XLR8R's Best of 2011: Tracks, Part Two
As most music websites are wont to do, XLR8R has fashioned a list of its picks for the best tracks of the year. Yesterday, we shared with you #50-21, and today, we present to you our top 20 tunes from 2011.
20. Holy Other
We couldn't think of a more appropriate way to end Holy Other's pitch-black With U EP than with the hopeful essence of "Feel Something." The ember glow around the edges of this slow-mo-house production is a stark contrast to the downtrodden deepness of the four songs that come before it, and ultimately wins our affection by revealing a much-needed upside to a record so engrossingly dark. Patric Fallon
How you take trance stabs, coke-rap snares, '80s videogame synths, incomprehensible chipmunk vocals, and a Daft Punk-if-they-were-high-as-fuck guitar solo and come up with an absolute banger is something only Rustie knows how to do. Normally, territory this treacherous would scare off the weak of heart, but Rustie is surely a brave soul, and, with tracks like "Ultra Thizz," his ends continue to justify the means. Glenn Jackson
Like many selections on Oneman's 502 imprint, there's not a whole lot to "Shawty." Listening to the song, it quickly becomes apparent just how much space there is in the production, a factor that's just as important as any of the actual sonic elements being put to use. That said, each of those elements is just about perfect. Utilizing low-slung drum beats, haunting synth melodies, and a sultry vocal sample, Finnish producer Teeth not only put himself on the bass-music map, he also created one of the year's most memorable tunes. Shawn Reynaldo
Can you say tune?! The powerful bassline at the center of Martyn's lead single from the excellent Ghost People LP, "Masks," is just about reason enough for us to name the DC producer's track one of our favorites of the year, but he certainly doesn't stop there. This outright jam evokes the kind of inventive sound worlds and driving melodies we first heard on Great Lengths, but relies upon the futuristic soul and driving force of Detroit techno rather than forward-thinking dubstep. "Masks" is a tune indeed, one we'll be spinning for years to come. Patric Fallon
"Here's Your Trance Now Dance"
The title just about says it all. First appearing as a single, then surfacing later as an anchor of the It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It full length, the song finds Detroit veteran Omar-S employing synth melodies that would certainly be unbearably cheesy in the hands of another producer and somehow infusing them with a healthy dose of Motor City soul. Riding along clacking percussion and a simple bassline, "Here Your Trance, Now Dance" beats insipid Euro-dance at its own game for more than 10 glorious minutes. Omar-S isn't known for his modesty, but if he continues turning out productions like this one, he doesn't really need to be. Shawn Reynaldo
"Let You No"
Much is written about the tasteful nods to hip-hop and R&B that permeate Kingdom's music, but "Let You No," taken from his excellent Dreama EP, showcased another one of his passions: grime. The song's twisting melodies create a sensual, almost exotic air that is seemingly inspired by mid-'00s sinogrime. When combined with the producer's love for forward urban sounds—not to mention a vocal snippet keenly lifted from Sadie Ama's 2007 cut "Falling"—the end result is the strongest piece of music that Night Slugs released in its sophomore year. Shawn Reynaldo
(Ten Thousand Yen)
Sparkling arps, pitched vocal melodies, and a steadily shuffling beat—it's certainly not the most unheard of formula, but when it's done right, you can tell. xxxy did it right with "Ordinary Things," which offers seven minutes of pristine dancefloor sounds that beckon all within earshot to shake something out. Glenn Jackson
It's amazing that when "Sicko Cell"—undoubtedly the most hyped tune of the year—was finally released in late July, the world was essentially already over it. In a world where anticipation grows exponentially online and DJs are mastering YouTube rips in order to play the latest tune, especially one created "anonymously" (it's an open secret that Joy Orbison produced the track) and only passed along to a select few, "Sicko Cell" simply ran out of steam. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that it's a monster of a club track. With a stripped-down aesthetic and eerie vibe, the song is rather similar to Teeth's "Shawty," but the twisted, Burial-esque vocal samples put "Sicko Cell" over the top. Shawn Reynaldo
12. Jacques Greene
Though you would have been wrong, you wouldn't have been crazy to think that there was no way Jacques Greene could make another track as brilliantly infectious as "(Baby I Don't Know) What You Want." "Another Girl" is quite a different affair, but one equal to Greene's past efforts in its instantly memorable qualities, as it offers a slightly different take on moody garage, complete with catchy melodies and an expertly crafted vocal procession that—even in a year that has brought us to the brink of R&B accapella saturation—still sounds fresh. Glenn Jackson
"Into the Valley (Julio Bashmore Remix)"
(Green Label Sound)
Somehow, a track that was produced at the behest of Mountain Dew has cracked the list. (Trust us, we're just as surprised as you are.) But all the credit goes to Julio Bashmore, or, perhaps, Classixx—assuming the disco-minded duo was responsible for enlisting the Bristol producer's remix services. Bashmore transforms the middling original into something spectacular, a sparkling slice of piano house that perfectly utilizes the uplifting and soulful vocal provided by Karl Dixon. Maybe corporate-sponsored content is okay after all? Actually, no. It's still pretty awful. But this is a great song nonethless. Shawn Reynaldo
Everything about "Hours" seems drenched in a gorgeous warmth. While the musical lines may be touching in their simplicity, the real beauty of this number lies in the densely packed, ever-expanding sonic waves that Tycho unfolds with an intent patience. Related to the at-times-cringeworthy chillwave genre in its ability to evoke thoughts of beaches, sunsets, and the like, "Hours" came with a reserved, sophisticated spin and a touch of mature introspection that set the song apart from its less-capable counterparts. Glenn Jackson
9. Virgo Four
"It's a Crime (Caribou Remix)"
The re-emergence of Virgo Four has been a wonderful thing to observe, as the Chicago duo is finally seeing some long overdue recognition for its pioneering house production in the late '80s. The release of Resurrection, a full-length collection of previously unheard bits, would have been more than sufficient to celebrate the veteran outfit, but then Caribou offered up this stellar reinvention of "It's a Crime." Where the original is a propulsive piece of funk-tinged house, this version reimagines the track completely, most notably because Caribou re-sings the vocal himself. His remix starts slowly, sounding like something from his psychedelic Swim album, before suddenly evolving into a massive, acid-laced floor-filler. Add in some very big synth chords, and Dan Snaith somehow ended up crafting one of the year's best tunes. Shawn Reynaldo
8. The Weeknd
There's no better time to share your stories of late-night debauchery than the morning after, a fact that The Weeknd—potentially 2011's biggest musical success story—knows all too well and deftly illustrates on House of Ballons standout "The Morning." With his inimitable damaged croon, singer Abel Tesfaye tells us of his escapades with drugs, booze, and "Hoes that specialize in the hoein'" while a smooth 808 rhythm carries the translucent synth melodies and rickety guitar riffs that stick to your brain as firmly as the "All that money..." hook in the chorus. It's a powerful slow jam that makes waking up with a massive hangover seem a whole hell of a lot cooler. Patric Fallon
"Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon)"
Due as much to the work of the South London producer as a powerful performance from Little Dragon frontwoman Yukimi Nagano, the first track to see the light of day from SBTRKT's debut full-length was without question its biggest tune. And while "Wildfire" had no problems garnering repeated plays on car stereos and commuter iPods, where the pop-dubstep track really made sense was the club, where the impact of SBTRKT's lean production style and the song's layers of gorgeous vocals could be felt full force—to the delight of many an adventurous dancefloor. Glenn Jackson
"We Are You in the Future"
The title of the standout tune from Martyn's Ghost People LP suggests that he had somehow tapped into the sounds of the future. But maybe the DC producer was suggesting that the current age is the future, and this track was somehow meant to be sent back to the past, as there are echoes of every electronic genre worth remembering from the last 10-20 years folded into the proceedings here. Rumbles of drum & bass hold down the low end, glimpses of garage peak through the drums, and the crude, re-pitched chords of decades-old house take hold in the cut's final minutes. It's almost like listening to a few different classic tunes all at once. Best of all, every piece is seamlessly woven together into a propulsive expedition that moves full circle before its almost nine-minute run is through, a feat that could only be accomplished so precisely by a true bass-music veteran. Glenn Jackson
5. Holy Other
In a year where the idea of "witch house" quickly went from over-hyped cause célèbre to easy punchline, an artist like Holy Other could have easily been lost in the shuffle. It's a testament to the emotive power of his music that he continues to garner accolades, even as the scene he was involuntarily lumped into rapidly fades into irrelevance. The UK producer's debut EP, With U, is incredibly strong as a whole, but "Touch" was the song that kept you coming back, its ghostly, pitch-shifted vocals drenched in longing and desperately imploring the world for some kind of real connection. Yes, the music is dark and the stuttering beats hint at R&B and hip-hop, but amidst all the otherworldly sounds is something very human. It may have been made by a lonely soul patching together beats in his bedroom, but "Touch" has real heart, and that is what makes it great. Shawn Reynaldo
"Done Me Wrong"
It's ironic that this song is called "You Done Me Wrong," as Mosca's discography to date seems to imply that the London producer is incapable of making a misstep. After last year's Square One EP kicked off Night Slugs' dominant run (and also saw "Nike" grab the top slot on XLR8R's Best Tracks of 2010 list), Mosca had plenty to live up to with his subsequent releases. Yet "You Done Me Wrong"—along with its excellent b-side, "Bax"—was easily one of 2011's strongest 12"s. Sure, it's a throwback record, but both tunes find the shape-shifting producer celebrating 2-step garage rather than simply exploiting the genre's current trendiness. It's a close call, but the slightly more restrained "You Done Me Wrong" gets the nod as the superior production. Its clubby bassline is a little less upfront than that of its sister track, but the diva-esque vocal turn is simply too good to ignore, especially when Mosca's expertly cuts it up in a fashion reminiscent of garage veteran Todd Edwards. Shawn Reynaldo
Scuba made a trance song. (Polite company might refer to it as progressive house, but we're going to call a spade a spade.) On the heels of "Loss," which he released earlier in the earlier under his SCB moniker (and already nabbed #41 on this list), it was apparent that Paul Rose was interested in exploring new sound palettes, but something this, well, epic was not really expected. While the notion of one of the most influential and boundary-pushing dubstep producers of the past decade making a tune that Sasha would play (yes, that happened) sounds like some kind of nightmare on the surface, it doesn't change the fact that "Adrenalin" is not only an excellent track, but also a production that completely resets exactly what it is that Scuba is all about. Containing one grandiose and ethereal breakdown—not to mention a series of smaller ups and downs along the way—"Adrenalin" certainly plays to the dancefloor, particularly dancers looking to lose their shit once the beat comes back in and the song's chunky bassline takes hold. The synths are washy and warm, the sounds employed are impeccably clean, and yes, the track is absolutely, undeniably a bit cheesy. It's also eight of the most enjoyable minutes of music we heard all year (more or less on repeat, to be honest), and we can't wait to hear what Scuba comes up with next. Shawn Reynaldo
It could never be said that XLR8R is a champion of—or even a home for—pop music. But we are human, of course, so we can't deny ourselves a little bit of verse-chorus-verse with a heavy dose of infectious hooks from time to time, even if that's ultimately not what this publication is about. Despite all of that, there is no denying that M83's "Midnight City" is a great song, if not a flat-out perfect pop song. Its power lies within the utter simplicity of the music, the unbridled eagerness of Anthony Gonzalez's repeating vocal hooks, and the transcendent sax solo that wraps it all up without so much as a knowing wink. "Midnight City" is an anthem through and through, a song written by and for dreamers in the night. If all pop music was as good as M83's, perhaps we would pay more attention to it. Patric Fallon
1. Julio Bashmore
"Battle for Middle You"
Somehow, the best house cut of the year was made by Julio Bashmore, a producer from Bristol (a city not exactly celebrated for its love of house) who is often lumped in with the world of so-called bass music. In all fairness, Bashmore's music has always been fairly rooted in proper house, even on his slightly more shuffly early singles. Yet when his Everyone Needs a Theme Tune EP dropped in early 2011, it quickly became apparent that the young artist had made a massive leap, with "Battle for Middle You" jumping out immediately as a new anthem. The track's real magic resides in its low end, as the thick basslines and workmanlike drums provide the perfect underpinning to its subtly soaring melodies, soulful vocal sample, and weird synth stabs that sound like they've been reversed or warped or something. That's the thing: "Battle for Middle You" is a house track, but it's hard to think of another house tune that really sounds anything like it. While the song does have elements that reference classic house and various days gone by, it never feels trite or retro. If anything, it just feels big. It demands your attention and calls you—and everyone you know—to the dancefloor. "Let's get down," indeed. Shawn Reynaldo
Check out the rest of XLR8R's Best of 2011 coverage here.
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