This past year saw some amazing outputs by lesser-known bands. While none of these groups have garnered as big of a following as, say, Kanye West, artistically they are reshaping the muscial culture. Whether it's through remixes, video game soundtracks or even posthumous releases, these musicians challenged musical norms.
1. Thundercat, Apocalypse
Part electronic, part funk, part hip-hop, it's hard to pin down what exactly Thundercat does. Regardless, Apocalypse merges all of his talents into a stunning album, co-produced by Flying Lotus. Amidst slower off-beat love songs, upbeat tracks like "Oh Sheit It's X" and "Heartbreaks + Setbacks" stand out as awesome displays of Thundercat's genius.
2. J Dilla, Diamonds & Ice EP
Despite his death in 2006, a number of J Dilla's unreleased albums still surface. Diamonds & Ice features several tracks that will appear in next year's posthumous release The Diary. The three tracks on this EP — "Diamonds," "Ice" and "The D" — feature Dilla's trademark hip-hop ingenuity and works as a great prelude to next year's much anticipated album.
3. Flying Lotus, FlyLo FM
Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V may have fell out of favor with many gamers but one of the strongest features were the in-game radio stations. Flying Lotus' station "FlyLo FM" is an hour-long mix by Lotus featuring exclusive remixes from his previous albums combined with other tracks by Thundercat, Outkast and Aphex Twin. And there's nothing quite as awesome as breaking the law to an incredible soundtrack.
4. Dan Deacon remix, "We Can't Stop (50% reduction)"
Unfortunately, Miley Cyrus was important to the pop-culture landscape of 2013. However, Dan Deacon's remix shows that from the debris of pop-garbage, art can be made. By removing half of each beat, Deacon creates a faster paced, vocal glitch remix that finds genius in simplicity.
5. Anamanaguchi, Endless Fantasy
Expanding on their Nintendo-laden sound, Anamanaguchi created an incredible album that is as danceable as it is rockin'. More than just nostalgic tracks about past technologies, the guys flex their compositional muscles to bring stronger sonic textures (and some humor) in tracks like "Meow" and "Viridian Genesis." Backed by fans, the album came about from a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and Anamanaguchi repaid the favor with this brilliantly wild release.
6. Boards of Canada, Tomorrow's Harvest
For a normally low key, under-the-radar group like Boards of Canada, 2013 was a huge year. On top of re-releasing their entire, hard-to-find back catalog, their new album, Tomorrow's Harvest, is a brilliant offering of strange atmospheres. In tracks like "Reach for the Dead" and "Collapse" the group explores a digital rendering of a sort of post-apocalyptic world, full of cold landscapes and cycling synthesizers.
7. Soosh, Colour is Breathe
Subdued and beautiful, the debut release by British electronic artist Soosh is a relaxed collection of warm and lush soundscapes. The album's single, "The Way You," trembles with uncertainty while simultaneously providing incredibly hip drums that back beautifully ethereal vocals. Synthesizers easily blend in and out of the textures, lulling the listener into the safety of this wonderful record.
8. Blu, NoYork!
Reminiscent of underground hip-hop mixtapes with a full barrage of glitched out electronic samples, NoYork! is one of the stranger hip-hop records to come out this year. Nothing's particularly straightforward; beats become part of the overall texture and vocal tracks sound lightly distorted and distant. The album emphasizes a dystopian future of hip-hop that is as complex as it is raw.
9. RJD2, More Is Than Isn't
Easily one of RJD2's best albums, More Is Than Isn't is full of energetic and soulful tracks. The production on the record is remarkable and every nuance of RJD2's skillful songwriting is heard. Brilliant and precise, this album pierces through the musical landscape of several generations to create a masterful composition that's both vintage and modern.
10. Four Tet remix, "Suit & Tie"
On top of releasing a full length record, Beautiful Rewind, Four Tet took on Justin Timberlake's hit single, "Suit & Tie." Where the original is light and charming, Four Tet takes a bleaker approach that, apart from the simple drumbeat, utilizes JT's vocals as all parts of the music. The remix takes the once lighthearted song and makes it a nervous, glitchy experimental dance track.