What's particularly refreshing about compiling our top tracks at the end of each year is that it offers the wide view. I mean, just take a look at this list: If you hadn't read a website or opened a magazine in the last twelve months, it would be almost impossible to label 2009 as the year of anything.
Those of us who did have our heads in the media, and of course the clubs, couldn't have failed to note the impact of deep house, with DJs and producers moving en masse towards warmed-up chords, soulful vocal refrains and percussive work-outs. It may have been ubiquitous this year, but with producers such as STL, Motor City Drum Ensemble and House Of House keeping the quality levels bubbling over, we're hardly complaining. Techno—and by association vinyl—mounted a resistance this year thanks to its shadowy white label practitioners sneaking on to the scene cloaked in anonymity. Frozen Border, Oni Ayhun, Traversable Wormhole: You weren't anyone, unless you were no one.
Dubstep, in all of its multifarious glory, continued to develop at a dizzying rate thanks to the sheer restlessness of its key protagonists, while young upstarts such as Joy Orbison, Mount Kimbie and Joker seemed perfectly content to play exactly by their own rules. And it seems disco dug its platformed heals in after last year's fetishism for all things shiny; from revivalist edits, to contemporary cuts and a newfound appreciation of the originals themselves, it seems all was good under the mirror ball this past twelve months.
So what musical movement is in store for the next twelve months? Well, your guess is good as ours. What we can say with certainty, though, is that aside from electronic music's penchant for hyperbole and lust for the latest sonic trends, good music is good music. And hopefully this list proves just that.
50. Rick Wade - First Darkness [Laid]
Dor Levi's Laid imprint was one of the many labels that had sterling debut years in 2009, further reminding us that Rick Wade is one of Detroit's most versatile producers. While the label has often traded in serene deep house, "First Darkness" was a relentlessly upbeat disco house burner complete with sonar pings, disco stabs and a monologue that only added to the enchanting atmosphere set out by the music.
49. Mark Pritchard - ? [Ho Hum]
Just as you're about to check that turntable or mp3 player, the second chord of "?" comes in. Nope, nothing wrong here. It's just atmosphere, man. And it's atmosphere that began (or ended) a host of mixes in 2009, providing that essential bit of anticipation (or resolution) via its lonely keys, its fathomless deep bass, that guitar that seemed stuck alone in the desert somewhere very, very far away.
48. Sebo K - Saxtrack (Reboot's Twisted Fist Remix) [Cécille Records]
Reboot's extra oomph behind the kick transformed Sebo K & Metro's "Saxtrack" house jaunt into an urgent beast of a tune. But it was the unfurling that made it special, with Reboot locking you in and unleashing the titular sax piecemeal, teasing, teasing and teasing some more before you get the phrase in full—and you find yourself feeling somehow euphoric and relieved at the same time.
47. bvdub - To Live [Smallfish Records]
bvdub's magnificent 2009 was all about intimacy, and there were few more intimate projects than this tiny 3" CD that spanned 20 minutes and three movements of delicate music. He described it
as "my attempt at summing up the entirety of a life, and what it means to live." We regard it as one of the most stunning compositions he produced in a year full of beautiful and moving music.
46. DJ Hell feat. P. Diddy - The DJ (Radio Slave remix) [Gigolo]
We never thought we'd say P. Diddy took the words right out of our mouths, but his call to DJs to play the extended versions on "The DJ" rang true. Lucky for Diddy, Rekids boss Radio Slave was more than up to the challenge, providing an epic 28-minute transformation that somehow hardly sounded like it until the wholly deserved self-indulgent climactic six-minute piano solo.
45. Pan-Pot - Confronted [Mobilee]
Minimal techno is often at its finest when there's a hint of menace, and there were was nothing more unsettling in 2009 than hearing a vocoderized woman talking about a girl who walks with bunnies hopping at her side. There were no hints of menace here, though. "Confronted" was full-on frightening, with a synth line that pushed and pulled until Pan-Pot thankfully brought cleansing white noise to wash it all away.
44. Instra:mental - Watching You [Nonplus Records]
Talking about BPM these days with Instra:mental is a losing battle. Al Bleek and Kid Drama are, of course, nominally drum & bass, but tracks like "Watching You" did nothing to conform to the genre. This tune in particular was the duo's high point in a stunning year, glazing its R&B strut with an avant-pop sheen and cutting it with glass shards of Chicago house. Nothing else sounded like it all year.
43. DJ Kaos - Love the Night Away (Tiedye Remix) [DFA / Rong Music]
The indie kids were obsessed with sunshine this year, and while we still aren't exactly sure what glo-fi means, one got the sense that Tiedye's remix of DJ Kaos' "Love the Night Away" had something to do with it, riding pleasantly tropical drumming, a goofily exuberant vocal and Balearic guitar lines. If anything better soundtracked a day at the beach this year, we certainly didn't hear it.
42. 6th Borough Project - Do It to the Max [Instruments Of Rapture]
Big ass basslines. The Revenge, Mark E and plenty of their slo-mo peers specialize in them, and "Do It to the Max" was this year's fat-bottomed girl of choice, a masterpiece of funky house music that didn't quite reach the 100 BPM mark. It didn't need to, though, because as the vocal sample constantly reminded us, as long as we do it to the max tonight, everything is going to be all right.
41. Wax - 20002 A [Wax]
Despite not releasing a thing under his own name in 2009, Shed once again had an enormous impact on the techno scene, unleashing 12-inches under both the EQD and Wax monikers that showcased his enormous range. The untitled A-side of 20002 was dubstep-inclined, but its quickly repeated melodic phrase was a remarkable bit of techno flash, further bridging the divide between the two genres.
40. Guido - Beautiful Complication [Punch Drunk]
It seemed at first like Joker might be the pop hope of the trio of Bristol dubstep producers profiled by RA
earlier this year, but with "Beautiful Complication," Guido proved himself to be even more adept at the form. "Beautiful Complication" fused video game sonics and R&B beats in typically futuristic fashion, but had Aarya on vocals, offering up the most retro of things: a love song.
39. Function - Variance (Regis Edit) [Sandwell District]
Sandwell District's austere techno began to crossbreed more and more with the Berghain family in 2009, but it was the in-house edit provided by Regis of "Variance IV" that was the highlight of the label's catalogue. Karl O'Connor built things so slowly over the course of the track's length that you hardly noticed. And that was the point, making this a master class of patient and careful arrangement.
38. Culoe De Song - The Bright Forest [Innervisions]
Culoe de Song's amazing success story
is well-known by now. What makes "The Bright Forest" such a special track, though, is how it veers slightly away from the tried-and-true afro house template. De Song's naïve plonking melody sounds exactly like him: Young and wise, tentative and exuberant, a study in contrasts that somehow makes sense when you hear it amid epic, rising deep house.
37. WhoMadeWho - Keep Me In My Plane (DJ Koze Hudson River Dub) [Gomma]
DJ Koze has elevated the art of remixing over the past decade, and his rework of "Keep Me in My Plane" was his finest of 2009, an elegiac take on the WhoMadeWho original that gained extra resonance in the wake of Sully Sullenberger's Hudson River landing in January of this year. Whereas others often can't wait to adapt tracks for "genre x," Koze's light touch was a beautiful lesson in restraint.
36. Kassem Mosse - Untitled B1 [Workshop]
Kassem Mosse's B-side opener to his sole 12-inch of 2009 hit below the triple digits mark BPM-wise, but the lumbering track didn't suffer a bit for it. The quivering synths that played out over the beat were fascinating enough to hold your attention for its near six-minute run time. Similar to STL, it's one that works only if you accepts its implicit invitation to fall into the sound. We highly recommend doing so.
35. Major Lazer - Pon De Floor [Downtown]
Such an innocuous intro for such a ridiculous hook. But that only makes the surprise of the digitized voice being yanked around like a rag doll all the more sweet when everything drops away. Like any great hit of its kind, there's not much more to "Pon De Floor" than an irrepressible phrase, but it's one that Diplo and Switch are pretty sure you're likely never to forget—and that's exactly the point.
34. Still Going - Spaghetti Circus [DFA Records]
"Spaghetti Circus" felt a little bit like all good dance songs do, as though you were going on a journey—with Still Going and Reggie Watts in this case—and that anything might be possible along the way. The production duo had a lot to live up to following up the ubiquitous "Still Going Theme," but the trip they took us on—to what felt like a spaghetti Western disco—was well worth the wait.
33. Levon Vincent - Six Figures [Novel Sound]
What the hell is in the water in Indiana? Levon Vincent moved there from New York to focus on his music, and came back to the tri-state area later in 2009 with a spate of remarkable releases, a sterling RA podcast and bookings all over Europe. "Six Figures" was among his finest, with its snake charmer riff and raw, almost barren house backing, and solidified him as a force to be reckoned with.
32. Motor City Drum Ensemble - Raw Cuts #5 [MCDE]
You seemingly couldn't go out in Berlin in the latter half of 2009 without hearing either "Raw Cuts #5" or "Raw Cuts #6." And that's perhaps the greatest compliment that Motor City Drum Ensemble could receive, as his soulful tunes crossed genres effortlessly, everyone understanding their obvious quality. Of the two, "#5" was the party bomb, all stuttering organ and wiry guitar, a perfect record for the peak of the night.
31. LCD Soundsystem - 45:33 (Theo Parrish's Space Cadet Remix) [DFA]
Laaaaaaaaaaaaaa duh duh daaa duh duh daaa duh duh dAAAA. That's an inaccurate transcription of Nancy Wang on "45:33," and it's a basic transcription of what you sounded like singing it, because Theo Parrish's remix of the tune, no matter how deliciously wonky its bassline was, always came back to the way that he positioned Wang's voice, as though it were standing alone, ready to be accompanied at all times.
30. Oni Ayhun - OAR 003 B1 [Oni Ayhun Records]
Sounding like a lost IDM classic from the '90s (or The Knife sans menace and Karin Dreijer Andersson), the B-side to Oni Ayhun's third EP was unlike anything the producer had put together—a childlike evocation of timeless melancholy repeated over and over again. Amid the dark slow-burning tracks Ayhun has put out, it stands as a reminder that letting a little light in doesn't have to extinguish darkness altogether.
29. Seth Troxler - Aphrika [Wolf + Lamb]
It perhaps says something about the level to which Seth Troxler has continuously confounded listeners over the past few years that Loco Dice would think
that it's Troxler himself reciting a poem celebrating his womanhood on "Aphrika." But Troxler's secret is that he never gets in the way of the weirdness, propping up a beat here that does nothing but get out of the way of the poem and those liquid synths.
28. Mount Kimbie - Maybes [Hotflush Recordings]
Hot Flush's unquenchable thirst to branch outside its genre environs was rivaled only by Hyperdub in 2009, and Mount Kimbie's "Maybes" was its weirdest moment of all, fitting together a guitar line primed for depressives, a percussion track guaranteed to frustrate ADD sufferers and, of course, that one voice that reached out of the thicket of chipmunks to say "Maaaaaybes!"
27. Azari & III - Hungry for the Power [I'm A Cliché]
According to the video
for Azari & III's "Hungry for the Power," the lust for a spot at the top might just lead to cannibalism. We have no idea how they got there, but isn't the ride lovely? Wiggling, queasy synths; a honey-throated lead backed up by Cookie Monster; the unexamined melancholy of the bridge—the group's debut single was like listening to Chromeo without the incessant winking.
26. Stefan Goldmann - Art of Sorrow [Victoriaville]
Stefan Goldmann continued his run of excellent—the underrated The Empty Foxhole mix—and divisive—a remix of Santiago Salazar's "Arcade" hell-bent on resuscitating the pan flute—work in 2009, but seemingly everyone could agree on the wobbly funk of "Art of Sorrow." It was the apex of his work with classical instruments, fused here with an overwhelming bassline that nearly swallowed everything in its path.
25. The Mole - For the Lost [Internasjonal]
Near the end of a party at this year's WMC
, James Priestley was playing to a dwindling audience of diehards, and put on a record that started ever so slowly. As time went on, the crowd moved closer and closer to the decks, finally eliciting at least four people to move their heads in circles at 33 1/3 RPM, following the record around in an attempt to read its label. Hey guys? It's this one.
24. Walter Jones - Living Without Your Love [DFA Records]
The B-side to Walter Jones debut DFA single, "Living Without Your Love" was a sort of faded disco pop, pumping along at a head-nodder's pace providing minor thrills, but engendering a strange sense of longing as each refrain—the title repeated ad infinitum—came around again. Some songs are almost impossible to explain, and this was yet another bewitching example.
23. Ben Klock - Subzero [Ostgut Ton]
So much of what producers that also double as Berghain residents do is perfectly primed for its dark and heady dance floor. There was perhaps no greater example of this in 2009 than Ben Klock's "Subzero," whose hook wasn't in the melody that went over top, but in the slightly changing percussion underneath, something that drove both the shirtless leather daddies and bespectacled music nerds wild in equal measure.
22. Animal Collective - My Girls [Domino]
Chanting vocals about growing old and feeling weird about wanting material things. A beat that comes in way too late, and isn't primed for a dance floor at all. A swirling mass of sounds, seemingly ordered without rhyme or reason. Animal Collective's mind-bending "My Girls" seemingly has nothing to do with electronic music, yet so many DJs love them
. We're guessing that this not a coincidence.
21. Lee Curtiss - Smoking Mirrors [Spectral Sound]
Unlike his flashier brethren
, Lee Curtiss' greatest 2009 moment was one of restraint—an old-school belief in the power of tension and release. While spasm-prone synths were the order of the day elsewhere, "Smoking Mirrors" somehow did what it said on the tin via its superior arrangement of exquisitely constructed pieces—elements that would likely fall apart without the others around them.
20. House of House - Rushing to Paradise [Whatever We Want]
If you wanted to take it deep in 2009, "Rushing to Paradise (Walkin These Streets)" was an easy choice, a deep house epic that earned the name via its foregrounded piano, impassioned vocal performance and intense length. A collaboration between New Yorkers Saheer Umar and Liv Spencer, it seemed a uniquely American take on the genre, a reminder that things always come a bit bigger in the United States.
19. Floating Points - Love Me Like This (Nonsense Dub) [R2 Records]
"Sometimes all you need is an old tune no one remembers, a pair of analog filters and a dream," wrote William Rauscher, describing Floating Points' remake of Real 2 Reel's "Love Me Like This." But the tune earned inclusion here through a selection of tweaks, tucks and flips that reminded listeners of the difference between truly editing and simply throwing a dance beat underneath a hit and calling it a day.
18. Kiki - Good Voodoo (Visionquest Remix) [BPitch Control]
It's unclear who does what in the studio when Seth Troxler, Ryan Crosson and Lee Curtiss get together, but Visionquest seems like the right term for it, evoking the sort of video game adventure that the entrancing pads of their "Good Voodoo" remix utilized so well. That it then turned into a sweaty dance floor monster once its organ riff emerged from the murk? Well, we were definitely OK with that too.
17. DJ Sprinkles - Grand Central, Part 1 (MCDE Bassline Dub) [Mule Musiq]
For those complaining about the relative danceability of the originals on DJ Sprinkles' Midtown 120 Blues, we present you with this: Motor City Drum Ensemble's unimpeachable rework of "Grand Central, Part 1," a retake whose title said it all, its bassline a ridiculous example of how deep deep house could get in 2009. If you needed proof that Danilo Plessow was more than just "Raw Cuts," this was Exhibit A.
16. Moodymann - Freeki Mutha [KDJ]
Only Moodymann could make "You usually take the bus nowhere, today you took the train," sound dirty as hell. It helped that a girl sighed the word train as though she were unzipping the Detroit's producer pants at the time, but Moodymann's "Freeki Mutha F cker" was just that kind of song, a tune that spanned genres, sounding equally at home in a minimal techno set
as it did in DJ Koze's capable hands
15. DJ Koze - Mrs Bojangels [Circus Company]
"Mrs Bojangels" was yet another in a long line of DJ Koze eye-wideners, the type of track that lock you into their groove only to let loose with the sort of hook that makes you wonder if everyone else is hearing the same thing that you are. We did. Those strings did creep further and further up your spine. That voice did s-s-s-stutter as though stuck in liquid. And that organ very much stretched into infinity.
14. Precious System - The Voice from Planet Love [Running Back]
Humans naturally can't trust aliens. But after only a few assurances that they were our friends by Precious System, we were ready to believe in a planet called Love. We're pretty sure, though, that if aliens decide to wrap up their invasion in a disco song with a hook this special that we'll welcome them with open arms—even if they have War of the Worlds-style destruction on their minds.
13. Joker - Digidesign [Hyperdub]
We all became minor synesthetes
when listening to Joker in 2009, his music so obviously evoking the color purple that it was almost impossible to argue otherwise. Aside from conjuring such responses, though, it's Joker's uncanny ear for a hook that marks him out from his contemporaries: "Digidesign" didn't need a singer to fill in the open spaces, each listener could easily do it on their own.
12. Tensnake - In the End (I Want You to Cry) [Running Back]
Tensnake's remarkable 12-inch for Running Back featured two disco bombs, the first of which was a spiteful tune whose power resided in its deep house beat. Moving quickly and confidently, "In the End (I Want You to Cry)" was all false bravado—a tender love song at heart—that revealed its true colors once the lights were turned off, and we got to the second half and its effervescent hook.
11. Burial & Four Tet - Moth [Text Records]
One of the most anticipated musical pairings of the year yielded exactly what we thought it might on this limited edition 12-inch. It was like an equation of sorts: Four Tet's tinkling electronics + swathes of Burial's unique ambience + Four Tet's straight-ahead percussion pattern + a click here and there in the beat thrown in by Burial = "Moth," and a sum much more than what those simple descriptions might imply.
10. Motor City Drum Ensemble - Raw Cuts #6 [MCDE]
If "Raw Cuts #5" was for peak-time, "Raw Cuts #6" was the ideal way to get there. Danilo Plessow's chillingly beautiful B-side was the song to "#5"'s track, a tune that deserved a full airing to get a handle on its superbly controlled arrangement. Plessow is still young, but it's obvious from his 2009 that he has an innate talent for the simple things and will likely continue his run for a long, long time.
09. Tensnake - Holding Back (My Love) [Running Back]
It was clear that Tensnake wasn't much good at "Holding Back (My Love)" from the off. The beat was too slow, the synth a bit too ready for you to embrace it and that was before we got to the sadsack vocal. But that was exactly why listeners loved it so much. It was a slow jam, plain and simple—a tune for when all you have left on the dance floor are couples lost in one another.
08. Levon Vincent - Late Night Jam [Ostgut Ton]
There's a YouTube clip where you can see a picture of the Berghain, while Levon Vincent's "Late Night Jam" plays. Nothing really happens
. But you half expect it to explode, Independence Day
-style when at around three minutes in, Vincent unleashes a furious synth riff. And then nothing happens again when he adds in that relentless repeating dub hit underneath. Hmm...maybe it is
one of the most special clubs in the world.
07. Bruno Pronsato - The Make Up, The Break Up [thesongsays]
If you haven't noticed, RA tends to love a bit of artistic excess. Which means we were pre-disposed to love Bruno Pronsato's nearly 40-minute masterpiece of minimal techno. But while it was obviously inspired by Ricardo Villalobos' mile-long tunes, Pronsato offered Nico, hand drums and elastic melodies in a soup of constantly shifting focal points, in a production that stands alongside the Chilean hero's best work.
06. Darkstar - Aidy's Girl Is a Computer [Hyperdub]
Sounding a little bit like The Notwist ca. Neon Golden, Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl Is a Computer" was an unlikely fit on Hyperdub, but the indie pop of the group stood on its own two feet, what with its lovely video game hook that inevitably became embedded in your subconscious the more you listened. Two very important questions, though: Is our Princess in another castle and, if so, how can we get there sooner?
05. STL - Silent State [Smallville Records]
STL's "Silent State" wasn't that much different from the tracks that he has been producing en masse on his own Something label over the past few years. But his brand of house music is all about the beauty of small differences. It was a subtle hook that drove the nearly 12-minute track, one which played out slowly and patiently, and one that eventually became absolutely intoxicating.
04. Jamie Jones feat. Ost & Kjex – Summertime [Crosstown Rebels]
Among the biggest hits of WMC, the lyrics to Jamie Jones' "Summertime" didn't matter except for one simple word. Delivered in the type of lovely falsetto that only Ost & Kjex could provide, everything—the metallic synths, the creeping strings, the addictive tech house beat—cleared out for the first airing of "summertime." Every festival needs an anthem, and this is one of the best we've had in a while.
03. Tony Lionni - Found a Place [Ostgut Ton]
Tony Lionni's undeniable piano house anthem, "Found a Place" was a right-track-right-time situation—a credible loop-driven jam in a scene where loop-driven house was the sound of the season. "Found a Place" ended up resembling The Field more than anything else, though—especially in its ecstatic move to the second half of the track in which the chord progressed and gave new life to an already vibrant tune.
02. Pépé Bradock - Path Of Most Resistance [Atavisme]
Pépé Bradock's buy-on-sight run continued in 2009 with his most satisfying track in ages. "Path of Most Resistance" was, of course, experimental enough to draw the heads, but also got the crowds moving too. (More so than the sound of "camping zombies being bitten by fire ants
" at least.) Typically lo-fi, Bradock proved that the cleanliness of a production doesn't matter much, as long as you have a tune.
01. Joy Orbison - Hyph Mngo [Hotflush Recordings]
Joy Orbison's "Hyph Mngo" seems on the surface to be as good a choice for the #1 track of 2009 as any in Resident Advisor's top ten. The past 365 days—the past few years, even—have defied overarching narratives in electronic music. Things are a bit too messy for that. It's a state of affairs, though, that have made many artists and producers focus their sights narrowly. Nowadays, it's all about exciting your scene. Maybe a track will sometimes spill over to the mainstream—whatever that means—maybe it won't. But as long as you have your genre on board, you've got yourself a (minor) hit.
Like any music genre at its most vibrant, though, dubstep has been one of the few scenes to look outside itself for ways forward, taking in influences from anywhere producers like Untold (house), Joker (R&B) and Orbison (garage) can find them. "Hyph Mngo" put it all together—the ravey synths of acid house, the liquid drum & bass of D-Bridge, the garage syncopation of Todd Edwards, guided by a steady hand—and ended up with one of the most seamless genre-spanning records of the year.
Orbison excited his scene—he had dubsteppers more than excited for "Hyph Mgno," it bordered on hysteria, prompting discourse and dancing in equal measure—but it also garnered unlikely love for the producer from DJs like Peter Van Hoesen, Deadbeat and Will Saul. It was, quite simply, a phenomenon. And in an era when those are few and far between, it's why "Hyph Mngo" was actually a refreshingly obvious choice for our track of the year.