XLR8R's Best of 2014: Tracks (50 - 26)


Our Best of 2014 onslaught still has a ways to go, but it's quite possible that we've already arrived at the most anticipated installment of the series. After all, the electronic music world has long been dominated by tracks (as opposed to albums), and even now, in an era when more and more artists are dedicating themselves to albums and other long-form releases, it's hard to deny the power of a quality tune. In that spirit, our editorial team has compiled a list of what we think are the year's 50 best tracks, the first half of which we're presenting today. (The second half will be unveiled tomorrow.) Looking over the list, there's no question that house and techno were at the forefront of our listening habits in 2014, but other sounds and styles did have an impact, and that's reflected in at least a handful of our selections. As we like to say every year, this round-up may not be a definitive "best" (after all, the whole list-making process is admittedly somewhat arbitrary), but it does represent the tracks that we found ourselves listening to the most in 2014.

50. Russo "PM Entertainment" (Valcrond Video)
Russo is a longtime friend of Luke Wyatt (a.k.a. Torn Hawk), and a fellow VHS obsessive to boot. With his glorious four-track Wild Metals EP, he also became the first outside artist to release on Wyatt's Valcrond Video label. The whole EP is an immersive delight, but "PM Entertainment" is the pick of a very good bunch. A hypnotic three-and-a-half-minute workout, its zero-gravity synth line is offset by gently galloping drums and cowbells, creating a gorgeous bubblebath ambience that always has a good deal of propulsion behind it. Kit Macdonald

49. Clark "The Grit in the Pearl" (Warp)
Clark's bass music-rooted, self-titled seventh album was a major improvement on 2012's Iradelphic, and although it contained many highlights, "The Grit in the Pearl" may have been the best of the lot. Abrupt tonal changes are a central feature of Clark, and this tune was a prime example, as its heady initial brew of gigantic, luminous synths and spiralling chimes is cut off in its prime by a shuddering, coruscating second act. For a track that clocks in under the five-minute mark, it offers quite an impressive journey. Kit Macdonald

48. Christian S "Pitch Rider" (Cómeme)
Cologne fixture and Matias Aguayo collaborator Christian S. made his proper debut for Aguayo's Cómeme label back in February, and the EP's title track made clear just how at home he is on the label. "Pitch Rider" is a gradually swelling, rough-edged helter-skelter of a track in which breakneck hats compete for attention with a decidedly strongarm bass groove and splintered flecks of a female vocal. In other words, it's exactly the kind of riotous hail of color that we've always counted on Cómeme to provide. Kit Macdonald

47. Pev & Asusu "Surge (MMM Remix)" (Livity Sound)
With its screeching, churning tone and general sense of foreboding, the original version of Pev & Asusu's "Surge" didn't exactly lack energy, but leave it to MMM (the collaborative project of Fiedel and Errorsmith) to turn in a remix that makes the source material feel like a calm and distant dream. Opening with an ominous tone of its own, MMM's take stretches it out until the sound resembles a revving jet engine, and then adds in a frantic synth line alongside an intense percussive array. The whole thing is a dizzying rush to the head, not to mention another example of MMM's distinctive brand of fearless, big-room techno. Chris Duncan

46. Talamanca System "Balanzat" (International Feel)
International Feel label boss Mark Barrott has recorded under a dizzying number of pseudonyms in his time, and this year saw him adding Talamanca System, his collaboration with Running Back head honcho Gerd Janson, to the list. (The project also includes contributions from Lauer, Janson's partner in Tuff City Kids.) "Balanzat" clearly has Ibiza running through its veins, and—sure enough—was the product of some time Barrott and Janson spent together at the former's villa on the White Isle over the summer. The track came out too late to be heard during Ibiza's 2014 season, but its blissful mix of "Pacific State" pads, exotic bird chirrups, and woozy analog bass should guarantee it plenty of spins, both on the island and off, for many years to come. Kit Macdonald

45. FaltyDL "Heart & Soul" (Ninja Tune)
Although FaltyDL's latest LP, In the Wild, was conceived as an intricate series of ambient, jazz, and bass-inspired vignettes, "Heart & Soul" was the track that really made a visceral impact on our first listen. Crafted around a vibrato vocal sample that could be 20, 50, or even 80 years old, the Brooklyn producer weaves together a sturdy, yet shapeshifting jungle rhythm and adds in some weightless pads for texture. At three different points, the drums drop out and a lone vibraphone accompanies an unknown female's voice as she declares adoration for her lover. Finding an elusive balance between strange sound design, innovative composition, and emotional resonance, "Heart & Soul" is imbued with a haunting, timeless quality, and nothing else from 2014 sounds quite like it. Chris Kokiousis

44. DJ Koze "Amygdala (Roman Flügel remix)" (Pampa)
Roman Flügel was one of 2014's most consistently excellent remixers, with his reworks of Daniel Avery and C.A.R. being particularly worthy of attention. This rework of DJ Koze's "Amygdala," repurposes the plinking, contemplative original as a linear, dream-like piece of house. Still, the track is more than just a simple blissout; plenty of little extras are hidden among the cloud-gazing atmospherics, with twinkling keys, xylophones, and a gorgeous, regal bassline adding extra layers of texture to the proceedings. Kit Macdonald

43. ItaloJohnson "08-A1" (ItaloJohnson)
By now, anonymous German trio ItaloJohnson is pretty adept at churning out above-average club tracks. Every now and then, however, the outfit surpasses even its own fine discography with cuts like the A1 off the group's eighth untitled and self-issued EP, which landed back in March. In no uncertain terms, this is a peak-time, floor-filling banger with bumpy drum programming, pinging perc, and thick, rasping bass stabs, all of them encouraging people to lose their shit. The withering, spaceship-coming-in-to-land synths add another unhinged layer of fun and a chopped male vocal only adds to the staccato energy of the whole thing. As far as tasteful modern jack tracks go, few could do it better. Kristan J Caryl

42. Lone "Restless City" (R&S)
Returning to a vibrant blend of hip-hop and house, UK producer Lone followed up his "Airglow Fires" single with the ideal summer record, Reality Testing. The lighthearted LP retained his bright neon melodies and shimmering production, but left the addled hardcore rhythms of 2012's Galaxy Garden behind in favor of something more sensual. "Restless City" sets a playful tone for the rest of the album, with shuffling percussion and a lively synth line that combine to evoke bustling streets on a balmy afternoon. The vinyl crackle, field recordings of traffic noise, and warbled radio snippets add another dimension to Lone's already vivid sound, demonstrating that he's an artist who can still have fun at the height of his powers. Chris Kokiousis

41. How to Dress Well "Repeat Pleasure" (Weird World/Domino)
It's never been a secret that Tom Krell has a breathtaking voice, though even on his third album as How to Dress Well it often feels like we're hearing him for the first time. Whether it's due to his pop-oriented project's increased clarity of production or simply his enviable talents, Krell's songwriting and performance are in rare form across "What Is This Heart?". "Repeat Pleasure" is one of the LP's highlights, a glowing and upbeat testament to the power of inspirational R&B with a philosopher's soul. The guy seems to be giving us his best Michael Jackson impression without a shred of irony—cooing lines like "I never wanted miss a moment alive, without your neck to kiss" amidst bright acoustic guitars, funky licks, and LinnDrum beats. But what we're really getting is an artist stepping out of self-imposed obscurity to realize his full potential. Patric Fallon

40. Kowton "Glock & Roll" (Whities)
Kowton has a knack for delightfully efficient productions, as his tracks are often built from just a handful of percussion elements and a simple, piercing melody (if there is a melody at all). "Glock & Roll" is the latest bit of Kowton genius, but this time around, the flavor's a little bit different, as the song is structured more like a straightforward house burner. Still, a couple of standout elements carry the proceedings; there's the melody, a brilliantly simple chime arrangement, and the vocal, a neverending chant urging the listener to "drag the beat behind." As with most Kowton tunes, "Glock & Roll" needs nothing more and nothing less—it's just right. Chris Zaldua

39. Voiski "Wax Fashion" (L.I.E.S.)
"Wax Fashion" was the standout track on Paris producer Voiski's Culture to Trash EP, his second release for New York's L.I.E.S. imprint. The song is a mesmerising, slow-build treat that begins with celestial pads and gradually lifts the intensity through urgent, clicking percussion and the very thickest of arpeggiated synth riffs—a feature that's fast becoming a Voiski calling card. L.I.E.S. provided plenty of great moments in 2014, and "Wax Fashion" was up there with the best of them. Kit Macdonald

38. John Barera & Will Martin "It's Allright" (Dolly)
Although their whole debut album is excellent, one track from Graceless defines John Barera & Will Martin better than the rest, and that is "It's Alright." With its pleasingly lumpy, woody-sounding drums and DIY percussion, the track bobbles and bubbles along a lovably imperfect groove as sharp stabs and soft pads flesh it out in soulful style. What really sets the thing alight, though, is the eponymous "it's alright" vocal that bursts through the mix and right into the listener's most heartfelt affections. Unashamedly feelgood and diva inclined, this is house music at its best. Kristan J Caryl

37. Randomer "Stupid Things I Do" (Clone Basement Series)
Randomer was fairly unstoppable this year, trading his dubstep-leaning past for keyed-up techno on L.I.E.S., Russian Torrent Versions, and Clone. "Stupid Things I Do," for the latter imprint's Basement Series, showcases the UK producer at his delirious peak. Randomer's strength is in raw, masterful rhythms, as he only requires slight melodic accompaniment to whip things into a frenzy. The 12" comes with two versions of the track, but the "Old-School Mix" is particularly intense, its asylum-grade snare rolls making 130 bpm feel like a breakneck pace. Both takes employ the same nonsensical vocal snatch (from which the song takes its title), but one gets the feeling that the snippet may be a reference to the tune's quick and dirty construction. If we're lucky, Walder will serve up more of these big, "stupid" techno bombs in the months and years ahead. Matthew McDermott

36. Answer Code Request "4th Verdict" (Ostgut Ton)
Answer Code Request productions seem to fall into two camps. On the one hand, there are the melodic and moody broken-beat tracks that sound like the German answer to Boards of Canada, and on the other, there are the peak-time techno bangers he's specifically engineered to slaughter dancefloors. "The 4th Verdict," the lead cut from his Breathe EP, falls more into the latter category, especially as it kicks into gear with a massive arpeggiated bass synthesizer girding a head-rattling kick drum. As the track builds, though, melody creeps in, and when it crescendos, a subtle breakbeat joins the proceedings, providing additional forward momentum through to its conclusion. These subtle additions give the track a touch of old-school rave flavor, resulting in a tune that's much more than just another big-room burner. Chris Zaldua

35. Lockah "If Loving U Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Wrong" (Donky Pitch)
A direct homage to "Love You Down" by Ready for the World, Lockah's richly emotive "If Loving U Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Wrong" transposes "Love You Down"'s silky chords into a quasi-piano-house anthem with a heart as tender as its title. It's easy to forget that the central melodic theme is borrowed, though, as the Scottish producer truly makes it his own. A host of crystalline synth tones and chirpy vocal harmonies imbue the track with Lockah's love for high-gloss videogame music, while rolling dance beats and the energy of a debut album's lead single keep it all buzzing a foot off the ground. Patric Fallon

34. Seven Davis Jr. "Friends" (Classic)
The sketchy, paranoid, patchwork makeup of Seven Davis Jr.'s "Friends" is perfectly at home on Classic, a label celebrated for its nervy, restless house sounds. It finds the current scene darling layering up closely miked vocal ad-libs into an organic bassline, delivering much sweeter verses up top and clapping his hands in hip-swinging fashion. If Matias Aguayo and Moodymann ever hooked up, it might sound something like this. Charismatic and off kilter, the song is stuffed with a rare sense of charm and despite its apparent simplicity, it sure makes us want to dance. Kristan J Caryl

33. Head High "Hex Factor" (Power House)
Rene Pawlowitz's arsenal of aliases, to varying degrees, have explored the prolific German producer's versatility in an elliptical fashion; an EQD track, for example, overlaps more than a little with a typical Shed 12". His Head High alias, however, is pretty singular in a few ways, chiefly in its absorption of bouncy '90s hardcore rave and bright(ish) melodies that are some distance away from his other, more stern techno guises. "Hex Factor" draws on these traits with a trademark set of thunderous drums and a catchy vocal snap, but the track's panoramic, emotion-wringing synth makes "Hex Factor" into one of his most uplifting and anthemic records yet. Ray Philp

32. Traumprinz "I Gave My Life" (Giegling)
If someone was asked to pick a single track to demonstrate why Germany's Giegling label is one of electronic music's most compelling outposts, Traumprinz's "I Gave My Life" might be their best bet. Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, it's a long and deceptively simple track, built from little more than a muted kick drum, slight percussion, and a recurring guitar sample that sounds like it was plucked straight from a Pink Floyd tune. What makes the track so special is its focal point, a vocal sample (a speech, to be accurate) in which a British gentleman tells the listener about finding faith after a lifetime of partying and drug use. (Sample excerpt: "John, I gave my life to Jesus.") Divorced from its original context, the speech is reverent, spiritual, and, considering its placement within a deep house production, even transgressive—and for that reason, when deployed at the right time by the right DJ, "I Gave My Life" can single-handedly change the mood and tenor of a dancefloor. Chris Zaldua

31. Galcher Lustwerk "216" (Tsuba)
Nobody does "cool" like Galcher Lustwerk. The Brooklyn DJ/producer seems to always have a low-key house groove laying around somewhere, so whenever they show up on a record or in a mix, it sounds like an accident or afterthought. Even on the slick and salacious "216," the mood is decidedly aloof, as if Lustwerk is saying, "Oh, this old thing?" A simple beat bounces along while a synth wavers and drones underneath, birds twitter in the background, and the New Yorker calmly delivers lines about fashion, money, dancing, and his life of luxury. Then the deep bassline hits, and that percolating energy kicks up a notch. But even in this mode, Lustwerk keeps things relaxed and detached. His vibe is so strong, anyone in the vicinity of "216" is just cool by proxy. Patric Fallon

30. Richard Fearless "Gamma Ray" (Drone)
A full 20 years after the formation of Death in Vegas, 2014 saw frontman Richard Fearless finally add work as a proper solo artist to his resume. A brace of 12"s for his own reactivated Drone imprint first brought us the acid-inflected "Higher Electronic States," and then "Gamma Ray". A lengthy techno cut that kicks off stark and croaky but becomes more hospitable later on with the appearance of humming layers of bass and twinkling key patterns, it gave us ample cause to look forward to Fearless's future solo explorations. (The Legowelt remix was rather good too.) Kit Macdonald

29. DVS1 "Black Russian" (Klockworks)
Leave it to DVS1, one of the world's biggest techno DJs, to produce one of the year's biggest techno tracks. "Black Russian" is a masterpiece of a techno tool. An exercise in restraint, less is more here, as the song consists of only a throbbing, 130-bpm kick drum, a smattering of corollary percussion, and a winding, slow-burning synthesizer lead that twists and turns its way through all of the track's six and a half minutes. Decidedly euphoric and full of kinetic energy, that synth feels like an homage to the best piano house (bringing to mind Prosumer's legendary remix of Murat Tepeli's "Forever," for example). Listen to this one on a massive soundsystem for full effect. Chris Zaldua

28. Tessela "Rough 2" (R&S)
It sometimes feels like we're still reeling from the massive impact of Tessela's "Hackney Parrot." Case in point, "Rough 2" operates like an aftershock, still riding the force of those dismantled breakbeats through waves of acidic jungle fallout. But the title track from Tessela's sole 2014 release isn't so much a second coming of "Hackney Parrot" as it is a continuation of the stylistic inventiveness that spawned the Londoner's breakout single. Considering the behemoth electro of "Butchwax" and the uncompromisingly experimental "C'mon Let's Slow Dance" on the b-side, this is a 12" from an artist who's too restless and imaginative to stay in any one place for very long. We should be happy Tessela let go of "Rough 2" while it was still on his mind. Patric Fallon

27. Caribou "All I Ever Need" (Merge/City Slang)
Arriving four years after Swim, Caribou's Our Love LP maintained many of the electronic and dance-friendly elements that made its predecessor work so well, but few tracks were as effective as "All I Ever Need." It's essentially a break-up song—in the "girl, I want you back" kind of way—and yet it plays like a loose and rubbery house jam. Surrounded by a swung synth pattern and skipping dance beats, only the pensive tone in Dan Snaith's falsetto gives away the heartache at play in his lyrics. This way of telling a sad story through music meant for excitement and celebration is a Caribou hallmark, and the swelling climaxes throughout "All I Ever Need" wouldn't feel half as poignant without it. Patric Fallon

26. Matrixxman "Soul M8" (Soo Wavey)
For those familiar with Matrixxman's sound, "Soul M8" arrives in precisely the manner one would expect. Beginning with the sort of rhythmic machine funk that the San Francisco producer is known for, the track takes an unexpected turn around the two-minute mark when a bold Italo melody suddenly pierces through the composition and weaves itself into the track's clattering 808 sounds. It's a departure from the peak-time acrobatics of last year's "Protocol," but it's also a tune that showcases Matrixxman's impressive scope as a producer. Chris Duncan

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