While making this list, I couldn’t help but dwell on how inevitably arbitrary the order of year-end lists are. There are a number of problems facing a music site who wishes to post year-end lists, and the roundup of best songs poses more problems than any other. While albums and labels can be compared by their overall coherence and power, short tracks are often incomparable – you might know your favourite twenty songs of the year, but how do you choose between them? Then there are external pressures: not wanting to list the same tunes as other sites, while not wanting to rock the boat so much that your critical opinion is devalued. More to the point – the songs themselves, even in a niche such as dance music, are so different that it seems an utterly pointless task to put them in any sort of order. Exactly how does one decide if x disco track is better than y techno track, when there are so few (if any) points of comparison: the tracks are not trying to do the same thing, so how can they be compared?
With what criteria do we even judge the quality of a track? There are certain songs I love but aren’t in any way mould-breaking, while others I’m not that fond of but greatly respect as innovative pieces of music. In the world of quasi-objective music criticism a problem becomes clear when there’s conflict between the music you like and the music you respect. Ultimately, White Noise has never been a review site which has claimed a strong degree of objectivity, and so when it came down to those final choices, I just listened to both tracks and picked which one I liked more – no rationalisation, no heed paid to the prevailing schools of taste or ‘cool’, just the tracks that made me feel warm inside and set my mind/ pulse racing.
The fact is, the world of journalism, particularly online, relies entirely on readers. And for whatever reason (as the existence of buzzfeed will testify), people prefer reading ranked lists to general selections. Is your eye more drawn to a countdown of the year’s best, 10-1, or to an unordered list of 10 highlights? Most would say the former, and so, while picking the best between Pev, Tessela and Levon Vincent may torture me like some sort of clubland Sophie’s choice, I’m gonna give it my best shot.
The point to be made here, before we embark upon this list, is that all of these tracks are really, really great. The top 25 or so are even mindblowing. They probably don’t represent even a fraction of the great music that came out this year, but they’re certainly all more than worthy of your time. So with the waffle out of the way, let’s get to the tunes.
77: DJ Fett Burger & DJ Speckgurtel – Speckbass
70: Benjamin Damage – 010x
Since his conversion to the church of 4/4, Trevino’s take-no-prisoners techno has proved a steady source of club-tooled grooves. On Twelve from his latest EP for 3024, he let loose one of his darkest yet, with momentum to spare and a dangerous piano breakdown.
49: D’Marc Cantu – Size & Shape
This weird and wonderful highlight from Cantu’s Alternate Frequency EP was an oddball joy, with an unexpectedly catchy vocal joining jittery drum machines for a unique ride. The track really takes off in the second half as a more melancholic chord sequence joins the fray, sure to spice up any set.
No one does baked quite like L.I.E.S.’ wonderful Terekke. The atmosphere is deep and soupy, the light rustle of percussion and distant synth burbles accompanying a dubbed, ghostly vocal. One for the after-hours.
47: Stingray313 – NKKtwo_2
Detroit’s superb electro-vet DJ Stingray came out on top with this top scifi trip, where slow synth washes counterpoint razor-quick percussion and skittering melodies.
The two house tracks on Martyn’s Newspeak EP were wonderful, but in a year where good ‘bass music’ was in cruelly short supply, Oceania was one of the few miracles. The glittering melodies evoke space-age cities and sunlit superhighways, while the growling bassline and ricocheting percussion will keep feet skipping across the ‘floor.
Fuewa’s lovely debut EP was an masterful exercise in atmosphere, and nowhere was this clearer than on opener Blhok, where a blissful synth is built over ramshackle percussion and subtle windchimes.
44: Funkinevil – Ignorant (Igno)
Kyle Hall and Funkineven made one of the year’s most striking club tracks in the form of slow-jam Igno, a low-slung roller whose appeal lay in its skeletal structure and gallons of funk.
43: Borrowed Identity – Leave Your Life
The first release on DVS1’s new Mistress imprint was a great success, and the pick of the bunch was this eyes-down roller of the highest calibre. Leave Your Life is a consuming track, taking you deep inside to commune with its heavweight groove.
Until the last minute, Thankyou
was going to be the track that represented DjRum’s wonderful Seven Lies album on this list. But it was Honey
’s sense of menace which won us over, its vocals beautifully processed, its beats lurching and destructive. DjRum’s attention to structure is also evident in spades, as a dreamy outro makes this more song than track.
41: Stephen Encinas – Disco Illusion
Though it was recorded in 1979, we couldn’t keep this recent reissue of our list. Sultry vocals and cosmic melodies take this disco trip to the next level, the lyrics lifting you into the sky while the unadulterated funk keeps feet rooted to the dancefloor.
40: Raw M.T. – Walkman Is Dead
This track is analog techno at its finest: deep and inviting, made up of few perfectly-tuned elements, cresting at a series of highlights: the final emergence of that threatening acid line, or the penetrating interruption of those metallic snaps. Top notch 5am material.
39: Murat Tepeli – Workinstrugglin
Tepeli’s homage to man’s struggle is an absolute epic, evolving over eleven minutes with precision and feeling, subtle melodies and a simple bassline making for a stark, involving experience. You can be sure this one will still sound great ten years from now.
The track whose creation solved Axel Willner’s creative block is a deeply emotive affair, as that plaintive one-word vocal stretches off into an immense, swampy darkness, its humanity stolen as the track reaches its haunting climax.
37: Dark Sky – In Brackets
This softened offering from the reliable Dark Sky was unfairly slept on this year, but it has all the makings of a winner: pretty synth notes play across a stripped, organic beat pattern, while the payoff when the beat clicks back into place after the long, emotional breakdown was one of our favourite musical moments this year.
This disco number from Soundstream has all the ingredients of an average disco/house edit: cooing vocals, funky riffs and snapping drums. But there’s something else: a special quality to this edit, whether it’s the energy of those live-sound drums or the smart instrumental editing, which raises SSOL’s cut high above your average filter-disco.
35: L-Vis 1990 – Ballad 4D
Night Slugs label-head L-Vis can be a frustratingly inconsistent producer, but his Ballads EP turned out to be NS’ unexpected highlight of 2013. Ballad 4D was a particular triumph: as submarine bass swipes resonate beneath a stark field of clicks and kicks, it’s an alarming, vital affair.
34: White Material – Put On
Galcher Lustwerk’s Tape 22 EP certainly received a lot of attention this year, but it was his contribution to WM’s collaborative EP that really had us amazed. This wonderfully simple slice of house creates an enveloping atmosphere with just a few elements, Lustwerk’s recognisable vocals adding a sultry atmosphere to the track’s languid bump.
33: Anthony Naples – Faceless
Really, any of the tracks from Naples’ ace Ill Still EP could have placed highly on this list. But for us it was Faceless’ curious nostalgia that won us over: sweet yet melancholy, it constructs a strong groove that only strengthens over whirring synths and metronome woodblocks.
32: Dopplereffekt – Gene Silencing
Gerald Donald’s triumphant return to the scene was crystallised on Gene Silencing, a seething slice of electro dripping with menace and scifi trappings, its tunnelling bass hits and glistening arpeggios whisking us away to distant worlds.
31: Red 7 – I Lost My Shoes On Acid
One of the year’s most exciting white labels was an odd combination indeed: classic vocals set over a taut acid workout: even a painfully old-fashioned hip hop verse couldn’t damage its blissful appeal.
30: Mix Mup – After The Job
Mix Mup couldn’t have chosen a better vocal to kick off his brilliant EP on Hinge Finger. Tina Turner’s promise of a ‘nice and rough’ sound is exactly what we’re given, a lumbering bassline and click-clack percussion creating an unsettling yet seductive world. The late entry of a searing synth line is Mix Mup’s victory lap, perfecting the track’s threatening groove.
There’s something indescribable about You’s impact. The vocal is loving yet plaintive, the melody hesitant yet catchy, the stripped drum workout groovy yet not explicitly for the dancefloor. It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes this track stand out, but maybe that curious appeal is its real strength. Either way, it’s been heavily played at WNHQ for almost a year now, and that counts for a whole lot.
28: Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal
The lead single from Hopkins’ phenomenal Immunity LP was widescreen techno at its most vital. Every sonic element feels alive: breathing, growing, contorting, emphasising Hopkins’ unique ability to make music that sounds huge without sacrificing subtlety or detail.
27: First Choice– Love Thang (Genius Of Time Rework)
It’s always dangerous to remix a classic, but Aniara staple Genius Of Time struck gold with this fantastic remix of First Choice. Chilled disco roller gives way to stomping house seduction, before a showstopping bassline brings the funk in inimitable style. If you ever wanted a whole party in a song this is it: and it’s exactly the sort of party we’d want to get invited to.
26: Cliff Lothar – Dro Friday
The Hague’s longstanding electro/italo outpost Viewlexx showed they can still pick out new talent like the best of them on this superb EP from the shadowy Cliff Lothar (who’s next up on Skudge White). Dro Friday was our pick of the lot: a creeping house roller whose melodic and atmospheric intricacy would amaze even if it weren’t for the fantastic vocals that lend this club-track a song-like structure and appeal.