1. Kanye West / Yeezus / (Def Jam/UMG)
Duh. Kanye West is ’93 Michael Jordan, weaving his way through the competition with grace, precision and absolute execution. Let’s just hope Kanye’s extracurricular pursuits are more inspired than Jordan’s stint in baseball pinstripes, though the spectacle of the Yeezus tour suggests Kanye’s design work may be more compelling than Jordan at the plate.
2. Kurt Vile / Wakin on a Pretty Daze / (Matador)
Vile’s fifth studio album feels effortlessly stoned, with tracks pushing 10 minutes passing through headphones without a second thought. Perfectly titled, Wakin on a Pretty Daze captures the good vibes of a lazy day that seemed accomplished but never really went anywhere, blending the best elements of classic and indie rock.
3. Various Artists / Afrobeat Airways, Vol. 2 (Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983) / (Analog Africa)
Berlin-based label Analog Africa continues to release extraordinary Afrobeat, Afrofunk and Highlife from the so-called Funk Belt of Africa, a region on the north coast of the Gulf of Guinea. This release hones in on Ghanaian funk from ’74-’83; think James Brown with an even more infectious rhythmic structure.
4. Death Grips / Government Plates / (Third Worlds)
Amidst the hysteria of dick-pic album covers, dropping major labels and booking entire tours with no intention to show, Death Grips would have been long forgotten (or risen to fame and fortune) if not for their cutthroat hip-hop/noise aesthetic. Government Plates finds Death Grips, almost three years after their debut, with no aural comparisons.
5. King Krule / Six Feet Beneath the Moon / (True Panther Sounds)
Inspired by the chord changes of jazz and rhythmic language of hip-hop, but entirely independent of his influences, 19-year-old Archie Marshall’s Six Feet Beneath the Moon is one of the most articulate and addicting debuts in recent years.
6. Marcus Rubio / Rooms / (Prairie Fire Tapes)
Flower Jesus Quintet / Massive Cave / (self-released)
Q. Does No. 6 go to Marcus Rubio’s portrait in musique concrète Rooms, though he no longer lives in SA? Or does it go to the Flower Jesus Quintet’s 30-minute tape exploring all possible outcomes of one song, though it’s technically not an album? A: Fuck it, both.
7. Earl Sweatshirt / Doris / (Tan Cressida/Columbia)
Not since Nas’ Illmatic has a rapper had such command over internal rhyme—“feeling hard as Vince Carter’s knee cartilage is”—and never has the game seen such a referentially dense emcee. Rap nerds could drop theses breaking down the layers of reference in a couple verses.
8. Oneohtrix Point Never / R Plus Seven / (Warp)
The follow-up to 2011’s Replica, an album that cemented OPN’s Daniel Lopatin as the internet-era Brian Eno, R Plus Seven is a haunting experiment in ambience, a record that draws strictly from the preset libraries of early ’80s public broadcasting. Beyond referential, it feels both familiar and distant, like recalling a dream in the afternoon.
9. Rhye / Woman / (Polydor)
With their debut on Loma Vista, Rhye’s Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal have concocted the smoothest, sexiest bedroom music since D’Angelo’s Voodoo. It’s intimate, minimalist R&B for the indie-inclined.
10. The Rich Hands / Dreamers / (Fountain; cassette released by Burger)
Now signed to tastemaker garage label Burger Records, SA’s the Rich Hands should see blue skies in 2014, though following up 2013—a year that saw the band sweep the voter-chosen SA Music Awards and their fun-as-hell debut LP—may be a challenge, but a good one to have.