The annual thankless and impossible task is upon us. Here are 13 tracks we really got into this year.

“Best” is a tricky term…at best…

How the hell do you decide what’s better than each other? That’s up to the listener’s appreciation. There’s no scale for musical superiority or musical EPL. We only use the term ‘best’ for the SEO benefit. Thanks, Google, for turning everything into a competition.

With that in mind, here are 13 tracks we loved this year instead. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag too from chart toppers like Chase & Status to artists who could easily drown in the sea of releases.

Last year Music Business Worldwide reported 100,000 tracks are uploaded each day to Spotify alone. How does one stand out? It’s a staggering amount, and the actual amount one year on is likely more than that.

We think about it a lot – how can we give the time of day to all the demos we receive? It’s just not viable to listen to them all.

With all that in mind, we’ve tried to find some hidden gems while trying not to ignore the tunes that did cut through and powered not just us but many others through 2023.

Leave a comment if you think we missed anything.

Note: tracks are listed in no particular order.

‘Fake Sweat’ – VHS Head

For fans of Madlib, J Dilla, and the general early Stones Throw. The sound encapsulates the name ‘VHS Head’ perfectly, and the methods are different as he samples from found footage, television programmes, and industrial films recorded onto videotape cassettes—namely VHS. This downtempo slice will have you reviewing your dad’s VHS collection in no time.

‘I DM U’ – Loraine James

It’s hard to pinpoint what we like most. The arrangement? The live IDM-y drums from Morgan Simpson from Black Midi. The pads? Perhaps it’s how it blends with the rest of the album Gentle Confirmation? It doesn’t matter – music is how it makes you feel, and we’re into this tune. It has a wonderfully nostalgic feel, but then the album is a collection of tracks that invoke the feeling she felt with her father’s passing in 2003—quality stuff.

‘AntiPush’ – David Castellani

We’ve followed David Castellani’s career for a little while. What gets us every time is the excellent live performances – all live – and a mostly modular setup. With a background in audio engineering, he has excellent control over all his devices, but more importantly, he really gets the dancefloor. We can’t wait to catch him live at some point, as his career should be about to ramp up. For techno heads, it’s not quite hardstyle, but it’s definitely something to lose yourself in.

‘The 93 Wannabe’ – Neil Landstrumm

The first time we heard this, we said, ‘This sounds like one of those classics from the past’. Perhaps there’s irony in the naming, therefore. But, with a big squelchy bassline, rock solid 808 grooves, 80s – early 90s throwback vibe and a feeling of fun, it’s just one of those tunes you’re going to want to throw into your set. In 2016, he told us he objects to Facebook, just another reason to like him as an artist.

‘About You’ – Lau.ra

If you want to learn house chords, this is an excellent starter! It’s a quintessential house slice with a tonne of modern sounds, modern vocal chipping techniques and mixing styles. But technicalities aside, it still has that groove, and it’s just catchy as hell. It’s also a versatile weapon for your sets, fitting in various parts of your journey. Her X has her down as a dog enthusiast and occasional vocalist. We love dogs, and we love her ‘occasional vocals’ on this catchy hit. Easy win.

‘Liquor & Cigarettes’ – Chase & Status, Hedex feat ArrDee

Chase & Status have seamlessly moved into an elder statesman role within the drum and bass scene. The list of collabs is as long as Michelle Mone’s list of excuses and now includes everyone from ArrDee to Rihanna to Giggs. But rap collabs aside, they still have the festival chops in the bag, and this track is main stage fare if that’s your bag. It’s hard not to love the drop, ArrDee’s verses and the overall bombastic feel of the whole track. Detuned synths, UK Rap, trumpet, synth stabs – it’s a hell of a combo.

‘天の川’ – Machinedrum, Holly

Avid readers of Attack, who do exist, will know our appreciation of Machinedrum. For our ears, he’s a producer’s producer. But what we enjoy so much is it never feels self-indulgent or pretentious. The listen is always enjoyable and easy but exciting, with a wide variety of genres tossed around. He also tends to be pretty open about all his techniques and style and appears ego-less on social media—this collab with Holly bangs. Nuff said.

‘Never let them know your next move’ – Nikki Nair, Breaka

We started following Breaka when Emerald suggested him as ‘One To Watch’ in Quick Mix Season 1. Nikki Nair we somehow stumbled upon. Both are break experts, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole either producer as their arsenal is wide-ranging. Nikki Nair in particular, seems to be on an endless rise since we first discovered him with a tonne of bookings, a constant release schedule and a work ethic that appears to be paying off. This track sounds very 2023. It might sound dated in time, but who cares? We love it. We just want to know if the vocals were done with Mouth Play.

‘Is U’ – Overmono

Is there anything else to add to this album? It feels like everyone and their mother rinsed it when it was released. Yes, it’s good, but it’s also well-marketed. For us, we love the drop ‘All I want is you’ washing out over the synths, the breakdown slowly morphing into a very introspective garage synth drop classic that’s been tearing up dance floors everywhere. If you’ve not heard the album yet, here’s your chance.

‘The One’ – Ross From Friends

It’s challenging to avoid interview bias with selections as you end up listening so much to the artist’s music. Bit Ross From Friends was an interesting interviewee for being so normal and easy to chat with. He endeared himself further to the music community when he released Thresho, a Max for Live plugin as it sums him up as a producer’s producer. But like the last time we said that, he too ensures great songs, production and dancefloors remain at the centre, and it works. This is an excellent piece from a producer near the top of his game.

‘Get Up’ – Eats Everything, ShezAr

The lyrics ask you to “Take Me Up” in what is an excellent vocal performance from ShezAr. And the track does that. But it takes you back too – it’s got so many classic elements from the jacking drums, electric bass line, huge vocals, piano rolls and piano stabs. If a menu for ‘classic house’ existed, then this would be it. Served all hours of course.

‘Toast’ – Blawan

Last but not least Blawan. We’ve inked coverage on Blawan for years, and he just seems to get better. Whether his latest album is his best is irrelevant. What it is is a fascinating journey that keeps you engaged for its unlikely rhythms, sounds and arrangement. Like anything he does, it’s hard to pinpoint what it is, and it’s genuinely a mix of things. It sounds glib, but it’s true in his case. I wish our contributor doing the next Blawn Synth Secrets the best of luck!

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Author Eric Brünjes
18th December, 2023

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