Top 25 Singles of 2014 so far

You better stop, children what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
No but like, seriously, what the fuck was that? It was hella loud, yo
– Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

There have been a lot of records this year in the burgeoning BANG! BOOM! CRASH! subgenre, where the samples and/or drums are so loud they feel like they’re jumping out of your speaker and hitting you in the face, even at low volume. But the best of them remain undeniably musical, and even catchy. Evian Christ and Bok Bok are tops in this department, through different approaches; the American upstart is relentlessly melodic even with his noisiest bits (a skill he shares with Skrillex, of all people) while the Brit turns even the rawest repetitions into R&B, whether it’s with 80s quiet storm synths or the very Aaliyah-like vocal stylings of Kelela.

Looking down the list, melody is the thing, however subtle. It’s there in Martyn and Four Tet’s twinkling kalimba samples, Toronto’s Jex Opolis’ Zither EP (especially “On The Cliffs” with its stabs of vocal “aaaahs” and gently burbling drums), DMX Krew’s oddly compelling lounge-pop and even H-SIK’s amped-up breakbeat science. I used to think a hummable tune was optional, even quaint, but maybe the years of minimal tech – and the waning of the prog house sound in favour of who knows what in EDM-land – have made it more palatable, if not outright necessary.

You’ve got your grime-oriented and just plain weird producers in there, of course – Mumdance coming with a couple of collaborations (with Logos and Pinch respectively) that make it sound like there’s a vacuum cleaner and/or a rogue mobile phone behind the boards, as well as Phon.o, Lakker and L-Vis 1990 all delivering sides that are more not-there than there. But the tunes predominate, however simple — from Vitalic’s uncharacteristically pop-oriented take on Paul Kalkbrenner’s “Altes Kamuffel” to the chugging grooves from Melchior Productions Ltd., Todd Terje and KHLHI (a.k.a. Four Tet).

*Oh, and in light of the Polaris Music Prize short list announcement, it’s worth remembering that – without taking anything away from Jessy Lanza’s accomplishment – there’s plenty of Hot Canadian Electronic Action happening outside the album sphere. Jex Opolis, Tiga and Hobo on this list, plus Adam Marshall’s New Kanada label (and Graze alias), Guillaume and the Coutu Dumonts, Caribou’s Jiaolong imprint, Lunice, Kaytranada etc. Don’t sleep on the frozen north.

1. Evian Christ – Waterfall (Tri Angle)

2. Bok Bok – Your Charizmatic Self EP (Night Slugs)

3. Martyn – Forgiveness (EP) – (Ninja Tune)

4. Jus Now – Bare Wine (feat. Swappi) / Vodou Riddim (Gutterfunk)

5. Jex Opolis – Zither EP (Good Timin)

6. H-SIK – Sonic Rage / No Promises (Black Acre)

7. Sam Russo – To The Brink / Wanderer (Air London)

8. Jamie XX – Sleep Sound (Young Turks)

9. Mumdance & Logos – Legion / Proto (Tectonic)

10. Alex Coulton – Murda / Break Pressure (Black Acre)

11. Gerry Read – Shrubby (Aus Music)

12. KHLHI – Percussions (Text)

13. Komon and Appleblim – Jupiter EP (Aus Music)

14. Paul Kalkbrenner – Altes Kamuffel (Vitalic Remix) (Paul Kalkbrenner Music)

15. Juju & Jordash – Waldorf Salad/Third Planet from Altair (Dekmantel)

16. DMX Krew – Hot Punch / My Metro (Fresh Up)

17. Pinch & Mumdance – Turbo Mitzi / Whiplash

18. Melchior Productions Ltd – The Return Of The Cosmic Kids (Aspect Music)

19. Lakker – Containing a Thousand (R&S)

20. Todd Terje – Spiral (Full Pupp)

21. L-Vis 1990 – Ballads EP (Night Slugs)

22. Tiga & Audion – Fever (Remixes) (Turbo)

23. Flava D – Home / Hold on VIP

24. phon.o – Cracking Space Pt. 1 (50 Weapons)

25. Hobo – Mind Games (Soundz)

Best of the Blogs – Sep 13-20

covers

A roundup of the best streams and downloads percolating through the blogosphere this week

Nine Inch Nails – Find My Way (Oneohtrix Point Never remix)

Props where props are due: not only are Nine Inch Nails making some of their best music since The Downward Spiral, Trent Reznor tapped Oneohtrix Point Never for an opening slot on the tour – sure to drive some audience members nuts – he also tapped him for this remix. Who needs a beat when you’ve got spiralling, noisy arpeggiated synths and an almost obsessive attention to details like the processing on the disembodied voice that creeps in half way through? There are enough neck-snapping-around moments in here to make drums seem like they’d be an unnecessary distraction.

The Field – Cupid’s Head

Axel Willner a.k.a. The Field is gunning for the title of Best Home-Listening-Techno producer in the world with his latest album, Cupid’s Head (due out on Kompakt on Sept. 30) and the title track earns the hyperbole. A stuttering beat, a vocal sample Willner wrings the maximum character out of and a characteristically ecstatic string line combine like Voltron into a rough beast that minimal’s forefathers couldn’t have conceived of.

Danny Brown – Dip

“Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rolling.” “I keep feeling like I’m gon faint, but fuck that nigga gimme that drink.” “It’s obvious we got some problems so bitch let’s kill that pain.” “I’m grinding on yo bitch while I’m grindin on my teeth.” What is it about Detroit rappers (Eminem I’m looking in your direction) that they make wallowing in shameless drug fiendery sound like fun? (Peep my preview of DB’s new disc.)

Young Chop f Juicy J – I Ain’t Gotta Say Shit

It might be weird to call a throbbing monster of a beat ‘subtle’, but this Juicy J showcase from 19-year-old upstart producer Young Chop (via his debut album, Precious) has a spooky top layer of smoke and texture above the beat. A mournful organ lick and a chant add atmosphere to Juicy J’s stone-faced thuggin’ and damn if it doesn’t send chills up your spine.

Joe – Slope

All hail Hesssle Audio for bringing us new releases by Pearson Sound and the mysterious Joe. The latter – an anonymous North Londonder of some repute – comes with a gem of a 12-inch; “Maximum Busy Muscle” starts with a belligerently wobbly groove and turns into a real banger, complete with big farty horn blasts, while “Slope” has tuned toms rumbling around in the basement while droning strings carry the mood as it morphs into a hard-hitting tech workout. And is it me or does the opening sample in this tune sound like Chewbacca?

5 faux-EDM Pop Songs That Make You Feel Like Someone Used A Melon Baller To Extract Your Eardrums

worst

5. Katy Perry, “Firework”

I don’t know about you but I often feel like a plastic bag being tossed around in the wind. Mostly when I was cueing this song up at gigs, because I think my ear drums were being battered to ribbons by the insanely hot mastering on the chorus. The only song I know of that is louder is Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” which is basically just a big slab of white noise with an insane harpy hollering all the way through, like a rancid cherry on top. “Firework” is more like a big slab of string-driven euro cheese whose origins are thinly camouflaged by Perry’s reference to the Fourth of July. Because what could be more American than a track cobbled together by French and Norwegian producers out of the dregs of 90s Dutch stadium trance? Freedom Fries for all!

4. Flo Rida, “Good Feeling”

The list of rappers Flo Rida has had more number one hits than is too long and distinguished to post here, not least because it’ll make you throw up. But really, that’s too harsh – these songs no more belong to Flo Rida than Super Cat was responsible for Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” “Good Feeling” is a Dr. Luke sample of an Avicii single with rapping on it, smashed cheek-by-jowl with an Etta James sample, and this fact is something I find really inspiring. If that many hands can shape one successful product without totally ruining it, the music industry surely is a wonderful thing. It might be the last truly democratic process in America. “I’m Bill Gates / It’d take a genius to understand me,” Flo Rida raps, and he is 1000% correct, because I have no idea WTF he is on about during the mercifully short portions of the song where he can be heard. Truly, it is the land of opportunity when any man can be on so many hits, no matter how utterly worthless, no matter what kind of useless eater he may happen to be. Hold up, I think I’m going to cry.

3. Usher, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”

I first heard this song blasting from a car one morning when the sun was coming up and I had been out all night. Between the stuttering vocals and Auto-Tune I thought either I, or Usher, was having a breakdown, one of our heads about to start spinning Exorcist-style and spewing bile from our ducts, flailing limbs, bugged out eyes, the whole nine. Then I heard the Billy Joel “Uptown Girl” hook awkwardly shoehorned into the chorus, like a sweaty hair gel commercial refugee at a club assaulting some unsuspecting office manager by jamming his package between her knees, and sweet, soothing rage caressed my temples. As I searched in vain for a large metal object like a tire iron to lay into the car’s occupants with, thinking to myself that perhaps the most offensive aspect of the tune is that Usher has the brass to issue a line like “I don’t like them groupie hoes, they be on my dick” while stifling the word “dick,” as though he was somehow being classy by refraining from saying the word yet still insulting women for showing interest in him, those little punks in the car playing the song peeled away and I was left fuming. All of this is to say that this song is a smoldering bag of hyena poop, and also that there should be more tire irons lying around.

2. Justin Bieber f Big Sean, “As Long As You Love Me”

Believe it or not, I am not the type of irritable basement-dwelling crank blogger who hates Bieber as a matter of principle, nor am I opposed to the phenomenon known as brostep. But whoever put them together is the music industry equivalent of the person who invented those sideway-hogging double-wide baby strollers: an enemy of humanity. Try to imagine the sound of a colicky baby being tossed into the middle of the wall of death at a Lamb of God show and you’ve only scratched the surface. It’s hard to decide which is worse, hearing Biebs call himself a soldier, or the digital yodel on the word “luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-love,” At least it’s a Big Sean-pretending-to-be-Drake cameo instead of an actual Drake cameo, otherwise I”d have to renounce my citizenship.

1. Pitbull f Christina Aguilera, “Feel This Moment”

Every generation needs its “Barbie Girl,” its “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” its “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” that one song that gives you carte blanche, violence-wise, toward any DJ who makes the catastrophic lapse in judgment of even thinking about playing it. The banality of evil indeed, with the emphasis on banal – it’s not even interesting in its total schlock. Pitbull does his Pitbull-no-speaka-English-but-I-learn-Mr.-Fawlty,-I-learn routine, then Xstina sings for her supper since noone is buying her records anymore, and an 80s hook (A-ha’s “Take On Me”) is dropped on top of the chorus like a grenade down an air vent. BOOM goes the dynamite, and then it’s all vocal fry all the time. Actually I lied, how could you not be totally fascinated at something that is worse than the sum of its parts, when its parts alone are kind of the worst things carbon-based life-forms have ever encountered, music-wise? I kind of want to probe it like one of those scientists in Independence Day, though it would probably find a way to break through the glass and dissolve my face by spitting acid at me and then ripping my limbs off and using them to record handclaps for a new single that samples “99 Luftballoons” and features Jennifer Lopez rapping legal disclosures from those prescription impotence drug commercials on CNN.

Ranking Bleep’s Green Series

Irony: I haven’t even seen the actual vinyl and fancy artwork for the Green Series, a collab between online music seller Bleep.com, graphic design firm GiveUpArt, and photographer Shaun Bloodworth, and aesthetics are surely a big chunk of this series’ appeal. Maybe the musicians were inspired and decided to rise to the challenge issued by the art? It would be a rare thing – anyone who’s received a lot of promos knows that good packaging is no guarantee of quality tunes. I used to grimace when I would see a hologram or something on CD packaging, for example, because it usually meant the music sucked. And then there’s this, which I actually bought in 1996 despite the fact that the album it came from was so uneven, it makes Prince’s Emancipation look like a masterpiece of curation.

I digress. All four 12-inches are splendidly abstract and addictive, but in this particular Battle Royale there can only be one winner…

4. Karenn / The Analogue Cops (BLPGRN001)

In theory I should be the world’s biggest Karenn fan, given that Blawan and Pariah are incredible on their own. Chocolate + coffee beans = heart attack-inducing flavour orgasm! …but not in this case, for me, at least. There are moments toward the end when the rattling snare and sweeping synth patterns threaten to launch your still-beating heart from your chest and send it flying across the room like a hurled tomato, but for the most part this doesn’t hang together for me. I am however not against collabs in general; I quite like The Analogue Cops’ southern rap-style tom-toms and snares popping like popcorn (or AK-47s, but let’s not go there) while the rest of the track cops a hazy spring-showers vibe. Pop your collar for this one.

3. Marcel Dettmann / Lucy (BLPGRN004)

The newest entry in the Green Series is a study in contrasts. Marcel Dettmann is the biggest name to contribute so far, and his A-side is the most melodic and listenable of the broader batch, if slightly, er, undercooked. The pipe organ melody sounds like something Flat Eric would dance goofily around his apartment to before going out, though the rigid, belligerent beat clearly means business. Stroboscopic Artifacts boss Lucy turns in a much more dry and oppressive slab; the track begins sounding a smidge like the intro to Daft Punk’s Burnin, as though it’s about to break into jaunty filter-y territory, but instead it doubles down on the creep factor with heavily treated hats rattling away, chain-style. (It is called Slaves’ March, after all.) Sure to become a staple at Halloween.

2. Objekt / Cosmin TRG (BLPGRN002)

Speaking of things that give you the shakes, I would love to see how clubbers react to something as jittery as Objekt‘s Shuttered. It’s like a sonic house of mirrors, with drums and other tones echoing and swirling in precisely articulated bursts. Videogame makers, the soundtrack to your next flight simulator title is here. Use this one for the flying-through-a-blizzard scene to give gamers fits. Cosmin TRG‘s contribution is more slick, but also gritty, with a trickle of viscous bass coating the filtered (seemingly bitcrushed) shakers and percussion. The low end is voluminous yet indistinct. I keep waiting for it to bust through the surface and eat me like one of the worms in Tremors.

1. Redshape / Steffi (BLPGRN003)

Right-thinking people are naturally wary when a DJ actually wears a mask in their press photos, so Redshape ought to be a tough sell. His Green Series entry, however, is a marvel of restrained energy that combines the best elements of most of the others. The creeping bassline and the skittering hats drive the track forward with mischievous interplay, while the other elements dart in and out of the sonic plane like fireflies. But it’s Dutch producer Steffi who steals the show with an eerie little banger. A European-style cop car siren goes off far in the distance as screechy horror stabs scratch at the surface of the track. Underneath, there’s a punishing groove perfect for a sweaty black-box, one filled with delicious tension. This is the best candidate for a movie chase scene since Hey Boy Hey Girl, and it doesn’t even have a terrible spoken sample for a hook.

Top 5 Singles/EPs of 2011 So Far (Ivory Tower edition)

As I write these words high above downtown Torontopiaville in the 300th floor of the a-void.ca Communications Complex, I recognize that it isn’t as easy as it once was for me to keep in touch with the streets. Are they still watching? Who is to say, really. The next time I take my private elevator to the ground floor and straight into a waiting limo, I will pause for a moment and raise a moistened finger to the air. In the meantime you have this deeply out of touch list, which I hope will let you in on what the caviar-munching, world-travelling elites such as myself are listening to. Behold: the top singles of the year, ivory-tower edition.

1. BlawanGetting Me Down 12″ (white label)

When I heard this first on a 2562 podcast it lodged itself in my brain, but it took me a while to realize how bad I needed it in my life — prompting a frantic Sunday vinyl search on my last full day in London. You might ascribe the addictive properties of Blawan’s meisterwurk to the admittedly bitchin’ Brandy sample. But if you checked his Bohla EP (on R&S, who are giving Brainfeeder a run for their money as label of the year) you’d recognize that blend of hard, ricocheting percussion and sand-blasted tech influences with the well-oiled grooves of UK garage and funky as the mark of a singular voice. Having a vocal carry “Getting Me Down” makes it more immediate, more openly pop, than Blawan’s other stuff, but the tuneless shudder from the depths of the song’s water-tight hull makes it twice as scary � and as thrilling � as any of your harder tech or dubstep. We’re gonna need a bigger boat to haul in a sound as potently heavy as this.

Blawan ‘Getting Me Down’ (White label) by punchdrunkmusicdotcom

2. Mono/PolyManifestations EP (Brainfeeder)

The G-funk legacy hangs over the Brainfeeder stable like, um, well, guess. But where plenty of beat-types turn to the Cameo- and Isleys-sampling so beloved by Death Row alums, Mono/Poly pours the aesthetic through 36 chambers of dread and unease to produce something a little rougher than expected. “Forest Dark” is like Moroder-pop synths wandering down a dark alley and witnessing a crowd gathered around a dog fight; “Punch The Troll In The Neck” prods you with edgy tones like a riot cop on a sugar high; “Needs Deodorant” makes a pimptastic groove into a slightly screechy, agitated answer to “The Hustle.” I never liked ‘relaxing’ music that much, anyway.

Mono/Poly – Needs Deodorant by factmag

3. Four Tet/Thom Yorke/Burial – Ego/Mirror 12″ (Text)

It’s not just the name recognition that bumped this on here. I swear. (Though did I tell you I totally interviewed Four Tet, while he was holding a BABY?) Truth: the most exciting thing about this star-studded (and when has that adjective ever actually implied anything other than potential disappointment?) single is that it sounds like they pressed it inside out, upside down and backwards. Both tunes are little more than uptempo house rhythms with ghostly swirls of melody and Yorke’s vocal dancing in and out. You can sort of see why Radiohead are commissioning remixes from proper dance producers like Jacques Greene and Lone — after this single, you realize that the problem with King of Limbs isn’t that their song ideas aren’t good, it’s just that the beats are shit. Outsourcing: sorry Thom, but it’s the way of the future.

Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke – Mirror by ListenBeforeYouBuy

4. LoneEcholocations EP (R&S)

More R&S delectation. I like to think the classic, relaunched Belgian label is annoying the shit out of techno purists with people like James Blake and the much more fun-loving Lone, who throws all kinds of sophisticated synth processing and acid house touchstones in with blatant ‘ardkore references and other hallmarks of someone who really doesn’t give a fuck so long as it’s fun. On the other hand, I also like to think that people who are discerning enough to love Detroit techno are also smart enough to recognize genius moves like the barmy glockenspiel arpeggios all over “Coreshine Voodoo” when they hear it.

Lone – Echolocations by GammaRay

5. Azari & IIIManic 12″ (Loose Lips)


Speaking of being wildly out of touch, I haven’t heard the Azari and III album yet. (Doesn’t help that I’m over my quota with my ISP, in the latest in a series of small acts of charity that have blown up into giant pains in the ass. But enough about me.) Pretty sure it’ll be good, though, since with every release they’ve figured out ever fresher ways to make vintage Chicago house sounds without slavishly imitating them. “Manic” isn’t totally faithful to any particular era of house, which is probably why I like it — the effervescent arpeggiated basslines, the doubled n’ detuned vocals that people keep comparing to Prince for reasons I can’t quite fathom, and the straight-up DJ Sneak remix that makes it much more likely to make mainstream clubbers’ heads explode without losing most of the things that make the original awesome. Always a good sign.

Azari & III – Manic by PurplePR

Honourable Mentions:

Hudson Mohawke – Satin Panthers EP
Slugabed – Moonbeam Rider EP
TOKiMONSTA – Creature Dreams EP
Com Truise – Fairlight EP
Drake – “Headlines” (mostly for the beat)
Mo Kolours – EP1: Drum Talking
Shigeto – “And We Gonna (Samiyam Chopsticks rmx)” – Full Circle Remixes
Venice – Animals, Stars and other Psychedelic Creatures
Wiley – “Numbers In Action”
Prodigy – Complex Presents The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP
Flying Lotus – Pattern + Grid World EP
Discodeine – “Synchronize (f. Jarvis Cocker)”

The best albums of 2011 so far coming soon!

Matthewdavid vs 2562: Fite?

Matthewdavid - Outmind cover

It�s unspeakably bizarre that these two albums should land in my inbox at the same time � so similar, different and perfectly complementary. Matthewdavid�s Outmind and 2562�s Fever are twin poles that bookmark what seems to be happening in this world I find myself immersed in; not that I know what to call it. But between them is a definition, and a pretty clear one.

Smog, Blade Runner, post-industrial decay: Matthewdavid is a champ at evoking all these things, sometimes simultaneously. Pitchfork sez he�s an LA producer/label owner/friend-of-FlyLo. Without any audio to base it on, you�d think Outmind, his debut LP, would sound a lot like the LA beat stuff that�s already out there, and to be sure, former Dublab.com intern Matthew McQueen�s not remaking the beat world in his own image. But his album Outmind is a triumph anyways, because it unites two strains of electronic listening music � the hard Dilla-esque kicks and finger snaps, and also the smouldering, stretched ambient tones that sound like they�re being played through broken filters. It�s all about melodic haze, fog, the sense that whatever�s in the air is somewhere between a solid and a liquid, maybe a chemical, you�re not sure. You might have caught a contact high already.

Matthewdavid – Like You Mean It

Matthewdavid – You’ll Never Know

Fever is exactly what it sounds like. Maybe too much. Dutch producer Dave Huismans� 2562 alias had already been attached to numerous albums, notably the more four-four-oriented Unbalance, but Fever is a bit of a departure even from that relatively sparse (one might say minimal) collection. It�s dubstep-influenced without being strictly dubstep, though one thing it has in common with a lot of the genre is that it�s very funky, but almost completely unmelodic; everything is a percussion sound, from the bass to the samples/synths to the funny drum machine blips. �Unmelodic� isn�t a synonym for �unlistenable�; in fact it�s catchy as hell, but Fever does it without ever touching down in the pillowy depths that trickle and run through Outmind like detergent and water through a load of laundry. Fever�s an itch, one that makes you want to scratch so hard, you leave a nasty mark.

2562 – Fever – doubt001cd/lp by 2562 / A Made Up Sound

Tuesday downloads: Mophono, snares, shorties

 width=Thinking about snare drums: on first blush, not exciting. Many of you would rather smack yourselves in the bits with the business end of a ball-peen hammer than read about snare drums. (OUCH.) But what is break-based music about if not snare drums? Ponder if you will. The kick is the kick, maybe drowning in an ocean of reverb, maybe dry as the skin between Ashy Larry�s fingers and pitched somewhere around your neck bone, but either way, a low thud of some kind. The snare, on the other hand, can be anything. A finger snap, a stick to the rim, a booming explosion, a compressed burst of white noise, a searing hand clap, a pop, a blurt, a ping, a wave that hits you from behind, an elastic stretched off into infinity, or just the end of the measure. The world in a single sound.

Finger snaps are what are currently scaring me, only because in the wake of producers like TOKIMONSTA and FlyLo turning the finger snap into the sound of your neck releasing your head from its attachment to your body, it�s become a bit of a clich�. This is why I currently love Mophono, whose album Cut Form Crush has just hit stores with a mighty WHAP!. �Be Human Part One” (via the ever-marvelous MyManHenri) has been on deck for one of my mixes forever, not least because those rolling snares break up a dreamy Shigeto or Dunian track like an axe through a cord of wood. Mophono is conversant in many variants of the boom bap tongue; this mix for Friends Of Friends is a United Nations of snare badness. If you try to sleep on it, the drums might gang up on you.

[LINK via Let�s Get Digital]

I gotta go do the dishes because curry isn�t like regular food whose plates you can leave for a day or so without too much fear of smell or bugs. So here are two quick hits. Hi, haters.

Lone: English tech producer makes snappy lil mix for Bleep�s Bloc Festival that�s still nowhere near as fun as his 2010 album Emerald Fantasy Tracks, and yet is still ridonkulously good times (do the math): [LINK via XLR8R]

You didn�t think I was going to quit without giving you some fresh juke, did you? Chrissy Murderbot drops a fusion track into DJ Spinn�s Cuisnart; the resulting mixture is like a fruit smoothie with slabs of dark chocolate in it � totally heterogenous, and still awesome. [STREAM via FACT]