Recommended Tracks of 2019

Picking your favourite track is difficult at the best of times, but it was especially tough this year when one takes into account the absolute plethora of quality music that’s been released in 2019.

Nevertheless, after much umming and ahhhing and with the help of you, our lovely hosts & contributors, we were finally able to come up with the following list. Featuring the likes of ethereal harpist Mary Lattimore, Benny L’s unique style of Drum & Bass, & well, whatever you could classify Sega Bodega’s music as, the diverse nature of the selections below bares testament to the sheer range of tip-top tunes that graced our ears this year.

 Skinshape – I Didn’t Know (Gemini)

Chosen by Phil Charnock (Anti Social Jazz Club Guest DJ)

I don’t keep up with genres any more, so excuse me if I place this all wrong. Bear with me. When I see a youthful white British man pick up a guitar I can’t help but wince a little. We live in an era of outrageously popular guitar-wielding young men – and good for them – who dominate top 10s. Jingly jangly guitars and musings about ex-girlfriends from polite British chaps makes me put my barriers up. I don’t really hear them, even when I’m hearing them, you know what I mean?

So Skinshape’s ‘I Didn’t Know’ had to smash through a wall of pre-conception to reach my conscious. From there it was a doddle for it to skip straight into my heart. It’s a precious song. Lyrically it’s half a song; an eavesdropped phone conversation where you can only hear what is in the room with you yet the other half of the story is implicitly understood. There’s no effort to recount the missing parts of the tale – this is not a singer acting out all the roles of a play. ‘I Didn’t Know’ would lose a lot of punch were it to say even one word more than it does.

The tempo and timbre of the song is impeccable. After the killer line of “If only time was kinder, you would still be here” hits you behind the eyes where tears gather, ‘I Didn’t Know’ does the only thing that could possibly ramp the emotion up still further – it cues the strings.

I went to watch the Daytona 500 once. As they played the Stars and Stripes a rhinestone cowboy piped up next to me. His gun in its holster (really), stetson by his side and hand on his heart he squeaked these words to himself; “Whenever I hear this song, I get a lump in my throat”. I now know how you feel cowboy.

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Sega Bodega – U Suck (NUXXE)
Chosen by Kate Hazeldine (LUNA & MDR Producer)

For something that should, in theory, be a really difficult choice, I found picking a singular best track of 2019 surprisingly easy. Maybe it’s because it’s a fairly recent release, so I’m still listening to it at least five times a day. However, I’m sure that even if this was released back in January it still would’ve stood out above the rest.

I’m talking about Sega Bodega – ‘U Suck’. And no, I am not sorry (although I owe my Dad a small apology for playing it on my last radio show, which he was listening to through the office system at work). If you have any idea of the lyrics, you’ll know what I mean. 

The song is mainly made up of two repeated refrains, the first one: “u suck” and the second: “fuck u”. But perhaps it’s the eery high-padded intro, which paves the way for a rumbling bassline, then a quick break in the music before Bodega’s overly-auto-tuned, sugary sweet vocals snap in, that make this far more than just a silly hate song. The whole production is deliberately squeaky-clean and yeah, kinda ironic. But let’s face it: beneath it all, Bodega is telling a story we can all relate to – hating an ex so much because really, you still love them. This is heard in the final refrain, when the lyrics switch to “sometimes you don’t see it but I love u”. It’s so desperately sad, yet at the same time a song that some of your mates will probably laugh at/hate (I’m looking at you, Josh Aitman).

This is definitely one for those heartbroken lovers to sing along to and stick one huge finger up in the air. Sega Bodega got u.

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Benny L – Vanta Black (Metalheadz)
Chosen by Alex Richards (Baltic 170)

The release follows on from two essential EPs on Metalheadz since 2017 by South London born and bred Benny L.

His remix of Police In Helicopter peaked at number 1 in the overall Beatport Charts in January, the first ever Drum & Bass track to do so. Vanta Black however, has a more stripped back aesthetic. It’s an exercise in “less is more”. It leaves space within the arrangement so the listener can enjoy the uninterrupted crisp crunch of the drums, covered in a deep warm blanket of sub-bass. This is complemented by an always different midrange foghorn that works as a clever main lead to pull you through the track – after you hear it once, you keep waiting for it to come around and hit you in the chest again.

The result is a track made for main room sound-systems. But somehow it encapsulates that energy and takes you to the warehouse club through your earbuds when you’re on the bus. With nods to electronica and dubstep, it represents how Drum & Bass has absorbed and responded to other dance music genres over the years and created something entirely new. Standing on the shoulders of giants, Benny L has created his own Drum & Bass sub-genre. And within it, created his very own giant.

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Sarya Al-Sawas – Bas Asma3 Mini [Moving Still Edit] (DAR DISKU)
Chosen by Giovanna Ferri (SisBis)

“The thing you’re trying to attain when you’re putting together a song is that moment when you’ve crafted a beat and you find yourself dancing. You’re loving this track, not because it’s yours, but because it’s something you would instinctively dance to whether it’s yours or someone else’s. If you’re not dancing, you haven’t got there.” Mazen Almaskati is the co-founder of DAR DISKU. He can be reassured that we found ourselves dancing to Bas Asma3 Mini. Mazen runs the Bahraini-British label with childhood friend Vish Mhatre.

The DJ duo came across Moving Still when he dropped an edit of Sarya Al Sawas at a club in Ireland, and they immediately got in touch with him to sign the rework. The first release of the label, a super edit of Syrian wedding singer Sarya Al Sawas, is groovy, Italo-esque heat. Featuring captivating vocals, hazy textures, and a bold and powerful bassline, it’s punchy and loaded with energy.

I’m beyond excited for the DAR DISKU gig at Meraki the 7th of March. They’ll take us on a journey from Iranian funk, to Middle East dance music, Turkish disco and other sub-genres.

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DJ Delish – Identity (Sweat Equity)
Chosen by Chris Barker (Deep Space Orchestra & Spaced Out)

A mainstay of the Philadelphia ballroom circuit, the multi-talented producer/singer/DJ/dancer DJ Delish hasn’t always been on my radar – the ballroom sound has generally been one that I’ve had mixed feelings about, my own ignorance quite possibly being a factor – but in ‘Identity’ she produced a track that couldn’t be left alone.

‘Identity’ pulls off that very hard trick of seeming to fidget all over the place before coalescing into an extremely satisfying lassy synth pads, glitches, bells, congas, broken drums and all manner of weird percussive sounds and rhythms keep threatening to head in different directions and pull the track apart, but it maintains a completely irresistible energy throughout, its disparate strands constantly recombining to immensely pleasing effect. 

It’s really hard to make music like this that works properly – to do it so well, in a manner that works just as well at home as it does in the club, is a supremely impressive achievement. Put it on now.

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Battles – Titanium 2 Step (Warp)
Chosen by Benny Maths (Black Beacon Sound)

This is the toughest category to pick this year, as there’s been a lot of great music around. The eccentric breakbeat of Denham Audio’s well fruity ‘Ego Check’ on Durkle Disco, the crunchy dancefloor battle cry of Soulwax’s remix of Marie Davidson’s ‘WORK IT’ on Ninja Tune, a filthy beast from Moodymann with ‘I’ll Provide’ on KDJ Records, the tight-as electro funk in Gabe Gurnsey’s cosmic ‘New Kind’ on Phantasy Sound and the wonky, stuttering beats of J-E-T-S’ ‘Real Truth’, featuring Tkay Mazida, on Innovative Leisure all deserve honourable mentions coz they’re all bloody amazing tunes!

But it was the return of Battles with the riotous ‘Titanium 2 Step’ on Warp that just edges ahead of the rest as my favourite track of 2019. The towering groove powered out by the drums; the reckless funk of the guitar as it tumbles around the beat; the wonderful vocal spasms of Sal Principato; this vibrant and chaotic delight would hustle a dance out of me any time.

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GBFTT – my mind like explosions / LOFT (Aya) – better lose your composure (boygirl)
Chosen by George Maund (Cartier 4 Everyone)

This guy has played out one – or both – of these almost every time I’ve been on in the club this year. In June 2018 Charli XCX teased the feel of what was to come on her Charli LP with a wicked double single ‘Focus’. Next, North-of-England “queer-dominated” collective boygirl took the track and ran with it. The result is a remix EP of effervescent, plooming, ravey and wholly reconstructed treatments by Aya (under old alias LOFT here), Leo, MICHAELBRAILEY, Iceboy Violet – and BFTT’s largely beat-less edit sits euphorically at the top of the lot. Sizzling and burning bright in a ‘post-Rustie’ drum-free trance, Charli’s vocal continually invites us “to focus on my love” and we are warmly, cosily centred around that notion throughout. It’s a rub on the back in the middle of a party that can bookend any sensible person’s starry-eyed set, any time, any place.

That track is immediately followed by LOFT’s, and it’s become impossible for me to separate the two. Hearing Aya work in this remix context – utilising what was presumably not a huge amount of source material – lays a breadcrumb trail of the method to her genius. We get a taste of that trademark ‘when all the drums slap at once’ flavour with galloping, Played-a-Live-style rolls falling over Jersey kick patterns and flailing breaks; we also get the dissociative time-stretched melodic material (utterly, blatantly A G Cook’s signature ploinks) fed thru swirling, spinning cavernous places. This time around Charli is too far gone to offer any kind of finished sentence – you may catch her eye across the floor but there’s no contact – we’re all out-of-body and we’ll all unite around the sibilance of “focus, focus, focus…” This one-two combo is a microcosm of everything potentially perfect about 6am.

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The Cinematic Orchestra – Waiting For Now [Mary Lattimore Rework] (Ninja Tune)
Chosen by Toby Taylor (MDR Producer & Good For The Soul)

As another year passes, it’s once again time to face the daunting challenge of naming a track of the year. This year, as always, I found it extremely difficult to pick a single stand out track from the absolute abundance of music released this year.

That is until I remembered a record that, after I’d finished listening, left me in a stunned stupor, amazed and intrigued at what I’d just heard. Needless to say, when I’d come to my senses I dived straight for the replay button again, and again, and again (you get the idea). The track in question is the magnificent reworking of the Cinematic Orchestra’s “Waiting For Now” by Mary Lattimore.

Now the Cinematic Orchestra are no slouches when it comes to emotive, atmospheric music, but Lattimore’s majestic playing ensures that her version soars above the original in terms of musicality and emotionality. It’s a case of less is more in Lattimore’s version – the removal of the resplendent chords and glinting keys leaves the vocals to free to enter into an exquisite duet with Lattimore’s forty-seven stringed Lyon & Healy harp. As a result, we’re left with a gorgeously celestial sounding record that, for me personally, is impossible not listen to without getting all misty eyed and contemplative. Pure bliss.

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Fontaines D.C – Dublin City Sky (Partisan Records)
Chosen by Joe Bardsley (MDR Social Media Manager)

I feel this is one of those songs and in fact one of those artists who has really captured my feelings in recent months. ‘Dublin City Sky’, from their debut album ‘Dogrel’, describes what it is to love, in a time when love has been overshadowed, disregarded and undermined.

The slow melancholy waltz of ‘Dublin City Sky’ juxtaposes my feelings of disbelief against my optimism of young love. Grian Chatten’s poetical capabilities are almost flawless as he describes a wet-drunken night under the Irish sky, a place I have never ventured to, but feel as if I can relate anyway? Sonically, the five minutes feel simple and warm. Gentle and considered, the guitar lines pave the way for the passion felt by Chatten towards his lover. His elegant storytelling captures a scene of a merry January evening, one which can only be hoped for as we head into 2020. 

Imperfect and retained, the nonchalant chord changes and simple structure help to deliver a message of truth that ‘we trip along disaster in the whirlwind of the free’. A message that eloquently describes our unfortunate current political and social climate.

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