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XLR8R's Best of 2013: Tracks (25 - 1)

Yesterday, we kicked XLR8R's Best of 2013 coverage into high gear with a list containing the first half of our favorite tracks of the year. Now, we're rounding out the week with the second half, which comprises our top 25 tracks of 2013. Without question, it's a varied collection of tunes, but in a year when the best electronic music came from all across the map, this list offers an accurate representation of our listening habits over the past 12 months.


25. Tessela "Hackney Parrot" (Poly Kicks)
In a year when repurposing the sounds of hardcore and jungle was the height of fashion, few tracks managed to resurrect the '90s breakbeat spirit with as much charm as Tessela's "Hackney Parrot." With its rugged, no-nonsense breaks and simplistically catchy vocal hook, "Hackney Parrot" simply feels like a refinement of everything that is so shamelessly fun about classic rave music. An honorable mention also goes to Paul Woolford, whose wonderfully kitsch, Ford Fiesta-referencing Special Request VIP helped boost the track's profile considerably. Si Truss


24. Jon Hopkins "Collider" (Domino)
Without exaggerating, it's safe to say that Immunity was the sort of album where seemingly half of the record could have wound up on this list. Still, there's something special about "Collider," a nine-minute journey that finds UK producer Jon Hopkins layering his crunchy sonics over a thick techno pulse. It seems simple, and the track certainly sounds elegant, but Hopkins' composition is so intensely detailed and sonically rich that one could honestly spend hours dissecting "Collider" and itemizing its litany of precisely sculpted elements. This ability to build something beautiful, even when the various pieces at his disposal are often jagged or distorted, is at the crux of Hopkins' appeal. Shawn Reynaldo


23. Bobby Browser "As Far As I Know" (100% Silk)
Like the year before it, 2013 saw an abundance of vintage-tinged house rise to the surface, with a growing number of producers using dance music's classic sounds as a starting point for their modern productions. At first glance, Bobby Browser's "As Far As I Know" falls squarely into that category; after all, it's a soul-drenched, sample-heavy exercise that opens his Still Browsing EP for 100% Silk, a label that's more than familiar with its share of vintage dance tropes. That being said, writing off the tune as a mere rehash would be unwise, as Browser's machine-jacked beat, '80s keyboard riffs, and diva gasps are not the focus of the track, but merely the modest vehicles that the Oakland-based producer uses to craft one of the year's most tenderly fun and unabashedly smooth dancefloor excursions. Glenn Jackson


22. Graze "Ques" (New Kanada)
Graze's self-titled debut EP is full of highlights, but "Ques" is ultimately the record's crowning achievement. Skillfully balancing rhythmic power with musical depth, "Ques" is a formidable piece of reserved techno, one which touches upon an icy mood without dipping too far into melancholy atmosphere. Led by a restless series of sharp chords and razor-thin pads, the track is both delicate and precise, boasting a rich and robust low end that never gets in the way of the dense musical lattices created by the song's sparse synth work. In short, "Ques" is an example of Graze (a.k.a. Adam Marshall and Christian "XI" Andersen) operating at its highest level. Glenn Jackson


21. Paul Woolford "Untitled" (Hotflush)
Paul Woolford has had a particularly high-profile 2013, but without a doubt, his biggest tune was "Untitled." In contrast to the seismic-impact jungle of Woolford's Special Request project, the Hotflush-issued "Untitled" aims squarely at the peak-time dancefloor with its anthemic vocal sample and bouncy piano hook. It has plenty of bite to it though; opening with crisp claps and plenty of punchy sub-bass, "Untitled" is one of those expertly paced tracks where each element seems to shift in and out of focus in perfect alignment, and the result is equal parts hands-in-the-air exuberance and tough, low-end-heavy techno. Tim Gentles


20. Machinedrum "Eyesdontlie" (Ninja Tune)
This year's Vapor City album saw Machinedrum further refine his sleek, R&B-infused hybrid of juke and jungle. With its muted, tensile breakbeats, "Eyesdontlie" has the telltale jittery juke pulse that has run through almost every recent Machinedrum production, but what really makes the track stand out is its gaseous, pitch-shifted vocal sample, which repeats the titular phrase ad infinitum as a growing sense of anxiety floats over the rest of the track's skittering gradients. Midway through, the rhythm falls away, leaving behind only a smoky organ line from which ghostly chords emerge; like so much of 2013's best music, "Eyesdontlie" finds a way of invoking the legacy of rave without bringing along the baggage of nostalgia. Tim Gentles


19. Axel Boman "Klinsmann" (Hypercolour)
Although 2013 was the year in which fun-loving Swede Axel Boman released his debut full-length, Family Vacation, it was actually another release, his Black Magic Boman EP for the Hypercolour label, that contained his most memorable offering. At its core, "Klinsmann" is a pop song—the song's main vocal is actually lifted from a Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men tune—but there's plenty to love in Boman's bright synths, bubbly bassline, and relatively sparse arrangement. We weren't the only ones to take notice, as John Talabot used a healthy portion of the track on his excellent DJ-Kicks mix. Shawn Reynaldo


18. Floorplan "Never Grow Old" (M-Plant)
Robert Hood's Christianity is inseparable from his craft, and "Never Grow Old," a standout cut from his Paradise LP under his house-oriented Floorplan guise, exemplifies that religious ecstasy at work. Bouncing off a rich and melismatic vocal sample of a young Aretha Franklin, the uproarious gospel delivers intense catharsis when paired with the track's slicing propulsion and muted piano chords. There's a sense of pews getting drenched in sweat as stray whoops of exhilaration break through the tape crackle, the joyousness frequently matched by the shouts of dancefloors goaded higher and higher by the track's assurances of youth and immortality. Aaron Gonsher


17. FKA Twigs "Water Me" (Young Turks)
It's impossible to define exactly what FKA Twigs' "Water Me" single is, and that elusiveness makes the song all the more mystical and captivating. Essentially an R&B singer, the UK vocalist born Tahliah Barnett taps into a quiet and vulnerable confidence in her breathy lyrics, while the music (co-produced by Venezuelan artist of the moment Arca) achieves a balance which teeters between haunted ambient sounds and stripped-down, experimental hip-hop. The whole thing is nebulous and relatively understated, but the talent and emotion behind "Water Me" are unquestionably big and universal. In their powerful song, FKA Twigs and Arca somehow touch a part of our souls that music rarely visits—a place where insecurity and determination intermingle with the love, loss, heartbreak, and hope that colors our constant internal monologue. So even if "Water Me" was one of the most inexplicable and forward-thinking pop songs of 2013, it was also some of the year's most relatably human music. Patric Fallon


16. Boddika & Joy O "Mercy (Boddika's VIP)" (Nonplus)
Few dance tunes can expect to have the sort of lifespan that Boddika's and Joy O's "Mercy" has enjoyed. Nearly two years have passed since the original first appeared, yet "Mercy" still refuses to die. Key to that longevity, undoubtedly, is Boddika's masterful VIP edit, which breathed fresh life into the track's distinctive rhythmic hook when it first started appearing in mixes back in 2012. It's an altogether harder take on the tune, one which trades the original's infectious repetition for a wild sense of unpredictability. Perhaps it's this ability to keep us guessing that allowed "Mercy (Boddika's VIP)" to still sound fresh when it was finally granted a proper release as part of this year's star-studded Think and Change compilation. Si Truss


15. Deadboy "On Your Mind" (Numbers)
Easily one of the most gratifying moments in dance music this year, it was wise for Deadboy to lead off the impressive Blaquewerk EP with the retro-futurism of "On Your Mind." Combining ebbing layers of synth stabs and increasingly tense snare rolls, the composition becomes truly masterful when it all drops away to nothing but a kick and bassline; essentially, the UK producer pulls the floor out from underneath the club while maintaining all of the track's momentum. Deadboy may have altered his sound somewhat, but it's clear that he hasn't lost his touch. Zach Gunsel


14. Benjamin Damage "010x" (50Weapons)
Heliosphere, the debut full-length from UK-reared, Berlin-based producer Benjamin Damage, was certainly a solid outing, but it's doubtful that even Damage himself could have predicted the reach of "010x," the album's second track. Even in a year when would-be piano-house anthems were seemingly everywhere, "010x" still sounded fresh. The song's airy piano loop is the obvious hook, and Damage's sturdy, slighty shuffling percussion keeps things moving nicely, but it's the introduction of a slightly fuzzy, xylophone-like synth melody about halfway through that really ties things together. It's a hands-in-the-air affair, to be sure—which is why the track was being rinsed all summer on the European festival circuit—but Damage holds back just enough to keep things respectable. Shawn Reynaldo


13. Kingdom feat. Kelela "Bank Head" (Fade to Mind)
Appearing on two high-profile releases this year—Kingdom's Vertical XL EP and Kelela's Cut 4 Me mixtape (both released via Fade to Mind)—"Bank Head" provides the most overt statement to date of the crossover potential of Fade to Mind's innovative club sound. Opening with pared-down synths and a simple clap track, Kelela's stunning, emotive voice almost seems to overshadow the music underneath. But the more one listens, it becomes clear how much Kingdom and Kelela play equally important roles, as the singer's lush, layered vocals provide the perfect foil to the spare, liquid futurism of Kingdom's production. Tim Gentles


12. FaltyDL "Uncea" (Ninja Tune)
Compared to many of his rougher early works, FaltyDL's latest LP, Hardcouarge, felt much more accessible. Instead of navigating off-kilter rhythms, its 10 tracks applied the New York producer's noted versatility to the concerns of the dancefloor. One of its highlights was "Uncea," a warmly melodic house track that matched rumbling sub-bass and a swung house shuffle with ghostly sampled wails and a rushing wall of synthesizers. By tempering his experimental impulses and applying them to more straightforward rhythms, FaltyDL has made one of his most focused—and enjoyable—club tracks to date. Derek Opperman


11. Autre Ne Veut "Play By Play" (Software)
Though he's been releasing records since 2010, Brooklyn singer/producer Autre Ne Veut truly came into his own this year. The impressive Anxiety album elevated his style of R&B-inspired experimental pop to new heights of songwriting, production quality, and raw passion. And no song from Autre Ne Veut's sophomore LP was a better example of his refined sound than its first track, the grandiose "Play By Play." The single is an expression of pure sexual longing, as told through appropriated '80s-pop tropes, trance-referencing synths, surreal R&B-isms, and singer Arthur Ashin's unmistakable rasp. "Play By Play" starts out big, and it only gets bigger and bigger with each consecutive passage. Cascades of glittering melodies, ticking drum machines, and angelic harmonies heave and proliferate in ecstasy around plaintive verses about wanting nothing more than to be next to someone who's only as close as a phone call. And the rapturous coda of "Play By Play" would be hard pressed to be any more affecting, as Autre Ne Veut spends it belting out one of the most honest lyrics written in recent memory: "Don't ever leave me alone." Patric Fallon


10. Koreless "Sun" (Young Turks)
At this point, the videogame/chiptune aesthetic is rarely viewed as an intriguing novelty. It could even be considered a somewhat perilous path for an artist to go down, as there's a real risk of sounding derivative or trite. Despite these dangers, Koreless effectively took on the sound with "Sun," not to mention the better part of his Yugen EP. Still, this is not videogame music in the usual sense of that term; where others might add a few bit-crushed elements to their work, often with some kind of humorous or nostalgia-inducing intent, Koreless focused on composition and delivered a rigid, delicately textured track with massive melodies and an absolutely epic build and release. Zach Gunsel


9. Leon Vynehall "Brother" (Aus)
2013 was something of a banner year for a particular strand of big-room UK house, epitomized by producers like George FitzGerald, Bicep, Dusky, and—in the big leagues—Disclosure. Slightly more under-the-radar through all of this was Brighton-based producer Leon Vynehall, whose Brother/Sister EP saw release on Aus midway through the year. "Brother" displays the distinctively murky rhythmic sensibility that has probably kept the producer's work from becoming more well known on the whole, but it channels this aesthetic through lively piano, well-rounded bass, and appealingly dusty vocal samples, helping to make the track one of the promising producer's strongest efforts yet. Tim Gentles


8. Four Tet "Parallel Jalebi" (Text)
In a year when Four Tet displayed uncharacteristic bombast in the shouts of "Kool FM" and continued to voraciously devour and reshape his own sound, "Parallel Jalebi" stood out as a lithe holdover from his more peacfeul output of years past. Slinky, shimmering, and featuring a layered vocal orchestra, "Parallel Jalebi" was a welcome slow jam amidst the freneticism of his Beautiful Rewind LP. The arcing vocals interact but never conflict, and the arpeggiated bassline stutters as if it's in awe of its surroundings. Few songs in 2013 eclipsed "Parallel Jalebi"'s blissfulness, and none did so with such stark simplicity. Aaron Gonsher


7. DJ Koze "Homesick (feat. Ada)" (Pampa)
DJ Koze has always been a difficult producer to define. Over the years, he's dipped his brush into hip-hop, jazz, house, techno, and Dilla-esque beats, marking his work with clever winks and unexpected left turns along the way. "Homesick (feat. Ada)" is an emotional cut from his long-awaited sophomore LP, Amygdala, and, typical of Koze, it may not be quite what the listener expects. Though the percussion has an oddball quality to it, guest star Ada coos the lyrics with a wistful sincerity. Even with a slightly robotic veneer coating the vocals, the track's melancholy R&B is strikingly simple and poignant. Leave it to a guy straddling a reindeer on his album cover to create a track so tasteful and evocative. Nathan Reese


6. Special Request "Body Armour" (Houndstooth)
Where much of Special Request's Soul Music was cast in the mold of an explicit tribute to the raw breakbeat energy and sub-bass assault of jungle, "Body Armour" evokes the genre in its most abstract sense only. As the title suggests, it's all tough exteriors here, but beneath the track's slightly wonky techno, not to mention its liberal use of claps and gun-loading sound effects, are rolling bass notes and stepping rhythms that display a remarkably dubwise sensibility. More than any other track on Soul Music, "Body Armour" reappropriates the sonic lessons of UK pirate radio and turns them into something almost unrecognizable. Tim Gentles


5. Jon Hopkins "Open Eye Signal" (Domino)
The beauty of "Open Eye Signal"—the standout moment of Jon Hopkins' Immunity LP—lies in its sublime marriage of gritty techno rhythms and rich, cinematic instrumentation. Its saturated kicks, infectious shaker pattern, and relentless synth-bass groove are pure dancefloor fire, but there's an organic fluidity to the way the elements shift around one another. It's like classic warehouse techno, but with a naturally beating human heart in place of the genre's standard mechanised pulse. Si Truss


4. Oneohtrix Point Never "Chrome Country" (Warp)
R Plus Seven offered very little music that made immediate sense. Dissecting and analyzing Oneohtrix Point Never's manic masterpiece often felt like attempting to decipher the riddles of an alien race: even if we could understand the language, there was still the problem of unlocking the secrets of its encrypted message. Then, at the end of the album's tracklist, "Chrome Country" appeared, and the production's heavenly timbres spoke to us in a universal tongue. All metaphors aside, R Plus Seven's closing track arrives after nearly 40 minutes of decidedly complex music, and is—quite frankly—awe-inspiring in its relative simplicity. It almost feels as if Oneohtrix Point Never is rewarding his listeners at the end of an arduous journey. Synthetic church choirs sing wordless hymns amidst plumes of melodic detritus and 808 fragments plummeting from on high, praising our arrival and giving us shelter from the mind-bending landscape we've just traversed. Even outside of the album's context, "Chrome Country" is producer Daniel Lopatin's most immediately arresting composition to date, and proof that he is indeed an incomparable artist—even when he's composing more from his heart than his head. Patric Fallon


3. Todd Terje "Strandbar" (Olsen)
He's done it again. For the second year in a row, Norwegian disco knight Todd Terje has managed to find his way into the hearts of DJs from all over the electronic map—not by reformatting his style or by following some new muse, but simply by continuing to be himself. Like last year's ubiquitous "Inspector Norse," "Strandbar" sees Terje crafting dance music that is somehow both effortlessly fun and unquestionably sophisticated. Built around live percussion and crisp piano chords, "Strandbar" is nothing short of a disco epic, stretching its infectious groove to an intoxicating nine minutes and sprinkling each section with a litany of sweetened synth runs. Whether one prefers the "Samba" or "Disko" version of the tune is really secondary to the fact that Todd Terje has found a sweet spot that ostensibly no one else can replicate. Glenn Jackson


2. Doc Daneeka feat. Ratcatcher "Walk On In" (Numbers)
Well, this was unexpected. It's not that we're not fans of Doc Daneeka; on the contrary, we've been closely following—and enjoying—his exploits for several years now. It's just that the Berlin-based producer was having himself a fairly quiet 2013, and then this single appeared out of the blue on Numbers, a label he had never worked with previously. Regardless of the circumstances though, there's no question that "Walk On In" is an absolutely massive tune. Created with the assistance of fellow Welshman Ratcatcher, the song is anchored by a soulful diva sample that rises and falls alongside its swelling synth chords. And yes, there's a chunky, big-room bassline, a big breakdown in the middle, and a saucy vocal loop that repeats the titular refrain dozens, if not hundreds, of times. "Walk On In" is not weird, or experimental, or really pushing the envelope in any way whatsoever. It's a big, bold house cut, and that's all it needs to be. Shawn Reynaldo


1. Sophie "Bipp" (Numbers)
It's a testament to Numbers' vision that the label's 2013 output could include something as straightforward as "Walk On In" and something as stridently weird as "Bipp." Sophie had previously turned in an impressive outing for the Huntleys & Palmers label, but it's safe to say that "Bipp" found the anonymous UK producer taking his craft to an entirely new level; moreover, it found him moving into a corner of the electronic spectrum that was not only unoccupied, but off the map entirely. Simply put, there was nothing else in 2013 that sounded quite like "Bipp." Sure, the song bears traces of the neon-streaked hyperactivity that occasionally colors the work of artists like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, but neither of those producers has ever made something this gleefully carefree. Listening to "Bipp," it's easy to think "this song is crazy," and while that might initially be a tossed-off remark, when one examines the song's whirring synths and candy-coated melodies, a case could be made that its creator is teetering on the edge of sanity, or at least dealing with a serious manic episode.

On a very basic level, it's almost impossible to define exactly (or even approximately) what "Bipp" is. It's certainly not house or techno—the track doesn't even have a kick drum. With its vocal-heavy arrangement, the song could potentially be called "pop," but even that feels like an ill-fitting descriptor. After all, are the vocals sampled? If not, did Sophie employ a guest vocalist? Or maybe he sang himself? Regardless of the answer, the vocals have been processed and tweaked to the point where they come off as an intriguingly cartoonish variant of what one might hear on Top 40 radio. Of course, it's this eccentricity is at the heart of what makes "Bipp" such a fascinating proposition. The more we listened to it, the more questions we had, and in an era where most music struggles to make us ask anything at all, perhaps that was the song's most important asset. Shawn Reynaldo

XLR8R's Best of 2013 coverage will continue next 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 2013 pieces we've posted already:

XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (100 - 81)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (80 - 61)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (60 - 41)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (40 - 21)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (20 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Labels
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Tracks (50 - 26)

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