Here we are my 100 favourite tracks of the year with a Spotify playlist. Words by Niall, Luke Sharkey and Ruth Cronin.
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Special thanks to Tower Dublin for their support. Buy some of the records on this list from their site or Dublin shops on Dawson Street and Eason’s, O’Connell Street.
Zhu & Tame Impala
Having Kevin Parker sing on your track is a big bonus to begin with. Having him sing atop a golden summer house track is a surefire winner. ‘My Life’ is dance music-lite, not the sort of thing that’d fill a dancefloor but more than enough to get the blood pumping in its own right.
‘Sundress’ was a once-off single after his ASAP Rocky’s Testing album and it stands apart. Co-production by Dangermouse and sampling Tame Impala’s 2010’s ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?’ is a rap-fuelled alt psychedelic curio.
Mr Twin Sister
Slick pop courtesy that channels all the best elements of 80s synth pop and classic late 70s funk a la George Benson. Complete with a fantastic wah wah guitar solo and some fantastic gliding synth lines, ‘Echo Arms’ is an absolute summer anthem.
There’s nothing grand or flashy about ‘Returning’, a track from UK producer Paul White but that’s why it succeeds in getting under your skin. It’s understated but White does a lot with a little.
Roll (Burbank Funk)
Take the rhythm of ‘I Can’t Go For That’ and put some neo-soul on it. The Kaytranada remix which dropped shortly afterwards is a fine companion piece.
Sharon Van Etten
Having spent the last few years making her acting debut in the Netflix series The OA, studying psychology and having her first child, the NYC musician’s musician has returned with a fire in her belly and a new album Remind Me Tomorrow album on the horizon. ‘Comeback Kid’ is the artist’s most bombastic song of her career yet and it’s delightfully redolent of PJ Harvey.
Josiah Wise, aka Serpentwithfeet’s, ‘Cherubim’ is an avant-garde art-pop track. ‘Cherubim’ highlights Serpentwithfeet two primary influences, his childhood stint as a choirboy and his college years studying contemporary vocal techniques. His icy falsetto, delivered in a range most could only dream of, hangs eerily above the track. As the song progresses the vocal lines become layered, building to an almost frantic dramatic climax. An artistic interweaving of sex and god.
Cops Shot The Kid
Nas’ Nasir wasn’t the comeback people were hoping for. The iconic MC largely came across as a bit of conspiracy theorist (Reagan had Alzheimers?) and West’s beats felt more than a little awkward and rushed. ‘Cops Shot The Kid’ stands out as the best track on the LP by far. Ye’s chopped Slick Rick sample is genius and Nas comes through with plenty of sharp bars on occurrences of police brutality in America.
Ouri is a Canadian musician who released the We Share Our Blood EP on Ghostly International this year, but frankly there’s no crossover on the rest of the EP with this highlight ‘Hypersensis’ trodding down a path of power that Jon Hopkins may have paved.
From a sprawling beauty of an album recorded in his studio in his custom-built studio in Funkhaus in Berlin, ‘Sunson’ is a microcosm of Frahm’s shifting modus operandi – moving between ambient, classical and electronic, across nine minutes. It’s less about building to a crescendo than playing with the forms and elements that those builds allow.
Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin’s music is unnerving, exotic and dystopian at the best of times and ‘Black Snow’ is practically off-kilter pop in that context, from his Age Of album.
Til It’s Over
Anderson .Paak’s 2018 album Oxnard wasn’t quite the triumph I had hoped for. Sure, there are great moments and tracks, but none quite had the effect of ‘Til It’s Over’, a song that originally debuted as a limited Apple-only exclusive track that soundtracked a Spike Jonze-directed Apple HomePod ad. Both the video and the audio are stunning, with Jonze and FKA Twigs’s dancing elevating the project’s commercial and corporate beginnings while .Paak’s electronic production is given a warm heart by his vocal delivery.
Tyler, The Creator
After the brilliant Flower Boy, Tyler spent much of 2018’s output just reminding us of his rap skills or making great soundtrack music for The Grinch movie. ‘Okra’ is an example of the former with a beat that rudders the track.
Movements (Chapter III)
Vynehall’s ‘Movements (Chapter III)’ is among the most palatable and expressive tracks on his Nothing Is Still LP. A massive departure in sound for the producer, ‘Movements’ blends experimental electronica with a noire jazz aesthetic.
George Fitzgerald & Lil Silva
One of the most poignant and retrospective tracks on George Fitzgerald’s All That Must Be, ‘Roll Back’ is in equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. Fitzgerald has a real knack for constructing immersive soundscapes, reacting dynamically in real time to the vocal lines which go over them.
Sleepy Thai funk. Vintage instrumental group Khruangbin write all their material as if it were going to soundtrack a Sergio Leone Western. ‘Maria También’ is not only supremely catchy, well-produced and tight, it’s also the sort of song you’d want playing if you were ever caught in a Mexican standoff.
Roisin Murphy blessed us with four whole double single releases this year, each of them gold in their own way. ‘Plaything’ is the most overtly sexual of them all. A sort of fetishised look at lust and one night stands. It’s also a brilliant retro electro track, complete with lush synth leads.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi
People In The Centre Of The City
Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi is equal parts Kraftwerk and Pet Shop Boys. Whether it’s the industrial themes touched upon in the lyrics or the odd blend of analogue synth sounds. The track borrows plenty from the golden era of synth pop but translates it superbly into contemporary sound. It’s glamorous, vibrant and sleek pop music.
Fabiano Palladino’s ‘Shimmer’ was one of the Paul Institute’s practically prolific year of releases and it’s a smart and classic-sounding ’80s pop ballad that could have been made in an underground pop lair.
Everybody Wants to Be Famous
Superorganism’s upbeat approach to indie music is more than a little refreshing. ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ is the multi-national group’s big breakout off-kilter hit. There’s synth-pop overtones everywhere throughout the production and a large helping of day glow melodies. Weird and wonderful.
Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin was busy with her band Phantasic Ferniture all summer with a 2019 solo album on the way, ‘Body’, a delicate track appeared, encapsulating Jacklin’s ability to create emotional impact from relative quiet, based on the legacy of a failed relationship and the ties that continue to hold power long after it has dissipated.