XLR8R's Best of 2013: Tracks (50 - 26)


As much as we'd like to think that all of our Best of 2013 content is equally important, we do realize that a few of our lists are going to be more highly anticipated than the rest. With that in mind, we're fairly certain that today's feature is one of those year-end big-ticket items, as it contains the first half of what we think are the 50 best tracks of 2013. (The second half will be published tomorrow.) Perhaps it goes without saying, but XLR8R is quite literally flooded with new music on a daily basis; as such, we're willing to admit that although our list may not be the definitive "best," it does reflect the tracks that we enjoyed the most this year, and, more importantly, found ourselves coming back to again and again.

50. The Range "Metal Swing" (Donky Pitch)
Nonfiction, the debut LP by budding East Coast producer James Hinton (a.k.a. The Range), turned out to be one of 2013's biggest surprises, an eclectic album full of highly melodic, beat-driven electronics that only grew more lovable over time. At the end of that record, "Metal Swing" wraps everything up in one effortless gust of introspective bass music. A strange, YouTube-ripped sample of an unknown British MC is at the core of the nearly beatless production, around which The Range's looping piano chords and atmospherics swell and sway. Hinton's album closer makes a strong case for anyone likening his work to early Four Tet, but perhaps more importantly, "Metal Swing" confirms that he's as dedicated to inventiveness as he is to exploring a wide, well, range of emotions. Patric Fallon

49. Moderat "Versions" (Monkeytown)
On Modeselektor's and Apparat's second album together as Moderat, the somber, shuffling "Versions" was the standout cut. Its airy chords and washes of distant vocals harkened back to the trio's benchmark debut LP, but "Versions" also saw Moderat looking definitively into the future, offering a unique take on the splintering evolution of "bass music" by presenting a full-bodied, pop-streaked electronic hybrid that succinctly embodied the group's sound. Glenn Jackson

48. Daniel Avery "Drone Logic" (Phantasy Sound)
Buoyant and panicked, Daniel Avery's "Drone Logic" moves like a scuba diver with an empty oxygen tank struggling to battle unforgiving seas. The UK producer takes much of his production inspiration from classic acts not typically known for subtlety, but "Drone Logic" is all about taut minutiae, from the blurred sheets of guitar noise to the drunken acid lines that seem to skip every second step. A robotic woman repeats lines like "Neu, zwei, sigh" and "No one there to see it," but amidst the track's titanic percussion, ricocheting melodies, and beautiful discombobulation, the words don't even matter. Aaron Gonsher

47. Stellar Om Source "Elite Excel" (RVNG)
Christelle Gualdi finally made good on her promise to go fully into dance music this year, an idea that has been germinating in her output as Stellar Om Source since at least 2011. "Elite Excel" preceded (and was included on) her frenetic, acidic full-length Joy One Mile, and exemplifies the complexity and daring of her approach. Like all of Gualdi's output this year, the track has the feeling of linear dance music rearranged into something otherworldly—her framework of spurting drums and corrosive, detuned stabs ripples nervously until it's invigorated by a towering, gleaming melody. It never exactly coalesces, but its potential is much more exciting than its logical outcome. Steve Kerr

46. The Field "They Won't See Me" (Kompakt)
Since From Here We Go Sublime was released back in 2007, The Field (a.k.a. Axel Willner) hasn't deviated much from his few favorite elements: percolating arpeggios, hypnagogic synths, and chopped vocal snippets (the title of his 2011 album Looping State of Mind could be seen as a mission statement). "They Won't See Me," the opening track from this year's Cupid's Head, may be the logical apotheosis of Willner's production aesthetic. The track begins with a single shimmering synth note, but additional elements quickly pile on. First, it's a driving, low-register beat, then more keyboard loops, a rapid-fire hi-hat, and, finally, clipped vocals and what sound like horns. By the eight-minute mark, the track is barreling headlong into oblivion. For an artist once saddled with the "minimal techno" tag, "They Won't See Me" is about as maximal as it gets. Nathan Reese

45. Kode9 "Kan" (Hyperdub)
Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Kode9) is hardly alone in moving away from 140 bpm to experiment with the more energetic rhythms of footwork and drum & bass. Still, "Kan" is proof that, whatever the tempo, Goodman is still a peerlessly original producer. Its juxtaposition of bright, squealing leads, unpredictable found-sound percussion, and slowly pulsing subs creates a disorienting sense of pensive stasis amidst the track's frantic rhythmic patterns. The result combines the low-end weight of dubstep with the hyperactive urgency of footwork to create something that feels fresh and unique, while still being rooted in the rich tradition of UK dance music that Goodman's work has always belonged to. Si Truss

44. MGUN "Blunt Run" (Berceuse Heroique)
There's an odd kind of minimalism at play in MGUN's "Blunt Run." Like much of his work, it's defined by its rough edges, but unlike much of his catalog—which can be as baroque as first-wave Detroit techno—it's a simple beat track whose appeal is squarely in its brutal dancefloor efficacy. MGUN teases the rhythm, pulling the track's punched-up percussion in and out, making some space for delayed synth blips, high-pitched machine noises, and cutting jabs of hi-hat. The result is evocative of the early works of Robert Hood, though its tempo and more house-oriented sound palette place it in a category of its own. Derek Opperman

43. DJ Rashad "Let It Go" (Hyperdub)
DJ Rashad's recent full-length, Double Cup, made a big impact with its fleshed-out, bass-heavy sound, but it was the producer's Hyperdub debut from earlier in the year, the Rollin' EP—and in particular "Let It Go"—which signaled that a more UK-aware sea change was afoot in the Chicago veteran's output. "Let It Go" is structured around rapid-fire breakbeats, a mournful vocal refrain, and staccato high-hats, but the song also has a skittish rhythmic sensibility that could have only come from footwork/juke. The track builds over its nearly six minutes to a point of extreme melancholy, a sentiment that's exacerbated by its rising strings and twinkling synths. Tim Gentles

42. Motor City Drum Ensemble "The Stranger"
Considering the prolific two years that began his career, it would appear that Motor City Drum Ensemble (a.k.a. Danilo Plessow) has mellowed out. In 2013, he released only a single EP, but what a release it was. Send a Prayer was mostly a joyous return to form, seeing the German producer return to his roots, with tracks like the titular a-side and "SP11" recalling the churning intensity of his Raw Cuts house series. However, somewhat glossed over was "The Stranger," which now plays like the EP's sleeper highlight, with Plessow combining his moody aesthetic with riffs and motifs cribbed straight from early UK bleep techno. It's an unexpected turn, but one whose quality demonstrates that Plessow still has his touch. Derek Opperman

41. Objekt "Agnes Demise" (Objekt)
The output of Objekt's self-named imprint has always been scant, but the music is impeccable; it's timely, yet timeless enough to carry listeners across the long wait between each installment. The a-side of Objekt #3 starts with brilliantly crafted, techno-leaning material before dropping into a grinding soundscape of utter filth—it's as though Emptyset dropped by for a brutalizing interlude mid-set. "Agnes Demise" may put jaws on the floor and lead to unanswerable utterances of "what?," but it also offers the kind of finely tuned craftsmanship that seems to accompany everything Objekt puts his name on. Zach Gunsel

40. Anthony Naples "I Don't See Them" (Rubadub)
With disco hits and detuned R&B vocals, Anthony Naples' Mad Disrespect was a solid introduction to the New York producer's sound, but it was hardly all he had to offer. Since then, he's released a string of EPs, with each one pushing further away from his debut. One of the biggest departures so far has been "I Don't See Them," the b-side on his Ill Still EP. While still using his familiar sound palette of wooly samples, Rhodes chords, and swinging hi-hats, he follows a more subdued direction that feels deep in the way it pits the track's central Clavinet riff against swirling vortices of piano. Derek Opperman

39. Lindstrøm & Todd Terje "Lanzarote" (Olsen)
An element of cheese has always been at the root of the spaced-out Norwegian disco music of artists like Todd Terje and Lindstrøm. For years, both artists have individually pursued unpretentious fun in their work, but had surprisingly never collaborated on a single prior to "Lanzarote." The track, an ode to summer holidays, is their first joint work, and it's a blindingly cheerful dancefloor anthem that's somehow reminiscent of a combination between the synthesized aesthetics of Terje's "Inspector Norse" and the chordal structure of Haddaway's '90s classic "What is Love." (We're not kidding.) The track's vocal chant, which comes in at the end, seals the deal: "I wanna go, I wanna go, I wanna go to Lanzarote." It might be about a different party island, but we can only imagine the shenanigans this record caused on Ibiza's dancefloors. Derek Opperman

38. Jessy Lanza "Kathy Lee" (Hyperdub)
In an era when R&B is constantly being sampled, dissected, and reimagined, Jessy Lanza came along and countered many producers' druggy minimalism with a more authentically heady, mature sound. Accompanied by Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, her best offering was "Kathy Lee," a song that dips into Italo/cosmic-disco territory. Accented by Jessy's breathy, seductive vocals, the song offers a beguiling mix that is often attempted, but is rarely so dextrously executed. Zach Gunsel

37. Gold Panda "Brazil" (Ghostly)
According to Gold Panda, Half of Where You Live was influenced by his time spent traveling the globe following the release of his debut LP, Lucky Shiner. The São Paulo-inspired "Brazil" is a particularly excellent example, as the song's chaotic construction seems to mimic the city's busy streets and endless urban sprawl. The track features a repetitious, somewhat blasé vocal at its center, one surrounded by so many layers (including luminous synths, MPC-made beats, and woodblock rhythms) that it can be hard to keep a bead on specific samples. As "Brazil" progresses though, East Asian chimes—a favorite of the UK producer—edge in and the claustrophobic whirl settles. In an interview with The Quietus, Gold Panda claimed the track came to him while drinking in a São Paulo skyscraper's glitzy bar. As "Brazil" unwinds, the listener is pulled from the city's milieu to stand right there next to him. Nathan Reese

36. Machinedrum "Gunshotta" (Ninja Tune)
Simply put, Machinedrum (a.k.a. Travis Stewart) was at the top of his game in 2013, and "Gunshotta" is a tightly wound piece of bass music that serves as a microcosm for what's so exciting about his current output. Built around dueling vocal samples—one raspily repeating the title, the other silky and emotive—"Gunshotta" coils and releases continuously as it progresses. The skittering uptempo percussion and whirring synths seem to float above the track's sub-bass like gasoline on water. According to Stewart, his recent Vapor City LP was envisioned as a concept album about a dystopian city from his dreams. "Gunshotta" opens the record, and wastes no time in transporting the listener into Machinedrum's darkly imagined world. Nathan Reese

35. Lone "Airglow Fires" (R&S)
The title track of Lone's sole release in 2013, "Airglow Fires" channels early-'90s hardcore into something altogether more elastic with its ecstatic, DayGlo synths and swung breakbeats. While there's no denying that the track's appeal is primarily nostalgic, especially with its time-stretched E-rush whirs and twinkling melodicism, "Airglow Fires" is so maximalist that it could have only been made now. The track's coda, which sees Lone reverting back to an instrumental hip-hop mode characteristic of his earlier work, also employs the jazzy chords that he uniquely brings to the rave-revival template. Tim Gentles

34. Midland "Trace" (Aus)
Coming into 2013, Midland was often lumped in with the swelling crowd of one-time "bass music" producers who had gradually turned to making "proper," often vaguely '90s-leaning house. However, once the Trace EP surfaced, it quickly became clear that the London producer had not only separated himself from his peers, but that he was an artist worthy of serious consideration. "Trace" does pack a meaty wallop in its low end, but it's most definitely a house cut, one that relies on a clanging percussion riff, a pitched-down vocal refrain, and a bulbous bassline to lure listeners onto the dancefloor. It's clearly Midland's high-water mark to date, but more importantly, it set the stage for him to continue making similarly potent tunes in the future. Shawn Reynaldo

33. Pev & Hodge "Bells" (Punch Drunk)
Four-to-the-floor straightforwardness isn't a quality often associated with Bristol bass producer Peverelist, yet that's exactly what's offered on "Bells," a standout 12" he co-produced earlier this year alongside Hodge. In truth, it's only the b-side that takes such a linear approach; the record's excellent "Dream Sequence" is a beautiful ambient track that connects metallic melodics and ghostly pads with an accessible, kick-drum-led pulse that makes sense both at home and on the dancefloor. The track's "System Mix" covers the same melodic ground, but offers a heavier dose of the intricate rhythmic interplay that both producers have built their names on. Derek Opperman

32. Blondes "Andrew" (RVNG)
The word "epic" often gets tossed around to describe the work of Blondes, and in the case of "Andrew," it's an absolutely appropriate descriptor. With a runtime that approaches 10 minutes, it's the longest track on the Brooklyn duo's excellent sophomore LP, Swisher, but it's also the one with the strongest melodic hook. Like most Blondes productions, "Andrew" is built atop sturdy percussion and a swirling stew of airy pads that is both profoundly trippy and vaguely reminiscent of rave music's glory days. It's an enveloping listen, sure, but there's also something melancholy about "Andrew"; its main melody line—which is both remarkably catchy and disarmingly simple, especially in contrast to the rest of the composition's intense detail—may not inspire a rowdy dancefloor, but it's more than capable of burrowing into the subconscious and prompting a longing for days and nights gone by. Shawn Reynaldo

31. The Organ Grinder "Deep Undercover" (4Lux)
To its credit, there really isn't much to The Organ Grinder's "Deep Undercover," a rolling house tune that appeared on the Cardiff producer's Dancing Angel EP for 4Lux. Built around a lightly chopped disco sample (one that sounds so strangely familiar that trying to unlock its identity can be a bit frustrating), the tune pieces together a luscious, almost romantic expedition into low-swung house. The song's kick and airy stabs coalesce into a bounce that's hard enough to resist, but once the vocal hook slides in, even the coldest heart on the dancefloor is bound to melt. Glenn Jackson

30. Huerco S. "Apheleia's Theme" (Future Times)
"Precision isn't the endgame," Huerco S.toldXLR8R back in January. "It's like digging into the Earth and finding a bone and dusting it off. It's still ancient and raw." This is a fair approximation of much of the young producer's catalog, which is grainy and loose and not especially aimed at the dancefloor. "Apheleia's Theme," then, is a deviation for both Huerco S. and the typically sunny Future Times label that released it. The track rumbles in on a pounding, slow motion break and stays that way; like his other work, its ominous, searching lines are coated in a fine dust, but on the whole, it just glowers—its shuffle has a chiseled, club-ready swagger that is both undeniably infectious and unlike anything he else he's done. Steve Kerr

29. Lost Scripts "I'll Be Watching You" (Young Turks)
It would seem that Spanish producers John Talabot and Pional can do no wrong when paired. Earlier this year, they announced Lost Scripts, a new collaborative project, and released "I'll Be Watching You," their first single under that moniker. The song picks up largely where they left off with "So Will Be Now," their joint work that closed Talabot's debut LP, ƒIN. However, it pushes in a more vocal direction, with full-on verse-chorus crooning from Pional augmented by cowbell-led percussion, lush '80s synth work, and a memorably rugged bassline. The result is a sublime mixture that could be a dancefloor killer, but is also just an excellent pop song. Derek Opperman

28. Special Request "Soundboy Killer" (Houndstooth)
Paul Woolford's Soul Music album is something of a perfect nostalgia piece for those who remember early jungle, rave, and hardcore. Many artists have attempted to recapture the magic of a jump-up bassline and make it current, but that realization has generally been elusive. "Soundboy Killer," however, succeeds where others have fallen short, combining dancehall samples, sirens, gunshots, Amen breaks, and a simple vocal hook with a familiar yet new bassline to crushing effect. Thanks to Woolford's Special Request project, many of these sounds have been introduced into the lexicon of a whole new generation. Zach Gunsel

27. Beau Wanzer "Balls of Steel" (L.I.E.S.)
Of all the tunes to drop on the lauded L.I.E.S. imprint this year, Beau Wanzer's "Balls of Steel" might be the weirdest, but it's also quite possibly the best. Centered around a collection of bizarre vocal samples in which an oddly aloof woman—or, at least, what sounds like a woman—discusses the need to stop smoking while touting her "balls of steel," the track is a rumbling slice of electro, one built upon loose, shambling, and slightly blown-out breakbeats, tweaky bits of acid, and an oddly confident swagger. Like much of the Chicago producer's work, "Balls of Steel" is decidedly left of center, but for the adventurous DJs who were willing to play it, the track was a certifiable monster. Shawn Reynaldo

26. Pev & Kowton "Raw Code" (Hessle Audio)
While their Livity Sound project and label (which they operate alongside fellow Bristol producer Asusu) experienced plenty of acclaim in 2013, one of Pev & Kowton's fiercest transmissions came in the form of "Raw Code," an early peak on Ben UFO's Fabriclive 67 mix and the a-side of a subsequent Hessle Audio release. A maze of tensile gasps, buckling strings, and fathoms-deep plunges of sub-bass, the corrugated edges of "Raw Code" cemented Pev's status as dub master and catapulted Kowton's rising stature even higher. A mainstay of the Hessle Audio triumvirate's DJ sets, the track is a deft dancefloor bomb with the kind of claustrophobic confidence that shirks all notions of genre and just continues moving, oblivious to outside forces and undeterred by the ash and lava it emits with every swoop, dip, and turn. Aaron Gonsher

XLR8R's Best of 2013 coverage will continue throughout the next few weeks, 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