The best tunes of the year are seldom predictable — chasing trends will leave you sounding unoriginal and out of your element. These artists followed their own instincts, indulged their most playful fantasies, and labored long nights to produce the year’s most unforgettable sounds. Some are breathless bangers, some are slow and sublime, all are essential listening. Tune in via 8tracks at the right or click through each track to hear a stream.
RUNNERS UP (with music videos!)
14 Boys Noize - Ich R U
13 The Supermen Lovers - Say No More
12 Flight Facilities - With You (feat. Grovesnor)
11 Disclosure - Latch (feat. Sam Smith)
L'Étranger - Falling For You
Released as a Valentine's Day single, "Falling For You" is a headrush of microsample riffs, chromatic chords, and electric bass heat that proves the English producer's french-touch credentials go well beyond his nom-de-plume. Impossibly precise swing timing, pulsating filter envelopes, and intricate cross-rhythms are a testament to long hours behind the decks on this tune and most likely years learning the theory on real instruments. Did I mention it will stay stuck in your head for days?
Discosocks - Motivation
Fueled by explosions of bluesy horns, half-time builds, and a deliciously squealy lead vocal, this track is pure kinetic energy. You can't talk about Discosocks without mentioning slap bass, and on this tune, that rubbery, bouncing bass is the glue holding it all together. If you can resist this much joyous energy without singing along or shaking your ass, you may not be human.
Lovebirds - Want You In My Soul (feat. Stee Downes)
It's very rare that such an understated tune is also such a head-turner. Featuring the extended "deep" intro and slowly relenting to an insistent 4/4 bass, this tune is nothing if not restrained. But it's the note-perfect soul performance from guest Stee Downes that makes this a next-level tune. Melancholy and graceful, he takes simple bluesman lyrics and adds a shy sexual energy that's simply captivating, making eight and-a-half minutes go by almost too quickly.
Duke Dumont - The Giver
Made of only the absolute essentials, "The Giver" is a certified dancefloor classic that we'll be playing out for years to come. The 12-bar bassline is too simple to even describe, the drums crack on downbeats like clockwork, and the drum-machine hi-hats sound like they took about 30-seconds to add. But like Homework-era Daft Punk, Dumont is able to build a towering skyscraper of a beat from these downright rudimentary tools. Also, he's made the most mesmerizing vocal loop of the decade.
Para One - Wake Me Up
Fuck your Glitch VST, your sample packs, and your loop button - everything about this track is the real thing. Unapologetically IDM, definitively analog, "Wake Me Up" opens the album in the best way possible. Enormous sine kicks and impossibly short claps punctuate the gulfs of silence between frenetic synth bleeps and a mesmerizing vocoder hook. Para One's singular-sounding stacatto percussion and dreamlike tonal reverbs are all that he needs to build epic anticipation and tension. But like his "Prime Time of Your Life" remix, he comes back halfway through the track for a surprising second act and reveals the piece's harmonic potential.
Mr. No - Onset
Can techno be sexy? According to Mr. No, the answer is yes. The languid tempo and muted bass guitar tone belie the driving energy of this track in a way that's head-noddingly surprising. His perfectly-filtered noise, burbling acid synths, and stacatto drums all scream "techno", but the slow, grooving bass and onomatopoeic, chant-like noise "hook" that arrives to tie everything together say otherwise.
Handbraekes - Callgurls
Is this track joking? Like last year's "Douche Beat," this tune manages to make you feel like you're being trolled and loving every second. Mr. Oizo and Boys Noize have found an endearing misanthropic harmony and make the most of it on this abstract banger. Featuring a wandering major/minor disharmony and the world's most annoying siren sound, it would take two world-class artists to make a track like this sound even remotely possible. But Adolf & Pierre (as they are known to each other on the internet) are just that pair.
Mr. Oizo - Textes
So what? I can put two Oizo tracks in my best-of if I want. It's not like anybody else released a song that sounds like an alternate future where anarchists won World War III and enslaved us all in a factory making marshmallow monsters. Featuring Oizo's signature stacatto glides and unintuitive chromatic melodies, "Textes" was the standout from Stade 3 (a record so thoroughly weird that it makes this track seem like something from the Beatport Top 100). It also features my favorite "drop" of the year at 51 seconds.
Dads On Display - Boom Bap
Few things in this world are perfect - this track has about a dozen of them. Divine inspiration, perhaps? The rhythm alone is effortless enough to test even the sternest skeptic's disbelief. The square-wave tone should be celebrated with its own all-analog Dave Smith hardware version. The shuffle-rhythm bassline is big enough to have its own zipcode. Add to that a taste of unabashed 80's drum-machine love, some bouncing and stuttery vocal slices, and whole lot more cowbell, and you have a recipe that no other band in the world could pull off such aplomb.
BobbyTank - Afterburn
Did dubstep also make an album this year? I guess I'll never know, because I can't hear it over the crushing 68bpm face-melting of this four-minute spaceflight through the sex galaxy (hold on, R. Kelly's manager is calling). With a deft touch on the arpeggiator, a keen ear for reconstructed melodies, and a King Kong-inspired approach to the drums, BobbyTank packed so much TNT into this track that it needed special safety labeling for sale in some countries. Besides making the most effective use of stacatto sub-bass probably ever, Mr. Tank also re-introduced the word "maximalism" to our collective vocabulary, so we owe him double for this one.