MDR’s Top Tracks of 2020
Written by katehazeldine on 18th December 2020
One single track from a whole year… Pretty impossible, right? Especially when lockdown had our favourite artists sat at home twiddling their thumbs, leading to waves of unplanned new and exclusive music, with that extra incentive of Bandcamp Friday… How to go back and pick just one?!
However, our trusty Melodic family have done just that, whittling down a plethora of incredible records to just one golden single that had them hitting repeat. Whether Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Long Way Home’ had you longing to be a character in the video, or Charli XCX’s ‘claws’ had you reliving your first love, there’s picks below catered to all.
Quadrant & Iris – Make Me Feel It
Chosen by Alex Richards (Baltic 170)
Quadrant and Iris have been putting out a steady stream of top shelf drum & bass for a number of years now. Hailing from Seattle, Washington State they have released on CIA, Guidance and Dispatch.
Writing music eight time zones away lets them reference the UK scene but not get caught up in the endless chase for ‘the new sound’, which can see musical high points come and go all too quickly. Their sound is rolling tech step and neurofunk with echoes of Quarantine and Symmetry.
In April 2020 the ‘Form Constant’ EP arrived. A prime example of modern drum & bass it included three original pieces and two remixes, released on Klute’s highly regarded label Commercial Suicide.
Rattling through four and a half minutes the stand-out track is ‘Make Me Feel It’. No-nonsense breakbeats are cut through with a memorable vocal which makes the track accessible and intimate. The echoing synth stabs arrive at 1:50, expanding the sound stage right up to the rafters and then it’s straight into a short breakdown. Just enough time to catch a breath before the stripped back second drop hits without losing a single bar of pressure. The layers rebuild once again and the listener is neck deep in the kind of energy only 170bpm can create.
The juxtaposition of hard and soft is what exemplifies the best in drum & bass. Building on Quadrant and Iris’s signature sound, ‘Make Me Feel It’ is serious yet uplifting, elevating it above the rest. It strikes a hard earned high watermark for Leigh and Karen Caplan and is our top pick of 2020.
CS + Kreme – Saint
Chosen by Jordan Swales (TWGX)
This track is just an instant mood setter. I love the sort of weighted stillness of the track; it was the perfect soundtrack for walking the dog during the first lockdown when the streets were largely empty of people and cars, tapping into a mild post apocalyptic kinda vibe. The bass line is killer, real slick and smooth and simple yet imposing.
The whole album (‘Snoopy’, a close contender for my album of the year) is a really great selection of bass (guitar) driven music and inspires me to pick up an instrument I’ve lost a bit of love with over the past few years.
This track/record also reminds me of the last gig we went to see before everything got less fun over in the White Hotel in Manchester. CS + Kreme played a strong selection of new and old tracks and also had really great support from Colin Porter, laying down a really stunning live electronic set on Korg Volcas of all things… Ah how we miss the before times.
Soccer96 – Children Will Dance
Chosen by James Binary (Memory Control)
Out of all the nothings in this world, our nothingness means the least. In conjunction with these real matters of vapidity, the value of what I think is infinitesimal.
Now we have that straight… Let us merely embrace the titular validity of this song. ‘Children Will Dance’ and they will do it regardless of all that is. A song that makes me dance is a rare gem and this is certainly just the right mix of synth and bass to enliven this typing idiot.
If you’ve not tried dancing before, Boogying is the top best activity. With no age restrictions in tow, it means fun for all the family. Soccer96 reminds my inner child and my oafish older self that those parts of me like a fucking good bass line, nothing more. Time to order a shakey egg so we can all join a band.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Long Road Home
“I don’t know why I don’t wanna transform” – me neither Mr Point Never, me neither. I’m a human amongst 7,832,047,550 others, with friends and family, hobbies and passions. Every day I worry that my inexorable loneliness will crush me flat. A transformation I care to avoid. Music reminds me that I can carry on regardless. My quixotic aloneness vibrates on a different plane when I watch the video to this song. My puppet-like emotions are stilled temporarily. Only to become re-tangled by the lyrics and cold strings. This for me is a love song. I find it alluring, connective, sating. All things which I imagine for myself whilst I pretend I’m a character in the video. Favourites come and go.
Richard T Holmes – Theme For Recovery
Chosen by Lo Five (Emotion Wave)
One of my favourite releases this year was ‘Laments 13’ by Richard T Holmes, which came out on Preston-based Concrete Tapes. It was one of those that found its way to me by serendipity and gave me that unfiltered joy of experiencing something unexpected that I could immediately tune in to.
It’s a bizarre mixture of tape recordings, dusty lo-fi trip hoppy beats, classical and jazzy sounds plus some weird electronic parts – that really gel together to create something singular and beautiful.
For me it’s been the perfect accompaniment to many Autumnal walks on the grey drizzly beaches of the Wirral, and to me has this almost slow motion sensibility that creates a feeling of acceptance and benign resignation from life being put on hold by the pandemic.
I’ve taken a lot of comfort and inspiration from more laid back ambient albums such as this one, ‘Finds You Well’ by Khotin and ‘World of Inherent Noise’ by Luke Sanger – they all feel like lullabies for adults, exactly what I need right now.
Bored Lord – Never Felt This Way
Chosen by Benny Maths (Black Beacon Sound)
Jacques Malchance’s pulsating cosmic banger ‘SystemAcido++’, the thumping raw house groove of Mark Forshaw’s ‘Diriviator’, MoMA Ready’s beautiful, rave-ready ‘Portal Step’, the melancholic acid of Martyn Bootyspoon’s ‘YeeHaw Emoji (Face with Cowboy Hat)’ and Kush Jones’ emotive flex on ‘Breaking Shit’ could all have potentially taken this.
However, Bored Lord (who has put out some incredible music this year) self-released one of my favourite EPs of the year, ‘i love you’, from which the magnificent, irrepressible face-melter that is ‘never felt this way’ is my track of the year. From the vocal refrain at the start sounding like a distorted, manipulated Anohni declaring they’ve “never felt this way before,” through the lush sweeping synths and rave keys that build in the intro, the track flips into a full-on dancefloor destroyer, pairing a furious breakbeat with a stabbing melody that is as raw as it is glorious. The track reintroduces elements from the intro throughout, building into a crescendo of sound that would leave dancefloors in a quivering, ecstatic flurry of sweat-soaked limbs, if such things were allowed. Brutally magnificent, cannot recommend this enough!
Charli XCX – Claws
Chosen by George \m/ (Cartier 4 Everyone)
After months of clashing diaries and not really seeing each other enough in 2019 to count it as a year in their relaysh, Charli and her fella were on the ropes. Then March of this year rolls around and they opt to lock down together. Thus sets the backdrop of the quick-to-press (and impress) album from whence my track of choice comes. ‘Claws’ provides the height of optimist-idealist bubblegum sandwich-craft; glass-overflowing-nevermind-half-full; rediscovered passion and sweet naivete of a poppy popper that comfily comes to us in two minutes thirty (sigh, swoon).
Whether, as has been touted, the album was completed start to finish in the first 10 weeks of UK lockdown 1.0 rescinds into irrelevance when I hear this falling-for-someone-all-over-again earworm of a list song. Our Charl reels off a word salad of qualities she finds freshly endearing in her would-be-estranged other half. “Like your mind, like your smile / like your eyes, I could die…” and so on, we’re all in this together as the trope becomes ever more cheekily universal.
Many things make XCX the people’s pop icon, whether that’s leaving it to the fanbase to decide on album art, or doing more to be visibly queer-friendly than most. But what makes a stan cherish her all the more is the vulnerability on display in this slice of home-styled realism. Saying “fuck it, let’s move in together” is actually a revelatory, brazen, hopeful-in-the-face-of-risk moment a lot of us have shared, and reinstates Charli as the most human, relatable, and downright honestly hilarious artist you could currently ask for.