The 8 best guest spots of the year
Arca on FKA twigs - “Lights On”
FKA twigs has been everywhere this year. LP1 absolutely exploded, gracing countless end-of-year best lists and cementing the UK songstress as one of the finest rising acts in the world. Producer Arca has had great year too, and like “Lights On” for twigs, his contribution to the track is undoubtedly one of his best of the year. With serene vibe phrases and buzzing guitar grabs, the glitchy, eerie mood conjured by the Venezuelan-American producer, like the pitter-patter of light rain on a cold tin roof, provides a stunning backdrop for the sensual intimacy and matriarchy for which twigs’ latest release has been so deservedly praised. Though this is Arca’s only solo guest spot on LP1, the track nonetheless represents a neat microcosm of the album and its musical locutions; bubbling along softly, slowly and sensually before building into a vertiginous, layered chorus of epic proportions.
Kendrick Lamar on Flying Lotus - “Never Catch Me”
Living out the dream of almost every rapper in today’s hip hop scene, Kendrick Lamar’s alluring contribution to Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” helped to constitute what is undoubtedly one of the year’s finest singles. Perhaps one of the only rappers today capable of keeping up with the LA producer, Lamar’s fractured, high intensity verses compliment the latter’s fast paced production to a T; the pair pushing one another to their creative limits. A slab of futuristic doo wop, Lamar (rhaps)odies over a mellow jazz chord progression and typically frantic Thundercat bass groove, accompanying FlyLo on another diatribe against traditional structures and conventions. Poignantly pondering his past, the afterlife, and his place atop rap’s hierarchy, Lamar’s outstanding lyricism and insolence offer further suggestion to why his contemporaries will “never ever catch [him]” at the top of the game.
Boots and James McNew on Run The Jewels - “Early”
On one of the standout tracks on one of the standout hip hop albums of the year, rapper/producerBoots lays down a standout chorus hook befitting its poignant themes. With Killer Mike and El-P addressing the year’s Ferguson and New York police brutality incidents in their respective verses, Boots’ ethereal chorus delivery further substantiates the track as one of the more sincere and thought-provoking songs to be released this year in any genre. And in yet another unexpected RTJ collaboration, Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew also lays down some of the song’s sonorous, plangent bass parts. Far removed from the mellifluous indie rock basslines he usually employs, McNew displays an impressive flexibility as heavy as it is surprising.
Jason Pierce on Ariel Pink - “Picture Me Gone”
Ariel Pink is a journalist’s dream. Never far from controversy, his strident, cavalier character gives him a certain pervasiveness that means he is never far from the public eye. It’s usually pretty hard to displace Pink as the centre of attention, but psych legend Jason Pierce of Spacemen 3/Spiritualized fame does it with ease on the maudlin, saccharine “Picture Me Gone”, this time elevating Pink into the spotlight for all the right reasons. Swirling around Pink’s melancholic lyrics like the resonant rumbling of a jet engine , Pierce’s booming guitar and synth parts provide one of the most remarkable moments on one of the albums of the year.
Oddisee on J-Live - “Money Matters”
Fresh off the heels of the excellent Tangible Dream, rapper/producer Oddisee’s guest production spot on J-Live’s Around the Sun this year was yet more evidence of his rising star. Evoking a tropical paradise and plenty of emotion, Oddisee’s sample of the exceptionally gratifying cadences and chord progressions of Keith Droste’s “When You Come Along” provides a perfect breezy, summery backdrop for J-Live to rhyme over. The production is so good, in fact, he manages to outshine J-Live (which is not easy to do), ensuring the talented New York emcee can only provide embellishments on what is one of the best (and cleanest) hip hop tracks of the year.
Bryan Ferry on Todd Terje - “Johnny and Mary”
Norwegian producer Todd Terje’s debut LP It’s Album Time finally dropped this year to plenty of critical acclaim, after what seemed to be a never-ending slew of singles and EPs. Containing some of the best synth work since the Drive soundtrack, the standout track is the album’s cover of the Robert Palmer classic “Johnny and Mary". On an album largely bereft of live vocals, the contribution of Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry adds another dimension to an already fantastic album; his vocal delivery resonating like the reverb-drenched 80s snare he sings atop. Both futuristic and familiar, the unlikely combination of Terje and Ferry results in both one the most peculiar collaborations and best songs of the year.
Joey Bada$$ and Freddie Gibbs on Statik Selektah - “Carry On”
Enlisting the help of emcees of the moment and long-time collaborators Joey Bada$$ and Freddie Gibbs, DJ Statik Selektah reminded us all that in an age where rap is arguably moving further away from the sound and spirit of its origin, its golden age aesthetic is not totally dead. Backed by an AZ “carry on tradition” hook lifted from the 90s Nas classic “Life’s a Bitch”, an incredibly fluent horn sample and a beat that is simultaneously both rugged and smooth, Bada$$ and Gibbs voice their disdain for much of the generic, phony imitations that have consumed today’s rap game. The first “golden age” of hip hop may largely have passed, but the perceptive verses of both Bada$$ and Gibbs on “Carry On” ensure it is not yet completely forgotten.
Mendee Ichikawa on Mono/Poly - "Empyrean”
Back in August Brainfeeder producer Mono/Poly dropped his stunning second full length LP Golden Skies, with all but first single “Empyrean” instrumental. A beautifully ethereal electro dreamscape featuring the spectacular guest vocals of Free Moral Agents’ Mendee Ichikawa, “Empyrean”’s bewildering splendour seriously rivals any release of Mono/Poly’s label contemporaries – FlyLo included. But while the Californian’s talents are plain to see, it is Ichikawa’s efforts which really lift the track into the stratosphere. Hauntingly beautiful, Ichikawa’s wraithlike lyrics and delivery make “Empyrean” stand out from the instrumentals which permeate the release, clearly distinguishing it not only as a crown jewel of the album, but of the wider 2014 electro/hip hop scene.