2014 in music

“If you look at my last three end of year lists, there’s a pattern”
“Yeah some good music with token contrarian pop choices as talking points”

And so here we are again. I tend to start getting excited by these lists around October.

That’s when I realise for those recent six weeks, I’ve only been listening to one thing. It could be a genre or label or producer or style or show or whatever, but I’ve been listening to that obsessively. And I realise I’ve been missing out.

So I start to trawl through magazines, websites, download sites, blogs, friends, whatever. Find new things, draw new links and start on another little mini-obsession.

Most of my tastes over the past ten years follow that exact same pattern. Find something, surround myself with it, lionise everything to do with it and then just as I’m about to feel like I’m drowning in it, I find the new excitement, the next itch.

Sometimes that shift towards the next thing can can be subtle. Leon Vynehall’s album this year grabbed my attention with tracks that reference The Legend of Zelda (It’s Just (House of Dupree)) and The Streets (Be Brave. Clench Fists). Yet it was the lush, rich samples that he integrated into that record that set off a mini-house journey towards more sample-based sounds. And on the way exploring every artist he’d referenced whether through sampling, interviews or song titles.

The shift isn’t always so subtle. When Moodymann’s self-titled album dropped at the beginning of the year, it was in Lyk U Used 2 and Sloppy Cosmic that I found most joy and in both tracks we’ve got the closest allusions to hiphop, funk and broken beat drum loops.

What else is there around this tempo that sounds like this? And so I start exploring. And oh, what fun you can have at the 90bpm mark; still with energy that a lot of house or technoheads might ignore.

And then there’s the new obsessions or journeys which depart entirely from what’s known. The tempo might stay the same but all of a sudden, Point Point’s Morning BJ appears from nowhere. The French producers proving that there’s beauty to be heard in all sounds. Is this trap? Bass? EDM? Whatever it is it captures you in shock and awe for two minutes – and that’s where the real magic happens as the jazz piano introduces the biggest surprise of the year.

Clap Clap are the same with their drums: rhythms that would be at home in mid-to-late 2000s US hiphop. Yet as with tracks like Kuj Yato, those rhythms are layered with these incredible African choral elements and instrumentation that create some really raw.

A pastiche achieved with equal beauty on Rhythm Section International’s debut LP from Al Dobson Jr. Artists like these paved the way so that when I heard Ryan Hemsworth’s Surrounded just a few weeks ago it became an instant replayer rather than one I had to work with to understand.

2014’s been a year with quite a few changes in it for me. I’ve changed job and that leads to little things like a switch away from radio, which means I know very little of the pop music that’s graced the charts this year. As such, I looked out only for the artists I know and love. And with that, it’s Taylor Swift who makes up my “token contrarian pop choices” in this year’s list.

“1989” is definitely my favourite complete Swift work to date. There’s no big Never Ever Getting Back Togethers or 22s, and the middle eight in Shake It Off is one of Taylor’s few truly embarrassing moments she’s ever recored to tape. But as a complete work it’s strong, it reveals a personality that she’s slowly been building over the years.

She delivers the album’s more serious moments with an earnestness that she hadn’t even hinted at before. And her moments of whim are delivered with a style that elevate her away from the saccharine tendencies of most current pop.

I’ve been going out clubbing less this year and I imagine that will show through the list – and if it doesn’t it certainly would throughout my general listening habits for the year. The list is still seasoned with electronic music but it’s the inclusion of, for example, The Monk rather than anything else from Jason Vroon’s new full length that is telling. Lauer’s Stigma and Portable’s Surrender too are both great electronic records but sit more comfortably at home or a late night Uber than in a club.

The list isn’t entirely without it’s dance-orientated moments however. Weirldy, considering I’ve gone out less this year, I’ve listened to more techno than usual. While most of it has been older, pre-2014 stuff, the inclusion of Auden’s Whispers symbolises for me a lot more than just one track in a top-20.

The remix Tale of Us remix of Caribou’s Can’t Do Without You again sits in clubland well, as do the aforementioned entry from Moodymann, Riccio’s insatiable rerub of You Can’t Fight It and Dimitri’s corker of a remix of old Paradise Garage favourite The Boss.

I still can’t work out if I know the vocal refrain in Raumskaya’s U Knew Before and I just can’t remember, or the song instantly created a sense of nostalgia the moment I heard it. Either way, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

But it’s Raury’s God’s Whisper that just clenches the number one spot for me. The drums ripped right through me the first time I heard them. The production alludes more to that late-2000s lo-fi indie sound than it does the hiphop moniker that got plastered onto it in the immediate aftermath.

Overall, it’s been an interesting year for me. I worry that my diversions away from what I know haven’t been as stark as usual. And as someone always on the lookout to hear something different and new, I dislike that. If I were the type to make new year’s resolutions, then maybe diverging away from the known might be a good one.

But whatever has been the case, 2014 has been a great year for music. Whether that’s in the surprise bridge between trap and jazz, the sound of Todd Terje not taking himself too seriously, or the whirlwind of emotions Taylor manages to evolve through in the space of three minutes.

Listen to the playlist here (minus Taylor Swift as you can’t find her on the internet anymore).

Top 20 songs of 2014

20. Lauer – Stigma
19. Jason Vroon – The Monk
18. Portable – Surrender
17. Kendrick Lamar – I
16. Auden – Whispers
15. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
14. GoGo Penguin – Kamaloka
13. Sylvan Esso – Coffee
12. Todd Terje – Svensk Sås
11. Taylor Swift – Out Of The Woods
10. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
9. Moodymann – Lyk U Used 2
8. Leon Vynehall – It’s Just (House of Dupree)
7. Jimmy Chambers – You Can’t Fight It (Riccio Rerub)
6. Ryan Hemsworth – Surrounded
5. Taylor Swift – New Romantics
4. Diana Ross – The Boss (Dimitri From Paris Remix)
3. Point Point – Morning BJ
2. Ramuskaya – U Knew Before
1. Raury – God’s Whisper

Albums of the year (unranked)

Francis Bebey – Psychedelic Sanza
Leon Vynehall – Music For the Uninvited
Moodymann – Moodymann
Taylor Swift – 1989
Tin-Man – Ode

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