Artist: Kanye West
Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Released: June 18, 2013
Kanye West is the most avant garde hip hop artist out there today, and Yeezus is nothing short of extraordinary. Heavily influenced by the industrial genre, Kanye uses this musical avenue to speak out and express his rage against his critics. This album is essentially a big “fuck you” to everyone and letting people know that he’s going to continue creating music and art the way he envisions it. As a fan of hip hop, I love that Kanye isn’t afraid to step outside of the unspoken conventions around hip hop, and just experiment with different sounds.
Artist: James Blake
Label: Polydor, Republic Records
Released: April 5, 2013
James Blake has grown tremendously as an artist and producer since his “The Bell Sketch” and “CMYK” days. His sophomore album comprises of an indie R&B sound with hints of his love for experimental electronic sounds, all the while showcasing his maturing and definitive vocals. His soulful crooning on the title track “Overgrown” sets the tone for what’s to come on the LP – tracks like “Retrograde” and “DLM” is more progressive and indicative of the direction he is heading musically, while “Digital Lion” and “Voyeur” hints of his earlier work.
Artist: Arcade Fire
Label: Merge Records
Released: October 28, 2013
It’s hard to leave Arcade Fire’s Reflektor off this years top albums list, not only because they make incredible music, but also because this record was co-produced by James Murphy. Having leaned more towards electro and hip-hop based sounds in the last year; I found this concept album to be very engaging. The title track and “Joan of Arc” were standouts on the album, with the latter having a more punk rock feel that is reminiscent of the ‘80s era. While Arcade Fire is still an indie rock band, I find Reflektor to be as much an indie rock record as a dance record (thanks, James).
Label: PMR, Island
Released: May 31, 2013
Shortlisted for the Mercury Prize this year, Disclosure’s debut album “Settle” is a showcase of what the young electronic duo are capable. This deep house/garage/dance record includes some quality guest vocalists (Jessie Ware, AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis, London Grammar’s Hannah Reid, Sam Smith), demonstrating the kind of pull these brothers have in the UK music scene.
As much as there is heavy deep house influence, Disclosure is emphasizing their pop sensibilities by having very few standalone instrumental tracks. Settle is an album that you can listen to front-to-back in the comfort of your home, or play to a massive crowd in a club setting. Either way, it’s going to make you dance.
Artist: Danny Brown
Label: Fool’s Gold
Released: October 1, 2013
Similar to Kanye West’s Yeezus, Danny Brown’s new album Old is fantastic example of what alternative hip-hop is all about – pairing and balancing experimental hip hop sounds with the witty rhyme and flow of a good MC. The album is polarized with the first half heavy with emotion and self-reflection, and the latter half littered with electro-influence (maybe a result of being on A-Trak’s label) and more comparable to his former albums. Contributors like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, and Purity Ring add to the depth of the album, making it one of my clear favourites this year.