Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums

8. Kelela
Cut 4 Me
(Fade to Mind)

Cut 4 Me, the debut release from Kelela, is a breath of fresh air. With her appearance on this year's Solange-curated Saint Heron compilation, Kelela came off sharper and more inventive than her fellow alt-R&B scenesters, trading their already-worn aching vocals and murky rhythms for sugary phrasings and cracking beats.

Released as a free mixtape, Cut 4 Me's 13 tracks sound more like remixes than original compositions. Working with producers like Girl Unit, Nguzunguzu and Kingdom (who she worked with on his 2013 single "Bank Head", included here), Kelela's songs make great use of photocopy grooves and minimal electronic beats. Although tracks like "Do it Again" and "Keep it Cool" seep with dark night of the soul undertones, for the most part, Kelela and her producers keep things light and odd, balanced with a gratifying amount of quirky earworms.

Never playing up R&B/pop image of vocalist as sex object, Kelela carves her own path on Cut 4 Me; one of a standout singular voice among a new wave of singular voices. (Daniel Sylvester)