (five years ago) Permalink

The list is done and several of the pieces are half-written, but I keep on having to put it aside for actual deadline work (of a music writing and non music writing variety).

Tim F, Saturday, 17 March 2012 23:06 (five years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

could you post the rest of the list tim?

groovemaaan, Sunday, 29 April 2012 10:18 (five years ago) Permalink

go on

r|t|c, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 13:59 (five years ago) Permalink

heh i think maybe in the future tim should think about STARTING with #1 and then seeing how far he can work his way down the list from there

some dude, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 14:08 (five years ago) Permalink


hologram ned raggett (The Reverend), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 19:16 (five years ago) Permalink

I would still prefer to do the write-ups as that was the point of it more than the list itself. OTOH it seems the choices generate some reaction whereas what is said about them generates little if any (not a complaint: it seems typical of ILX really), so maybe I'm just being precious.

I don't think i will do the list next year though, time to let the concept retire.

Tim F, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 22:56 (five years ago) Permalink


♆ (gr8080), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 02:26 (five years ago) Permalink


frogbs in the trap (J0rdan S.), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 03:00 (five years ago) Permalink

print & bind them & ship them by march 2013 along w/ an accompanying youtube playlist or w/e and i'm in for... $20? $30?

frogbs in the trap (J0rdan S.), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 03:01 (five years ago) Permalink

hand made wooden box

♆ (gr8080), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 04:30 (five years ago) Permalink

srsly, i enjoy reading tim at least as much as listening to any boring ol records, and no more year-end lists is a dismal prospect given the ailing blog. if there was a coffee table book that you could plug an audio cable into, the world would maybe be ready for this - actually, come to think of it the technology is already more or less there:

lucas pine, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 05:25 (five years ago) Permalink

It doesn't have to be a top 101 though, why not slim it down?

MikoMcha, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 06:28 (five years ago) Permalink

presumably slimming it down would take a lot of decision time that could just as well be spent writing (or doing other, non end-of-year-best-of, things, if such things even exist).

c sharp major, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 07:52 (five years ago) Permalink

Well, in the future, I mean. iirc weren't older versions less a countdown and more of a collection of genres and styles?

MikoMcha, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 08:37 (five years ago) Permalink

i think obviously people would like the write-ups above all but since it had been understandably assumed that there wasnt to be any more of anything at this point closure was sought in the form of just the list.

however i am glad to see you arent making any complaints regarding reactions as any expectancies however latent would plainly have been misguided.

personally speaking as someone generally harbouring opinions4u and being unlikely to find something i hadn't already heard before it's difficult to really add anything further constructive to the blurbs given you tend to be almost monotonously spot-on and encapsulate a given track's merits beautifully. and obviously in doing so this rather elides the usual eoy chart kerfuffle of arguing the toss about what places where and what deserves more or deserves less.

r|t|c, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 10:28 (five years ago) Permalink

fwiw in particular i was genuinely delighted to see 'dip it low' called meaningless and be exalted for it; cosign in blood straight from the heart as the saying goes.

r|t|c, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 10:35 (five years ago) Permalink

however i am glad to see you arent making any complaints regarding reactions as any expectancies however latent would plainly have been misguided.

haha. I do increasingly try not to have expectations about reactions (let alone endorsements) because I see how petulant it looks when others demand it.

If there has been a broader point behind doing this each year, it's been motivated by finding the aesthetics of ILXOR posters in aggregate (yes, what they like, but more specifically what they like about what they like) really fascinating, so doing my own self-involved thread is kind of a reverse tribute to that. But more than doing this thread I wish there were more threads like the J0rdan Listening Club, which is actually less interesting for its stated purpose ("lets foist X on j0rdan and see what he thinks) than for people really thinking about another poster's taste in a manner that isn't just for servicing zings or their own narc of sd.

Would start such threads myself except that if the thread fails then it's not only embarrassing but also creepy and obsessive-looking.

Tim F, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 10:55 (five years ago) Permalink

I didn't notice it before, so glad to see your thread alive again! I was afraid it was lost to sandbox forever

V79, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 11:33 (five years ago) Permalink

I don't think i will do the list next year though, time to let the concept retire.

― Tim F, Tuesday, May 1, 2012 6:56 PM (Yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink


― ♆ (gr8080), Tuesday, May 1, 2012 10:26 PM (Yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

karl...arlk...rlka...lkar..., Wednesday, 2 May 2012 13:51 (five years ago) Permalink

the people have their hand out and refuse to retract it.

r|t|c, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 14:13 (five years ago) Permalink

if tim threatens that he's going to stop doing it for free enough, some editor will comission him do the 2012 one for their pub/site, i'm sure

Neil Young’s social media channels (some dude), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 14:20 (five years ago) Permalink

tim you should totally try and get paid for this, i've always been amazed that you put so much effort in for free.

that, or just recast it as a rolling thread - people can be a bit burnt out on talking when EOY stuff comes around. for almost all of these i've either agreed with you throughout the year and you've crystallised it best, or i've disagreed with you throughout the year and dredging up an argument we've done isn't a ideal

liberté, égalité, beyoncé (lex pretend), Wednesday, 2 May 2012 16:46 (five years ago) Permalink

lol rtc

flopson, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 18:23 (five years ago) Permalink

Who had the 10 millionth post on ILX?

flopson, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 20:42 (five years ago) Permalink

utterly delicious

r|t|c, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 20:51 (five years ago) Permalink

does the suicide bomber still blow up the store if he gets the millionth customer award? tune in next week folks

r|t|c, Wednesday, 2 May 2012 20:57 (five years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

53. Nick Hannam - Love You Girl

Hannam's rumbling bass-driven house remix of Thicke's "Wanna Love You Girl" is so congenial, so easy to introduce into any context and claim it has been there all along, I'm surprised it hasn't generated more momentum. On the other hand, maybe its congeniality works against it: Hannam's greatness is the kind you take for granted, he makes everything sound so easy, thoughtless even. Indeed, the specific genius of "Love You Girl" is realising that, while Thicke's vocals capture perfectly that vibe of murmuring romantic bs on the edge of sleep or waking up, the Neptunes' chilled production was still not chilled enough. So while "Love You Girl" is a bit faster than the original, it appropriately manages to feel more lethargic, more sluggish and enervated. Hannam has one great trick - or two, perhaps, but we'll come to the second in a bit - being the way his quiet bass riffs always seem to suggest something more exciting around the corner that never quite arrives, but instead hangs over the tune like portentous thunder clouds. That's the difference between lethargic and lazy: "Love You Girl" is a lion on a hill, considering whether to pounce. UPDATE: Hannam's 2012 "hit" "You Want Me" is just as good if not better, and listening to it together with "Love You Girl" confirms that Hannam's second trick is his great appreciation for vocals declaring depthless obsession while sounding like they're lying on hotel beds by themselves watching adult movies.

52. Denyque - When We Touch

Given the ubiquity of Dawn Penn's "No No No", it's surprising that you don't see more lugubrious female reggae-pop rising to the top (or at least middle) of the charts; who could deny those luxurious vybez? "When We Touch" is a bit smoother and shinier than that, more depressive than mournful, but its neatly packaged heart rests in the same place, its lilt and soft bounce speaking of desire and disenchantment and the desire that survives beyond disenchantment, worming its way through yr heart long after its final destination has skipped town. I like how sculpted "When We Touch" is (so sculpted in fact that it's hard to believe the arrangement supports a host of dancehall performances - I have banished all memory of alternate versions from my mind in some meaningless pledge of fidelity to Denyque), its urgency and bite deriving less from Denyque's restrained emoting than the calm, studied pirouettes of her auto-harmonised choruses, Denyque a ghostly everywoman simultaneously speaking from and to every listener. "I know that it's wrong to love you / so why can't I just let go of you": pop is rarely so eloquent as when it captures the longing that the singer cannot understand, the touch that you shrink away from but still slide towards again and again.

51. Mano Le Tough - Let's Not Talk About Love

So much Le Tough to love in 2011, but "Let's Not Talk About Love" towered above nearly every other contender (by Le Tough or by anyone else) by virtue if its sheer nonchalant perfection. And perhaps by virtue of this thing that Le Tough does that I think deserves special mention: at 1:25 of this already supremely sexy house tune there arrives a kind of metallic synth riff echoing and scraping in time and in tune with the bassline in a manner that somehow becomes the unlikeliest of oversexed seduction routines in a year with a fair number of them. Less than a minute later Le Tough grows bored of this (never mind that it's one of my favourite "sounds" of 2011) and opts for twinkling steel drums instead. Whatever particular foliage it pushes to the front, "Let's Not Talk About Love" simply takes for granted that you've already swooned, already succumbed to its charms such that it no longer has to work for your attention. I'm tempted to use the word "swagger", but even that suggests a certain energetic effort that is out of step with the unconcerned glide Le Tough adopts so naturally and so effectively here. Even the title's polite demurral carries a coy double meaning: this music hardly needs to talk about love when it wins it so easily. My only regret is not having heard the tune played out, as that metallic scrape-riff would be perfect for shape throwing.

50. Todd Terje - Snooze 4 Love

"Snooze 4 Love" slides forward without friction, even its ear-tickling delays and hesitations only reinforcing the sense of the ground flowing inexorably beneath and behind you, the tonal colour of trees and stop signs and houses and people whipping past the car window, their immediate obsolescence even as they first come into view simply underscoring the importance of the journey itself, on which there are no breaks or detours or diversions. Given the majesty of Gottsching's "E2-E4", you'd think there'd be heaps of miniature tributes along these lines (at or about the original's becalmed tempo, at any rate), except that "Snooze 4 Love" actually reminds me that Underworld (used to) do this quite often, by virtue of sounding something like a missing link between those two points, all surround-sound panoramic vision and house-as-trance-as-inevitability, dance music's logic of build-ups and breakdowns submerged within an endlessly unfurling vista, a descent into a sun-filled valley in the middle of winter (has this tune been optioned for a car advertisement yet?). The only real problem with "Snooze 4 Love" is that it reminds me of my latent desire for oxycontin, which re-emerges any time I lie on my bed, dead tired, and listen to tunes like this. Luckily then this is filled with moments - like when a resonant horn line is dispelled like mist by the reemergence of the throbbing bassline - that provide their own sense of chemical immersion.

49. Fatima Al-Qadiri - D-Medley

"Vatican Vibes" may be the most startling, fascinating Fatima tune, and the one that caught my ear first and hardest, but "D-Medley" has been the tune that I've continually returned to. In part, for how in its twinkling, chiming simplicity, it imagines so many alternate universes simultaneously: LTJ Bukem making gothic ambient, perhaps, or Bel Canto discovering the Caribbean some seven years before they actually did (seriously, this could be the great lost instrumental from White-Out Conditions). In a crowded field of post-grime-whatever practitioners Fatima is distinguished by her lack of fear of big, solemn gestures, and "D-Medley" is Fatima at her most solemn, the rippling steel drum melody and choral harmonies and ominous bass thrums evoking a sense of the world's hugeness and terrifying indifference to your fate with a precision that never feels like precision (after all, in its indifference the world cares not whether and how you perceive it). It's the kind of music that demands fruity critical overreach: imagine being trapped in a snow-storm on a glacier, or lost in an endless underground cavern surrounded by glowing stalactites. The very fact that "D-Medley" demands this kind of reaction perhaps rightly prompts a certain skepticism, a desire to resist the premeditated strategy behind its charms. But I've never claimed to be a strong person.

Tim F, Sunday, 3 June 2012 05:30 (five years ago) Permalink


Just love love love reading these.

tim you should totally try and get paid for this, i've always been amazed that you put so much effort in for free.

Surely there is a kickstarter project in this?

toby, Sunday, 3 June 2012 14:24 (five years ago) Permalink

The wait has been so epic this round, but still worth it!

MikoMcha, Sunday, 3 June 2012 14:49 (five years ago) Permalink

thx tim!

just sayin, Monday, 4 June 2012 10:38 (five years ago) Permalink

echoing the love

Fas Ro Duh (Gukbe), Monday, 4 June 2012 15:49 (five years ago) Permalink

Also this:

The only real problem with "Snooze 4 Love" is that it reminds me of my latent desire for oxycontin, which re-emerges any time I lie on my bed, dead tired, and listen to tunes like this. Luckily then this is filled with moments - like when a resonant horn line is dispelled like mist by the reemergence of the throbbing bassline - that provide their own sense of chemical immersion.

I haven't wanted any oxycontin since I threw away the last of my post-surgery ones two years ago, but this almost makes them tempting again.

toby, Monday, 4 June 2012 16:55 (five years ago) Permalink

48. Nadia Oh - Taking Over The Dancefloor (Kate Middleton)

Probably my most hated act of the 00s was Vandalism, a local post-electro-house duo who took the affected disaffection of Who Said Funk's already-dispiriting "Shiny Disco Balls" to a grim and gruesome nadir with the bored, nasal recitations of their irritating debut "I Might Like You Better (If We Slept Together)", the painful intensification of the blueprint on follow-up "Smash Disco" and the apocalyptically awful zenith of "Creeps (Get On The Dancefloor)", the capacity of which to harangue the listener while still sounding utterly disinterested in itself making it a deserving nominee for the decade's worst tune, worse still because, by mutilating the barely-dead corpse of Steve Bug's remix of Freaks' "The Creeps", Vandalism managed to compress an entire depressing three-book tale of electro-house's decline and fall into four grisly minutes. Here we must distinguish between affected disaffection - the limited creative potential of which the past decade has thoroughly depleted - and the disaffection of the singer who doesn't realise they're meant to sound like they care. This too must be distinguished from the further avenue of affectlessness - the sheer absence of emotion one hears in some (though only some) post-autotune pop, which can seem to move beyond questions of caring or a lack thereof - leaving us with a surprisingly thin strip of pop where the singer actually sounds like they'd rather be sleeping off their comedown (even Paris Hilton mined this territory only occasionally). What makes Nadia Oh appealing to me is how effectively her nonchalance walks the tightrope between disaffection and affectlessness, her robo-frankenstein's bride chants of "we gon' take your money", "throw your wallets in the sky" and "SWAG!" suggesting she's "just like that", the kind of person who says everything in a voice implying sarcastic deadpan even when she's being totally sincere. In fact Nadia still might not be that appealing except that her persona offers the perfect foil for the euro-moombahton backing track, its efficient compression-packed travel bag of whistles and sirens and handclaps and rave synths and most of all its monolithic yet slothful beat suggesting a dance that goes through the motions in a manner that ought not be satisfying but absolutely is. And even leaving aside all of the above, "Taking Over The Dancefloor" would deserve this position due to the marvelous yet too-brief new keyboard melody that lays siege to the outro.

47. Vybz Kartel - Coloring Book

For the most part I was left a bit cold by Vybz's swing circa Pon Di Gaza towards downbeat but sweet autotuned balladry, not so much in and for itself but because over multiple tracks (and especially in the context of an entire album) I find the cumulative effect kind of oppressive (and certainly depressive), the moistly thick plod-throb of the riddims and Vybz's dreary half-sung melodies always putting me in mind of that suffocating, disoriented feeling I get after falling asleep in the afternoon. "Coloring Book" is in this vein yet not, its stuttering piano groove and eerie violin sweeps thoroughly lachrymose and yet utterly sharp and crystalline, the sadness now piercing and even chilling. It's matched well to Vybz's ambivalent ode to his tattoo obsession, which peddles a sad tale of addiction even as it implores listeners to get their own inks. "When the tattoo needle start fi bun / Mi kill off the pain with Street Vybz rum" he quasi-boasts in deadened fashion, but he also seems to need the pain: "Stylist push the needle through the epidermis / hotter than a macka hype bun you like a furnace / pretty when it finish but it hot when it a service / you only hear the needle go so "eeennn" and get nervous / from me start me cant stop, everyday me say dis a last two..." As much as anything, "Coloring Book" derives its power from Vybz's vocal range, veering from deep baritone to adenoidal tenor and back again as if to observe his fixation from every possible angle, from pride to anxiety to hardened bossman indifference. And if he wasn't truly scared of himself, why did he choose to tell this story over such a consummately melancholy riddim? Whatever his motivations, "Coloring Book" is one of very few tunes of last year that can leave me feeling sad some time after it finishes.

46. Groove Theory - Tell Me (George Fitzgerald Remix)

I always adored the louche grace of the original "Tell Me", which never fails to bring to mind Amel Larrieux in the video clip, bobbing her head and swinging her hands back and forth in almost absent-minded time with the beat. Aside from the fact that it's a great song, "Tell Me" doesn't necessary seem like the perfect fit for a post-dubstep syncopated house reworking (if you'd pitched it to me I would have been slightly scared), but from its first seconds - the insistent kicks, the gorgeously throbbing synth-chords, Amel's slightly pitched up vocal now signifiying impatient need as much as boundless generosity - Fitzgerald's effort is so thoroughly right-seeming that even the memory of doubts is banished alongside the doubts themselves: this was always meant to be, and always meant to be perfect. Much like the 2012 work of Disclosure, Fitzgerald's bubbly, hesitant remix offers yet another reimagination of the meaning of "garage", its trebly delicacy and pillowy atmospherics and sensuous, meticulously timed percussion (the hi-hats alone are unbelievably beautiful) simultaneously recalling Deep Dish's remix of De'Lacy's "Hideaway" and Dreem Teem's remix of Amira's "My Desire" in its evocation of an intoxicating vulnerability, a desire constantly falling forward yet deeper into itself, Amel's sighs laying her bare before you while the music promises understanding and empathy without limitation. There's nothing street about it: just desire as champagne bloodrush, ecstatic and overwhelmed and utterly impossible.

Tim F, Monday, 18 June 2012 13:33 (five years ago) Permalink


karl...arlk...rlka...lkar..., Monday, 18 June 2012 23:41 (five years ago) Permalink

five months pass...

only 45 left to go!

D-40, Sunday, 25 November 2012 22:41 (five years ago) Permalink

r|t|c, Sunday, 25 November 2012 22:46 (five years ago) Permalink

the worst thing is that it's always tim's MOST FAVOURITE tracks that get shafted

#YOLO ONO (lex pretend), Monday, 26 November 2012 12:50 (five years ago) Permalink

heh i'm sure tim's wouldnt have been boring but generally this dreary awards season would most likely be much improved if everyone were forced to only discuss their top 20-50

r|t|c, Monday, 26 November 2012 15:45 (five years ago) Permalink

probably true of every year really

#YOLO ONO (lex pretend), Monday, 26 November 2012 16:06 (five years ago) Permalink

Let's get 2011 out of the way. This is just what the balance of my 2011 list has been since the beginning of the year, haven't really thought about its currency now but it looks pretty sympathetic to Nov 2012 me:

1. Diddy-Dirty Money - Sade / No Ordinary Love
2. Beyonce - Schoolin Life / Countdown
3. Fuzzy Logick ft. Myshy - Playground
4. Toddla T - Take It Back (Dillon Francis Remix) / CSS - Hits Me Like A Rock (Dillon Francis Remix)
5. Nicki Minaj ft. Esther Dean - Super Bass
6. Gucci Mane - Brrr! (Supa Cold)
7. Funkystepz - Warrior + various remixes eulogising
8. Konshens - Nuh Pull It Up
9. Ill Blu - Monsta
10. Laza Morgan ft. Mavado - One By One
11. Royal-T - Cool Down
12. Desloc Piccalo ft. Adiah - Drums
13. Artful - Could Just Be The Bassline (ArtOfficial Club Mix)
14. Schoolboy Q ft. Jhene Aiko - Fantasy
15. Britney Spears ft. Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha - Till The World Ends (Remix)
16. Purpl Pop - The Way (The Living Graham Bond Dub)
17. S.E.C.T. ft. Ben Westbeech - In The Park
18. Kelly Rowland ft. Lil' Wayne - Motivation
19. Terror Danjah ft. Ruby Lee Ryder - Full Attention
20. Dead Rose Music Company - Never Gonna Stop
21. Don P The Panhandle King - Gone Do
22. Dawn Richard - Broken Record
23. Busy Signal - Pon Dem
24. Meek Mill ft. Rick Ross - Ima Boss
25. Invisible Conga People - In A Hole
26. Cherine Anderson - Make Up Sex
27. Champion ft. Ruby Lee Ryder - Sensitivity
28. Toi - You'll Be Mine
29. Alexis Jordan - Good Girl
30. Matthew Kyle - Off My Mind
31. DJ Q ft. Louise Williams - Over Me
32. Jordanne Patrice - Ready When Yuh Ready
33. Benoit & Sergio - Everybody
34. Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo, Nayer & Afrojack - Give Me Everything
35. Natalie May - Clothes Off
36. Tanya Stephens - Shame On You
37. Selena Gomez & The Scene - Love You Like A Love Song
38. Jesse Boykins III - I Can't Stay
39. Lloyd ft. Awesome Jones - Cupid
40. S-X - Wooo! Riddim (DJ Q Refix)
41. Aisha Davis - My Loving
42. JoJo - Marvin's Room (Can't Do Better)
43. Scottie B ft. Jae Elle - Feel Nice, Feel Right
44. The Wideboys - Shopaholic (Future Garage Remix)
45. Popcaan - Raving

I post this despite thinking that lists by themselves are kinda boring, so if anyone actually wants a spiel for any of these in particular let me know.

Tim F, Tuesday, 27 November 2012 10:45 (five years ago) Permalink

Nick Hannam & Tom Garenett ft Tom Zanetti - You Want Me
Terri Walker - He Loves Me (Artful Mix)
Pyper ft Kt Forrester - Dagger To The Heart
Vybz Kartel - Lip Gloss
Tanya Stephens - Take Good Care Of My Man

yeah can you do these please :]

r|t|c, Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:04 (five years ago) Permalink

Haha, there's a reason I'm getting 2011 out of the way.

Tim F, Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:30 (five years ago) Permalink

lol knew you'd bottle it

r|t|c, Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:34 (five years ago) Permalink

that finneyana reign just wont let up

r|t|c, Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:38 (five years ago) Permalink

Ha. Selfishly wouldn't mind a gloss on the Dillon Francis, as I didn't see many others write about moombahton (didn't catch on around here, and I think uh trap has colonised any potentially sympathetic spaces). & "One By One" for general life-affirmation.

etc, Wednesday, 28 November 2012 01:21 (five years ago) Permalink

lol xp

flopson, Wednesday, 28 November 2012 14:59 (five years ago) Permalink

Don P The Panhandle King - Gone Do

Wish I could find an MP3 of this. Great track.

MikoMcha, Wednesday, 28 November 2012 19:35 (five years ago) Permalink

shoutout to brainwasher for that 1

D-40, Wednesday, 28 November 2012 20:43 (five years ago) Permalink

Yeah Deej hipped me to that, it was the last thing I heard to make my list I think.

Tim F, Wednesday, 28 November 2012 21:05 (five years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

So, 2012...

MikoMcha, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 12:15 (five years ago) Permalink


Tim F, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:23 (five years ago) Permalink

looking forward to it!

toby, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:45 (five years ago) Permalink

you should try to get a publication to pick up on it tim - 1) it's good enough (obviously) 2) it feels weird and wrong expecting someone to be doing something this detailed unpaid 3) it would make you finish it

lex pretend, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:47 (five years ago) Permalink


― frogbs in the trap (J0rdan S.), Tuesday, May 1, 2012 5:00 PM (7 months ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

print & bind them & ship them by march 2013 along w/ an accompanying youtube playlist or w/e and i'm in for... $20? $30?

― frogbs in the trap (J0rdan S.), Tuesday, May 1, 2012 5:01 PM (7 months ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

❏❐❑❒ (gr8080), Tuesday, 18 December 2012 18:35 (five years ago) Permalink

^ cosign.

toby, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 21:49 (five years ago) Permalink

Yeah, feels weird sort of harassing you for it, but it's clearly a highlight of the EOY... I would pay for the zine version.

MikoMcha, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 23:23 (five years ago) Permalink

I would pay $s for just an emailed version (with e.g. youtube links for listening). But yes, obviously this is a bit weird, apologies etc.

toby, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 23:32 (five years ago) Permalink

Basically my aversion to that kind of thing is the need to organise myself. The level of organisation required at work is already almost more than I can handle.

However I have been thinking of some sort of zine idea for a while, not for this EOY but for something next year.

Tim F, Tuesday, 18 December 2012 23:50 (five years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

man richelle are still something else... you hear album upon album less transportive than these here 5 minutes

r|t|c, Saturday, 23 March 2013 22:59 (four years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Tim do you like 'Drink and Rave'?

Matt DC, Thursday, 11 April 2013 18:02 (four years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Nice writeup of reggae crooner Tarrus Riley

curmudgeon, Friday, 30 May 2014 18:52 (three years ago) Permalink

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