It’s the end of 2010 and time to usher in a new era of entrancing, progressive, contemporary or retro inspired music, each slowly filling the internet with their own ideas and concepts. But, just before we look forward, let’s take a moment to reflect upon what has happened in the past year with our first ever retrospective. These tracks have ruled in both time and space, eliciting shrieks of joy and tears of happiness, guiding us through the dark hours while we search for new music, helping us find new scenes and new understandings of music, but above all, reminding us why music resounds so triumphantly in our hearts. So, let us take a trip through some of the best tracks of 2010.
Teengirl Fantasy feat. Shannon Funchess – Dancing in Slow Motion
The swirling majesty of Teengirl Fantasy’s art is highlighted by this incredible effort taken from their equally climactic album 7am, released on True Panther/Merok back in September. On Dancing in Slow Motion, one of the highlights of the album, Teengirl Fantasy employ Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess for added clout, as her range and depth seem to lead the underlying atmospherics in a kind of clarion call. The beauty of this tracks lies in the way the psychedelic swirls of synth gather behind Funchess’ voice driving the song forward, while all the time a time-lapsed big-beat rhythm hammers home on the 1s and 3s. It’s all done with such a lightness of touch that the song glides as if on wings, floating through clouds of musical creativity with a great big grin on its face, enjoying every moment of its 03:41 run time.
Forest Swords – Glory Gongs
Northern producer Matthew Barnes is Forest Swords. Earlier this year he released the rather notable Dagger Paths to some critical acclaim. Hidden within that album lies worlds and dreams all aching to be pulled open by the listener, each one like a childhood memory covered in dust and half-forgotten. Somewhere in those dreams is Glory Gongs, a track full of expectant memories. Like other songs on the album the track is incredibly filmic, setting in your mind’s eye a visual narrative or allusion that Barnes manages to play with and tweak in his own special way. His use of a reverbed guitar is a delightful touch, intoxicating these dreams with his own crack of the whip; the only harsh sound amongst the soft textures. Barnes’ use of vocal samples carries a similar weight, becoming a ghostly voice or a spirit guide, leading your interest in Glory Gongs into interesting and diverse locations. It’s a remarkable stand-out track however, and while many others are doing their own creative things within this hypnagogic style of pop music, Forest Swords manages to stand apart because his influences are so incongruous; they have never been pulled together in this way before.
Flying Lotus – MmmHmm
Flying Lotus has had a tremendous year, releasing his third album Cosmogramma, releasing a further EP Pattern + Grid World and gaining some production credits on the eclectic Gonjasufi album. And while his work has shown some definite forward progressions, it is on none other than MmmHmm that his creativity reached its peak. For some it’s the ineluctable sway of the atmospherics that draw you in, for others it’s the tender and sweet melody that’s the main attraction. Whatever it is, it marks a definite nexus between artist and art as the creator reaches a high-point and is able to fully realise his abilities, focusing directly and with intent. Fortunately for us, the art is of a great swirling nature, one in which we can lose ourselves to the cosmos, as all the time he maintains his intense gaze. Wonderful.
Toro Y Moi – You Hid (yours tru.ly edit)
Toro Y Moi has been a major influence on the chillwave movement over the past 12 months. Having formed an alliance with Washed Out during 2009, Toro Y Moi went on to release his debut album, Causers of This, in 2010. The album had a strong sense of its influences such as funk and hip-hop, namely J-Dilla, whilst it evolved with a haze that makes it stand at the forefront of chillwave. What stands out about the Yours Tru.ly edit of You Hid is that Chazwick Bundick not only stripped the track back to its basic roots but he gave the song a new feel, one that is noticeably delicate and gripping. Toro Y Moi is to release his new album Underneath the Pine on the 22nd February on Carpark.
Kanye West – Monster
Kanye West spent most of 2010 bringing himself back to the public conscience through his newly found interest in social media and his Good Friday series, dropping few free tracks over several weeks building up to the release of his fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On the 27th August Kanye West dropped Monster as part of this series, the track features Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Justin Vernon and Nicki Minaj. Monster offers one of Kanye’s strongest beats for sometime and as the track builds momentum introducing it’s A list collaborators Nicki Minaj steps up with a powerful verse that makes you feel she might be unstoppable in 2011. As she raps ‘You could be the king but watch the queen conquer!’. Ultimately Nicki Minaj steals the show and although Monster might not be the best track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Minaj’s performance stands out with enough significance to be amongst the best of 2010.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round
Having been around for the past decade Ariel Pink had remained unknown to the larger world until the latter parts of 2009 when key members of the West Coast and lo-fi scene began mentioning Ariel as a key influence. Having been a bedroom producer for all his past works 2010 saw the release of Ariel Pink’s debut studio album Before Tomorrow on 4AD. From an artist that is know for lo-fi produced records Round and Round is incredibly well crafted, unlike many of its contemporaries who aim to be entering a chorus early on in a song Round and Round has a patience that allows its verses to breath with breakdowns between, chord changes and melodies to fuse without a forced haste, and when the song’s chorus begins its strength can be appreciated and enjoyed. Round and Round was released as a limited run 7″ in April ahead of the release of Before Tomorrow.
Girl Unit – Wut
Girl Unit push the envelope on Wut, expanding their dimensions into all corners, throwing twisted synth hooks over beats that would feel more at home in a contemporary crunk track. Borrowing sounds from all over the world of bass music and taking a skewed slant on elements of American Hip-Hop/Juke/Crunk, Wut became a staple of all forward thinking dance nights over 2010. Perhaps because it is both a banger and patently ridiculous, with that vocal sample providing a ludicrous slant on the traditional sample format, or those fast 16th hi-hats enducing the kind of leg work normally associated with Chicago dance scenes. Either way it sits nicely in the catalogue of dance music as a progressive force. The anticipation of this track dropping in early October nearly caused ruptures on the DJ circuit, with DJs ripping off the track from Youtube or other samples, so it’s no surprise that it makes the end of year list as a well-received contender, opening up the world of dance music in new directions, ready for another surprising year, no doubt, in 2011.
James Blake – I Never Learnt to Share
James Blake emerged this year as one of the producers to watch after the release of his CMYK EP. However, it wasn’t until later on in 2010 when a cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love began to spread across the internet that Blake’s abilities became more apparent. Not only for his developed play on space and use of silence, but for his gospel inspired vocals, offering a whole new side to his approach that we’d previously not heard. Although Limit To Your Love captured the attention of many it’s Blake’s I Never Learnt To Share that embodies all-sides of his talents. It’s simplicity based on two vocal lines that are laid bare and repeated throughout supported by a blend of minimal organ and a shallow beat until the final crescendo crashes and thicker textures fill the space previously left empty. James Blake’s debut LP is expected early 2011.
Zinja Hlungwani – N’wagezani My Love
Bursting onto the international scene around the end of the summer, this South African dance record has held the world at ransom, forcing it to shake it’s ass to pulsating rhythms of the beat. Released to the Western world on Honest Jons, Shangaan (as the music is collectively known) comprises incredibly high tempo beats with numerous other rhythms collecting over it – a sort of response to traditional South African rhythms with many different percusives patterns playing at once – whilst call and response vocals are used with terrific emphasis on harmony to create a wondrous momentous beast, all speeding along at 180bpm. What N’wagezani My Love manages to do perfectly is to meld all these elements together with ridiculous ease, allowing the melody to sit at the front of the track as a central hook in which the listener can be softly massaged and moulded allowing a softness to be heard within the frightening tempo that Hlungwani produces. Export a lot more from the world of Shangaan in 2011.
Salem – King Night
In 2008 Salem released their EP Yes, I Smoke Crack that in a sense created a genre for themselves, witch house. Having then merged back into the smokey haze they came from Salem stayed under the radar until 2010 when they made their comeback with their debut LP King Night. The title track from the album King Night is powerful, haunting and mind blowing, combining a chorus of choirs with haunting synths filling every atmospheric space possible. It offers something that no other artist manages to capture quiet so succinctly yet conversely, opaquely, and reinstates their reign as the kings and queens of witch house.