Playlist: Best Songs of 2014 Volume 2

Graham LeBron
02 05, 2015

This volume starts the dance. As the afternoon peaks during my set on the patio at Lost and Found, I generally drift into this more electronic arena. I find myself leaning toward slower dance tempos, you can dance or hang out. I also tend to seek out electronic artists that focus more on the song rather than the formula or structure associated with most EDM these days.

There is a term started in the 90s that I don’t think anyone really cared for, IDM, or intelligent dance music. It was supposed to be more about experimentation rather than adhering to the tenets of particular genres of dance music, of which there are too many already.

I’d like to coin a better term, Interesting Dance Music. Yes, there is experimentation, but there is also an attention to the song. It’s not about the dance floor, but you sure might find it there.

Over the past few years, more rock and pop artists have been delving into electronic sounds and dancier rhythms -- there are some great examples of that here.

Inside Out - Spoon “They Want My Soul” (Merge)

I've been listening to Spoon since their debut LP came out in 1996 on Matador Records. It has been a fascinating evolution to say the least. This record, and song in particular, sounds so natural -- a band being comfortable in their own skin, they’ve never been afraid to explore. It is a little less guitar rock than some of their albums. It gets me nostalgic for probably my all time favorite Spoon LP, Kill the Moonlight. More sonic than electronic. There are some really interesting tones and headphone fun things going on here, but all still rooted in the foundational rhythms of acoustic drums and electric bass. Great afternoon, mid tempo party jam.

Dye - TychoAwake” (Ghostly International)

Tycho is the brainchild of one man from San Francisco, Scott Hansen, who's made music for years. He's a graphic designer and I feel like the attention to detail from his design work translates into his music. It creates a very specific mood -- it's very well thought out, but still sounds organic.

Lucky I Got What I Want - Jungle “S/T” (XL Recordings)

Two childhood friends started a band in 2013. That’s the story. They're British, apparently, a modern sould collective based in London. Judging from the live show, they both sing lead together, which is pretty rare. It looks like their 7 piece live band is having a great time. I know I would be. Again, strong songs in an funky electronic context. It’s like if Daft Punk took off their helmets and actually started singing. I’m really curious to see where these “blokes” will be heading.

Closer - Slow Magic “How To Run Away” (Downtown Records)

This is the vibe I’m into. Are you getting it yet? I haven’t found that many folks doing it well, but this guy sure is. Another example of a very synthetic artform sounding surprisingly organic. There are stuttering samples and hip hop beats, but also ambient, Brian Eno textures going on. I'm interested in folks who are using the same palette in a different way.

Careful You - TV on the Radio

Another band that's been making consistently good records for 10-15 years now. It's heavy and electronic but still melodic. They make these enormously epic songs that sound effortless. TV on the Radio continues to evolve and lead. This feels like a natural progression.

Hey Life - Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards are from Oakland. I watched them shred the Fox Theatre in front of an amazingly receptive crowd. She's able to combine elements from lots of different rhythmic traditions into a modern sound. It sounds to me like she starts from a different place than a lot of other people making pop music, and the songs end up sounding really fresh and innovative for it.

Pay attention!

From The Night - Stars

Stars is a Canadian band on Arts and Crafts. Over the years, their records have been a source of consolation. It seems they make a conscious effort to write lyrics that are personal and relatable. Like they’re writing songs for their younger selves to let them know that eventually it will all be OK. Their songs will make you feel better and want to dance. What more could you want? They’ve definitely stepped up the production for the dance floor here as well, and I’m pleased.

Strandbar - Todd Terje “It’s Album Time”

Todd Terje has appeared on compilations and released singles for many years.

This year he finally decided to make an album, aptly called "It's Album Time." He’s clearly proud of his vintage equipment, listing the pieces used on each song. It appears this man is a walking encyclopedia of dance music.

Love Stops Here - The Juan Maclean “In a Dream” (Secretly Canadian)

What a perfect driving song -- it gets people going. It has that killer synth arpeggio. It's a feel good song paying tribute to the roots of dance music without sounding retro.

Runaway - Electric Youth “S/T” (Secretly Canadian)

This couple from Ontario has been dating since the 8th grade, people first took notice when one of their songs was on the Drive soundtrack. This is from their first full-length album. It's floaty, 80s, and awesome. Definitely some Cocteau Twins, Erasure vibes here.

Monument - Röyksopp feat. Robyn “The Inevitable End” (Interscope)

This year Röyksopp decided to stop making albums, so they fittingly titled their last, The Inevitable End. While most of their music is instrumental, they are most known for their collaborations with singers, usually Robyn. As you will hear to divine effect on this track.

It's a synth-heavy dance track with some powerful vocals. Tough.

Style - Taylor Swift “1989” (Big Machine Records)

I love this album. Every song, including the bonus tracks.

Style is now the third single from it. 

This song is a bit out of her wheelhouse, but she nails the downtempo, electronic, disco vibe. Though it is probably a lot easier to nail when you’re working with two of the best producers in pop music right now, Max Martin and Shellback. It is one of the more subdued songs on her album, but I think it sits well in this mix. It's got the feel of a track from an"Italians Do it Better" label compilation.

White Lies - Odesza “In Return” (Counter Records)

Odesza is two friends from Seattle who started in 2012. This is from their 2nd amazing album. There are elements of hip hop, electronic, pop, ambient -- it's an innovative use of sounds that are sometimes overused in this genre.

Arterial - Lusine “Arterial EP” (Ghostly International)

Lusine is Jeff McIlwain. I’ve been following his progression since a mutual friend introduced me to his music in the late 90s when they were roommates at UT Austin. His attention to detail is extraordinary. This track is more downtempo than his usual stuff, just proving that he’s confident and competent in any genre he chooses to explore.

The Mother Lode - Thom Yorke “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” (Landgrab)

Thom Yorke released his most recent solo album in september via bittorrent. It was the most torrrented album of 2014, downloaded a million times in the first 6 days alone. He worked with his longtime Radiohead producer, Nigel Godrich, on this. To me, it sounds like Thom and Aphex Twin locked themselves in a room until they had a record. I read a bit about Thom’s history with electronic music, he’s been DJing since before “Creep” was a hit. He knows a thing or two about it at this point and it shows. It’s immaculate.

Schools of Eyes - Wye Oak “Shriek” (Merge Records)

Wye Oak are an “indie rock duo” from Baltimore, but you could’ve fooled me.

It is another great example of making something dancey and electronic sound so organic.

It’s powerful. Her voice is immediately compelling and the way he’s able to mix his live drums with the electronics is quite moving.

Charlemagne - Generationals “Alix” (Polyvinyl)

A band from New Orleans that has been making consistently good records since 2009. These two fellows both sing and play guitar and apparently play everything on the records. Their music always sounds fresh to me -- they're clearly not afraid of change. A perfect blend of tones from the 80s, with bits of Stax soul, Spector’s Wall of Sound, and British invasion poking through. A nostalgic sound without feeling retro.

Running back to you - The Juan Maclean “In A Dream” (Secretly Canadian)

Another standout track from this album, this time with Nancy Whang (also known for being in LCD Soundsystem) singing lead. It's a 7-minute, electro/funk jammer. It fits in well between Chaka Khan and Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” Every time I play it, someone comes up and asks me who it is. That’s the sign of a classic track.

Produk 29 (101) - Aphex Twin “Syro” (Warp Records)

Aphex Twin, aka Richard James, is widely considered to be “the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music.” I agree. He’s the Beatles of the genre.

This is a more hip hop feeling track that fits nicely as an end to this volume.

It seems like he makes his music devoid of outside influence. There's something cohesive about his sound no matter what genre he’s working in. He’s been building his own synths and sounds since the early 90s in the rural town of Cornwall and is constantly evolving while remaing true to his roots, whatever they may be. Sometimes it is hard to tell.

He hasn’t released a record since 2001, but his influence on the genre has been ever apparent. He sets the bar for electronic music, though I somehow doubt he even cares.

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