Spooky Black – Without You [Feb 2014]
Cultural appropriation’s Spooky Black achieved a feat like no other in 2014. Somehow – be it the stark incongruence between image and music, be it the haunting aesthetic that him and his production team managed to consistently make their own over the year, or be it having the voice of a fucking angel – he managed to make alt/post/future R&B somehow still sound fresh and relevant.
‘Without You’ was his masterpiece. The video catches Spooky in a series of colour co-ordinated long sleeves and do-rags, pouring his entire depth of emotion out to an unknown subject, yet looking as invested in his spiel as the protagonist of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. With couplets such as “Ima end my life without you; baby lets just see what this couch do” he zig-zags between romantic and predatory so overtly and delivers his lines with such sincerity that you get the feeling even he isn’t sure what he’s aiming for. Whether he is just Robin Thicke remodelled for the post-ironic age, whether he has the potential for longevity, or whether he might just surprise us all and grow into a star remains to be seen, but for one point in early 2014, ‘Without You’ simultaneously sounded both astoundingly fresh and in line with the cultural zeitgeist in a way that nothing else did this year.
Traumprinz – All The Things [Aug 2014]
Traumprinz, Traumprinz, Traumprinz. I have already wrote at length about his fantastic RA mix, so I cannot for a second claim to be anything but an absolute stan for his work. However, his inclusion in this list is inarguably on merit, rather than bloody-minded fanboyism.
‘All The Things’ is the nine-minute plus pensive house epic of a title track on his August 12-inch for Giegling. Built around a mandatorily crunchy kick drum, an ear-worm of a bassline and a backslapping hi-hat, a haunted vocal loop floats around the mix with the urgent message ‘don’t cry, even when the road is hard’ before Traumprinz filters it into obscurity and lets the purposeful synth line that appears in the latter half of the song ride out. The combination of these elements makes for the sort of melancholy house jam – along the lines of Soul Capsule’s ‘Lady Science (NYC Sunrise Mix)’ – that, if played in the right after hours setting, will have complete strangers tearfully collapsing into one another’s arms. And that, in my opinion, is all anyone can really ask for from high quality house music.
Arma – Mariah [Oct 2014]
After the first two songs I have picked, this list is starting to take the shape of a bit of a cry for help, so it may now be best to establish that there was also some very fun music released over the course of the year. I already wrote on Arma’s ‘Mariah’ earlier this year; Arma follows the choppy R&G edits tradition of Finn’s ‘Keep Calling’ or DJ Milktray’s ‘Hotel’, and reworks Mariah Carey’s ‘It’s Like That’ into a 140 dance floor bomb.
I mentioned in the original piece about the early backing this received from DJs across the board, which brings me onto a salient point about grime’s resurgence that I believe has been overlooked, even in all the spilled ink about the genre this year. Grime at the minute is the biggest meritocracy in the UK music scene. Where a Resident Advisor co-sign or a L.I.E.S affiliation may have people scrambling on Discogs for a limited 12-inch release of a dusty house tune with all the personality of a Adrian Chiles on a comedown, if you make a good enough 140 tune and send it out, it will get played and you will get noticed. Of course, this also means the track has to be absolute fire, and Arma managed just that.
Floorplan – Never Grow Old (Re-Plant) [June 2014]
Putting this one in feels like such a cop-out. It’s a re-edit of one of last year’s biggest tunes, written by the same artist as the original. But, this list has to at least contain one tune which guaranteed all shit breaking loose whenever a DJ had the cheek to unleash it on a crowd; Roman Flügel’s wonderful remix of Daniel Avery’s ‘All I Need’ ran it close in this department, but this club weapon just couldn’t be overlooked.
So why is it in here? Well, it absolutely bangs; the song is built around a 89th minute, 35-yard top-corner screamer of a kick drum that is guaranteed to spill a minimum of five drinks in any club with a soundsystem worth its salt. Plus, it’s got the same Aretha sample as the original, except this time it has been reworked to carry a further sense of urgency and vitality. Whereas Traumprinz’s gospel vocal cuts are used to create a sense of whispered melancholia, Floorplan’s are used to whip the entire piece into a manic frenzy. If anyone has seen a DJ play this out this year, they have just wasted their time reading this; this is widescreen dancefloor focussed techno, and its existence in that environment says more than the words on this page ever could.
Actress – Rap [Jan 2014]
A note to artists aspiring toward critical acclaim: if you want to be included in this end of year stuff, releasing your album in January is not the way to go about it. With the nature of music consumption these days, it’s hard for anyone to remember what their favourite track was last week without YouTube bookmarks, never mind back in those hazy cold months of January. It’s a good thing then, that while Werk Discs’ artist Actress has been described as a lot of things, aspiring toward critical acclaim is not one of them. Despite his 4th LP – ‘Ghettoville’ – getting a reasonable amount of good press on the time of its January release, by the time all the big music publications have got round to their end of year lists it had been criminally forgotten.
And this really is a shame, as I believe ‘Rap’ is possibly Actress’s finest moment to date. It is, naturally, a lethargically sluggish piece of music, all bleached keys and over-liberally filtered vocals. But there is also some semblance of genuine warmth in the ‘wrap yourself around me’ refrain. This is soul music for tortured souls, a cry for help desperately trying to be heard amongst the stoned apathy. This is lo-fi music at its apex, and stuff this vital should not be ignored.