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Desiderata: Our Favorite Albums of 2013
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): Nothing Was The Same by Drake. We started from the bottom now we’re here.
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): How many year end lists do you think Beyoncé‘s BEYONCÉ screwed up? All of them? It’s an amazing album. She samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on one of the songs. I just don’t know what else anyone could possibly want.
Diane Chonette (Art Director, Tin House): My favorite/most listened to album for 2013 is Trouble Will Find Me by Brooklyn-based band, The National. Its dark, visceral lyrics and heady rhythms often nest in my brain for days. As with their last release and the one before that, I have fallen in love with front man Matt Berninger all over again. Maybe I just have a thing for smart, anxious, melancholy men or maybe its just his sultry baritone voice. Whatever the reason, this latest effort is still my default listen when nothing else seems right.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): Kirin J. Callinan‘s Embracism was the album of 2013 for me not because I think it’s as great as Bowie’s or McCartney’s or Costello’s comebacks, nor as infinitely repeatable than the SOHN and Fyfe EPs, or as solid and enjoyable as that Lorde album we waited forever for, or even as fun as Daft Punk or Justin Timberlake or R. Kelly, but because Embracism feels like it’s an album cut from stone and ever since I heard it I feel like I’ve been carrying it on my shoulders and sleeping underneath its weight. It’s a brutal album—raw like scraped knuckles but also pretty in a punch-drunk way. In the incredible upside-down video for “Landslide,” Callinan hangs by his feet, covered in mud, with the surface of the ocean inches from his head and sings “The stars are all dirt / The stars are all dirt / The stars are all dirt…”
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): With apologies to Yeezus and his celebrity friend (and the hands-down best concert I attended in 2013), my favorite album of the year comes from another, less sacrosanct Chicago MC. Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape might not have the narrative ambition of last year’s standout record (Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city), and it may not be the straight sonic experience of one my runners up (Death Grips’s Government Plates), but playfulness is an underrated quality in hip hop, and nobody’s done it so delightfully since maybe Weezy’s 2007 run. Chance’s dense, nasally delivery owes something to Lil Wayne, but even when he shifts to crooner mode, his lyrics are stacked with internal rhymes (Rapper song-singer, suspended, subpoena/For misdemeanors, dreamer, held-back ass is low key, still a senior). He’s good with light-hearted nostalgia (Used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy, and Chuckie/And Chuck E. Cheese’s pizzas, Jesus pieces, sing Jesus loves me), but when he turns his attention to more serious matters–and there’s plenty, considering he comes from our newly minted murder capitol—it’s clear he’s not just a clown (It just got warm out, this this shit I’ve been warned about/I hope that it storm in the morning, I hope it’s pouring out/I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks/And I ponder what’s worse between knowing it’s over and dying first/cause everybody dies in summer/wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring). And sorry, Black Hippy. Too bad, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. No clique flies a banner as cool as Chance’s: The Save Money Crew.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): Gracias, by the Ernesto Tito Puentes Big Band. From the title track “Gracias” to “Yo Quiero Vivir Tranquillo” to “Siempre Siempre,” the tunes on Ernesto Tito Puentes Big Band’s latest CD is lush and rich and syncopated à la salsa. With his 20-musician band with members from Cuba, Venezuela and Columbia, this is music not to be missed. Bonus: the final track, “Divertidas,” is divinely danceable.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): Cindi Mayweather, the time-traveling, robotic champion of freedom and love, returns in Janelle Monáe‘s The Electric Lady. The album continues Monáe’s Metropolis-inspired sci-fi concept series with smooth R&B, ferocious funk, and rich jazz. Monáe is cooler than you and possibly nerdier, too—film, literary, and political references abound. This is an irresistibly stylish album. Other greats from this year: Mazzy Star’s Seasons of Your Day and Solvents’s Ghetto Moon.
Holly Laycock (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Reflektor by Arcade Fire. I bought the single “Reflektor” before the album came out and listened to it nonstop for two weeks, awaiting what other musical masterpieces could come from my fallback favorites Arcade Fire, and the ingenious James Murphy. I will say that I was not immediately taken with the (double) album that I had so longed for (it just as well could have been condensed to one album), but being the persistent fan that I am, I soon grew to love this collaboration between greats. What Arcade Fire lacked in build ups and counterintuitive rhythms, Murphy more than made up for in production value—listen to “Porno” and “Afterlife” respectively. This album is a sort of stepping away for Arcade Fire, which diehard fans may find disappointing initially–it lacks the cohesion that previous albums have had. However, this new direction, if we remain open-minded, is equally as driven, definitely more danceable, and still my favorite pick for 2013.
Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): I think I have to go with James Blake’s Overgrown as standout album of the year, if only for the song “Retrograde” (which is also my favorite cover song of 2013, sung by Casey Dienel of White Hinterland). There is something like layered sparseness in these compositions, just such agonizing bleakness and then, there, a little warmth, rich and climactic. Even though it was released in the spring, this album feels like winter, forested and hushed and candlelit.
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): James Blake. Overgrown. With headphones, volume up.
Lance Cleland (a.k.a. DJ Mas y Menos): While this was the year I rediscovered my love of the hip-hop album: Chance The Rapper, Pusha-T, Danny Brown; groovy dance tunes: Blood Orange, The Limiñanas; classic rock jams: Parquet Courts, Kurt Vile, Dick Diver; and experimental whatever: My Bloody Valentine, Forest Swords, Darkside, Violeta Vile, the two tunes I have hummed the most in the shower, endlessly made up my own words to while singing in front of the mirror, and permanently ingrained in my lovely, patient fiancée’s brain are Deerhunter’s “T.H.M.“ & King Krule’s “Easy Easy.” Both contain simple yet infectious hooks that propel narratives that don’t easily reveal themselves on the first listen. King Krule’s opening lines of “Well same old Bobby, same old beat/Well yeah they got nothing on me” are sung with such confidence that I wanted to kick in a door every time I heard them uttered. I think you can make a pretty damn good argument that we haven’t heard a voice like Archy Marshal’s since Jeff Buckley (and like Buckley’s recordings, I found the King Krule record to be a bit uneven, with the highs more than making up for the minor lows). As for Bradford Cox, it is hard for me to believe he was once better known for wearing a dress on stage than for being one of our most innovative and ever changing musical geniuses. His ability to mix melancholy vocals with a dance beat is the most effective emotional charge I received via my headphones in 2013. While there might be more complete albums from this year that I would take with me to that proverbial desert island, these two songs are the first ones going on the mix-tape.