The year's first six months threw up DJ Mustard bangers, Ariana's reinvention and PC Music – (re)discover the ten best
Between Winter’s Diary 2, snippets of upcoming material with Timbaland and a smouldering collaboration with Kelela, it’s hard to imagine that Chicago rapper/singer/powerhouse Tink ever takes a day off. This laid-back, infuriatingly catchy duet with Jeremih shows off the best of both her syrupy R&B chops and her ability to put down a time-waster with verses that tear him to shreds; meanwhile a shame-faced Jeremih, in the role of charismatic cheater, is left shrugging “I know what you’re sayin’” in her wake.
9. DUTCH E GERM – "BLACK SEA"
The most recent offering from ex-Gang Gang Dance producer Tim Dewit is a universe of organised chaos. Unfolding with painstaking patience, the track is brimming with all the colours and haphazard fragments of the IN.RAK.DUST mixtape’s stunning artwork: there’s fire, lightning and darkness, but somehow it’s all cut through with soft pastel light.
8. SD LAIKA – "MESHES"
Here’s something to directly counteract all the high-sheen pop subversions and clean-cut digitised experiments this year: Milwaukee producer Sd Laika went straight for the gut with his debut album That’s Harakiri via Tri Angle in May. Putting the grime back into grime, the grubby lead single “Meshes” is stuffed to the seams with percussion and noise, and is one of the most immediately arresting things to hit our ears in the past six months. Just try to name anything else that sounds like it.
The first Mustard beat on this list, Tinashe’s “2 On” is the jam to launch her career proper, beyond the realm of her three downtempo, mortality-obsessed R&B mixtapes. The video is a bit “Me & U 2.0”, but every year needs that one lovable tune that’s purely about getting a bit too faded, and with Mustard and Schoolboy Q on this one - not to mention Drake’s version, Uniiqu3’s version, Tokimonsta’s version and so on – this is the one that’s doing it for 2014.
Poet, MC, singer and all-round unstoppable force Josh Idehen was inspired to write this track when he arrived at his building in Hackney to find a boy from the area had been killed, and overheard two girls talking in hushed tones about how the guy had just been living his life, unaware his end was “imminent”. It’s inherently grim, but rather than get sinister, LV’s thrilling production make this a banger about seizing the moment while it’s here as Idehen gets breathless on the catchiest hook of the summer. Watch out for Islands, their second collaborative LP, dropping via Keysound in September: big things are imminent.
5. POPCAAN – "EVERYTHING NICE"
Bills piling up on the kitchen table? Deadlines, overtime and general mundanity getting you down? The lead single to Popcaan’s blissed-out debut album for Mixpak is all about seeing the beauty in the moment when nothing in particular is wrong, “reaching out to all who do 9 - 5”. I defy you to listen to this song and not feel the urge to sway and wave your cup/mug of tea in the air, toasting the fact that life ain’t so bad after all. Everything is pretty much nice.
“Tell me if you want to see me play with my hair on TV” coos PC Music’s vocalist Hannah Diamond on this fizzy ode to digital crushes. Glossy and super-real, Diamond lurks permanently behind a screen while A. G. Cook’s genius bells and whistles bring pop into 2014. PC Music put out tune after tune of intense, sincere nostalgia seen through a hi-def filter, and funnily enough it’s making them the sound of the future.
Sax loops and Mariah whoops possibly shouldn’t sound this good in 2014, but Ariana Grande has the charm and the talent to pull off just about anything. Everything about this, from the soft coo of the chorus to the hip-shaking throwback video to the "Single Ladies" ethos, makes it the best chart-climbing pop song of the year so far. It would have one less problem without Iggy, though.
2. YG – "MY NIGGA (REMIX)" (FEAT LIL WAYNE, RICH HOMIE QUAN, MEEK MILL & NICKI MINAJ)
This is the one inescapable tune that was destined to be on this list: the one you’ve heard bouncing out of car speakers and at every party you’ve been to since January, and yet it’s still not boring. Everyone on this remix sounds like they’re having too much fun (helped along by DJ Mustard, whose beats have been the soundtrack to 2014 so far); especially Nicki, who’s been such a boss this year that we’re even considering hashtagging #ostriches.
1. HOLLY HERNDON – "CHORUS"
Electronic composer Holly Herndon is all over the current trend for the examination of online life as physical space and matter in her single “Chorus”. Not only is the video a collage of laptop living that uses Skype, Photoshop, and a ton of other Mac software to digitise meatspace and to make it seem like you could reach right in and grab the virtual, the track itself is also formed from audio snippets mined from sites like Youtube. There’s no two-way interface or divide here, just a visceral leap with both feet into digital culture – and it just sounds incredible.