Playlist by Flora Wong
2013 was about forging new paths – from Beyoncé's surprise album release, to our visionary musical coverstars such as Thom Yorke and Chance the Rapper. Thom Yorke, with Radiohead, was the first major artist to release an album unannounced via the internet in 2009 – and this year he returned with the remarkably-crafted Atoms for Peace debut. Chance the Rapper, meanwhile, reflects what Sam Hockley-Smith calls rap's new freedom – "hip hop (that) was left unchecked and it flourished." Despite a flood of interest, Chance still hasn't signed. As we enter 2014, the music industry is being knocked into new shapes by the artists themselves.
Meanwhile, Oneohtrix Point Never created a profoundly odd and deeply creepy record in R Plus 7, which also contains some of the year's most beautiful songs, especially the avant-minimalist "Chrome Country"; I found the mainly instrumental The Man Who Died In His Boat by Grouper to be one of 2013's most affecting albums, with rich husks of drone that were muscular yet tender; and the Japanese artist Cuushe tripped out in a tender post-shoegaze dreamscape which slipped down like ambrosia.
Twitter-paced mainstream pop was perhaps more inescapable than ever this year, yet some of the year's most brilliant pop moments came from cult artists. These releases were often unadvertised albums, with little forewarning of release. Italians Do It Better, a small electronic label run by Johnny Jewel in LA, released the year's best compilation in the iridescent synth-pop record After Dark 2, with ice-cold jams from Chromatics, Glass Candy and Desire, among others. In a burst of label frustration and personal creativity, Sky Ferreira recorded Night Time, My Time, which was as urgent as you'd want a mash-up between Hole, Girls and Cyndi Lauper to feel. I also loved the hyper-saturated fizz of Sophie's "Bipp", SZA's swoony "Julia" and the shifting rhythms of of Tirzah's "I'm Not Dancing".
My personal favourite song of the past 12 months was "Dead Island" by Kitty, where she appeared to be getting as many subtweets in a verse as possible ("bitch draw your eyebrows on and talk to me… you don't know why I get blogged?") In August, I described her as "a millennial mix of witty, drug-addled and chest-puffingly passionate", and this song, she raps in double time about needing to get the fuck out of her home town, with a self-assurance yet vulnerability that I didn't find so convincingly – not to mention unexpectedly – in any other rapper this year. I've listened to it 233 times and counting. And as we head into 2014, with songs dropping onto Soundcloud or falling onto iTunes out of the blue, I'm not sure what other barometer of success I should go by. It's untrodden ground out there, that's for sure. At least, that's what I hope.