XLR8R's Best of 2012: Tracks, Part One
After a full week of Best of 2012 content, we imagine that some of our readers may be hitting list overload. That said, the time has arrived for XLR8R to really start getting into the good stuff. Later this week, we'll be unveiling the results of our Readers Poll, along with what we think are the best releases of the past 12 months. But first, we're jumping into today's feature, a compilation of our picks for the best tracks of 2012. Selecting our favorites was no easy task, as we are quite literally inundated with tunes on a daily basis, but after taking everything into account, these were the songs that we kept coming back to again and again. We've selected 50 in total, the first half of which are listed below. (Come back tomorrow for the top 25.) For an added twist, we've elected to spare everyone from having to read our own thoughts about each track; instead, we've asked the artists themselves to speak about the songs in question. The vast majority of them were happy to pass along a few thoughts, and though their words range from what might be categorized as "incredibly thorough" to "weirdly brief," they all shed a bit of extra insight on the tracks we loved the most this year.
"Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)"
"'Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)' began on a plane ride over to Europe in the spring of 2011. Gaga still seemed potentially important/interesting at that moment, and I had highly enjoyed her performance at the Grammys a few months before. I had this idea that I might make a song called 'Lady Gaga' and that it would be all sourced from her voice, but it wasn't going anywhere, so I just wrote my own parts instead. Sitting in the plane was like sitting in a giant bubble, with only my ideas to keep me company, and hours before I needed to be anywhere/do anything. A few things that went into this song: I had just heard some crazy bongos on a 1970s recording of some teenagers from the Bronx, so I threw in some swinging bongos in a quick-and-dirty attempt to capture that magic. Earlier that week, there had been a conversation about jazz fusion, so I thought I might attempt some dissonant, jam-packed chords. Moodyman's 'I Can't Kick This Feeling When it Hits' was an obsession at the time, so the bassline was only two notes. The beat was slow cuz I was reminiscing about a NIN/50 cent mashup I had heard in 2007. Whitney and Frampton came on board cuz I had the idea that it would be a lovers jam, with some classic love choruses chiming in on whether or not it matters if you love him. Does it matter? Sometimes I think it doesn't (hence Dream On), but generally I'd say it does. Nihilism in life is a joke, although it can help quite a bit to go there with art, to check out some of the colder, less hospitable zones of our psyches and report back on the bleakness that we've all gotta contend with at some point." - Ital
49. Para One
"As I was starting to work on the song—chopping up a few samples, laying keys and trying to achieve that garage-house style (Todd Edwards' work was obviously on my mind as a the main influence, which you can probably hear)—I ended up being strangely moved by the chord progression. I then realized that it made me think of my father, who had passed away a year before. It wasn't only melancholy, it was also uplifting, so I guess it was at that time in the grieving process when it's not only about sadness, but about being grateful for having known the person. Hence the lyric, 'This sound is you.' In the breakdown, I emphasized the childish, emotional synths to accentuate that contrast even more. So, this track could be seen as a danceable digital gospel—in an atheist (or pagan) way." - Para One
48. Duke Dumont
"This year has taken a 180-degree turn in how my music has been received. Last December, things were at a point where I hadn't released an EP for a few years and had taken a backseat in people's musical consciousness. The remixes I had produced for the previous four years had held me on by a fine thread. So going into 2012, I consciously set out to place an emphasis upon writing music I would be happy to play in a DJ set, thus setting up the For Club Play Only EP series. The first EP had a great response among the fraternity of DJs I warm to most—Jamie Jones playing "Street Walker," Seth Troxler playing "Thunder Clap." But "The Giver" entered into a different world I hadn't encountered before. It has been featured in sets from The Magician's Magic Mixtape to Tiesto's podcast; from king of the hipsters Jamie Reynolds of the Klaxons to Essex girls getting ready to go out on a Friday night praising me on Twitter. I'm probably not completely aware of how it has been received, because I purposely place blinders on myself to remain productive, but I'm grateful to anybody who can take something from the music I make, and put me in a position to continue to do so. So thanks to anybody who took four minutes out of their lives this year to listen to 'The Giver.'" - Duke Dumont
47. Laurel Halo
"Light and Space"
"After finishing 'Light + Space,' I remember thinking that I was glad that it had a more positive note than other tracks on the record. It was inspired by the detective in Alphaville finding a loophole in the computer's logic, everyone then losing spatial sense attempting to cling onto the walls like wasted technoids, so it made sense to have it at the end of the record. My friends told me it sounded either like Sting or Joe Zawinul and I was worried it might be too jazzy, but ultimately it didn't veer too far into the electronica musical sound, so I was happy with how it turned out. I always expect people to hate my music, so it's a surprise when reception is positive." - Laurel Halo
46. South London Ordnance
"I have to say this is definitely the SLO 12" I'm most happy with this year. Well Rounded is such a great label and it was pleasure to work with Ash on the single—so yeah, out to him. 'Pacific' was the first track I finished of the two, and I guess it's probably a decent representation of what I look for in the music I play out, and what I do my best to achieve in the music I make: combining potentially incongruous sounds like noisy perc hits and angry acid lines with ethereal pads, and, in this instance, hands-in-the-air string breakdowns. The latter was a bit of a joke at the time, and fundamentally the production's pretty ropey—but it appears to do the job and I'm really glad people are into it." - South London Ordnance
45. Dre Skull
"I wrote 'Loudspeaker Riddim' on a flight to the Caribbean in 2009. I was traveling alone and had just launched Mixpak Records and wanted to do something on the uptempo side of things for a Jamaican artist. Originally, I sent this to Vybz Kartel to voice, but after about four months of no progress, I was asked to send him a different riddim (which I did and which became "Yuh Love").
In the fall of 2009, Natalie Storm voiced 'Rock The Runway' on 'Loudspeaker.' From there, the riddim kind of languished, because I was trying to sign Natalie Storm to Mixpak and the deal never quite came together. A bit later, I ended up doing the Vybz Kartel album Kingston Story and was so busy with that project for so long that I never had a chance to do anything more with 'Loudspeaker.' So I held it until I had some free time and once I did, I took it to Kingston to get it voiced by Beenie Man and Popcaan. Soon after that, I played the cuts for Walshy Fire and Jillionaire, and they recommended getting Machel Montano on it. Jillionaire made the introduction. So, in the end, it was a long strange road to go from making the 'Loudspeaker Riddim' to actually getting it voiced and released. It's been great to see it finally out in the world and getting such a positive global response."
- Dre Skull
43. Locked Groove
"One of the first tracks I made as Locked Groove, it's funny what this track set in motion. It basically changed my entire life overnight. When I finished it, I never thought it would have such an impact on my life and career (my nonexistent career at the time), and I remember doubting if I would send it to Scuba to consider for my first Hotflush release. Glad I did it though." - Locked Groove
42. Jam City
"Basketball court on the hottest August morning, reflected mirrors of nearby parked cars, heaving asphalt, heavy information in the air, stretch, bend, and twist." - Jam City
40. Iron Galaxy
"The initial intention of 'Attention Seeker' was to try and write a track with that classic Roland 909 shuffle. I had just gotten my hands on a 909 and wanted to put it to work, and I had the goal of syncing the arpeggiator in an Oberheim OB-8 to a swung trigger—which didn't fully work out, but it gave me some interesting results. I often write too many parts for a song and things become busy. This time around, I managed to find a space for everything and was happy with the way it came together. Audio Culture is a great label with a solid roster who put a lot of effort into their design/aesthetic. Being a lover of vinyl, having it pressed to 180-gram vinyl with laser-etched artwork was more than I could have asked from a debut release. I'm flattered by the response it's received this year; it makes me both excited and a little nervous to share new music with everyone. In 2013, there's going to be a spread of stuff that's a little more spacey and melodic as well as some more aggressive techno bits. I'd like the Iron Galaxy alias to be known for having some range as opposed to being just a swingy house project." - Iron Galaxy
"Crystal Caverns 1991"
"It's really cool that 'Crystal Caverns' made it to the list, as it was never intended to be a single or anything. It was one of the first tracks I finished for Galaxy Garden, and it totally gave me the push I needed to get the rest of the album done. We put it out as a 12" before the LP came out, as it seemed to be the closest thing to a single on the record. It kinda felt like it encapsulated the whole vibe of Galaxy Garden to me—it definitely sums up what I was going for at the time. [It was] inspired by a weird Japanese game for the Mega Drive and a couple of Manix tunes I'm obsessed with." - Lone
"One of the main things I was thinking about while making the Personality album was how to take old ideas and make something new out of them, and I guess 'NE1BUTU' is the most obvious example of that concept on the record, but actually, in some ways, [it's] one of the least successful attempts at executing it because really it's just a hardcore track slowed down to 128. But it also works really well as a pop song, and that's why I let myself get away with it. The video was a bonus; doing the Dance Energy thing was a bit of a risk, but it turned out amazingly well and having Normski appear in it was the icing on the cake." - Scuba
36. Ghosts on Tape
"I think the topic of the vocal sample in this track is not something that gets talked about in many house or techno songs, and that's what really drew me to it. The overall message is that nature does not care about who we are or want we want. We can only do our best in life and hope things work out, but there is no guarantee that things will go our way. There is no fair or unfair, only chaos, and we have to understand that fact and respect it. Nature does what it needs to do to balance itself, and if that is inconvenient to us as humans, then so be it. It's not exactly a positive or a negative message, just real talk and something I really agree with. It also happens to sound pretty cool while you're raving, too." - Ghosts on Tape
35. Andy Stott
"'Numb' for me was one of those tracks that was instant. From getting that first vocal from Alison [Skidmore], I knew it was going to flick all the right switches for me. It came together with ease in the early stages, but took some fiddling about to get it all balanced just right. I know that this is Alison's favorite track on the album; I think I'm right in remembering that Alison referred to it as, "drowning slowly in warmth." It's a great track to play early in sets, as it links so well with most of the previous releases and lends itself to any environment where I have played; it always goes down well." - Andy Stott
"I had fun making this one. I always used to like songs that told a story and so I basically wanted to create the claustrophobic atmosphere of being on a submarine in an emergency dive. Way back in the mid '90s, I picked up this record on R&S by an artist named Depth Charge and it had a bunch of sonar pulses in the song, which for some reason has remained in my head until now. I kind of just expanded on that using old footage from an old navy submarine video for the vocal cuts and foley noises as well for the dissonant, clangy metallic sounds." - Nautiluss
33. Gerry Read
"I hope the filter hiss pisses you off." - Gerry Read
32. Four Tet & Burial
"[This] might be one of the best tracks I've made I think." - Four Tet
"'Room Service' is named after a particularly fun night at the Andaz hotel in London where we ended up in Kelly Osbourne's hotel room ordering a whole bunch of stuff and then cleared out. Whenever I play it out, I'm always reminded of, and in some way usually continue, that night in a mischievous fashion. One fun fact I'm told is when Mic Newman played it out at the night House of Disco, he got the entire crowd to sit on the floor during the super-long build-up at the end and then got them to jump up when it dropped—an oldie but a goodie." - Citizen
30. KW Griff
"Bring in the Katz feat. Pork Chop"
"The concept of 'Bring in the Katz' was an idea that Porkchop originated. Pork came to me a little over a year ago with the idea of making a club track about 'Bring In The Katz.' I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wanted to hear him out on the idea that he had. He told me that he wanted to make something that was simple, but at the same time catchy with a banging club beat. He let me know about all of the elements he wanted included in the track, along with the flow of the sequences. He wanted me to be the guy to formulate his idea and create a track called 'Bring In The Katz.' I thought about it and said, 'This is going to be interesing.'
He went into the radio station studio and recorded all of his vocals in one take. He handed me the CD and said, 'Here are the vocals for the track. You can go through the CD and grab all of the vocals that you think you can use. Work your magic! I know you will put your KW spin on it!' Once I received the CD from him, I went to the studio and sat down to begin putting everything together, gathering all of the elements that he wanted in the track, along with his vocals. The rest was up to me. It took me about two weeks to produce the track. Once it was completed, I played it on the radio on a Friday night during my club set. The rest, as they say, is history. For this track to be just a simple, fun, catchy type of track with vocal references to Baltimore DJs, Baltimore clubs, etc., we had no idea that this track would spread all across the coast the way that it has. We thank everyone for enjoying and partying to it!" - KW Griff
29. Dubbel Dutch
"'Self Help Riddim' was directly inspired by a few incredibly catchy teenage pop-dancehall tracks I became obsessed with a few lazy summers ago. After the track was finished, I eventually realized that the vocals, which relentlessly echo "outta di way," sounded a lot like a call to action. It felt almost like a hypnotic suggestion or mantra urging people to 'get out of their own ways' and let their authentic selves flourish—a recurring motif in new-age and self-help culture." - Dubbel Dutch
28. Leon Vynehall
"Don't Know Why"
"I release songs because I am proud of them, and people spending their hard-earned income on the records I put out is the greatest compliment. I didn't expect a song of mine to be featured in something like this either, so thank you—and thanks to Wu-Tang for the sample." - Leon Vynehall
27. Barker & Baumecker
"It's interesting which tracks become a highlight for people, especially this one, which came together very quickly. We've learned a lot from the many intelligent critiques and deconstructions of our mindless actions, but even more from seeing you people dancing on the floor. It's a wonderful feeling!" - Barker & Baumecker
26. Guy Andrews
"'The Wait' was one of the first tunes I had written with purely a dancefloor in mind. It was mainly inspired by what I wanted to hear in a club at the time, and I geared the track's mixdown to have a lot of impact on a system, especially on the song's last drop. Scuba had already said he wanted to do a release based on some other tracks I had sent him, but when I sent over' The Wait,' he pretty much immediately wanted it as the a-side. The positive reaction to the release from both DJs and general listeners has been flattering. Hotflush has been a great support and has really helped me gain attention as a producer and DJ." - Guy Andrews
XLR8R's Best of 2012 coverage will continue throughout the week, so check back each day for additional year-end round-ups. In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at the other Best of 2012 pieces we've posted already:
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Top Downloads
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Videos
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Labels
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Hi, Doctor Nick!
XLR8R's Best of 2012: New Artists
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Overrated Releases
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Underwhelming Releases
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