All that talk of Beyoncé, Miley, Timberlake, Lorde, and Kanye overshadowed a greater truth: 2013 was flush with terrific albums that could have, and should have, found a bigger audience. Here are 10 of them.
JHENÉ AIKO, “Sail Out”
It’s safe to say most folks discovered Aiko as a secondary player on Drake’s latest album, “Nothing Was the Same.” Aiko’s touch was so light that it was nearly vaporous, but you couldn’t forget her breathy introduction on “From Time.” She exuded the same less-is-more sensuality on “Sail Out,” her debut EP of stripped-down, simmering R&B that put her in the lineage of understated singers, from Sade to Aaliyah.
BOOGARINS, “As Plantas Que Curam”
A proud torchbearer of Os Mutantes’ ecstatic tropical psychedelia, Boogarins began as a basement recording project of Brazilian teenagers Fernando Almeida and Benke Ferraz. There was nothing childlike about their full-length debut, though. “As Plantas Que Curam,” which translates to “Plants That Heal,” had a surreal sprawl to it, as if they had tried to make a ’90s alt-rock record but then submerged it at the bottom of the ocean.
JOHN GRANT, “Pale Green Ghosts”
The former frontman of the indie-rock band the Czars, Grant has blossomed into a solo career that puts his deepest, darkest desires and fears on brash display. He recorded “Pale Green Ghosts” in Iceland, where he lives, and conducted an interesting experiment: Can you make a sensitive singer-songwriter album cast in the neon glow of synth-pop? You can, and songs such as “It Doesn’t Matter to Him” struck a chord because of just how bare Grant laid himself.
KATHY HEIDEMAN, “Move With Love”
Heideman’s name first surfaced among music geeks in 2008. The California indie-folk band Vetiver recorded one of her songs, “Sleep a Million Years,” for “Thing of the Past,” its collection of obscure covers. The song came from a forgotten album Heideman released in the mid-’70s. Numero Group, an archival label out of Chicago, unearthed “Move With Love” and lovingly reissued it digitally and on vinyl. Borrowing from country, folk, and gospel traditions, the songs had a homespun charm reminiscent of Sibylle Baier’s “Colour Green.”
TAKAKO MINEKAWA & DUSTIN WONG, “Toropical Circle”
The closest sounds to words on this album by Japanese singer-composer Minekawa and guitarist-songwriter Wong amounted to a series of ethereal “oohs” and “aahhs.” Not that the lyrics mattered. “Toropical Circle” was all about the dense, intoxicating textures that Wong played and looped on his guitar, while Minekawa floated blissfully along the fringes of the music. This sumptuous album often felt like a soundtrack to a film you’ve seen only in your dreams.
PATTI PAGE, “From Nashville to L.A. — Lost Columbia Masters 1963-1969”
When Page died the first day of this year, most tributes honored her best-known work: “Tennessee Waltz,” “Old Cape Cod,” and “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” Page made her name with those 1950s easy-listening gems, but this new compilation proved she was a singer of more depth than she got credit for. The 24 tracks, all of which were previously unreleased, had slight tinges of country and soul. On “I’m Losing You,” you’d be forgiven for mistaking her for Dusty Springfield.
SAM PHILLIPS, “Push Any Button”
Phillips’s devoted fans, this critic included, admire her for a simple reason: She writes and records intelligent and emotionally astute pop music for adults. Her albums tend to fly under the radar these days — previous ones such as 1994’s “Martinis & Bikinis” got more attention — but the quality of her work hasn’t diminished. On “Push Any Button,” her jangly melodies recalled everyone from the Beatles to Buddy Holly, and Phillips delivered the songs in a mercurial voice that suggested she’s locked in conversation with you over coffee.
JULIE ROBERTS, “Good Wine & Bad Decisions”
That title lets you know this could only be a classic-country-leaning sort of record. “Good Wine & Bad Decisions” was indeed that, but it also dipped into ’70s soul, fingerpicked ballads, and tough kiss-offs. In a year where high-profile country records were championed, this one fell through the cracks. Highly recommended for fans of Bobbie Gentry, Sammi Smith, and Shelby Lynne.
Under the name Thundercat, bassist and singer Stephen Bruner comes up with shimmering soul and funk jams that sound like he’s channeling them from another planet. Prince, Erykah Badu (with whom he was worked), and Shuggie Otis’s “Inspiration Information” are obvious touchstones. Produced by Flying Lotus, “Apocalypse” was his second solo release, and it was cool to the touch: warm-blooded but with an icy exterior.
VARIOUS ARTISTS, “I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel From the Nashboro Label, 1951-1983”
Nashboro was a Nashville record label that started in the early ’50s and quickly documented a golden era of gospel. It was an exciting time for the genre, as rock ’n’ roll and R&B were beginning to take hold, and there’s the same level of ferocity in the songs collected on this four-CD box set. Released on Tompkins Square, this is the worthy follow-up to that label’s previously acclaimed gospel treasure troves (“Fire in My Bones” and “This May Be My Last Time Singing”).