Haim – “Days Are Gone”

Days are GoneAfter a year and a half of singles and heavy blog discussion, Haim’s debut did anything but disappoint. Nearly the strongest pop release of the year which puts all of their strengths and flavours on full display: tight vocal performances, tasteful and lush instrumentals, catchy choruses and a bag of influences ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Destiny’s Child. Every track could have been a single and as a collection “Days Are Gone” does not drop the ball once. The change in sound from their previous more rock-oriented live front may disappoint some followers but the clean, rich pop sheen each song receives here is irresistible. Sophisticated yet instantly accessible, this album deserves to be remembered.  An extremely promising genesis to the career of a band that will hopefully continue to thrive.

Lorde –“ Pure Heroine”

Pure HeroineThe most impressive female solo singer to emerge this year, Lorde’s debut’s refreshingly stark production makes you realise how hard its competitors seem to be trying to even be heard. “Royals” is only one of the many highlights here and even after its over-exposure on the radio it sounds blissful in context here. The consistently minimalist atmosphere becomes surprisingly heavy on repeated listens, making one realise how effective the “less is more” approach can be. Lyrically it’s youthful but it’s easy to forget this with what’s happening around the words. Again, the number of possible hits is staggering with Lorde’s surprisingly mature voice serving as one of the most enticing sounds of 2013. A hugely exciting debut, “Pure Heroine” is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that this was the year of female pop.

Kanye West – “Yeezus”

YeezusKanye’s personality was flaunted so much in 2013.  Between the Kardashians, his various outlandish interviews and clashes with the paparazzi it’s easy to forget what was at the eye of the storm: “Yeezus”. However rushed and messy some of this record seems, it’s thrilling, cathartic and a lot more listenable than some might claim. Resembling a sharper-edged, colder-sounding “808s & Heartbreak”,” Yeezus” is at least the darkest SOUNDING thing he’s ever released. It’s like a digital rainbow: between the steely synths on the earlier tracks, the horn samples on “Blood on the Leaves” and the early-Yeezy soul samples on “Bound 2”, it’s surprisingly varied and in spite of some misguided lyrical direction we’re left with a largely on-point, albeit bizarre, record essential at this point in the man’s career.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu –“Nanda Collection”

Nanda CollectionOne of the most colourful releases from this year, “Nanda Collection” can be at once immediate and baffling. The extremely layered, almost three-dimensional instrumentation is thrilling enough to make up for the lack of power behind Kyary’s voice but that’s not  what she’s about anyway, what with her prime function simply being kawaii. The songs fit her persona and image perfectly, discussing such subjects as ice cream, fashion, aliens, ninjas… you get the idea without even being able to entirely understand the lyrics. The enjoyment here is something both more primal and innocent and once you push past any initial possible alienation there’s nothing left but excitement and happiness. The amount of care put into this album just bounces off it and it’s unbelievably infectious. Oddball of the year for sure.

Lady Gaga -- ARTPOP

ARTPOPIt seems some quiet time was just what Gaga needed following the paper-thin “Born This Way” album: almost every song on “ARTPOP” sounds like it’s been given the room to breathe and develop that most of the tracks on her previous release never had. If you ever thought her music didn’t actually justify her oddball public persona and fashion sense, “ARTPOP” is absolutely what you have been waiting for. One listen of opener “Aura” makes it clear this is the most actually “Gaga” record Ms. Germanotta has released. Dominated by a thick, lively, 80s-style production it excites pretty consistently, featuring absolutely some of the best tracks Gaga’s ever put out. Her stabs at pop culture and her other usual themes actually have weight in both what they’re saying and their musical backing. Certainly her strongest full-length release so far.

YeezusKanye West – “Yeezus”

An artist who is consumed by his own obsession with culture, music and art, West has made the most startling album of his career so far. Where lyrical and sonic power collide magnificently, thematically “Yeezus” is an album about racism and ego and sex and sounds like nothing that you’ve heard from any of the rap or pops big players this year. Always one step ahead of every genre, West has made an album that incorporates brutal and beautiful techno, Nina Simone, Marilyn Manson and Daft Punk sounding like you wish they did on their own record. A collection that restores faith in creativity and the passion of self-expression; Kanye West really may be a god, just please don’t tell him.

NYPCNYPC – “NYPC”

In addition to changing their name and downsizing in 2013, NYPC (formerly known as New Young Pony Club) have somewhat surprisingly also released a brilliant record. Their self-titled third album is proof that the key members of this group needed to lighten the load somewhat in order to deliver what they’ve promising since 2005’s tasty ”Ice Cream”. This, their best album by some distance, is a master class in electronic pop music that has personality and class. Concise, muscular with divine melodies and gleaming electronics throughout, it puts the rather substantial competition in the shade.

MatangaMIA – “Mantangi”

Miley may have got their first with the “Bangerz” title but MIA’s outstanding fourth album is stacked to the ceiling with them. This was always going to be a difficult release as the critical spotlight had suddenly turned on the Sri Lankan-born and London-based rapper but instead of getting mad, MIA got ecstatic. Vocals that can sound like gunshots, delirious rhythms and textures and just one massive indie, world-rave bash after another;  “Mantangi” is the most pure and celebratory  representation of MIA to date.

Night Time, My TimeSky Ferreira – “Night Time, My Time”

Oh, Sky, the ultimate 21st century pop star who never releases any music, until now, sort of. Still unavailable in the UK, Sky Ferreira’s debut album was finally released in some parts of the world in late 2013. Nearly four years in the making, it’s a far cry from her earlier electro pop, although traces remain if you listen hard enough. Sounding like it was recorded in 1978 and produced by Mike Chapman, the missing album between Blondie’s “Plastic Letters” and “Parallel Lines” would just about do it justice.  A big, weird rock’n’pop album that entrances with liquid melodies and Ferreira’s ability to seduce just about anyone, this is music that was made for the Top of the Pops studio and a massive great hairbrush.

One BreathAnna Calvi – “One Breath”

Some of the year’s most intricate and soulful music, and this is indeed an extremely musical album, can be heard on Anna Calvi’s intimate and daring second album “One Breath”.  Partly because of the assertive and very academic use of an orchestra, Calvi has created songs which take expected turns into light and dark. Like a more feral and restless sister recording to Agnes Obel’s also excellent 2013 album “Aventine”, “One Breath” is both a dramatic and cathartic experience that firmly cements Anna Calvi’s place within the genre.