Listen to our favorite less-heralded releases of the year, including albums from MS MR, Big K.R.I.T. and Parquet Courts.
The midway point of the 2013 calendar has come and gone, and this week at Billboard.com has been dedicated to taking stock of the past six months in music, be it through mid-year SoundScan breakdowns or extensive fan polls. The first half of the year has offered an overwhelming amount of full-lengths with high replay value -- many of which, from Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" to Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories" to Kanye West's "Yeezus," most casual music fans have already spotted and embraced. But the Billboard.com staff always enjoys digging deeper and exploring the outer edges of popular music, in hopes of finding the less-heralded gems.
Check out Billboard.com's staff picks of the 13 albums from 2013's first half that may have passed you by, from sumptuous R&B to steely electronica to refrain-filled indie pop to gonzo hip-hop, and take a listen to a song from each one:
MS MR, "Secondhand Rapture"
Last year's "Candy Bar Creep Show" EP demonstrated MS MR's ability to conceive dream-pop in a dark cloud; "Secondhand Rapture," the group's Columbia debut, expands upon those initial four songs like a breathtaking portrait drawn from a series of sketches.
Maya Jane Coles, "Comfort"
Maya Jane Coles' stark, hollow debut album is stunning simply for the fact that the London producer/vocalist handled almost every aspect of its creation, including the engineering, mixing and playing every instrument. When collaborators do appear, like singer Karin Park on "Everything," their presences only enhance Coles' haunting house music.
The title of the Danish duo's major label debut is a fitting one: "Avalanche," featuring singer Coco's hearty belts and producer Robin Hannibal's tempered bounce, is an inescapable storm of soulful cuts. Once you're splashed with "Favorite Star" and lead single "Hey Love," you'll start hoping that Quadron's music becomes equally unavoidable.
Problem & Iamsu!, "Million Dollar Afro" mixtape
Before delving into Iamsu!'s recently released "Kilt II" tape, sink into this effervescent, wholly joyful 16-song collaboration with Problem, which also features guest spots from Juvenile, Too $hort and Omarion.
Red Baraat, "Shruggy Ji"
This Brooklyn octet always starts a hell of a party when the horns start blowing and MC/doul-player Sunny Jain gets going, and now the funk 'n' bhangra 'n' brass band has captured the essence of its dynamic, ass-moving live experience with its second full-length studio album.
No Joy, "Wait To Pleasure"
Enamored with the return of My Bloody Valentine and jonesing for some more shoegaze? Look no further than Mexican Summer artist No Joy, whose deeply engaging sophomore album "Wait To Pleasure" paws through a handful of juicy hooks submerged in a woozy haze.
On Austra's second album, the indulgent vocals of the operatically-trained Katie Stelmanis bring passion and wonder to soundscapes that include house beats alongside delicate keys and woodwinds. "Olympia" is recommended to those with killer speakers (or headphones), and a thing for Bjork or the Knife.
Boards of Canada, "Tomorrow's Harvest"
Eight years after their last studio album, the Scottish electronic duo has returned with a collection of deep, minutely constructed textures that contribute to a seamless whole.
Streetlight Manifesto, "The Hands That Thieve"
Three years after the release of their last album, "99 Songs of Revolution," the Jersey-bred ska band comes back in full force with their signature blaring horns and anthem-like lyrics on "The Hands That Thieve."
Big K.R.I.T., "King Remembered In Time" mixtape
Less than a year removed from "Live From The Underground's" underwhelming sales, Big K.R.I.T. showcases his evolution as an artist and man on "King Remembered In Time." The 17-song effort, produced entirely by K.R.I.T. himself, features progressive, introspective rhymes over a bed of soulful soundscapes.
Parquet Courts, "Light Up Gold"
These Brooklyn slack-rockers show such a knack for bite-size hooks, tightly-wound riffs and post-collegiate humor that if they don't watch out, they could wind up being really successful.
Joseph Arthur, "The Ballad of Boogie Christ"
The prolific New York singer-songwriter's latest is a soulfully psychedelic-folk touched rock narrative built around "Boogie Christ," a cool/conflicted protagonist that's part doppelganger, part examination of deity. The inspired 12-song set is one of those rare records that makes you take a hard look at yourself and emerge energized anyway.
araabMUZIK, "For Professional Use Only"
Following the glory of 2011's "Electronic Dream" mixtape, the fast-rising beatsmith shifts from trance-like beats to jarring hip-hop bangers so smoothly, you'll wish more A-list rappers were calling his number.