20) Mikal Cronin – MCII
There’s something unavoidably likable about Mikal Cronin. He conjures up a warm nostalgia in his wholesome style of throwback pop, a style that’s more focused on emulating classic songwriting than relying on sonic tomfoolery to tip his hat to the past. The whole album feels refined to a point that most guitar albums of this ilk won’t even dare to try and achieve – Mikal isn’t trying to hide behind a veil of irony or supposed slacker mentality he has simply committed himself to making a great album and it absolutely shines as a result.
Best Moment: Shout It Out is so goddamn pure.
19) Cuushe – Butterfly Case
Nothing is better than discovering something unexpectedly brilliant and when I first heard this album I absolutely pounced on it because I wanted to rinse every last bit of it while it still felt like my little secret. Cuushe’s shoegazing approach to her R&B production gives this album a unique personal quality, that really helps this album feels like a treasured secret – a personal gift from Cuushe to her fans. Its tracks peacefully rise to thick crescendos and sink back down again to hushed tones where they began sounding like the thoughts that go through our minds when we’re alone in our rooms on any given night. And that’s kind of exactly what this album is – this is the sound of Cuushe’s nights spent quietly recording, muffling her approach to avoid waking her neighbours and in the process creating the soundtrack to every lonely late night I have.
Best Moment: I miss you is perfect
18) King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
King Krule is a really really peculiar artist. A South London jazz loving balladeer with a tendency towards dubstep style production and the voice of…well I’m not even going to attempt to describe Archy’s voice. King Krule succeeds by having no real comparison points. No one is better at what he does than he is and no one is worse because no one else does what Archy does. But even trying to pin point exactly what it is exactly King Krule does on this album is hard because he covers so much ground and not all of it works. Shapeless concepts like ‘Has This Hit?’ really bring down an album that would be so much higher in this list if it all matched the quality set by ‘Nepture Estate’ and ‘Baby Blue’. But still, this is the best King Krule album that’s been released all year and that’s all you can really say about it.
Best Moment: “Deep Sea Diver, Born Skiver, Two Month Fiver…” on Bathed In Grey is niceee
17) Parquet Courts- Light Up Gold
You may remember one of the first things I did on this blog was write an article about how I didn’t get this band – well it’s amazing what 8 months and actually listening to the bands you slag off does. Parquet Courts are the kid who knows they’re better than anyone else but refuses to acknowledge it when anyone tells them or puts them on an end of year list. Mixed imagery aside these guys are a band who are clever enough to know exactly what they’re doing and I imagine will continue to do so for a long time.
Best Moment: “Socrates died in the fucking gutter” is arguably the coolest thing anyone’s said all year.
16) Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
I think it’s very easy to forget how talented Earl really is. We’ve been aware of him for over 3 years now and he came straight out the box with better bars than most rappers could even dream of having ghostwritten for them. Now he’s 19 and when we hear one of his complex, syllable crunching verses its easy to shrug it off but stop and break down what’s actually going on in that cyclone of internal rhyme. Earl never once stoops to reciting nonsense to fit a rhyme scheme and every blunt fuelled line is laced with vivid imagery and head spinning references. Every line is pure grit, creeping out of the shadows of the dystopian metropolis that is Earl’s mind and leaving the listener looking over their shoulder to watch out for the demons Earl summons. Oh and he produced like, half the album…
Earl is stupidly talented man.
Best Moment: The moments when he reminds us that beyond all this talent he’s just a tortured young man whose probably more caught up battling his own demons to really care about any of this – “You see how his day going by the state of his wrists”.
15) Milo – Things That Happen At Day/Things That Happen At Night
The fact that Milo even exists is a gift. A young thoughtful man pushing the boundaries of what we can even call hip hop completely on his own terms. Finally with his own producers on board, this is the first project where Milo’s fully been able to take ownership of his sound stretching boundaries in terms of structure, production and especially content. I feel that Riley Lake’s production on ‘…Day’ really takes us further than even feels safe into the thought bubble that floats above Milo’s head as we truly, for the first time, begin to get a glimpse into how deep his mind runs. I think the success with which it tackles it’s themes almost scares me because it really brings us so deep into one’s mind that I fear I completely disconnect with the outside world when I listen and that’s a hell of feat.
Best Moment: Almost Cut My Hairs intro makes me feel all kinds of funny and I couldn’t tell you why but “we were driving and I yelled padiddle, you started crying so I cried a little” really touches me
14) inc. – no world
This album is, in my opinion, one of the most criminally underrated of the year. There were a lot of nods when it came out but no one really seemed to pick it up and love it so I’ve adopted inc. as my blogging love child and will now spend 2014 going door-to-door spreading the good word of this album until the restraining orders start flooding in. Seriously though inc. have created the most cohesively subtle album of this year – it’s a 35 minute whisper in a lover’s ear. The irony of that is there’s such a trembling fragility to every instrument and vocal that gives this record an intensity fit only for one set of ears at a time. Like I said earlier in the year (probably whilst drunk and listening to this on my own) this is sexy music for lonely people.
Best Moment: The chorus of ‘5 Days’ is as sexy as it gets #sexy!
13) Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
Joanna Gruesome really succeeded on their own terms this year. They won the praise of just about everyone not through some industry buzz or manufactured scene, their music and their energy just simply dropped the jaws of everyone that heard it. Joanna Gruesome manage to bring the energy of a group of people who are playing together for the first time and mix it with a balanced scale of grinning melody and rebellious fury. Ideas are never overdeveloped or overthought and there’s an ‘in the moment’ sense of unpredictability that makes for surprises even 10 listens in. This album is a band making an impulsive 10 song charge and striking gold every time.
Best Moment: “I dream of pulling out your teeth” *band enters* too perfect… – Oh and “do you really wanna know…” is very yeah!
12) Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown is probably my favourite artist. He is the kind of complex character that is so full of contradictions and subverted expectations that he will almost certainly foster a loyal flock of followers as long as he continues to be unashamedly himself. When I heard he had an album coming this year I was sure it’d be top 3. I can’t even work out why this album hasn’t hit home with me as much as I so badly wanted it to, all the components are there. The vivid Detroit nightmare Danny paints in the first half is about as chilling as anything I’ve heard this year and the b side bangers are still unlike anything any other artist is providing. With unlikely collabs from people like Purity Ring and Charli XCX and production from masters like Darq E Freaker and Rustie this should have ticked all the boxes. Yet I’m left feeling a bit disappointed. I just can’t help but feel that Danny sounds exhausted on this album. I don’t know I’ll probably end up loving it when the pressure is off and anyway, the fact that Danny made my 12th fav album this year and still feels like a bit of a disappointment to me just shows how highly I view Danny.
Best Moment: “POP THE PUSSY ON A HANDSTAND, RECORD THAT ON MY HANDYCAM”
11) Various Artists – Saint Heron
I first heard it a year and half late and ‘House of Balloons’ still blew my mind. Since then I’ve been convinced that this style of indie R&B or Alternative R&B or PBR&B or whatever you want to call it (except please don’t call it PBR&B) is the future of pop music. Solange and her Saint Records have compiled arguably the most cohesive snapshot of this sound so far and if I’m honest it succeeds in killing many birds with one stone by featuring some of 2013s hottest artists in the form of Sampha, Kelela, Jhene Aiko all of who have had incredible years on their own terms. It’s grasp of the style is so perfect that the shifting moods of the artists only highlights the diversity that can exist within the genre from the paranoid minimalism that creeps through ‘Jaded’ to the sunny-day optimism that shines on ‘Energy’. This is probably what the future sounds like so get used to it.
Best Moment: that “Hennessy, plenty weed” bit in Drinking and Driving always goes down well
10) MIA – Matangi
I read a thing about David Bowie once (hear me out on this). The gist of it was that some artists and movements were always going happen because everything that was happening in music and in the world forced them into existence and that David Bowie’s brilliance was that there is no logical reason he should exist. He’s not the answer to any question and we didn’t know we needed him till he was there. He is just a gift and I feel the same way about MIA. Seriously did anyone know we needed a Sri Lankan Via London Grime/Hip Hop/Dance music artist who fuses post wiki-leaks paranoia with eastern spirituality. No you didn’t but aren’t you glad we have her.
Best Moment: “Im a overweight heavyweight, female Slick Rick” takes some beating and also Boom Skit in general (I ❤ Hit Boy)
9) FKA Twigs – EP2
The fact that a four track EP is my ninth favourite thing that’s been released this year should instantly give you an idea of the quality we’re dealing with here. FKA Twigs is able to both sound a part of Indie R&B world that’s defined on Saint Heron whilst managing to sound light years ahead of it. This is the kind of artist who by showing no attempt’s at appeasing a potential audience makes a sound so self-assured that it can’t help but suck listeners in. It’s a parallel dimension of sinister electronic minimalism that feels like its picked up on the nocturnal terror of ‘Portishead’s’ work and sling-shotted it light years into the future. The achingly tense production though would be nothing if it weren’t juxtaposed with the romantic warmth of Twigs’ vocals and mysterious purity that is channelled through her lyrics. As you can tell I’m doing a pretty awful job describing this sound but I think that’s a testament to how far ahead of its time this sound is…and how bad a writer I am but mainly the first thing.
Best Moment: When those first chords wooze in on ‘Papi Pacify’ urghhhdayyym
8) Scallops Hotel (Milo) – Poplar Grove (or How To Rap With A Hammer)
Intimacy has always been an important part of Milo’s music. His appeal in the first place was always the lack of podium on which he preached, he simply laid bare his truths and if they interested you, you were welcome to listen. On this project I feel we hear Milo at his most intimate since those first tracks on his first mixtape, and in being so humble in his delivery, I’ve never felt more inclined to hang onto every word. It’s a man of about my age subtly intertwining pop culture references (“listening to Neptune Estate”) and thinking “oh well” with regards to his entire life and making complete sense because this is how my mind works – it doesn’t have a singular narrative and it’s not always erratic. My mind is usually in its meditative state where it obsesses with pop culture but is unable to avoid the bigger realities even in its calmest state. This is Milo as I love him, an honest man who can’t help but think too hard about everything in life and in doing so manages to make me less like the social alien I believe myself to be.
Best Moment: “It was like looking at a Youtube video of a sunset with a well-functioning dial-up connection. It was trying so hard and still coming up short” wow. Also the beat on “50 Centaurs”
7) Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips 2
This mixtape shows that there are literally no rules in music, something I think we need to be reminded of more often. You can say anything. You can rap over anything. There’s a freedom to this thing that is evident in moments when Bronson can’t even get through his own lines without laughing – they’re that ridiculous. Seriously, Action has sharpened his vivid braggadocio into a refined art form where each claim he makes is so picture perfect that the laughs start with sheer idea that these thoughts can cross a man’s mind. Take ‘Rolling Thunder’ for example during the course of which he says he: used to be a Rabbi, that he’s the Rap Dennis The Menace, that he’s getting his girl face to face toilets, that hes starting a brothel in the Philippines and a shit load more insanity. And this is just one song. The fact that this imagery is all weaved together with a delivery Bronson has now perfected, which manages to be subtly complex without ever overreaching and slipping from the blunted aggression it so perfectly delivers. Party Supplies not only peppers the mixtape with glouriously full backdrops but manages on occasion to see and raise Bronson’s seemingly un-toppable insanity by doing things like sampling the little mermaid sound track or Peter Gabriel. If you can listen to this without laughing hysterically or without being astounded by the sheer audacity of it all then we can’t be friends.
Best Moment: Far far too many lines but the first time I heard “I nutted in like three strokes, now that’s no way to rep the east coast” and also beat on ‘It concerns me’
6) Bos Angeles – Taking Out The Trash
I couldn’t work out for ages whether I should put this in or not but then I remembered I can do whatever the fuck I wanted and quietly slid it in at 6. The reason it probably shouldn’t be here is not only because it was a collection of four previous (and unreleased) EPs but that it didn’t even come out this year which I only found out when I began writing this paragraph. Seeing as I didn’t even know it existed last year though I think, at least for me, this is a 2013 album. Buying this album on cassette has also been a massive factor on the way I’ve consumed it. Beyond the first 3 tracks I don’t know the names of any of the tracks – I didn’t want to know. Hitting play on this cassette is a window into the smoky summer evenings that I miss so much this time of year and for about an hour these songs meld together to form this perfect homogeneous sound full of pure intentions. There aren’t any surprises on here and that’s its appeal. Bos Angeles knew exactly what they were doing and were better at it than anyone else I’ve heard.
Best Moment: June
5) Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
This album is a challenging listen and that’s exactly why I love it. Most bands are perfectly happy to create moments and sometimes a moment is perfect. In fact a bit above this I’ve rambled on about why that’s made Joanna Gruesome’s album so damn good but more often than not bands create something that’s not worth committing any thought to because there’s no reward for really digging in – they’re just empty husks that vanish from memory the second they pause. Speedy Ortiz’s album brings so many ideas to the table that as you become accustomed to their initially jarring approach to dissonance and structure that you discover hooks, riffs and one of the most unique and exiting voices of the year in Sadie Dupuis, both vocally and lyrically. Sadie’s ability to weave such enticing melodies on songs that ride so close to being vulgar in their atonal tendencies is the glue that holds all these ideas together. This is an album of risks that paid off. You wouldn’t catch many bands making a slow burner like ‘No Below’, a song that’s climax hits home too hard to simply be forgotten. This is music that once you open yourself up to it, gets deep within you and stays there which, sadly is a rarity for guitar music right now.
Best Moment: The riff at 1:40 on Hitch sold me
4) Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
Chancellor Bennett has had a better 2013 than any other 20 year old this year and this album was the reason why. This is just Chance being Chance and the world happened to fall in love with him.
Best Moment: “Ten…..Damn……Days…….”
3) Oliver Wilde – A Brief Introduction To Unnatural Light Years
Have you ever thought that an album was made specifically with you in mind? Well, Oliver Wilde was clearly thinking of me when he crafted his debut album. His mix of hazy electronics, perfectly orchestrated guitar layering and confidently sleepy vocals is a sound that I only realised how much I needed when I first heard it and the completeness of its sound engulfed me. The most astounding thing though is how fully realised it comes on his first album. For a new artist’s first full project to never once drop from the absolute highest quality is a certified rarity. Yet Oliver manages to provide diversity without ever breaking the unique soundscape he has trapped us in on this album. From the haunting loneliness of ‘Pinch’ to the swaggering beat of ‘Something Old’ Oliver never once loses control of the world he has created. There’s not a glitch, riff or detail that feels out of place of this album, a feeling you only get when you have a truly great musical mind at the reigns of a project and one that’s almost certainly got more to show us.
Best Moment: First time I heard the riff at 1:06 In Perret’s Brook >
2) Drake – Nothing Was The Same
If you had told me a Drake album would have been on this list at the start of the year let alone number two I would have been insulted at the implication. I know a lot of people are judging me pretty hard for this inclusion right now and I don’t completely blame you but have you ever had the chance to see an artist on top of their game before? Drake is without even exaggerating one of the biggest artists in the world right now, a man who is effortlessly able to straddle commercial and critical appeal and when he makes a statement like ‘My life’s a completed checklist’ the chills come not just from the audacity of the statement but in knowing that he’s right. It’s easy to see Drake as the poster boy for our narcissistic, self-obsessed social media generation and he kind of this; that’s part his brilliance. Drake has subverted every pre-convieved notion about what was considered ‘real hip-hop’ and taken the 21st century pop blue print that Kanye set out on 808’s and heartbreaks and turned it into masterfully produced winter woozy comedown music that mixes pure pop (Hold on, we’re going home), scolding bangers (worst behaviour) and the kind of hip hop/r&b synthesis that only Drake can produce. This is what the world sounded like in 2013.
Best Moment: From Time is maybe the best thing I’ve heard all year and when the second verse kicks in at 3:03 with the reverse piano *dies*
1) Kanye West – Yeezus
So much has been said about this album that it’s hard for me to add to the conversation but let’s get one thing straight; this is by far the best album that was released this year. That is not to in any way discredit anyone else’s output this year but album has hit so hard that it’s become the most innovative boundary pushing and (to some) highest quality piece of work of an artist whose back catalogue already contained 6 of the biggest albums worldwide in the last 9 years and is arguably the most important artist of our generation. This album is part of a continuing history.
For a while I’d wondered what would happen if an artist of Jay Z or Kanye’s position were to release an album that forced new ideas into the public eye and challenged the world to play catch up. I thought it a pipe dream but I underestimated the ambition and vision of Kanye West. For an artist who’s sold over ten million albums to release the most artistically ambitious and challenging album of the year is nothing short of incredible. From the first time we were teased ‘New Slaves’ I knew there was something bubbling but I’ve been disappointed too many times to really believe what was happening. Then I got the leak and hit play on ‘On Sight’ and realised that everything I’d dared to hope was actually happening and bigger than even I imagined. I won’t ever recreate that first playthrough where I sat for 40 minites and on every track Kanye West, world superstar, broke rules I didn’t even know existed till I felt them being shattered. It redefined maxamilism with his words and introduced ear assaulting minimalism in its production. There’s no superstar guest vocals and there was barely even a single. It shocked the whole world and tore apart his fans because you can’t feel anything but strongly about this album and that is the sign of not just a great piece of music but a cultural force in action and a piece of history being made.
Best Moment: ‘Blood On The Leaves’ is a six minite song that mixes a sample of Nina Simone singing one of the most powerful protest songs ever with a TNGHT song over which Kanye screams in a thick autotune on the torture by relationships and the media. It has no conventional structure or perceivable chorus. I couldn’t have even begun to imagine this song at the start of the year and I genuinely can’t verbalise how grateful that I am that this and the rest of the album are now part of the world. This album truly feels like a gift. Having said that nothing hit me as hard as when I heard On Sight for the first time.