Countdown: 2014: Tracks

Here we go, then, with the run-down of the best tracks of 2014 – according to me, anyway. 2014 has been an odd year, as friends will know – life has rather got in the way in a number of respects, which has cut down the amount of writing I’ve been able to do, but that hasn’t stopped me buying and enjoying music.

Countdown: 2014

02-Dec: Best Compilations and reissues
09-Dec: Best Tracks
16-Dec: Best Albums
30-Dec: Best Gigs


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Countdown: Tracks

2013: Seabound – Nothing But Love
2012: Death Grips – Hacker
2011: Frank Turner – One Foot Before The Other
2010: In Strict Confidence – Silver Bullets
2009: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
2008: – What Used To Be (Short Storm)
2007: Prometheus Burning – Battery Drain
2006: No tracks of the year list
2005: Grendel – Soilbleed / Rotersand – Exterminate Annihilate Destroy
2004: No tracks of the year list

Indeed, there were many more possibilities for this list, so a number of artists missed out in the final cut (for tracks, anyway – albums next week, of course). Honourable mentions therefore go to Red20, Perc, Be My Enemy and Interpol in particular, who were all just nudged out in the reckoning here. More from me next week with the best albums of 2014. In the meantime, here we go:

Electric Elephant
Truth Is Fanatic Again

Yes, another reissue of sorts, but this time a fairly drastic re-interpretation of Rotersand’s (still brilliant) debut album featuring a host of guests (and proof once again that it is impossible to make a bad remix of Electronic World Transmission, as the one here by Ionnokx is another corker), but the most interesting thing here, really, was the lead track Electric Elephant. This is Rotersand reminding us, again, that they make better electro-industrial-pop music than basically any of their peers, even with unexpected falsetto vocals and elephant samples. A new album proper would be lovely, though…

Number_29The Horrors
Chasing Shadows

The downbeat, shoegaze-influenced sound that The Horrors have mined for a few albums now suits them so much better than the trashy garage rock of their debut, and it seems that they are honing and perfecting this sound with each album. So, Luminous is great, generally, if you like this kind of thing, but this song towers over the rest. Like Ride if they concentrated more on the tunes than the effects pedals they were using, and also stepped out into the light with an emphasis on melody in the chorus that packs an impressive emotional punch, too.

Number_28Zola Jesus
Go (Blank Sea)

While other female artists in a similar realm (Chelsea Wolfe, St. Vincent in particular) seemed to have built up an unstoppable head of steam as they head towards or burst into the mainstream, it seems that Zola Jesus isn’t hitting the same heights. And I can’t quite work out why with marvellous songs like this – cutting edge electronics backing up her distinctive voice and quite wonderful ear for melody (just check that sweeping, swooning chorus for a start). Anyway, for those missing out, their loss…

Number_27TV On The Radio

I really, really loved the last few TVotR releases, although all of them took me a while to get into (and indeed I was late to the party generally, once again). So the fact that the first couple of singles from this new album didn’t really grab me instantly didn’t worry me particularly. I was proved right by listening deeper into the album, where one track especially shone. It starts slowly, and builds layer-by-layer into a sprawling, buzzing epic, crossing soul, alt-rock and electronics in a manner that only this band seem to be able to master.

Number_26Blush Response
The Drift

I would have liked to have given more time to this album when it was released (it deserved a full review), but sadly some difficult personal circumstances in the latter half of 2014 have conspired against much in the way of review writing and so the mention will have to be here. Anyway, the first Blush Response release was an intriguing mix of experimental electronics and more melodic takes, and this second release has pushed things further into the experimental – but the killer track is once again the single, where even heavily treated vocals can’t disguise the wonderful chorus, and glitchy electronics burble away taking in countless genres and influences, with ideas bursting out all over the place. The heavy sense of experimentation may turn some away, but it really is worth sticking with this as Joey Blush knows what he is doing. And doing it very well indeed.

Number_25Philip Jeays
We Are Many, They Are Few
The Bunjies Test

Philip Jeays is a singer-songwriter who I was exposed to first by Daisy, who had long since followed his work. It took me a while, but once I delved into the dark humour and underbelly of Cupid Is A Drunkard, I was hooked. This year came a new album, and it was notable in particular for the searing political commentary of this track. Just Jeays and his guitar, and searing political ire, railing against the injustices of our current “coalition” Government as they feather their nests while leaving the less able (and poor) to subsist on less and less. The lack of political music in these times has been notable, which only makes this track even more welcome.

Number_24Click Click
What Do You Want
These Nervous Surgeons

The return of Click Click with their first full-length album in a long time was, even after recent activity, perhaps a bit unexpected still. It didn’t see too much of a departure from where they have been of late, although there was a distinct feel of “industrial psychedelia” at points. And as great (still) as the drug nightmares of Rats In My Bed are, I’ve grown to love album centrepiece What Do You Want more. Seven minutes of treated drums, a phenomenal synth hook that repeats through the track and Adrian’s sneering vocals offering what appears to be a wry take on political activism and state control.

Number_23Bitter Ruin
Gentle Man

For some time a show-stopping staple of their live sets (I remember the first time they played – and opened with it – and left the room in stunned silence), mystifyingly this was omitted from the full release of their long-awaited debut album – I only have it as it was on the kickstarter-backers version of the album that we received a few months before. This is one track of theirs where Georgia well-and-truly steals the show, her dramatic vocals going from a gentle croon to hurricane force, wracked with emotion and anger. An emotionally draining song, yes, but quite possibly one of the band’s greatest. It is just a shame more people can’t hear it’s brilliance.

Number_22Manic Street Preachers
Europa Geht Durch Mich

The best Manics album in a while, yes – who knew electronic-tinged post-punk would fit them so well? – but the first track I heard from it remains the best thing on it. In these worryingly Eurosceptic times, a rare pro-European voice, for a start, but also it’s a fist-pumping, anthemic track that has more vitality than anything the band have done in some years – fighting back after sounding world-weary for some time. It was also one of a number of highlights of their live show in April.

We Must Wait (feat. Jean-Luc de Meyer)
We Must Wait 7″

Quite a departure from Haujobb’s recent output, this was a seemingly deliberate hark back to “traditional” EBM, stripping back Haujobb’s usual complex sound to a more raw, harsh feel, aided brilliantly by Jean-Luc de Meyer’s vocal appearance that to a point makes it sound like a long-lost Front 242 track. And maybe that was the point – particularly with the wonderful video that pokes fun at that band’s most famous release…

Gone v1.0

So the album – some years in gestation, and long-delayed – didn’t live up to expectation at all, with a number of middling tracks dragging down momentum and frankly not being good enough. But it was front-loaded with two of the best E-Craft tracks ever, one of which, the title track, has been around a few years (and made it into the 2012 list). The other was this pounding monster – a steady build, a punishing rhythm, and an airstrike of a chorus. Stompy germanic industrial, made for the dancefloor, doesn’t get much better than this.

Ah Don’ Eat Meat, Bitch!

I wanted to like this album so much more than I did, in the end. Chris Connelly returning to a RevCo style of output, with a new collaborator in the form of Jason Novak, should have been exactly what we wanted, right? At least to a point, it was, but after a few listens it became clear that there was a lot of filler. But the high points were really, really great – particularly this lunatic stream-of-conciousness that appears to be a pro-vegan/vegetarian lifestyle song if you can decipher the rapid-fire lyrics amid the musical chaos of beats, bass and swirling synths.

Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
The Satanist

The first of the truly great albums of 2014 – and there were a few this year – this also had a few notable highlights too worthy of note on their own. Frankly at least three songs could have made this list, but I chose to plump for the track that made the impact in the first place, the epic, looming darkness of the opening track. This was the clarion call that heralded the band’s return from dark, challenging times, and it was fucking epic. The intro rolls in like an army looming over the horizon, before the battery of instrumentation steadily rolls through, finally unleashing a neck-snapping attack later on – this was the sound of Behemoth returning to claim their dark throne and becoming possibly the best extreme metal band around in one swoop. (Also, the uncensored version of the NSFW video is here).

Number_17St. Vincent
Digital Witness
St. Vincent

Not the only song to address human interaction via digital means this year, this was a release early in the year and is still as wonderous now as it was then. Annie Clark’s whip-smart lyrics on oversharing on social media (if I can’t show it / you can’t see me) are coupled to a bright, sunny electronic-meets-brass rave-up that was a welcome burst of sunshine in a bleak and wet winter.

Number_16Randolph & Mortimer
Existing, Not Living
$ocial £utures €P

I’ve been following the progress of this Sheffield-based industrial artist for a little while now, and 2014 saw the first proper release by the act – interestingly on cassette (and download) by a Texas-based label. This is very much industrial of the old-school variety – pummelling rhythmic attacks, intensely political and letting a whole host of well-chosen samples do the talking (there are few vocals). One of the few industrial artists even touching politics at the moment, we need more like them.

Number_15The Crystal Method
The Crystal Method

Something of a surprising return to form, the latest Crystal Method album had this monster as the lead single – a return to their “big beat” glory days of the late 90s, a thundering rhythm and acid tweaking, not to mention build after build (and a killer payoff). Sadly, in the twentieth year of the Heavenly Social (and thus also the rock-ideals-meets-dance-music of “big beat” and what has followed since), it didn’t help to push a revival of the scene too much, but maybe the hazy memories are good enough. Either way, as punishing, hedonistic dance music goes in 2014, this was hard to top.

Number_14Röyksopp + Robyn
Do It Again

The dancepop glory of the title track might be the more obvious choice, but there is something quite beautiful about the epic opener to this “EP” that at forty minutes or so in length is not far off a full album. This is Robyn musing on how she might be remembered in a physical sense, how she might leave a mark on the world to ensure that she is – while her Nordic partners in crime sculpt an appropriately impressive scale of music to work with her vocals, looping and cutting up her vocals to provide more depth and then simply stretching the whole track to ten minutes in length. Epic in scope and also length, this is brilliant, intelligent music that only artists of this calibre and vision could even hope to create.

Body and Blood

Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but there seemed to be a notable lack of good hip-hop this year. So thanks at least to Clipping., who took hip-hop to some strikingly different musical realms with their album this year. Two guys with a history in electronics and noise rock, and a rapper with a really quick flow, resulted in some really quite harsh electronics – frankly quasi-power electronics at points – whipping the vocals into shape. Pick of the album remains lead single Body & Blood – an absolutely pounding rhythm that hits like a piece of industrial machinery every time, omnious vocals enunciating the titular refrain, then the gory, fantastical rap delivery that the striking video (uncensored version here) matches perfectly.

Number_12Alter der Ruine
Tiny Wars and Quiet Storms
I Will Remember This All Differently

ADR have come an awfully long way from their industrial-dance-noise origins, having moved initially to a more knockabout, sample-heavy (and enormous fun) industrial-dance direction, then moving back into darker realms without losing a sense of melody that had crept in. But on their latest release, after a few signposts previously (the glorious, downbeat synthpop of Ghosts in particular), they’ve gone full-on, down-tempo synthpop, and the results were amazing. Picking one song from it was perhaps harder than any other choice in this list, but I eventually plumped for the wracked emotions of this, where Mike T. seems to be offering an olive branch to someone wronged in the past, in the hope that things might end up better. The lush electronics (complete with what sounds like a lovely sampled, jangling guitar riff down in the mix) serve to push Mike’s vocals to the fore to devastating effect.

Number_11Rabbit Junk
Pop That Pretty Thirty EP

JP Anderson has been dabbling in new music for a few years now, with a number of singles released but little else, so it was a nice surprise to find a brilliant EP released in September, just after a chaotic appearance at Infest. A short-sharp-shock of a set that saw this monster debut live, a hark back to the furious hardclash sound of the Rabbit Junk of old where fun and fury go hand in hand. And that chorus – all together now: “I-D-O-N-T-G-I-V-E-A-F-U-C-K” – that saw the whole crowd singing along after the first run through!

Number_10††† [Crosses]

This song is actually a bit older than this year, but was fully released (as opposed to a free EP) on the band’s album this year, and for me is the best track this project have put out yet. Basically this is Chino Moreno taking the sounds he bring to Deftones into a more electronic realm, but not losing the harder edge that his main band frequently have – and here he adds a soaring chorus, funk-esque basslines and the feeling that this is one of the finest songs Moreno has put his name to.

New Dark Ages
A World Lit Only By Fire

I really wasn’t expecting the recorded return of Godflesh to sound as fucking feral as this. How their return this year was going to sound like was perhaps telegraphed by their live shows since their recent reunion, with a distinct leaning towards their earlier material, and this track – and the other material released this year – really builds on that. This is a grinding, relentless juggernaut of a track that adds element after element before unleashing a monstrous wall of sound with bass, guitars and beats in perfect lockstep. Godflesh were never easy listening, but they are enthralling listening, as this wonderful track proves.

To Be Kind

Alright, so the late-in-the-year single release wasn’t quite as jaw-dropping as the full version, but even so… The scorching, screaming heart of To Be Kind, this is eight minutes of a battering ram of a rhythm coupled with Michael Gira’s words and sounds all-but acting out an asthma attack, going for the throat from the off rather than the lengthy build that newer Swans material has specialised in. That he makes this subject sound so godammned thrilling is part of the wonder. That and the acoustic version at his solo show in March was just as amazing (as we could already visualise what a monster the track was going to become). In future, if I need to explain how breathlessly (pun-intended) and life-affirmingly brilliant Swans can be, I’m playing this.

knife on mars
the dark age of consent

Jared Louche and co.’s new(ish) band prude’s debut album has been a fascinating album to get to grips with. I’ve spent a lot of time with it in the past couple of months, and certain moments on the album (and when seen live) just keep coming back to me. And while the more uptempo rock tracks have been the ones stealing the show frequently (great eraser (in the sky) in particular), the most interesting track on the album is this one, an elegant ode to lost souls in London that is much more than just the punning title. The song is one of regret, Louche’s resigned vocals a tip to the wasted lives described, and the ticking clock that underpins the whole song a reminder that life is often far too short to waste.

Thalys EP

The wonderful, transport-themed electronics of Belgium band Metroland got official recognition this year in the shape of their glorious tie-in with Western European train operator Thalys (who link Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and other points in between). Kind of a twenty-first century take on Kraftwerk’s Trans Europ Express, this is perhaps a sleeker, faster trip, matching the TGV trains that work the Thalys services day-in, day-out. Either way, Metroland’s star keeps rising and a second album is in the works – it will be fascinating to see what transportation methods have inspired it when it arrives.

Number_053 TEETH
Final Product

By a long chalk the breakout industrial artist of 2014, 3 TEETH began the year as a promising prospect, nothing more. I included NIHIL in last year’s list, interviewed the band at the beginning of this year (which I believe may have been their first interview), and then things properly blew up when the album arrived. And their carefully orchestrated drip-feed of new songs pre-album actually held back on the best songs, meaning the arrival of the album actually felt like an event. Once I first got through the (stellar) album, though, this track stood head and shoulders above the rest. A punchy, incessant rhythm, some awesome electronic programming and savage riffage – not to mention a killer chorus and even Charlie Chaplin samples. And it fucking slays live.

To Burn Your World
A Place To Stand EP

After breaking through so swiftly last year with their debut album, I couldn’t help but feel that there might be some who would have the knives out to bring Youth Code back down to earth when new material appeared. It seemed that the band were expecting this, too, with the new EP when it arrived being somewhat “full-on”. Four new tracks, four remixes, and no weak moment between them. I made Consuming Guilt my pick a few months back, but repeated listening since to the EP (and seeing much of it live) has made it clear to me that this is the better song. Taking clear notes from old Front Line Assembly (just listen to those vintage synths, and that pressure-wave of a synth that turbocharges the chorus), it fuses this with a punk fury that leaves you in no doubt at all that the band mean everything that they say.

The Future’s Void

I had missed her earlier material – I’ve spent time catching up since, don’t worry – but like St. Vincent, this was very much an examination of human interaction in the modern age, one where the internet and remote interaction seems to take precedence over real-world contact. Appropriately, this seethes with dismay at the state of human relationships, the central conceit being a person who makes a living from “selfies” but then suffers the backlash as a torrent of comment-based abuse comes her way. The bleak, sadly-all-too-realistic lyrics are given all the more impact by the dense backing of tribal-esque drums and squalling electronics.


Proof positive that the internet can be a great way to promote music: I would never have heard of this Canadian band were it not for the reports from my friends over at I Die: You Die (not to mention their now-labelmates Alter der Ruine, too) following their scene-stealing appearance at Terminus in June. Remarkably this comes from the first of two albums they released this year, and for me Isolator (the first of these) has the better songs. Particularly this one – glorious, soaring synthpop that goes to places most of their peers would never touch. Particularly the jaw-dropping chorus, where the vocals take a turn to the near-operatic, but the whole song has a sense of the dramatic that makes it a truly exceptional song – and I’ve not been able to get the damned thing out of my head for months.

the burial
Madness and Extinction

I remember being stunned into silence the first time I heard this song around the turn of the year. A song with a feeling of such immense gravitas that packs it all into just three-and-a-half minutes, a stately industrial beat and carefully placed synths provide all the backing required for a devastating vocal that reminds us that death comes for us all, whether we do good or bad, the right or wrong thing. And there is nothing that we can do about it. But rarely has such a sentiment been delivered in such an elegant, beautiful way – and in such a short time, as interestingly the lengthy “extended” version that arrived on the Silent Disco EP later in the year doesn’t quite work. But in a year of personal turmoil (and yes, death of friends and loved ones), a down-to-earth message like this resonated very strongly indeed. We can’t influence events outside of our control, we just have to deal with them. So says the track of 2014.

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