Just Some Of NPR Music's Favorite Albums Of The Year (So Far)

Jun 13, 2013
Originally published on June 13, 2013 6:35 pm

It is only June, but NPR Music staff already has 25 albums that they consider their favorite of the year. NPR's Audie Cornish talks with Frannie Kelley, Tom Huizenga, and Stephen Thompson about their favorite music of 2013.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

And we're nearly halfway through the year. And upstairs at NPR Music, the best of pile is high enough that they've already cobbled a list of their 25 favorite albums for 2013. Crazy or what? For a sample, we're joined by three members of the team: Frannie Kelley, who covers R&B and hip-hop. Hey there, Frannie.


CORNISH: Tom Huizenga, who writes about classical music. Hello, Tom.


CORNISH: And Stephen Thompson, who writes about, I think, everything else, right? Rock, pop...


STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: All the other genres.

CORNISH: ...all the things we won't recognize. Stephen, welcome.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: So looking at the list, there are a lot of established artists who made it, right? There's your Vampire Weekend and, of course, Justin Timberlake. But there's some new artists who have kind of cut through the noise and made themselves heard. Namely, your pick, Frannie, Chance the Rapper.


KELLEY: This was the year that this guy really broke through the surface. It's not his first album, but the hype for him was at fever pitch, and then he came through. So everybody was surprised by how many risks he took and by how mature he is.

CORNISH: And he's from Chicago, quite young. I remember his debut mix tape was based on his 10-day suspension from high school, right?


KELLEY: Correct.


KELLEY: So this song is actually seven minutes long, which doesn't happen very often. And that's partly because it's a combo song. It starts out playful and sort of chest-popping, he's teasing. And then there's an abrupt switch. It's this big shoulder move where he drops out completely and there's 30 seconds of silence. And when he comes back, the song has become foreboding, paranoid. And it's mostly about violence in Chicago.


KELLEY: All of a sudden, we're, you know, you're sort of thrown backward by how much he's asking you the question right after he had you dancing.

CORNISH: All right. Moving on from Chicago hip hop to the other side of the world, to a Latvian choir. Do I have that right, Tom Huizenga?


CORNISH: Is that your pitch? Tell us what's going on.

HUIZENGA: Well, have you ever sung in a choir?

CORNISH: I have. I mean, sung would be a generous term.


CORNISH: I don't really think that was what was going on, but yeah.

HUIZENGA: Well, I think you're going to love this record. It's - and you might say Latvia? But it turns out that Latvia is this land of singers. I mean, the country is the size of West Virginia. Two million people live there. But they have a reservoir of over a million folksongs alone, and then there's all the amateur choirs, the professional choirs, the singing competitions where 20,000 crooners get together and sing together.

I mean, people in this country just sing. And one of the best professional classical choirs now comes from Latvia. It's the Latvian Radio Choir. And on their new record, they really show just how much power two dozen unaccompanied voices have.


HUIZENGA: The music is by Rachmaninoff. It's his "All-Night Vigil." This is Russian liturgical music that he wrote in 1915. The music that we're hearing now, the text is talking about beholding the very special light that comes at the end of the day when the evening starts coming in. I think you can just see in the music the warm evening light just filtering through the stained glass windows of a church.


HUIZENGA: There's a purity and transparency to these Latvian voices. There's a certain ping to the blend, and the tenors have a really high, pure sound. It's really some of the most gorgeous choral singing I've heard in a while.


CORNISH: All right. Stephen, one more pick, right, from a guy in the know. Now, the last time I talked to you at South by Southwest, you were talking about bands with beards as a trend.



THOMPSON: That's been an ongoing concern.

CORNISH: Yes. Who are you betting on to make the best of list later in the year? Who's your favorite so far?

THOMPSON: Well, actually, it's very much like a cross between the Latvian Radio Choir and Chance the Rapper.

CORNISH: I want to hear what this is.

THOMPSON: No. It's not at all. The singer I'm picking is named Kacey Musgraves, and she put out an album this year called "Same Trailer Different Park." There was an extraordinary amount of hype leading into this record. Frannie mentioned Chance the Rapper as somebody who followed through on this enormous promise. And this record does the same thing.

Kacey Musgraves put out a great song last year called "Merry Go Round." And this record, "Same Trailer Different Park," is just packed with strong, smart, thoughtful songs with a very distinct point of view. Let's hear a little bit of the song "Follow Your Arrow."


THOMPSON: Running through this record, there are all these recurring themes of escape. So the song "Follow Your Arrow" is clearly about escape from the judgment of your neighbors. The song "Merry Go Round" is about escape from a small town. There's a song called "Blowing Smoke" that's about, you know, kind of wanting to escape from a crummy job. There's a lot of slices of real life, but there are also - there's a blue print for these escapes.

It's not just, oh, isn't it terrible that I'm stuck in this small town, or isn't it terrible that my neighbors judge me. It's a very inspiring record, and it's a record that I think is going to connect on a very personal level with a lot of people. I just love it and just - I'm enormously drawn to virtually every song on it.


CORNISH: Well, this has been a great mix of stuff. Stephen Thompson, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: And also, NPR Music's Frannie Kelly. Thanks, Frannie.

KELLEY: Thank you, ma'am.

BLOCK: And Tom Huizenga. Thank you, Tom.

HUIZENGA: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: You can find their list of favorite albums and songs of 2013 so far at nprmusic.org.


CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.