There’s a general consensus that 2013 has been something of a vintage year for music. Whether it’s been Chance The Rapper and Danny Brown dropping records that will linger in the memory far more than Magna Carta Holy Grail or Marshall Mathers 2 ever will, the development of future R n’ B into something other than a hipster buzz-term, or the proliferation of indie-veterans releasing critically-feted and commercially successful records, it’s been the sort of 12 months that has had a planet of music fans feeling good about the state of the industry, despite the fact that Robbie Williams is still a thing.
Whether or not there has been a truly defining record remains to be seen. Hindsight is a great album’s best friend, and it takes time to see if something can permeate its way into being a true cultural signpost, an Is This It. One suspects that if one record is to, it may well be from the Lord of Loud, and his Yeezus album. Whether or not you sit on the side of the fence that sees him as an ego-wanking maniac or genre-straddling genius, it’s impossible to deny that Kanye has been everywhere this year. Yes he has a Kardashian on board and is *quite* fond of a self-aggrandising statement but all the attention is a by-reflection of a visceral album that united hip-hop heads and punks alike, and positioned him centre-centre of the top-table of popular music.
Here, Sabotage’s music writers take us through their favourite albums of the year. And with Kanye on the brain it would only seem write to start with…
Kanye West: Yeezus
Yeezus is divisive. It's brash, abrasive and more attention grabbing than most other albums released this year, from one of the most culturally important figures of our generation. For every batshit video, every explosive interview, every deity-baiting concert, Yeezus conveys an equally punk, minimalist aesthetic. It's loud, it's politically charged and it's his one massive, middle-finger-up, I-don't-give-a-fuck statement to the world he's single handedly trying to change for his new child. People hate it. I understand that. But it's to be heard to be believed. It's a work of meticulously crafted art and almost anti-hip hop. If you take that on board, you'll understand why it's without a doubt my favourite album of the year
Chosen by Freddie Slaughter- @ChemikalRecipe
J Cole- Born Sinner
Even before 2013 began drawing to an end, critics and artists alike had unanimously declared it the best year for Hip Hop in recent memory. Whilst Jay Z and Kanye lead the charge, incorporating current flavours of EDM into their albums, for me the stand out work came from J Cole. Born Sinner has distinct parallels with Kanye's College Drop Out; the same raw emotions, the distinct sense of a young, confused man. In a year full of Z's and West's media exposure, J Cole's music is refreshing and humbling. Who needs a song about a designer when Cole's got one about poor dental care?
Rachael Krishna- @RachaelKrishna
Space Dimension Controller - Welcome to Mikrosector 50
Recent years have seen a resurgence of the concept album, a curious trend which flues in the face of iTunes and single download culture. An artist who took it to another dimension, quite literally, in 2013, was Belfast producer Space Dimension Controller.
His debut LP 'Welcome To Mikrosector-50' was my standout album of the year, a sci-fi infused journey through the realms of galactic funk and analogue electro, with vocal interludes and skits telling the story of Mr 8040 and his mission to return to his home planet. It's so different to anything else his peers are coming out with; people just don't make albums so unashamedly offbeat these days, and tracks like 'The Love Quadrant' stand up as some of the most beautiful pieces of electronic music made in recent years. It forced listeners to have fun while appreciating decent electronic music, something I'm not sure everyone was ready for, and for that reason I think it went under appreciated on its release. I've no doubt that it'll be the focus of much retrospective praise. Blessings to R&S for putting it out.
Honorable mentions: Kelela - Cut 4 Me, James Blake - Overgrown, Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back
Tom Armstrong - @tomdisco
Autre Ne Veut- Anxiety
Angsty electro-pop from Brooklyn isn't a particularly well populated genre in my record collection, but this year Autre Ne Veut's sublime Anxiety made sure it was represented. It's an album of real rise and fall, of sexy, thumping 80s dance like Ego Free/Sex Free, and of fragile breakdowns, like Gonna Die. The closer, World War, is as beautifully put together a pop song as I can remember, and there's one moment in A Lie where, for a second or two, what sounds like a melodica cuts through a wall of noise - it's gorgeous. There's a lot going on on this record, but at the same time it's so tight, so measured, so brilliantly conceived and so, so much fun
Harry Harris - CmonHarris
Jai Paul - Jai Paul
Ok, I’m not about to re-open bandcamp-gate here, I’m finally willing to accept this was an unofficial leak; one still vastly superior to anything even near its category. If you weren’t aware, Jasmine and All Night alone top all Timberlake and Thicke output this year. It's when you're reminded Jai Paul was selected to the Sound Of 2011 long list, and you realise what a farce his lack of production really is. My gut feeling? We won’t get a studio album from Jai Paul in 2014 either, so go ahead and add some album artwork, tag the tracks correctly and bump this right through the next 12 months.
Tobi Oke - @Teflontobz
Johnny Borrell- Borrell 1
594 copies sold on release? If the adage of us being a underdog loving nation were to be true then old J.B would be lining your stockings this year. Unfortunately, more often than not this mutt appears a lame, flea infested mongrel staring down both barrels of the nation’s collective shotgun. Just before we daub ourselves with his entrails though, can we not look again at Borrell 1? The exclamation mark work alone on Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina!) is exceptional. Buried deep beneath its bongos, laudable tracklisting is a pleasure that dare not speaks its name. If you want sax, if you want pomposity, if you can meet those imposters just the same, then remember this: 'A Borrells for life, not just for Christmas (2005).'
Chris Barrett - @CT_Barrett
The National- Trouble Will Find Me
This was the album where The National evolved from beard-twiddler's delight into a genuine mainstream proposition. It’s a record I’ve listened to while revising for exams, when I’ve been getting ready to go out, when I’ve been moping about ex-girlfriends, when I’ve been getting excited about potential new ones, when I’ve come back with mates at six in the morning and there’s still juice in the tank. Although Berninger purists will always bang the drum for Boxer being The National's finest hour-and they're probably right- this is the one that demonstrates track after track their unerring ability to reflect the hopes and fears of the modern man. Probably a masterpiece.
David Hillier - @Gobshout
Action Bronson - Saab Stories
What's not to like about a massive Albanian-American bloke with a fuck-off ginger beard who raps about steak tartar and wrestling? Breaking free from comparisons with Wu-Tang's previously-inimitable Ghostface Killah, Saab eclipsed November mixtape Blue Chips 2 which was fun but patchy (as mixtapes invariably are) with a steady flow of bangers and tremendous features. Breakout single, The Rockers, boasts the best chorus of the year (note to other rappers: write more choruses about dropkicks) and on Triple Backflip one of my favourite lines of the year - "Fucko, amethyst on the knuckle/On the arm something Spanish with a bubble" - which manages to nail misogyny, casual racism and commercialism in one fell swoop while also managing to say the word "Fucko". God-status achieved.
Sam Diss - @SamDiss
Three years after Maya, and having been delayed numerous times, M.I.A.'s comeback was stunning. Matangi grabs your attention (or perhaps that should be 'aTENTion') from the word go and doesn't let up. We'd heard plenty of the tracks already, but that takes nothing away from the thrill of hearing Y.A.L.A. back to back with Bring the Noize, or when you can't help but pretend you're drag racing in Morocco, when in fact you're simply negotiating the crowds at Finsbury Park station as Bad Girls drops. As with M.I.A., there is a political side to the record too, but I'm quite happy to just listen to the beats and her vicious vocal.
Tim Brown- @sockformation
The Bullitts- They Die By Dawn & Other Stories
Concept albums are difficult to do well, and you can probably think of more bad ones than you can good. However, with a debut record no least, The Bullitts have made something exceptional.
Listenable and enjoyable all the same as individual songs on shuffle or as intended in order, the record brings storyline and depth to a concept album with a movies tie-in that some completely lack.
If you enjoyed Dangermouse and Daniele Luppi's record 'Rome' from a few years back, then you'll probably love this, too
Raj Bains- @BainsXIII