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27 Best Albums You Didn’t Hear in 2013

The best of what flew under the mainstream radar

Do you know anyone who insists that "it was a bad year for music"? That person is always wrong — and especially wrong if they’re talking about 2013. The deeper you dug for new music this year, the more treasures you found. So in that spirit, check out this list of country duets, noise-assault donnybrooks, Fela Kuti tributes, smooth-tronic British electro-pop, and 23 other examples of under-the-radar brilliance. 

By Jon Dolan, Caryn Ganz, Joe Gross, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard and David Marchese

The Uncluded, 'Hokey Fright'

Courtesy Rhymesayers Entertainment

The Uncluded, ‘Hokey Fright’

Ex-Moldy Peaches singer-guitarist Kimya Dawson and underground rapper-producer Aesop Rock might not seem like a super copacetic collaboration on paper. But their debut has an unmistakable charm. From "Delicate Cycle," a deeply personal working-class anthem to "Superheroes," a mouth-watering ode to sandwiches, to "Tits Up," where they tell us to "make us permanent fixtures on the self-help shelf of your record collection," the mix of soul-opening folk and left-field hip-hop makes for one of the year's most original releases.

Upset, 'She's Gone'

Courtesy Don Giovanni Records

Upset, ‘She’s Gone’

Featuring ex members of Best Coast and Hole, Upset play gum-smacking pop-punk and pack their songs with lyrical burns like "Queen Frosteen, she’s royalty/ She's cold as ice, she's serpentine." Bright and spare, tough and tender, their debut recalled the catchier side of Nineties grrrl-rock at its best.    

Red Hot Fela

Courtesy Knitting Factory

Various Artists, ‘Red Hot + Fela’

The second Fela Kuti tribute compilation from Red Hot, the AIDS-fighting non-profit organization, is even more action-packed than the first, using the Nigerian musician's indestructible Afrobeat sound as the template for 13 largely fat-free groove adventures. It's an all-inclusive party, as any Fela covers record should be: "Lady" brings together Questlove, Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus, rapper Akua Naru and Angelique Kidjo; Chance the Rapper, 2013's most exciting new MC, pops up on "Gentleman"; and on the 14-minute "Troubled Sleep Yanha Wake Am," a clutch of young talent-supernovas — Garbus, My Morning Jacket, and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes — extend a slow sinuous, aching jam till it feels like it could go on forever, which was always how Fela's greatest grooves felt.

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, 'Cheater's Game'

Courtesy Spunk Records

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, ‘Cheater’s Game’

A mainstream country ship-jumper in the Nineties after a brief run as a Nashville-styled teen angel, Willis came into full bloom on 1999’s "What I Deserve," then dialed it back to raise a family with husband/producer/singer-songwriter Robison. Their latest is a song swap full of top-shelf ache and well-oiled harmonies. Willis' Okie soprano still crackles like no other, and her control and phrasing makes it more devastating than ever.

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