Current critics pick their favorite sounds of the year.
Cryin' D.T. Buffkin & the Bad Breath/ Tattooed Rose / (self-released)
Buffkin's debut stands out among the year's best releases on the strength of its excellent original songs and the unique throwback instrumentation that sets it far apart from anything else on the SA scene.
Ronald Ray Gun / What's So Funny 'Bout Pizza and Understanding? / (self-released)
In case the title didn't tip you off, the Ronald Ray Gun guys don't take themselves too seriously. Thankfully, that's exactly the attitude needed to execute the particular brand of Dinosaur Jr. slacker rock the band excels at. Armed with a handful of fantastically catchy tracks, their debut manages to be an effortlessly enjoyable ride.
Cécile McLorin Salvant / Woman Child / (Mc Avenue Records II)
Having been painfully short of great singers for so long, the jazz world needed a Cécile McLorin Salvant, the 23-year old vocal wunderkind who released her thrilling debut Woman Child this year. French cabaret, 52nd Street swing, Mississippi blues, she does it all, and with style and soul to match.
Chucho Valdés / Border Free / (JazzVillage/Harmonia-mundi)
After half a century leading the Afro-Cuban jazz movement with Irakere and his own solo work, Chucho Valdés has a right to rest on his laurels. Instead the 72-year old legend is making music like Border Free, an album that sees the pianist as fiery, vibrant and inventive as ever.
of Montreal / Lousy with Sylvianbriar / (Polyvinyl)
Honestly, I'd written of Montreal off. But after years spent disappearing down an art-funk rabbit hole, bandleader Kevin Barnes has somehow re-emerged with Lousy with Sylvianbriar, an album which streamlines his gift for stunning harmonies, surrealist wordplay and brilliant songwriting into the band's best work in almost a decade.
Mikal Cronin / MCII / (Merge)
I've cooled on this record considerably since crowning it my favorite in the mid-year. But even nine months following its release, Cronin's second full-length holds up as one of the year's best examples of killer songwriting and blissful indie rock sweep.
Danny Brown / Old / (Fool’s Gold)
Jay-Z, Drake and Eminem all put out records in 2013. And all of them got shown up by Detroit-born cunnilingus enthusiast Danny Brown. He did it by doing it all, flowing effortlessly from codeine-soaked whine, thuggish bark and contemplative croon, in the process making Old the year's best pure hip-hop record.
Kanye West / Yeezus / (Def Jam/UMG)
Yes, Yeezus was probably over-hyped. The "Strange Fruit" sample is inexcusable. And a lot of the lyrics are dumb. Or misogynistic. Or both. But for those 40 minutes between the squalling alarm that opens "On Sight" on through the final "Uh-huh, honey" that closes "Bound 2," there's simply no denying its mesmerizing power.
Disclosure / Settle / (Universal Island)
Just as the EDM world was coping with the trauma of forefathers Daft Punk turning disco, in rode another electronic duo to get the glow sticks swinging again. The British pair's debut is not only the year's best dance record, but also proof that the electronic genre Daft Punk abandoned still has plenty more juice.
Janelle Monáe / Electric Lady / (Bad Boy)
Janelle aimed for a masterpiece on Electric Lady, and by no means did she nail it. But even a slightly off-the-mark Monáe is good enough to count among the year's best, as she shows on the Prince-assisted opener "Give Em' What They Love” and the Miguel duet "PrimeTime."