ETB's Best Albums of 2013

ETB’s Favorite Albums of 2013 + a free mix for you

ETB's Best Albums of 2013

Oh hey, it’s that time again! I still don’t love making (ranked) lists, but I do love sharing music with you, and it has certainly been a good year for that — so, here’s what I loved in 2013. As always, I’m giving you a disclaimer that I (gasp!) didn’t listen to everything that was released in the last year, and I’m looking forward to hearing what slipped through the cracks later on. Another disclaimer: I listened to a lot of country music this year — but please don’t let that scare you! I used to consider myself not a country person, but I’ve heard some incredible storytelling in the form of country music (namely, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark and Holly Williams) — so if you’ll just trust me on this, you can download a mix of 35 of my favorite songs of the year, country and otherwise.

Quick note: I know I’ve been awful about keeping up with ETB this year! I’m (kinda) working on it, but it’s likely that posts will still be pretty infrequent going forward. However, I’ve got one more coming later this month, from last month’s Supper Studio event, and will continue to post other new recipes on occasion.

So, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2013, roughly in order from 10-1… but that tends to change every few minutes:

Yo La Tengo, Fade

Yo La Tengo’s album Fade was big for me at the beginning of 2013 (see my post about my grandpa + a recipe for chocolate fig rugelach), and while I didn’t listen to it consistently throughout the whole year, every time I do put it on I’m surprised by how I managed to even briefly forget that these songs existed. It’s comforting and consistent.
Favorite songs: “Ohm,” “Stupid Things,” “Paddle Forward”

Holly Williams, The Highway

First, a big thanks to the great Rachael Maddux (one of few people whose music recommendations I will always take) for telling me about this record, which I knew I would love after just 30 seconds of Holly Williams’s sorta-raspy voice singing, “Why’re you drinkin’ like the night is young?” So, Williams is the granddaughter, daughter and half-sister of Hank Williams Sr., Jr. and III, respectively. Also, this record has guest vocals from Jackson Browne and, uh, Gwenyth Paltrow. Thankfully all of that is completely irrelevant because the traditional, no-frills country songs on The Highway would be as amazing (and heartwrenching) without any of that.
Favorite tracks: “Railroads,” “Gone Away From Me”

The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Trouble Will Find Me is admittedly the first National album that’s been released since I’ve considered myself more than just a casual fan; it’s beautiful and majestic and not quite as consistently dark as some of their other records. And of course anything with vocal help from the inimitable Sharon Van Etten gets extra points in my book.
Favorite tracks: “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “This Is The Last Time”

Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

12 Stories is, hands down, the best straight-up country album of the year — and one of the best of the year, period. Brandy Clark has written hits for Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, the Band Perry and others, but this is the first collection of her own songs. She’s a masterful storyteller: The first track “Pray To Jesus” is about praying and playing the lotto because “there ain’t but two ways we can change tomorrow”; “Take a Little Pill” is about a woman’s addiction to prescription meds; the hilarious “Stripes,” which I’d love to hear somewhere in Orange is the New Black, is about not pulling the trigger on a cheating lover so as to not be forced to wear orange or stripes. With other songs about cheating, divorce, pot and illigitimate children, Clark’s songs might sound sonically traditional, but she is far from your average country songwriter. (Side note: I was really proud to have gotten the BF’s parents super into this one on our trip to San Francisco last month.)
Favorite tracks: “Stripes,” “Take a Little Pill”

Mikal Cronin, MCII

These are 10 masterful pop songs that will get stuck in your head for months — I’m pretty sure at any given moment throughout the whole summer I had at least one of them running around in my brain, and I was never mad about it. Fantastically jangly, hooky songs about growing up and the stress of figuring out what to do with your life. We can all relate, right? His set at Pitchfork Fest in July was glorious.
Favorite tracks: “Shout It Out,” “Peace of Mind”

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ETB’s Favorite Music of 2012

Allo Darlin'

A lot has happened this year! I rang in 2012 in a Brooklyn apartment with some of my closest friends and a lot of chocolate and wine. I’d been dumped just a few days before, and while I was in surprisingly OK spirits considering the circumstances, I certainly didn’t expect that by the end of January I’d meet the person who I now cannot imagine my life without. Moving on and moving up, indeed. I also moved to my third New York apartment, explored new parts of my favorite borough, watched a close friend get married, more or less gained a whole new family, I visited dozens of new restaurants, and I traveled to San Francisco, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and, of course, home to Michigan.

Of course there was also a whole lot of music that soundtracked all of this, and never in one year have so many songs Made Me Feel Things. I might have cried a couple times while listening to “Give Out” from Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, “Tallulah” from Allo Darlin’s Europe, and “Lonely Universe” from Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home. But I’ve also hit serious highs, like standing next to the love of my life while Kathleen Edwards played “Sidecar” from her album Voyageur, and I’ll never forget staying out until 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight as Glen Hansard paraded friends from all ends of the music world onto the small stage at Le Poisson Rouge to play a series of Levon Helm covers.

I’ve said it a million times, but it bears repeating: I don’t like making best-of-the-year music lists, at least not when I have to rank them. The order I want to put the albums in changes every day, and certain songs might have been more important to me in March than in September. Of course there are also the thousands of records that never touched my ears, and the dozens I’ve given a few spins but still need to spend more time with — and I have no doubt that I’m forgetting something. But there are certainly a sizeable number of records that I loved and had some impact on me in 2012, and below (alphabetically) are a few of them (SURPRISE! They are almost all ladies). Also, you can download a mix of my favorite 2012 songs here.

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Jones Street Station Talk Fundraising and Foodspotting

Jones Street Station

Brooklyn Americana band Jones Street Station launched an ambitious, philanthropic new venture last month. From now through August 2013, the band’s Perennials project offers a new song each week. Each track is free to stream or download, and listeners are invited to donate to one of 12 charities hand-picked by the band.

“It’s like an artist marathon,” says singer Jonny Hull (pictured left). “Your friend says, ‘Hey, I’m running a marathon for this organization. If you want to support, feel free. You don’t have to.’ It dawned on us: We’re just going to put these songs on our site for free anyway; wouldn’t it be cool if we could drive some awareness and hopefully raise a couple bucks for some charities that we really like?”

Perennials launched Sept. 4 with “For a Lifetime,” a gorgeous tune benefitting Charity Water. Other organizations include the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Musicians on Call, The Trevor Project and Housing Works — check out the full list here.

The guys are embracing technology to get them through this 12-month music marathon of 52 songs. With the band members now dividing their time between New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, they’re sharing song ideas via the Web using Evernote, Dropbox and Google Hangouts — a process Hull calls, “really fun, and kind of nerdy.”

Splitting the distance also lets the band get their food nerd on. Here are some of Jonny Hull’s recent favorite restaurants, with links to the singer’s own Foodspotting reviews:

Kenosha, Wisconsin: The Brat Stop is amazing and massive. We stopped there after playing this year’s Milwaukee Summerfest. Fried cheese curds and bratwurst and cheddarwurst, people doing karaoke in the back. There are pictures of all the people who have played their stage — everybody from to Jackyl to Styx and Enuff Z’nuff.

Chicago: Portillo’s, Hot Doug’s, Gene and Jude’s for Chicago hot dogs or Italian beef, or the combo which is Italian sausage in an Italian beef sandwich with peppers on it.

Los Angeles/Venice: The Tasting Kitchen, Gjelina. The last time we were in town, Danny Erker (singer, mandolin player) and I did a trip to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. That was amazing. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles was a fantastic little interlude for us.

Brooklyn: Van Horn Sandwich Shop. It’s down-home, Southern, comfort food that used to be hard to find in New York, and it’s right down the street from us now, which is kind of awesome. They have a fried chicken sandwich that’s insane. I crave it. There’s bluegrass there, too. We play there every once in a while.

There’s a new spot in Carroll Gardens called Battersby. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants in all of New York. It’s one of those places where whatever they’re making on that day, it’s gonna be ridiculous. They have a kale salad that’s really good. The last time I was there, I think I live-tweeted the entire tasting menu.

Check out Jones Street Station’s Perennials project, and follow Jonny Hull on Foodspotting.

Chocolate croissant at Tartine

What I Ate in San Francisco

Chocolate croissant at Tartine
Chocolate croissant at Tartine

Hello! It’s been a minute — again, I know, I’ve been awful the past few months, and my latest excuse is that I’ve been out of town for a third of September…Sunday I got back from a long, much-needed vacation: The BF and I flew out to San Francisco to visit his dad and stepmom, who are amazing and spoiled us rotten with some of the best of the best food things in the Bay Area. (I also got to see a bunch of my cousins, which was extremely exciting.) Here are some of my favorite eats from the trip (gallery at the bottom):

Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival
Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival: Have you ever been in a place so mind-blowingly amazing that you legitimately can’t believe it’s real? That was me about five minutes into the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival in Fulton. Banquet tables lined with a bazillion varieties of heirloom tomatoes, plus tomato-themed tastes from top-notch chefs and endless wine. Need I say more? And this was only the first full day of the trip. My two favorite dishes were tomato sushi (skinned and seasoned tomato on top of sushi rice, wrapped in seaweed) from JoAnne&Jimmy and a cracker with tomatoes and a scallop on top, finished with a shot of clear green zebra tomato gazpacho from Bistro Boudin; the gazpacho was clear, and I was told that making it is a 12-hour process. Another highlight: SANGRIA SLUSHIE.

Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Chirashi sushi at Morimoto
Dinner at Morimoto in Napa:

We went here for David’s dad’s birthday, and this dinner was just hours after the tomato festival. I’m not sure how my stomach expanded enough to hold this meal after all the tomato-y things we stuffed in our faces all day, but, my stomach can do magical things when good food is involved. David started with the tempura calamari salad, which also had two types of quinoa and a miso dressing. The calamari was so light and buttery it melted in my mouth, and the dressing was refreshing. Also refreshing, and my favorite drink of the week (and there were lots of drinks): the zen tea cocktail, with green tea vodka, jasmine tea, citrus and mint. My entree was chirashi sushi, which is a ton of different types of fish piled on top of a bowl of sushi rice. And for dessert we shared the ice cream sandwiches: white chocolate green tea (my favorite), milk chocolate sesame, and banana dark chocolate cardamom. Everything was amazing.

Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America: New life plan: Live in the castle-looking building that is the Culinary Institute of America. I’m not sure that I want my future to involve working in the food industry, but I do know that I’d gladly live in that place just for the scenery. OK, OK, maybe I’d do it for the food, too. We all shared a corn soup with avocado froth and corn tortilla crumbles; I couldn’t really taste the avocado, but the rest of the flavor (very sweet and creamy) made up for it. My main dish was bouillabaise with spinach noodles and way more seafood than I could handle (especially after the previous night’s sushi-bowl fest).

Dinner at Greens: David’s stepmom had been telling me forever about this long-running veggie restaurant, and while I didn’t get anything incredibly adventurous (shared some really refreshing spring rolls with peanut sauce, and my entree was a curry), but it was still delicious. Most notably, though, it was where I had my first Pimm’s Cup (with cucumber gin), and decided we needed to recreate it for his parents’ “Cocktail Fridays” ritual, because it was so good. Also, the restaurant is gorgeous.

Bread pudding at Tartine
Bread pudding at Tartine
Breakfast at Tartine: This was one of my very few SF priorities and I’m glad we made it out there. I’ve been hearing about Tartine forever, especially their bread (which we, unfortunately, didn’t get to try this time around), but also their pastries. We got there early (about 8:30 a.m.), and it was quite crowded when we left. I had strawberry bread pudding, which was delicious but maybe a little bit too sweet, and David had a chocolate croissant, which was so light and flaky and buttery that I’m amazed he shared with me. We also took a few cookies with us, which served as a perfect treat during a three-mile walk that was 100 percent up- or downhill.

Dinner at Mamacita: No photos of this one (super low lighting), but we shared a really great meal at this spot in the Marina District, where we met up with a close friend from college: chips and guac, sweet corn tamales, salmon tacos and prawn tacos.

Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
Deviled eggs with dungeness crab
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: This was one another of my priorities going into the trip, and my eyes went bonkers at my first glimpse of the market tents. We ate outside at MarketBar, where I shared deviled eggs with dungeness crab (whoa) and also shrimp & grits. I came home with fresh raisins, cherry heirloom tomatoes, marinated sesame-miso tofu skins, and Wisconsin-made sheep milk cheese from the amazing Cowgirl Creamery. We also picked up a sample pack of the SF-made TCHO chocolate, which was a nice treat on the plane ride home. And I am still, almost a week later, regretting not buying a ton of grapes to take with me.

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Midtown Dickens

Breakfast at Roebling Tea Room with Midtown Dickens

Midtown Dickens

Midtown Dickens are a Durham, North Carolina-based folk group who thrive on a ragtag mix of acoustic instruments and twangy harmonies. (When I saw them in Brooklyn a while back, I had trouble keeping track of who was playing what because they all switched instruments after nearly every song.) They just released Home, their third and most focused record: The vocals and production are more polished, but they keep the charm and playfulness of their earlier work.

The band was in town a couple weeks ago to play a show with Retribution Gospel Choir, and like I did with their Trekky Records labelmates Lost in the Trees a while back, we met up for breakfast before they played a show at Barnard and headed back south.

Over beets and eggs, lox, and a huge baked pancake at Williamsburg’s Roebling Tea Room, I chatted with multi-instrumentalists (and fellow mostly-vegetarians) Kym Register, Catherine Edgerton and Will Hackney about the “food-service mafia,” Will’s uncommon and seriously fascinating taste buds, and the food that reminds them of home.

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My Favorite Record of 2012 is Out Today!

Allo Darlin' Europe

When we got an advance copy of Allo Darlin‘s album Europe at work a few months ago, more than half of our five-person editorial team were almost brought to tears at first listen. (The UK indiepop band’s debut almost topped our best of 2010 list, so to say it was highly anticipated would be an understatement.) There are records that have grabbed me instantly, but there has not been another that’s turned my world upside-down as quickly as this one did, and still does with every repeated listen. Elizabeth Morris is a genius songwriter who knows how to write about love in a way that makes sense to me, and it’s scary how closely I can relate to so many of her songs on both the band’s records.

Anyway, I wrote a super-long review of it over at eMusic if you’d like a more eloquent explanation of why it’s the best, but here are a couple of videos to get you started:

And if you like what you hear, they are playing in New York next week (April 24) at Mercury Lounge, and you can check out the rest of their tourdates here.

Whatchamacallit brownie

Q&A: Bake It in a Cake’s Megan Seling

Whatchamacallit brownie

Megan SelingIn October 2010, I came across a recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes — as in, tiny pumpkin pies baked into cupcakes. It came from Bake It in a Cake, a cupcake blog then only a couple months old, and my friend Amanda and I decided we needed to try make them ASAP. We did it, and they were magical. The blog is run by Megan Seling, who has spent the last year and a half baking all kinds of candies and baked goods into cupcakes: baklava, peanut butter cups, Cadbury eggs, Whatchamacallit bars (pictured above, courtesy of Seling), the list goes on.

Her day job, though, is at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, where she’s been working since 2000. Seling began as an intern and a columnist, covering the city’s all-ages music scene; now she still covers music, as well as other local cultural happenings. I chatted with her about what she’s been listening to, the crazy things people have made inspired by Bake It in a Cake, and the latest news about her forthcoming cookbook.

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Granola bars

Chewy Granola Bars + 10 Bands to See at Coachella

Granola bars

Better-than-store-bought chewy granola bars (recipe here)

Coachella weekend one (of two) starts Friday, and while I’m not going (totally can’t handle the camping-festival thing…plus that tiny detail that it’s on the other side of the country from me), I thought those of you who are might want an easy-to-make treat for the road, breakfast during the weekend, whatever. These granola bars are simple and filling — great for kickstarting a long day without regularly timed meals (if you’re anything like me at a festival). And you might even be able to make them with stuff you already have stocked in your pantry.


M83: M83’s epic Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was one of my favorite albums last year, and I have no doubts that its huge sound would have no problem reaching a massive crowd in the dessert. [Recipe: Funfetti frog cupcakes]

Jeff Mangum: Who could’ve expected that in 2012 Jeff Mangum would be playing Coachella? I’d be a little skeptical about how a performance from the former Netural Milk Hotel frontman would translate to a huge, outdoor festival, but after seeing his breathtaking show at New York’s Town Hall back in October, it actually makes sense. He sang out, encouraged the crowd to sing along, and genuinely looked like he was having a great time. [Recipe: Peanut noodles with edamame, carrots and flowers, inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel]

Bon Iver: The last (and only) time I saw Bon Iver was in July 2008 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and to hear this band at festivals back then would have been really weird/probably wouldn’t have really worked. Obviously things have changed a bit since then, and I regret not seeing the louder, fuller version of this band last year. [Recipe: Butternut squash pancakes with maple goat cheese spread and candied walnuts]

First Aid Kit: Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg make folk songs with simple instrumentation and gorgeous harmonies. Their record that came out this year, The Lion’s Roar, is lovely. [Featured in beer + music pairings: Fall 2011]

Laura Marling: British singer/songwriter Laura Marling has been a favorite of mine for a few years now — since her first record Alas, I Cannot Swim, written when she was 16, she’s continuously developing her voice, both in terms of her maturing songwriting and the way she sings. The ’70s-leaning songs from last year’s A Creature I Don’t Know, will be refreshing. [Featured in beer + music pairings: Winter 2012]

St. Vincent: Annie Clark’s sound has taken quite a journey since her 2007 debut Marry Me, and her shows have too — though what’s remained constant has been her velvety alto and her status as one of the finest guitarists in recent memory. On stage she gets lost in her guitar, which I’m sure will be especially intense during some of the harder-edged songs from last year’s Strange Mercy.

Tune-Yards: What haven’t I already said about Tune-Yards? Merrill Garbus is powerful enough on last year’s w h o k i l l, but even if you’re not totally into her albums, her live show is a whole ‘nother animal, as Garbus uses looping pedals to build up ukulele riffs, drum beats and abrasive, abstract vocals. [Recipe: Berry-banana muffins + body issues]

Sleeper Agent: Sleeper Agent are a group of sugar-high pop-punk kids from Bowling Green, Kentucky, and their debut album Celabrasion is a total blast.

We Are Augustines: We Are Augustines’ 2011 debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships comes from a dark place (it was inspired by frontman Billy McCarthy’s younger brother James, who struggled with mental illness before taking his own life; which their mother had done years before), but like on the album, the Brooklyn band turns it into an empowering story about passion and strength. [Recipe: Blackberry/peach/ginger popsicles]

Wild Flag: Wild Flag is made up of former Sleater-Kinney bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (the Minders) and I wrote about why I love them so much here. They pretty much melted my face off when I saw them live last fall. [Recipe: Whiskey chocolate balls inspired by Sleater-Kinney]

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Lost in the Trees

Breakfast at Veselka with Lost in the Trees

Lost in the Trees

Lost in the Trees are an orchestral-folk band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who found a big place in my heart a couple years ago. Their first big release, All Alone in an Empty House, came out in 2010 on Anti- Records (I wrote about it here and here), and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful. That album’s follow-up is out today; it’s called A Church That Fits Our Needs and in some ways it follows the torn-family narrative frontman Ari Picker started with Empty House, this time addressing his mother’s 2009 suicide. The subject matter is dark, as is some of the music that accompanies it — but like the last one, it’s just as much about the suffering as the recovery.

Because Lost in the Trees’ music is so emotional and ultimately about hope and healing, last fall I made a sweet potato corn chowder inspired by their music; comforting because soup has magic healing powers, and sweet potatoes and corn for their southern roots. It’s easily one of my favorite dishes I’ve made — for this blog or otherwise. Someone in the band posted the soup on the band’s Facebook page and said they were going to try it out — and when I met them last month, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Emma Nadeau said she’s made it several times, at least a couple of which have fallen on band-practice days (“so now they think I make it every day,” she told me).

Lost in the TreesThe band was in town last month for a week of press and a few shows, culminating in a run-through of the entire new album at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, and thanks to what started as a Twitter back-and-forth about New York restaurants, I met up with them at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, just before they headed back south for a short break before a five-and-a-half-week tour. We went to Veselka, the famed East Village Ukranian diner, where we drank copious amounts of coffee, chowed down on potato pancakes and crepes, and chatted about some food stuff. [All photos by Dominick Mastrangelo. It’s quite obvious that we were all extremely awake.]

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Maimonide of Brooklyn

Q&A: Maimonide of Brooklyn’s Neal Harden

Maimonide of BrooklynNeal Harden is the executive head chef at Maimonide of Brooklyn, a freshly-opened artistic, friendly and unpretentious vegan restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. A veteran of the city’s top vegetarian restaurants (including Pure Food & Wine), Harden brings a healthy respect for cooking tradition and a love of the wide-open possibilities of punk rock to the restaurant’s offerings of sandwiches, comfort food and epic vegan brunch. He’s also a musician and we met as teenagers in the small punk scene of Portland, Maine. We talked over house-made kale chips, chickpea flour-breaded mushroom nuggets and a Mediterranean open-faced sandwich called a “MOB,” seated at a family-style table in the dining room, which is decorated with experimental objets d’art, cooking magazines and comic books. (And speaking of comic books, the restaurant has one to explain its background, viewable here via Grub Street.)

Maimonide of Brooklyn
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