Dazed's overlooked albums of the year

Darkwave passion, K-Pop's finest and the female rapper with bars for days

Music Dazed & Approved
overlooked album covers2

Skin Town – The Room

Having first met after a show by The-Dream, and with their first recording a cover of Craig David's “7 Days” (renamed “7 Daze”), you'd be forgiven for assuming LA's Skin Town were another couple of blog R&B chancers with a Casio keyboard and an archly-raised eyebrow. Thankfully their debut album The Room avoids the dry-as-a-bone posturing of their peers in favour of hook-laden songs about the joys of sex that are best listened to after midnight. They've clearly done their homework too, with the bustling, vintage drums on “Hit Down” reminiscent of 1994-era Brandy, while the delicious slow jam “Ride” is R Kelly as produced by Evian Christ. Central to it all is singer Grace Hall's versatile voice, which slinks around on the softer moments like an out of breath Kelis, and sounds positively orgasmic on the bubbling “The Zone”. (Michael Cragg)

The KVB – Minus One (A Recordings)

Spilling out of the shadows last month with their iterative guitar/synth edict Minus One were London duo The KVB. Released on Anton Newcombe's A Recordings, it's a record charged with fits of darkwave passion, spewing out tangled clumps of noise, plucking razor-sharp melodies from 7 ½ min squalls ("Dominance/Submission") and riding high on 80s goth notes throughout. According to the band's Kat Day, the LP came from “a desire to immerse, affect and connect the body with audio and visuals....environments to be lost in” and indeed, the band's A/V show – as seen as the final ATP UK weekender – will reel you in with mesmeric force. (April Clare Welsh)

Feral – Haymaker EP

Brooklyn newcomer/newfound love Feral is doing great things and you can be sure he has many tricks up his sleeve for the new year. On November 13, The Big Hurt digitally infected the world by releasing Caleb Halter's debut EP entitled Haymaker. Before it was even was introduced, notable producers like Brenmar and Lunice have exposed bits of Feral's essence on their own mixtapes. Take track four,"Rollercoaster", as an example-- suspense glides up and down as strained voices announce a drop where the bass empowers everything in various pitches with sharp industrial synths. Collectively, Haymaker is a thrilling 15 minute record of sonic convulsion. (Briana Cheng)

JCCG – EJE

I spent the beginning of this year wondering about listening beyond the usual borders, and it feels fitting that I should close it by giving one of the artists I mentioned their dues. EJE is the work of Portugal’s JCCG, a musician who finds a quiet beauty in repeated actions. It is less an overlooked album and more an impossible not to overlook album (it was released as an edition of 30 cassettes on an obscure Mexican tape label) but it is absolutely worth hunting down. EJE takes me to the plane that Wolfgang Voigt in his Gas guise dreamt up – a place of great calm and understanding – yet does so with just a bashed up guitar and loop pedal. (Ruth Saxelby)

G-Dragon – Coup D’etat

Unless you’re prancing around on an imaginary horse, K-pop males have been generally overlooked in the general rush to herald the new hallyu wave. Which is a pity, because someone as consistently genre-pushing as G-Dragon - a huge star in his native South Korea - doesn’t quite penetrate the Western imagination like Psy has. Coup D’etat is a huge, maximalist album that dips its toes into several genres - dubstep, hip-hop, Drake-esque ballads - and often tries to do fifteen different things at once. If nothing, you can’t fault G-Dragon’s ambition. After all, he’s the guy who made Missy Elliott’s best comeback song – and sampled a Korean folk song in the process. (Zing Tsjeng)

STWO – Beyond EP

21-year-old French producer STWO (pronounced "stew") has been electrifying the festival circuit, but has managed to keep under the radar since his Sanna Hartfield-featuring single "You" made the rounds in his producing infancy, five short months ago. Since, he's amassed 30k fans on Facebook and his signature fiddling with the volume knobs makes his recent EP Beyond – released under Live For The Funk – a smooth, languid electronic drink that is so worth necking. It's almost guaranteed that some have gotten naughty to the track "Confused" (which samples a slowed down Xtina's "What A Girl Wants") and "Work" feels like a leisurely stroll interrupted by a couple of hip-pops; it comes as no surprise that STWO has remixed get-into-bed master R. Kelly's "Number One". (Trey Taylor)

Blue Hawaii – Untogether

The warmth in this Montreal duo's album got me through many icy walks home at the beginning of this year. Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s crystalline, ephemeral vocals are woven tenderly into Alex ‘Agor’ Cowan’s measured, glitching framework of beats to create a work that effervesces along the softer fringes of techno. Fragments of ideas were repeatedly cut up and stitched back into Untogether in other places during the recording process, and only one track – the outstanding “Try To Be” – was written by both artists together in the same space. This manner of creation should have led to a disjointed, lifeless ragdoll of a work, but instead this exceptionally strong, enchanting creature emerged. (Suze Olbrich)

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

So Jason Isbell makes country music. But this Alabama man isn’t touting the souped up stadium hillbilly jams of new Nashville, but instead the kind of open hearted Americana that rests its thumbs deep in the belt loops of the double denim wearing greats. With nods to Tom Waits before he got weird to Ryan Adams at his most compellingly mushy, Isbell’s latest solo album – he used to be a member of alt southern rockers Drive By Truckers – is a heart-rending, manifold listen. He’s got hard-edged guitar belters (“Flying Over Water”), painfully emotive ballads (“Elephant”) and sweet semi-acoustic songs about strippers (“Different Days”) – what more could you need? (Leonie Cooper)

Danny Brown – Old

Danny Brown, probably the rap world’s most thrilling new eccentric, was always going to release an exciting album. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that this offering from the Detroit rapper missed out on its mainstream moment this year, I guess becasue the world may just not be ready for his unique world view and eye-wateringly evocative similes ("Pussy smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos” is a personal favourite) however this hyperactive hedonism of this album needs appreciating. With an outstanding array of guests including A$AP Rocky, Freddie Gibbs and Schoolboy Q this is the story of his coming of age, looking back on his sex, drugs and rap life and telling us about it in the most entertaining way possible. (Kieran Yates)

Special Request – Soul Music

Revealed as UK house & techno producer Paul Woolford’s alter-ego last year, Special Request began as a mysterious ‘illicit’ project inspired by the influences of pirate radio. As the return of Jungle(TM) sounded its long-awaited air horn, Woolford’s album, entitled Soul Music, made a debut in 2013. Released on London club monolith Fabric’s record label Houndstooth, the double album Soul Music allowed Woolford to consolidate his series of self-released 12″ singles (including an unlikely Lana Del Rey bootleg) and the dancefloor-destroying, dangerous Ribena habit-inducing: VIP of Tessela’s Hackney Parrot with a collection of vintage hardware-produced warehouse techno to unabashed throwback jungle excursions supposedly linked by their intrinsic values – plus a bunch of remixes in tow from the likes of Kassem Mosse, Hieroglyphic Being, PAN’s Lee Gamble, and Mister Saturday Night’s golden boy Anthony Naples. (Flora Wong)

Rapsody – She Got Game (Deluxe Edition)

In the rap world, there’s this constant complaint that we lack a strong enough female presence. Sure, Lauryn Hill is back-ish and Azealia Banks continuously churns out her Twitter-infused fuck shit, but how about Rapsody? 2012’s The Idea Of Beautiful was filled with every bar we’ve ever needed. When Rap dropped a deluxe edition of She Got Game, she furthered that movement, housing stellar collabs (Jay Electronica, Big K.R.I.T, Chance the Rapper, etc.) while still shining on her own. We often wonder where the proper female rappers are, and here’s one right in front of us. She got game indeed. (Kathy Iandoli)

Woodkid – The Golden Age

You probably couldn’t hum a tune by French artist Woodkid on demand, but his high-contrast visuals are likely seared into your brain. As the man behind award-winning videos for Lana Del Rey, Drake & Rihanna, and, um, himself, Yoann Lemoine’s alterego provides an outlet for his own (considerable) musical skills. Debut album The Golden Age was too dark to warrant mainstream attention in the gloomy, fearful days of 2013, but that’s only because it was essentially one half of an audio/visual whole. On the LA date of his recent US tour, I saw the LP brought to life in the way Lemoine had clearly intended - wall of sound production, black-clad live brass band, dazzling laser lightshow and all. In its proper context, The Golden Age could be heard (and seen) for what it truly is: the year’s most epic tour de force. (Phoebe Lovatt)

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