The best releases of 2013: Dummy staff lists

Dummy's individual writers pick their 10 favourite releases in the year that was.

We at Dummy have had a lot of fun discussing and debating what should or shouldn't go in the lists of our favourite albums and tracks, but as these things tend to go, we had to make a few sacrificies: no one else was feeling that album as much as you were, no one else thought that that song should be in the top 10, no one else's hairs stood on end during that moment...

As such, we decided the only sane thing to do would be to let all of our individual staff members put a list of their favourite releases from the year together and have their say. It being 2013, the lines between an album and a mixtape, or a single and a Soundcloud stream, are more blurred than a clumsy Robin Thicke thinkpiece, so we've left it up to our writers to interpret the word "releases" as they see fit.

AIMEE CLIFF

I'm following the example of the wise Planningtorock in listing all my picks at number 1, because hierarchy sucks and because at various points of the year I would have called any of these releases my favourite.

1. Dean Blunt - 'The Redeemer' [Hippos In Tanks] Violins, voicemail messages, listless soul, lapping waves and folk collide to create a fractured tapestry of lost love in a digital, urban age. Blunt is one of the most underrated artists working today; for someone so frequently described as a "prankster", his LP is one of the rawest and most emotionally sincere I've heard this year.

1. Beyoncé - 'BEYONCÉ' [Columbia] 'Yoncé sneezed on this list and this list got sicker.

1. James Blake - 'Overgrown' [Polydor] Blake says that his mum likes this album more than his last. I do too. It's got a lot of proper songs on it that are among the best pop tracks of the year and have convinced me that Blake, as opposed to being a poster boy for a buzzy electronic movement, has a massive career yet ahead of him. Life Round Here specifically is probably my most played track of 2013.

1. Kanye West - 'Yeezus' [Def Jam] I wrote more about this album in our official list of the best albums of 2013. Suffice to say 'Yeezus' is a difficult listen, but an astounding achievement from someone at the top of his game, and the perfect follow-up to 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'. 

1. Daniel Avery - 'Drone Logic' [Phantasy Sound] The best dance album of 2013, transposing the fun and mastery of Avery's DJ sets effortlessly into album form. Completely addictive.

1. Cloud Boat - 'Book Of Hours' [R&S/Apollo] Field recordings made in car parks meet intricate guitar work and voices distorted and pitch-shifted into angelic echoes to create one of the most diverse releases of the year from R&S duo Cloud Boat. These two are enthralling live. 

1. Tirzah - 'I'm Not Dancing' EP [Greco-Roman] When it came to short releases this year I also couldn't stop listening to MssingNo's wonderfully restrained self-titled debut, but it was Tirzah's EP, full of bittersweet lyricism and topsy-turvy beats, that totally bowled me over. It sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth. 

1. John Wizards - 'John Wizards' [Planet Mu] This was the travelling music that soundtracked summer 2013 for me, watching landscapes shift in time to the rolling South African house rhythms and zany guitar break-outs. Never a dull moment.

1. Kelela - 'Cut 4 Me' [Fade to Mind] The thing about this mixtape is that, as innovative and thrilling as it is sonically, it's also just one of those releases that has you haplessly mouthing along to it into your hairbrush as if it's the early 00s and you've worn out your 'Survivor' CD so much that it skips when it says "Kelly, can you handle this?". A phenomenon.

1. Glasser - 'Interiors' [True Panther] Where 'Ring' was a tentative exploration of musical ideas that showed glimmers of something incredibly special from New York singer-songwriter Cameron Mesirow, 'Interiors' is her having the strength to build on those ideas and then demolish them, exploding her music wide open into a behemoth pop sound. In terms of an all-encompassing audiovisual project, no other album was more convincingly brought to life in 2013.

 

SELIM BULUT

Photo by Masha Mel.

1. Connan Mockasin - 'Caramel' [Phantasy Sound] Funny thing with these lists is that you get to let your taste run rampant and dictate your choices, yet you still can't help editorialising with what should be here. But fuck it: my favourite album this year was 'Caramel'. I just love this record from the absolute bottom of my heart and have listened to it more times than I care to admit. My first listen to this album was on the overground home and I started welling up, which is maybe even more pathetic than that sounds. Connan Mockasin is an artist so totally on his own path that I can't help but be swept away by it.

2. E.m.m.a. - 'Blue Gardens' [Keysound Recordings] I've lost count of how many times I've written about 'Blue Gardens' now. The most idiosyncratic and emotionally absorbing thing to come out this year.

3. SOPHIE - BIPP / ELLE [Numbers] Nothing More To Say was kind of incredible, but BIPP and ELLE just turned my world upside down: what the fuck is this, and where can I hear more? Listening to Sophie's music (and reading his very rare interviews) fills me the same sense of excitement I had hearing Jam City's 'Classical Curves' for the first time. I'm obsessed!

4. Outer Limits Recordings - 'Singles, Demos, and Rarities (2007-2010)' [Weird World] A retrospective of former Test Icicles guy Sam Mehran's years in the wilderness making lo-fi cassette pop that some people called 'hypnagogia' at the time. The songwriting on this is completely out of this world.

5. Oneohtrix Point Never - 'R Plus Seven' [Warp] When I first listened to this album, I thought it sounded like it was made by robots. I listened more, and became more heavily invested in its concept. The deeper I got into it, though, the more I realised I didn't actually care about any of that - I was just completely caught in how emotionally rich this album is. I don't want to overthink this too much, it really is just a fantastic, moving album.

6. Daniel Avery - 'Drone Logic' [Phantasy Sound] Having spent years firing out remixes and EPs both as Stopmakingme and under his own name, I wasn't expecting Dan Avery to come out with one of 2013's most accomplished albums. That's not to say anything he did was bad, but there was just so much of it. Here, he totally nails it, not putting a hair out of place.

7. James Holden - 'The Inheritors' [Border Community] None of my album choices are representative of a scene, or a label, or a genre, or whatever. Instead, they're all about artists who just do something that's totally their own, and you don't get anybody more like this than Holden, who seems to operate completely outside of any current trends. No one else could make an a sprawling album of paganist techno/krautrock/psych/folk and do it so successfully.

8. Maxmillion Dunbar - 'House Of Woo' [RVNG Intl.] Nutso wandering psychedelic house jams by a completely incomparable musician. Peeling An Orange In One Piece is one of the amazing pieces of music I've heard in my life.

9. Various Artists - 'Tasty Morsels Vol. 1' [self-released] There are so many good songs on here: Sad Eyes' bedroom karaoke, Cute Boobs' demented lullabies, Infinite Bisous' quiet pop, and Fruit Salad's completely lush Sleep Forever. There are a couple of clunkers, but they weirdly add to the appeal of the whole thing. Completely charming home recorded pop music from some absurdly talented individuals. 

10. Outfit - 'Performance' [Double Denim] No matter how much weird electronic music I write about, I can't deny my indie kid roots. 'Performance' harks back to my post-punk loving days: straight, angular, white male indie that flirts with dance music but is almost comically un-groovy. A great album!

 

ROBERT DARNELL

Photo by Socrates Mitsios.

1. Kelela – ‘CUT 4 ME’ [Fade to Mind] Doesn’t matter if you call it a mixtape, an album, or an elephant: this was the most effervescent, game-changing collection of songs that hit my ears in 2013. 

2. Forest Swords – ‘Engravings’ [Tri Angle] Not as confrontational as 'Dagger Paths', but every bit as engaging. A naturalistic trip from a genuinely singular producer. 

3. Autre Ne Veut – ‘Anxiety’ [Software] Feel like I get a bolt of ‘80s-style blue lightning through me every time I put this on: always gives me a smile, and by the time World War’s on I’m pretty much ready to high-five anyone I walk past.

4. The Haxan Cloak – ‘Excavation’ [Tri Angle] My go-to all year for a claustrophobic journey at the witching hour. Still get a kick from letting Miste’s piercing, bullet-from-a-gun opening scare the bejesus out of me, and I find more and more cracked beauty in the The Drop’s majestic first half with every spin.

5. Lapalux – ‘Nostalchic’ [Brainfeeder] An underrated LP for me. There’s so much romance to this Brainfeeder debut – its wistful loops and rain-soaked beats got under my skin on its March release, and stayed there ever since. 

6. E.m.m.a. – ‘Blue Gardens’ [Keysound Recordings] More ears are propping up to how essential Dusk + Blackdown’s Keysound label are right now – and E.m.m.a.’s debut quickly establishes itself as one of the standout LPs they’ve put out. I don’t think I’m alone in having needed to live with ‘Blue Gardens’ for a while to really get it, but it’s a work worthy of patience. Those synths just sing. 

7. Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘R Plus Seven’ [Warp] Listened once, wasn’t sure. Listened again, was surer. Now I’m struggling to keep it away from my headphones. Might keep up the listening regime into 2014 to see whether enough exposure to OPN will eventually turn you into a cyborg. 

8. DJ Rashad – ‘Double Cup’ [Hyperdub] Hardly the sound of footwork parking up, but an originator widening the sound’s cardiovascular bass and sonic-GIF repetitions to the UK ‘nuum of dancefloor’s past, and (possibly) anticipating the future in the process. 

9. Kanye West – ‘Yeezus’ [Def Jam] Sure, some of the lyrical content is a few degrees short of a half-baked croissant, but Hold My Liquor and Bound 2 alone would make leaving it out criminal.

10. Oneman – 'Solitaire' (Volumes 1&2) [self-released] While Oneman’s been doing this kind of thing on dancefloors for ages, it feels like the 'Solitaire’ series has taken the baton from Rustie’s Essential Mix last year and run wild. From the Fatima Al Qadiri/Bone Thugs N Harmony blend ushering in Vol. 1, Oneman had me hook, line and sinker - ridiculously fun, and some of the most lovingly realised mixing I’ve heard in 2013.

 

STEPH KRETOWICZ

1. Tirzah – 'I’m Not Dancing' [Greco-Roman] With master of the short and sweet pop song Micachu producing, there’s the infectious banger of a title track here, but beyond Tirzah’s incredible vocals there’s also a range of moving moments on the EP at large, from the offbeat pull of Inside Out’s ode to rejection and the murky movement of Slow Jam’s tribute to a changing relationship. All cool exterior with a deeply sentimental soul, there's nothing not to love.

2. 18+ - 'MIXTAP3' [self-released] A nebulous duo probably from LA, ‘MIXTAP3’ features snippets echoing Nguzunguzu and witch house, and a track listing that is so stylistically diverse, yet ultimately cohesive it actually sounds like the future. That’s not least for embracing some production by Berlin artist-producer AIDS-3D and US unknown (for now) Heavy Feelingz. More seductive art-music hybrids with filthy lyrics plz.

3. Kelela – ‘Cut 4 Me' [Fade to Mind] Weirdly, I’ve got a thing against vocal cameos over electronic music. Hence, my scepticism when it came to Kelela, providing vocals for tracks by the likes of Teengirl Fantasy and Kingdom. But ‘Cut 4 Me’, featuring some of the most exciting US producers around, as well as a voice and a songwriting agenda that is "beyond", means I’m sold. 

4. FELICITA - '(>'.')>#' [self-released] Making the rounds on the South London art scene, Felicita had already made an excellent Whitney Houston (circa 'The Bodyguard') remix with Palmistry before this gem of an EP yielded elastic synthesised organisms disguised as music that is as tangible as their producer is weird.

5. Zebra Katz – 'DRKLNG' [self-released] Of all the NYC rappers lumped into the deviant category of last years ‘queer rap’ wave, Ojay Morgan emerged as one of the most promising. Following up Ima Read and last year’s ‘Champagne’ mixtape with a slew of excellent music videos, ‘DRKLNG’ defined the visual artist and performer as a brilliant songwriter and producer in his own right. I also don’t think many people have really taken into account just how monumental Busta Rhymes’ contribution on Ima Lead actually is.

6. FKA Twigs – 'EP2' [Young Turks] Skirting dangerously close to the realms of trip hop in her earlier work, adding the 'FKA' and the Arca to her repertoire meant that the artist formerly known as Twigs (and not much at all beyond that) produced another lurching fantasy to add to the mysterious persona and compelling music video catalogue. 

7. Heatsick – ‘RE-ENGINEERING’ [PAN] There’s so much more to music than the sounds themselves, and here, the Berlin-based, art-schooled producer forever lingers on the periphery of the archetypes he both embraces and rejects. Working across house, disco and ‘other’, while producing a record loaded with visual and lyrical references to new establishment art, ‘RE-ENGINEERING’ is potentially a landmark in conscientious objection.

8. Nguzunguzu – ‘Skycell’ [Fade to Mind] It would appear that the technotopian ‘Mirage’ of 2010 has well and truly dissipated into the oppressive tech hell of the digital image eroded into actual Armageddon. Gunshots, alarms, lumbering piano and cutup vocals are scrambled across an anxious ode to the end of times.

9. Dean Blunt – ‘The Redeemer' [Hippos In Tanks] It still confounds me how an artist so detached can come across so genuine in his output. That’s certainly the case of the ambiguous persona of Dean Blunt who, even in this second album, played across orchestral sample packs and a mellotron, can make a sound that’s as real as the broken-down, tunelessness of a voice sung to a broken heart.

10. Visionist – ‘I’m Fine’ [Lit City Trax] It’s great to see London reclaiming some of the fascinating musical hybrids of the US that grime essentially inspired. In this case it comes from Brixton-raised Louis Carnell, who’s taken a capellas from across the pop spectrum, including Destiny’s Child and Usher, to sculpt into mutant organisms shaped around a personal grief in the dark ironic title of an EP called ‘I’m Fine’.

 

ANTHONY WALKER

1. Future, 2013's MVP Sporting analogies aren't really the best for assessing musicians but they fit for Future. Of all the tags that can be placed on him - originator of an in-vogue Auto-Tune quirk a la T-Pain, lead crossover of a strong regional rap scene, new representative of the Dungeon Family tradition - he has established himself as a hitmaker first and foremost this year, so prolific and inventive that I could easily compile a top ten list of Future songs alone, from his trio of exceptional solo singles, Karate Chop, Honest, and Sh!t, brilliant mixtape cuts like No Love, Mark Mcgwire and Chosen One and blockbuster hooks on Bugatti, U.O.E.N.O, Tap Out, and Love Me. That's all without even touching on his biggest pop moves (made alongside Mike Will Made It, a producer on a similar, probably even more stellar, trajectory), executive producing 'Ciara' and featuring on Miley Cyrus's polarizing album 'Bangerz'. 

2. Kanye West - New Slaves [Def Jam] While the idea of Kanye as a lightning rod for personal angst, creative frustration, and political anger is compelling, it didn't translate all that well on 'Yeezus', an album that often struggles to match up to its maker's ambitions. A performance of New Slaves was projected on walls around the world in a dramatic introduction to the new Mr. West and his indignant rebuke of America's ruling classes and the materialism in contemporary black culture still sets it off like nothing else on the album: stark, agitated and darkly beautiful without falling into the dreary self-indulgence that mars other parts of it.

3. Young Thug - '1017 Thug' [Brick Squad] There possibly isn't another human being on the planet more spirited than Young Thug, the Atlanta rapper whose acronym for the word "Slime" on the chorus of close associate Ola Playa's track of the same name starts out "the S is for Slug" before quickly spiralling to "the L is for love, the I is I, the M is for me... you know the E for everything! You know for the E for everything!". The song isn't featured on '1017 Thug', his fourth mixtape overall and first under the 1017 Brick Squad banner, but it should tell you something about what to expect from the release - one of the most extreme and heartfelt of the year and as unguarded a demonstration of his unique genius as you could hope for.

4. Flava D - Hold On/Home [Butterz] Instrumental grime is making a comeback, yeah, but a lot of the best new music actually stands out for its deviation from strictly grime styles - which is totally fitting because the genre has always borrowed from and lent to other movements anyway. Flava D has been among the very top names in the scene this year but her key release Hold On/Home is a blend of 2-step and 4x4 bassline, a sumptuous double A-side single that doesn't explicitly show how grimey she can be but clearly marks her out as a producer of serious quality.

5. Jessy Lanza - 'Pull My Hair Back' [Hyperdub] 'Pull My Hair Back' is an impressive balance of technical skill and emotional weight from Jessy Lanza, her stripped-back studies of twilight R&B and post-disco succeeding in sounding sophisticated and unfussy at the same time. The album's palpably thick mood is the down to the fine synthesiszer work of Lanza and co-producer Jeremy Greenspan, pushed further still by some timeless songcraft.

6. Ty Dolla $ign ft. Joe Moses - Paranoid [Gangsta Grillz] That Ty Dolla $ign and DJ Mustard, two leading representatives of the LA ratchet scene, made a proper jam isn't at all a surprise but the pair really excelled themselves on Paranoid, a song that feels like it should soundtrack a hazy club scene in a Young California erotic thriller. Ty Dolla $ign's label cynically replaced Joe Moses with B.O.B for the single's official release, but the original 'Ketchup' mixtape version is the only one worth talking about, with Moses' verse adding some lightness to an otherwise tense track. 

7. Dummy Mix 173 // Ikonika [Dummy] The thump and sheen of Ikonika's July album 'Aerotropolis' was expertly transposed into this hour long mix, one that Dummy were proud to host. As great as the her tracks frequently are, the album format doesn't particularly highlight their collective appeal, where a mix like this, with a handful of her own tunes interspersed in a searing house-centered selection, is really phenomenal. It's about  "making a mess of things to devastating effect", as Ikonika herself told us.

8. Earl Sweatshirt ft. Frank Ocean - Sunday [Columbia] Earl Sweatshirt actually receded from the spotlight for much of 'Doris', the antithesis to your typical heavily-anticipated debut. Of all the scratchy sketches that came together to make it a good, though not great, effort, Sunday shines through as an example of his talents as both a writer and a producer and was composed with Frank Ocean, the Odd Future member whose artistic growth he seems the best poised to follow. It isn't one of his most spectacular lines but "On cloudy days when I'm salty/I play my hate to the Logic" may be the album's most evocative.

9. SFV Acid - 'The Dwell' [UNO NYC] On this most localized of albums, SFV Acid sought to speak of nothing but the feeling of recording an album in a Starbucks in the LA suburbs and willfully ignored any dance music cliche or posturing. His skewed takes on acid house emphasise space and sadness without fetishising them and his brighter moods delight on a work filled with strange and beautiful moments.

10. Lonnie Liston Smith vs. Swindle with Terri Walker (live in the Boiler Room) [Boiler Room] It's doubtful that any Boiler Room performance will ever top this one for pure niceness: with astral jazz legend Lonnie Liston Smith, Swindle - off the back of his terrific 'Long Live the Jazz' album - and the criminally under-appreciated soul singer Terri Walker absolutely killing it in the Brownswood garden on an afternoon in August.

 

ADAM HARPER

Photo by Jody Rogac.

1. 18+ - 'MIXTAP3' [self-released] I have to confess that some years I've struggled to feel that the releases I've put towards the back end of my lists were really all that. On no account was this a problem in 2013. Some absolutely huge releases tragically disappeared above the number 10 mark this year - Kelela, Rabit, Laurel Halo, Jam City, Oneohtrix Point Never, Rashad Becker, Kanye West, Blank Banshee, Wen, 'Grime 2.0', 'This is How We Roll', and so many more. A lot of scarcely reconcilable factors impinge on list-making, but for me one of the most important qualities is freshness, and 2013 has been the freshest, most downright future years I can remember. But it wasn't too difficult figuring what would be at the top - doing very well by practically any conceivable measure, this humble .zip file from the overlooked minimal-experimental hip hop duo 18+ was dark, weird, subtle, all-round perfection from start to finish.

2. FKA Twigs - 'EP 2' [Young Turks] Fragile, spot-on vocals wreathed in a streamers of weirdness like a monstrous city-sized jellyfish: pop in 2013. Production by Arca, and because there was so much competition I decided he should only be in the list once, so his '&&&&&' mix had to go - check it out though if you haven't already, Arca's surely one of the most exciting producers of the past couple years.

3. SOPHIE - BIPP / ELLE [Numbers] But oh wait, there's SOPHIE too. BIPP gave me so much joy this year, and it takes some real ability to make something so strange a hit. This one got played on the radio. No, FM! At least once!

4. Autre Ne Veut - 'Anxiety' [Software] Utterly utopian grooves and sensual catharsis to the rescue, like some unbelievably sexy firefighter turning up when your house is burning down. My hero.

5. E.m.m.a. - 'Blue Gardens' [Keysound Recordings] Strong, affecting debut with (for me at least) a warmly local sound, a real grower too. In a year when edgy darkness was everywhere, this one had some powerful humanity burning at its core.

6. Diamond Black Hearted Boy - 'Father, Protect Me' [STEAK AU ZOO] Another one of the online underground's best kept secrets, Chino Amobi ventured further beyond standalone tracks this year, and 'Father, Protect Me' makes a great introduction to this fascinating sound artist / collagist / ???ist. Guy's on the front in Elizabethan dress casting a spell - all you need to know.

7. James Ferraro - 'NYC, Hell 3:00AM' [Hippos In Tanks] While everyone else got on a rocket to Planet X this year (a rocket Ferraro did much of the work building), Ferraro stayed on Old Earth like a gothic, non-cutesy Wall-E and crumbled into the detritus he sifted. A heavy, heavy album.

8. Contact Lens - 'Free Throw Banquet' [self-released] In a tough field, 'Free Throw Banquet' emerged as an enormously likeable beat collection, a winsome combination of cutting-edge sounds and laidback, luxury atmospheres.

9. Logos - 'Cold Mission' [Keysound Recordings] My housemates found me sprawled unconscious on the sofa with smoke coming out of my nostrils: my first run-in with what's probably the most syncopated object known to human scientists. Almost too future.

10. Pharmakon - 'Abandon' [Sacred Bones] Seering, absorbing and visceral work - extreme music with variety, unpredictability and undeniable power when others are merely content to blow your speakers up.

As is often the case when you read these sorts of things, you can't help but compile your own lists: feel free to put your own top 10s in the comments below.

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