XLR8R's Best of 2014: Tracks (25 - 1)

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Yesterday's installment of our ongoing Best of 2014 series kicked off our countdown of the 50 best tracks of the year, so it only follows that today's chapter would take us all the way to number one. Much like yesterday's selections, our top tunes of 2014 are unquestionably dominated by house, techno, and other flavors of (mostly) four-on-the-floor dance fodder, but it's a testament to the artists involved that many of these tunes are just as enjoyable in the club as they are on headphones at home. Although much of our 2014 soundtrack was backed by the steady pulse of a kick drum, there's a lot of variation within these tunes; more importantly, there's a lot of quality music to be heard.


25. Martyn & Four Tet "Glassbeadgames" (Ninja Tune)
Despite the unexpected misfires on Martyn's third album, The Air Between Words, the LP also features "Glassbeadgames," a gem of a collaboration with Four Tet. Each of the inimitable producers' calling cards are emblazoned on the song's six minutes. There's the thumb piano from Four Tet's "Lion" and his shuffling live drum samples, while Martyn's neon rave stabs, plinky and sputtering synths, and spacey atmospheric backdrop all appear in fine form. We'd be lying if we said a joint production from these two was something we expected, but it makes perfect sense after hearing "Glassbeadgames." Sometimes, collaborative tracks amount to more than the sum of their parts; in this case, the sum of its parts is all anyone could need. Patric Fallon


24. Radio Slave "Don't Stop No Sleep" (Nonplus)
From the very first listen of Radio Slave's "Don't Stop No Sleep," the whole affair sounded very familiar, and even when it began to appear in DJ sets ahead of the record's release, we found ourselves questioning whether or not the track had actually been around for a while. Perhaps it was the vocal, which sounded like it had been lifted directly from Daniel Avery's Drone Logic LP, that seemed so familiar. Regardless, the simple structure of the track, with its single-note chord stab and the strangely stoic nature of the vocal, led to it becoming one of 2014's most reliable floor fillers. Chris Duncan


23. Session Victim "Stick Together" (Delusions of Grandeur)
"Stick Together" is one of the more subdued and subtle cuts on Session Victim's accomplished sophomore LP, See You When You Get There. Made between the duo's home studio and the more lavishly equipped space that is San Francisco's Room G, the track presents a seamless fusion of samples and self-produced sounds, and of soft synths with real-world instruments. Furthermore, it's a tune that forever seems to be simmering without boiling over; deep bass rises and falls beneath homely shakers, while long-tailed cymbals and a jumble of other percussive sounds and effects add a sense of tension and release throughout. As such, "Stick Together" is a perfectly cooked brew that reveals more with each listen. Kristan J Caryl


22. Pender Street Steppers "Bubble World" (Mood Hut)
After turning plenty of heads by stepping out on DC label PPU right at the start of the year, Vancouver's Pender Street Steppers immediately followed it up with another charmingly infectious and expertly infantile cut in the form of "Bubble World." Like the title suggests, a bubbly, popping synth sound characterizes the track, but all around it are loose, tumbling drums, odd vocalizations, and snuggly synth smears that are as curious as some of Axel Boman's jams. It's not the sort of thing that'll work in a warehouse, but in some back-room basement or at an outdoor party, or even just as a soundtrack to a lazy stroll, it's lovably cute. Kristan J Caryl


21. Leon Vynehall "Be Brave, Clench Fists" (3024)
We truly can't say enough good things about Leon Vynehall's gorgeous Music for the Uninvited mini-album; it's a house record largely unmatched in its emotional resonance and craftsmanship. Any one of its seven productions would speak to that claim, but few do so as wholly and effortlessly as "Be Brave, Clench Fists." Music for the Uninvited's wistful beauty and jazzy grooves are represented in full here, as the song's lilting strings, perky hi-hats, slow-burning bassline, subtle electronics, and ghostly ambiance create a perfect snapshot of Vynehall's finest release to date. But perhaps the best quality of "Be Brave, Clench Fists" is that it's both indicative of the bunch and utterly singular. Patric Fallon


20. Gesloten Cirkel "Submit X" (Murder Capital)
"E-e-ex-ex/E-ex-e-e-ex/Ex, ex, e-ex/Submit e-ex" is the refrain that carries Gesloten Cirkel's three-and-a-half minutes of sing-a-long slapstick techno. Compositionally, it's light and airy; the song's crunchy, cavernous drums echo and expand into the ear, there's another vocal loop ("thousand"—or something like that—over and over) that squirms its way between the gaps, and that's about it. It's something of a downer to put such a fun, uncomplicated song on the slab in this way, but the beauty of "Submit X" lies in its simplicity and thrown-together appeal. This is Ratsnake playing around, maybe even taking the piss. Whatever the case, it's a killer record—and the results always raise a smile. Ray Philp


19. Anthony Naples "More Problem" (The Trilogy Tapes)
Anthony Naples first made his name behind the lilting grooves of "Mad Disrespect," his 2012 debut on Mister Saturday Night, but with "More Problem," he's made a defiantly dark banger. A standout cut from his excellent Zipacon EP for The Trilogy Tapes, the track pivots on a piano line that's somehow tough, anchor-heavy, and weightlessly exhilarating all at once. Yet Naples didn't stop there; adding in steel-plated hats and strident, powerful kicks, he turned in one of the simplest, most effective house cuts of the year. Kit Macdonald


18. Barnt "Under His Own Name But Also as Sir" (Hinge Finger)
Prior to this year, Barnt's most famous tune to date might have been "Tunsten," which appeared in early 2013 on Matias Aguayo's Cómeme label. It was the sound of an endorphin spike spiralling off the graph and into outer space, and even if the rush proved a little overstimulating for some, it thrust into focus a producer who was more than willing to test people's limits. "Under His Own Name But Also as Sir," an end-of-year b-side on Hinge Finger, finds Barnt changing course, as he foregoes vertical trajectories and instead lets his synths ooze gently and generously onto the track's choppy drums. "Under His Own Name But Also as Sir" is typical of the Cologne producer's flair for the dramatic, but its wailing synths and sweat-soaked hi-hats lend it a strange pathos that, if used in the right way, would have a transformative effect on any large rig. Ray Philp


17. Pional "It's All Over" (Hivern Discs)
In fairness, "It's All Over" was originally released as an anonymous white-label 12" in 2013 as part of the Hivern label's limited-edition Blanc series. Even back then, an educated guess could probably have laid the track, which is propelled by nudging bass, sweeping pads, and a pretty, longing vocal, at the door of this frequent John Talabot collaborator. Of course, the drama was suspended when Talabot revealed Pional as the song's creator by finishing off his much-lauded DJ-Kicks mix with Locked Groove's remix of the track. Given the public's rapturous response, it came as little surprise that Hivern finally gave "It's All Over" a much-deserved full release a few months back. Kit Macdonald


16. Call Super "Acephale II" (Houndstooth)
After releasing a handful of material throughout the past several years, Call Super really came into his own in 2014, kicking off a banner year with a two-track 12" for Houndstooth. The record's AA side, "Acephale II," is the stuff techno dreams are made of. The drums are insistent and organic, giving the track serious dancefloor weight, but it's the melodic elements that elevate things to a different place entirely, imbuing the songs with suspense and peculiar emotion. Equal parts brooding, plaintive, and ruthlessly urgent, the tune harkens back to Artificial Intelligence-era Warp Records, making it feel like a vintage IDM classic burnished to a fresh shine and updated for the modern era. Chris Zaldua


15. Caribou "Can't Do Without You" (Merge/City Slang)
When "Can't Do Without You" arrived in June, signalling the forthcoming release of Caribou's sixth studio album, it felt like a breath of fresh air. From the slow build of the track's opening bars, with their hushed vocals and muffled tones, it quickly became clear that the electronic music community had done just about everything it could with Caribou's music following the release of Swim—played it, analyzed it, remixed it, celebrated it, and played it many times more—except replace it. Suspended in a state of constant build for the majority of its run, "Can't Do Without You" gradually swells as an incalculable number of squirming synth lines sneak up from underneath the track's growling sub-bass and loose drums, which together form a driving pulse beneath Caribou's infectious vocal hooks. In the end, "Can't Do Without You" was a fine reintroduction to an artist we already knew well, but it also left plenty of room for Caribou to eventually present a whole new bag of tricks on Our Love. Glenn Jackson


14. Talaboman "Sideral" (Hivern Discs)
John Talabot and Axel Boman are established producers and DJs in their own right, but when it was announced that the pair would be joining forces for the cheekily named Talaboman project, many thought the two were just having a laugh. "Sideral"—which translates to "stellar" in English—showed this wasn't the case. First appearing on Talabot's excellent DJ-Kicks mix from last year, Talaboman's debut single sends tribal percussion through a cosmic prism, layering on rich sub-bass, refractive textures, and swelling synth lines that constantly threaten to overflow the entire composition. At turns psychedelic and ancient, the hybrid house cut showcases both artists' strengths while allowing plenty of breathing room for playful improvisation. Chris Kokiousis


13. Pender Street Steppers "Openin' Up" (PPU)
Taken from the first of two EPs that Vancouver duo Pender Street Steppers served up this year, this tune properly announced the two producers, and their extended Mood Hut collective, to the world. At the heart of the track are juggling toms and scuffed drums that drag along like tin cans tied to the back of a car. Smudgy chords add humidity and wordless vocalizations act as the main hook, and overall, the song couldn't feel more earthy or organic. Truly original in its ideas and fresh in its execution, there are no recognizable patches, textures, or plug-ins here; it's just eight minutes of perfectly preppy and feelgood house music that's capable of melting even the sternest of dancefloors. Kristan J Caryl


12. Terekke "A1" (L.I.E.S.)
"A1" from Terekke's second EP for L.I.E.S. is his most direct track yet. Of course, it still comes drowning in oceans of slightly abrasive negative space, but coarse claps and rutted drums add bite, a phased bassline adds a percolating sense of motion, and the loopy female vocal is delivered with an energetic fervor that sets things off nicely. Like everything in Terekke's world, though, "A1" is still a pretty murky and monochrome place to be, and even his liquid pads manage to sound somehow colorless. This lends his music a strong and immersive aesthetic that's free from distraction and is primarily concerned with placing listeners into a stoned, submissive state of mind. It works beautifully, and though such insular highs won't be for everyone, those looking to get seriously deep couldn't wish for a better record. Kristan J Caryl


11. Floating Points "King Bromeliad" (Eglo)
Prior to this year, Floating Points releases had become somewhat infrequent, but "King Bromeliad"—his first properly original material in years—was worth the wait. The track bares all of his trademark characteristics; there are drums that seem to dangle and jangle in mid air, keys that float like clouds, and synth lines that squirm about with an irresistibly jazzed-up soul. More like a composer than a producer, Floating Points imbues his music with enough romantic and nimble musicality to keep listeners locked throughout his long compositions, even in the absence of a more traditional dancefloor groove. What's more, his fusion of the organic with synthetic, the old with new, is such that it's hard to imagine this track ever sounding dated. Kristan J Caryl


10. Todd Terje "Delorean Dynamite" (Olsen)
As is customary with such high-profile electronic releases (see also: Caribou's Our Love), Todd Terje's It's Album Time prompted some sharply divided opinions. For those who enjoyed it (ourselves included), "Delorean Dynamite" wasn't the only new track on the LP that proved he could still turn out the kind of gold-plated instant classic that originally made his name, but it was the most persuasive. The track, which was also released as a single after the album appeared, sits comfortably with the likes of "Inspector Norse" and "Strandbar" in the top tier of Terje cuts, its giddy, rolling bassline underpinning a gradually shifting ensemble of flashing synth melodies, flecks of guitar, and pumping drums. Kit Macdonald


9. FKA Twigs "Two Weeks" (Young Turks)
Eagerly awaited by those who had already gleaned everything they could from EP1 and EP2, to say that the arrival of LP1 carried the burden of high expectations on its back would be something of an understatement. And yet with its release came the confirmation that FKA Twigs was still capable of delivering something special. A particular highlight of the record arrived in the form of the overtly sexual "Two Weeks," a song about tempting a man away from an unfulfilling relationship with promises of better treatment and, well, a good fucking. Muffled, twisted backing vocals loop as swirling synths and echoing drum pads meet quietly confident lyrics full of hushed assurances that things will be better soon. Whether or not the song's intended target takes Twigs up on her offer, this song has got the rest of us under her spell. Chris Duncan


8. K15 "Yellow" (Wild Oats)
Following a low-key release on WotNotMusic earlier in the summer, the little-known K15 announced his proper arrival later in the year with a debut double 12" on Kyle Hall's Wild Oats imprint. Across its five rough-cut tracks, the London producer toyed with familiar samples from Crystal Waters' "Gypsy Woman" and Kim Payton's "Story of My Life," but also impressed with his more original-sounding work, especially "Yellow." Here, skipping, knackered drums lazily tumble down low as pixelated, '80s-referencing chords do a somber little dance up top. It's a bittersweet and sumptuously slow-burning tune with an indulgent breakdown, but it also suggests K15 is here to make a long-lasting, rather than fast-hitting, impact. Kristan J Caryl


7. Gesloten Cirkel "Arrested Development" (Murder Capital)
Electro-infused techno had a good year in 2014, and shadowy producer Gesloten Cirkel is one of the biggest reasons why. We use the word "big" not only because the Submit X LP landed with such a resounding boom when it dropped this past summer, but because the music that record carried was itself oversized and formidable. "Arrested Development" is one such cut of stomping, razor-sharp electronics that tests the limits of what classic electronic genres can do in a contemporary production. Aside from blending rugged acid, electro, and techno with an effortless panache, Gesloten Cirkel wields a heavy-metal guitar on the song, and somehow makes the searing tone and timbre sound as natural as any synth might. Every idea that went into "Arrested Development" was simply too big to be ignored. Patric Fallon


6. Objekt "Ganzfeld" (Leisure System)
Allow us to state the obvious: Objekt isn't really interested in writing music that could be described as "catchy." The unparalleled Berlin producer is first and foremost a master of sound design, though his skills with structure and style should not be understated. And yet it's increasingly rare to hear an Objekt track with so much as a melodic theme or synth lead in it, which makes productions like "Ganzfeld" stand out all the more. Deceptively straightforward at first, the song slowly morphs into a slippery electro banger, eventually ditching the three-note bassline for an impossibly funky acid sequence that's about as close to a hook as Objekt is likely to get. It doesn't last long, of course, but the impression left by those jittery notes sticks around long after "Ganzfeld" is over. That Objekt can fashion such catchy sounds, and yet rarely chooses to, speaks to his artistic strengths and clarity of vision. Patric Fallon


5. C.P.I. "Proceso (Barnt Remix)" (Hivern Discs)
Without question, Barnt has been responsible for some of the most unique and infectious club tracks of the past couple of years. From the unforgettable cowbell rhythm of "Geffen" to the devastating synth and drum machine combo on "Chappell," the German producer is a real master of taking certain elements of a track and making them unmistakably his own. In his reworking of C.P.I. (the collaborative outfit of Marc Piñol and Hugo Capablanca), he adds head-rattling hi-hats to further drive whoever is listening into disorientation. By the time the breakdown arrives, the listener might actually be thankful for a moment of respite, but as soon as they find their feet, the whole thing deliriously starts again. Chris Duncan


4. Floorplan "Never Grow Old (Re-Plant)" (M-Plant)
Yes, the irony of a track named "Never Grow Old" appearing in our end-of-the-year list two years running is not lost on us. But the simple fact is that this remix, which arrived as part of the 20th-anniversary campaign of Robert Hood's M-Plant label, managed to breathe fresh life into a track that hadn't even run its full course yet. The original's infectious piano hook remained and married the energetic gospel vocal of Aretha Franklin with the unmistakable drum programming that Robert Hood is known for. Via his Floorplan moniker, Hood has delivered some of the most functional and energetic club tracks of recent times, with no finer example than this—it's pure religious euphoria transplanted directly onto the dancefloor. Chris Duncan


3. Genius of Time "Juno Jam" (Running Back)
Genius of Time songs are compact, fastidiously produced little packages. "Juno Jam," from the titular EP on Running Back, continues this pretty pattern with a small yet deadly tweak to the formula. The pan flute that comes in around the 60-second mark—jutting and jiving its way around the beat like a cabaret compère—carries itself with a devastating swagger. It's so good that the rest of the track—the subtle polyrhythmic percussion, the brassy synth stabs, the gyrating accent notes—needn't be up to the same standard (but happily, they are), and it all comes together because the song's ecstatic whistle is always on the boil, constantly threatening to spill out of Genius of Time's meticulously marshalled groove. Ray Philp


2. Leon Vynehall "Butterflies" (Clone Royal Oak)
It may have appeared only four months after he released Music for the Uninvited via 3024, but Leon Vynehall's winsome "Butterflies" single is the confident victory lap of an artist realizing he's hit his stride. Rivaling the best moments of his mini-LP, "Butterflies" is essentially a piano-led cut of filter house, and it never tries to be anything more—it doesn't need to be anything more. The beauty of Vynehall's a-side for Clone Royal Oak lies in its simple rise-and-fall trajectory, its refined economy of sounds, and how effortlessly those tools envelop us in a swaying, hypnotic groove. If Music for the Uninvited was rudimentary and backwards looking, than "Butterflies" is, too, but it also looks inwards. (The song's core vocal mantra is no coincidence.) So when the sample of Bronx singer Nikki O calmly intones, "He opened the door and let the butterflies inside of me," it might as well be an invitation to join Leon Vynehall on his own path to artistic growth and discovery. Patric Fallon


1. Jack J "Something on My Mind" (Mood Hut)
Jack J had a very good year. Although he appeared more frequently as one half of Pender Street Steppers (an outfit responsible for two of our top 25 tracks on this list), it was his solo 12", which appeared over the summer on the Mood Hut label he co-founded and helps run, that we found ourselves coming back to again and again. Any of the record's three offerings could have appeared in this round-up, but "Something on My Mind," with its breezy melodies, cooly funky guitar riffs, and utterly relaxed vibes, proved to be the most hopelessly infectious of the bunch. Over the course of eight minutes, the track nods to house, disco, boogie, and new age, encapsulating everything that made us (and the electronic music world at large) excited about Mood Hut and what has quickly become an exciting Vancouver scene. It's not complicated, or conceptual, or pretentious; "Something on My Mind" is just an incredibly enjoyable piece of laid-back dance music, and in 2014, that was more than enough to make it our favorite track of the year. Shawn Reynaldo

XLR8R's Best of 2014 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 2014 pieces we've posted already:

XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (100 - 76)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (75 - 51)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (50 - 26)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (25 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Tracks (50 - 26)