The Most Underrated Albums Of 2013 So Far

With Spectrals, DJ Koze, Mazes...

Not everyone can be a winner.

Try as you might, circumstances can get in the way. The same applies to musicians, as well, with countless fantastic albums falling by the wayside due to label issues, distribution problems and an overcrowded schedule.

Clash recently listed 30 of our favourite albums of 2013 so far, containing plenty of big-hitters, high-profile comebacks and deserved breakthroughs.

You'll find those albums detailed here.

But what about the albums that didn't make that 'best-of' cut? The ones which - despite brimming with talent - didn't get the breaks, the exposure they deserved.

Here's 10 which tickled the Clash team - leave your suggestions in the comments box, or tweet us.

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Fair Ohs – 'Jungle Cats' (as nominated by Simon Butcher)

You can imagine any of the three disheveled beardy types in London’s Fair Ohs fronting an aggressive punk band and snarling into the mic with embitterment. But, instead, they take the genre’s raw power to sunnier climes. ‘Jungle Cats’ is a tongue-in-cheek tropical record that should’ve been 2013’s breakthrough answer to a dearth of talent in the same way tUnE-yArDs' ‘Whokill’ was two years ago; but somehow it’s been largely overlooked. Give it a listen and you’ll find a blend of afrobeat rhythms and calypso guitar melodies, bringing warmth in a way that oozes quirky personality. There’s dexterity too – ‘Citric Placid’ is a jittering highlight packed with off-kilter riffs played full-throttle. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, ‘Sleep’ is a lullaby to fall asleep in a hammock to. Fans of everything from Best Coast to Fela Kuti can sip a cocktail under a parasol to this one.

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DJ Koze – 'Amygdala' (as nominated by Aurora Mitchell)

Despite this being the first full-length release from prolific German producer DJ Koze in eight years, ‘Amygdala’ has remained a fairly low-key affair considering its scope. With strong features from an impressive range of artists including vocals from Caribou, Matthew Dear and Apparat, it’s a record packed full of ideas and manages to execute all of them really well. The hazy atmospherics make listening a dream-like experience, often-slurred vocals sounding like the listener is drifting in and out of consciousness. Just when it starts heading into particularly dreamy territory, razor-sharp beats punctuate the songs and bring them back into focus. A particular highlight is ‘Magical Boy’, with Matthew Dear’s rasping vocal snippets giving the track its unsettling charm. Whilst the run-time may be a little on the long side for some at 75 minutes, it’s an ultimately rewarding effort from DJ Koze that shouldn’t be slept on.

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Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – 'Mind Control' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

If 2013 manages to conjure up a psychedelic resurgence – and we sincerely hope it will – then Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats will surely sit at its Satanic core. Not their debut album, ‘Mind Control’ is nonetheless a stopping-off point for a new breed of fan, a breakthrough (of sorts) for this secretive, illusive collective. It’s easy to see why: ‘Mind Control’ is a possessed, writhing beast which sits somewhere between the pastoral, English psychedelia of Syd Barrett and the crushing drone of Earth and Sunn O))). Yet with verses, choruses, guitar solos and (gasp) tunes. Bloody great massive ones, tunes that bounce up and down on your head like demented goblins, whispering devilish incantations into your ear, that urge you to pick up the scissors and cut your sister’s hair while she’s sleeping. Play it often – but not backwards. Cos who knows what in hell would happen then…

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Hookworms – 'Pearl Mystic' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

Hookworms may be new, but they’re not newcomers. Each member has earned their spurs the hard way, the difficult way, pursuing numerous teenage projects at toilet venues around the country. It’s an experience that has honed their skills, strengthened their appetite and allowed them – if ‘Pearl Mystic’ is anything to go by – to become one of the country’s only truly essential guitar bands. Writhing, seething with a rare energy, the album is psychedelic without being retro, exploratory without losing its direct, personal touch. At times hopelessly starred eyed, those otherworldly moments are held together by a frontman MJ’s overwhelming persona. Arriving almost ludicrously fully formed, Hookworms have delivered one of the most perfectly formed debut sets Clash have heard in yonks. The most exciting part of all this? Where they go from here: Hookworms’ new single ‘On Returning’ ups the ante even further.

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Amateur Best – 'No Thrills' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

Well this was a long time coming. Joe Flory previously plied his trade as Primary 1, delivering a series of cuts that bordered on the more cerebral, self-effacing end of the electro sphere. Under the name Amateur Best, the producer has been indulging these whims and idiosyncrasies, expanding his palette in the process. Debut album ‘No Thrills’ at times borders on the ambient, with Flory experimenting with texture and taste as he disrupts his songwriting voice. Nick Hunt of Outfit and Chilly Gonzalez drop by, adding new ideas, new directions to the undoubtedly emotional content of Flory’s work. By no means perfect – what debut is, truly? – ‘No Thrills’ is nonetheless an impressive opening statement.

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Mazes – 'Ores & Minerals' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

Some bands take time to transcend their influences. The Horrors did it, These New Puritans did it. And now Mazes (pictured, main) have done it. So why has the once-Manchester, now-London group been neglected? Perhaps it’s the illusionary, difficult-to-define nature of ‘Ores & Minerals’ itself. Retaining the scratchy, lo-fi indie feel of their debut, it matches those Mark E Smith- and Mudhoney-inspired moments to rippling krautrock and faltering electronics. An extremely humane record, it was nonetheless one not understood in a single sitting, one that took time to be soaked up, absorbed. Sometimes barbed and direct, at other turns surreal and self-effacing, ‘Ores & Minerals’ stands out as the work of a band unafraid to question itself. Perhaps it’s this very quality – so often perceived as introversion, indie inadequacy – which has made Mazes so quickly dismissed by those whose patience can’t quite be so easily stretched.

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Ólafur Arnalds – 'For Now I Am Winter' (as nominated by Sarah McRuvie)

Pushing further into the realms of beauty with the exquisite ‘For Now I Am Winter,’ Ólafur Arnalds teases us with the addition of vocals, more electronic touches and a fuller orchestral sound. The young cinematic composer pulls at your heartstrings and envelops you in a soundscape that is nothing less than stunning. Within the first few moments of opener ‘Sudden Throw’, hypnotic piano repetition allows you to sink into a world of post-classical bliss. The atmosphere builds upwards, where the piercing violins and staccato woodwind create a fascinating intensity. The addition of vocals is a bold and unusual move, but a risk rewarded with success. The touching instrumentals remain, with additional dynamics and orchestral layering, adding depth. This progression in sound proves that Arnalds is a true lover of exceptional music. Advancing away from his earlier material, ‘For Now I Am Winter’ is a further exploration of the composer’s vast world of musical emotionality.

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Spectrals – 'Sob Story' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

At times, you almost wonder what Louis Jones has to do. The Yorkshire songwriter behind the Spectrals moniker, his debut album ‘Bad Penny’ was a charming introduction. Follow-up ‘Sob Story’ is the perfect next step: dynamics are honed, melodies are threaded and lyrics and finely wrought. A beautifully absorbing record, it’s mature without losing its sense of fun, full of purpose without losing the verve and invention that billowed through that debut. Recorded in San Francisco, the sonic palette is familiar yet expanded, Girls’ JR White making an appearance. Tackling the Big Themes, ‘Milky Way’ finds Spectrals exploring the minutiae of a relationship, while ‘Something To Cry About’ is patient, honest and affecting. Taken as a whole, it marks Jones as one of the most talented, assured songwriters this country has to offer. Truly, his escape from greatness is an absolute crime.

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Letherette – 'Letherette' (as nominated by Felicity Martin)

Esoteric Wolverhampton duo Letherette tore it up in April with their eponymous full-length on Ninja Tune. A stack of juddering, '80s pop-leaning cuts with smatterings of R&B, this LP throws together slap-funk bass riffs and choppy loops. Fun, fresh and upbeat; it’s almost what we’d hoped elements of the new Daft Punk would sound like (the duo has even posed with masks similar to Bangalter and de Homem-Cristo's). But perhaps one of the reasons it’s been overlooked slightly is the fact that some of the standout cuts aren’t the most dancefloor-friendly, lending more to the melancholic rather than the hands-in-the-air. Still, it’s a wonderfully absorbing album, one which works both in daylight and at sundown.

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Esben And The Witch – 'Wash The Sins Not Only The Face' (as nominated by Robin Murray)

Esben And The Witch is not a band to be understood immediately. Sure, there’s a directness to their approach; but the facets, the layers which build up into their sound, are many, subtle and complex. Take that album title: a religious palindrome translated from archaic Greek, ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ (Clash review) is about as grandiose as it’s possible to get. At times furiously oblique, at others intimate and personal, this is an album infused with gothic tones, with speckled shades of monochrome which seem to scatter from the record sleeve and get under your skin. As forbidding as those songs titles can be – ‘Deathwaltz’, anyone? – there’s a tender heart here, a document wishing to be explored. ‘Wash The Sins...’ is something to be savored, rather than ingested in one gulp.

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So which albums have we missed? Have your say in the comments section, or on Twitter.

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