ETB’s Favorite Music of 2011

I have mixed feelings about end-of-the-year lists: I enjoy reading them, mostly because I’m curious about what records friends and other critics enjoyed throughout the year, and I love that they help me catch up on music I missed or didn’t spend enough time with (because I obviously have listened to every single record that was released in 2011…).

What I have a hard time with is the argument of who made the “best” record. That’s not to say I refuse to participate in the list-making at work — I certainly suggested certain albums should be higher or lower on our list — but it can get a little ridiculous. When I make my own year-end list, it’s just my personal favorites: I don’t mean it to say that one album is definitively better than another in terms of music, lyrics, whatever, or that my picks are better than everything else that came out during the year, but this was the music I connected with, what I listened to the most and what had the biggest effect on me.

Also, because I do use other people’s lists to catch up on what I’ve missed, that means there might be music that came out this year that I’m just now starting to fall in love with (see: Kurt Vile). And if we’re talking about my favorite musical discoveries of the year, there are quite a few artists whose music I heard for the first time in 2011, but they haven’t released anything recently (Patty Griffin, everything Mark Kozelek, Kathleen Edwards — the latter has already made one of my favorites of 2012). And if you ask me in a few months what my favorite 2011 records were, my response might be a little different than the following list. But for now, these were my favorites; my top 10 are in an order that could easy change over and over again, and then a bunch of others I loved listed alphabetically.

ALSO: Here is a mix of 27 songs I really liked this year — from many of these bands — for your downloading pleasure. Enjoy!

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Drinking Tunes: Spring Beer + Music


(Jessica Lea Mayfield at Glasslands in Brooklyn, March 30, 2011)

Earlier this week it was in the 30s. It’s still in the 30s-to-40s and the next couple of days are going to be rainy and gross. So this post, like this week’s recipe, is some wishful thinking: Maybe drinking enough springy beers will make the cold go away?

I wrote a few words about five songs that get me in the mood for spring, and my friend Bret Stetka, who writes about food and drinks for Time Out New York, Metromix and MSN.com (he also has a doughnut blog — yes, a doughnut blog), paired them each with a beer that complements the music and the mood, and explained why they work together.



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THE SONG: Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Blue Skies Again”
21-year-old Ohioan Jessica Lea Mayfield made one of my favorite albums so far this year (Tell Me, released on Nonesuch and produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), and this is one of its best tracks. It’s about getting over heartbreak in the context of the seasons changing from winter to spring.
Key lyrics: “This heart of mine/ Is ready for the spring/ Open up my window/ Winter bird, take wing”

THE BEER: Saison de Lente (The Bruery; Placentia, CA)
Saisons are made for spring, literally. They were first brewed by Belgian farmers in the winter for spring and summer consumption, and they’re far and away my favorite style of beer. They tend to be light and refreshing, yet spicy and full of flavor and Jessica Lea Mayfield’s ode to spring calls for the The Bruery’s Californian twist on the style (complete with a pink psychedelic Easter egg on the label). The beer starts with a somber sour foundation, much like the song’s moody intro. Then it blows wide open — a crisp, effervescent refresher perfect for Mayfield’s breezy, springy chorus: “Suddenly I can see blue skies again.”


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THE SONG: Big Star, “In The Street”
Most of Big Star’s music feels best during the warmer seasons, but “In The Street” in particular perfectly embodies spring, with lyrics about hanging out with friends and driving around aimlessly with no worries.

THE BEER: Estate Homegrown Ale (Sierra Nevada; Chico, CA)
This song calls for a big, bold West Coast IPA — something with energy and intensity, but also a drinkable, major-key disposition. Sierra’s Estate Ale is aggressively hoppy and pleasantly bitter, the beery equivalent of Alex Chilton’s awesomely squawky screech. And the simple, nectary fruitiness holding it all together? Cowbell!


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THE SONG: The National, “Apartment Story”
The National have never been known for their happy-go-lucky disposition. This one is about sinking into a winter depression with the idea that once it hits spring, everything might get a bit better.
Key lyrics: “Tired and wired we ruin too easy/ Sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave.”

THE BEER: Arabier (De Dolle; Esen, Belgium)
The National require something a bit darker and moodier than the usual spring sippers. Something brooding but slightly optimistic. De Dolle’s Arabier is a strong pale ale with an earthy, funky dark side and a dreary, rainy day haziness. But loads of bubbly carbonation and a bright citrus flavor hint at sandals and sunlight.


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THE SONG: The New Pornographers, “The Crash Years”
The New Pornographers are the quintessential sunny-day band, thanks to A.C. Newman’s affinity for bright, multi-voiced choruses and Neko Case’s reedy wail. “The Crash Years” takes the cake, though, mostly because of its umbrella-filled music video. Directed by Sammy Rawal, it shows an aerial view of meticulously-choreographed pedestrians walking through a cobblestone courtyard pushing strollers, riding bikes, carrying ladders and walking under umbrellas.

THE BEER: Bräu Weisse (Ayinger; Aying, Germany)
Here I think we need something crisp, upbeat and approachable to match the band’s sharply-written indie pop. There also needs to be big payoff in terms of flavor, and despite that aggressive umlaut over the “a,” this bubbly hefeweizen is Pornographers-perfect. It’s light, citrusy and super spicy. Plus the idyllic German cottage on the bottle seems like a relaxing place to stay come spring.


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THE SONG: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, “Walking To Do”
This song is, in part, about making things happen on your own instead of waiting for religion to provide all the answers, but it’s also simply about living life and working through whatever gets thrown your way — which is a perfect attitude to have at the start of a new season. It’s also about walking, which is a lot easier to do after snow is gone! It’s one of my favorite Ted Leo songs, and one of his most energizing.
Key lyrics: “And if we stay on our feet, we’ll make it in our own time/ And though the road has got some steep climbs, I believe we’ll be fine”

THE BEER: Jack D’Or (Pretty Things; Cambridge, MA)
Ted Leo’s brand of straight-ahead indie rock, with its sharp Elvis Costello confidence, generally puts me in a good mood. As does Jack D’or, another perfectly springy saison. It’s dry and crispwith big spice, just like Leo’s high-energy treble-rich tune.

Beet-Avocado “Tartare” and a California playlist

THE DISH
Beet-avocado “tartare”

THE INSPIRATION
At the end of February I took my first trip to Los Angeles, to visit my cousins for a week. I did lots of yoga, went hiking, saw a not-so-hilarious improv show, played with puppies, and wandered around Santa Monica. I also ate lots of awesome food, like spinach and corn tamales from Hugo’s Tacos, a lemon bar from Big Sugar Bakeshop, an insanely fresh egg salad sandwich with avocado at The Trails in Griffith Park, and a huge veggie plate at Border Grill.

My most memorable meal, though, came from Madeleine Bistro, a fancy vegan place in Tarzana (run by Chef Dave Anderson) where I ate with my cousin, my yoga teacher and her daughters. I didn’t actually have a choice in what I was ordering — the girls just told me, “OK, you’re getting the beet tartare and the bigger mac.” The bigger mac is like a vegan version of a McDonald’s Big Mac, and it was awesome, but the beet tartare was gorgeous and something totally different (beats over a tofu “cheese crouton” with cucumbers, some kind of sauce and a balsamic).

This dish is inspired by that (a photo of the real thing at the bottom of the post — mine pales in comparison, but I am not a chef so I guess that’s OK! I also wasn’t trying to recreate exactly the same thing…), and also the other foods I ate on my trip: perfectly-ripe avocado, alfalfa sprouts, tangelos, and blood orange balsamic vinegar (the latter two I brought back to Brooklyn with me). And it’s vegan because hoooly smokes were there a lot of veggie/vegan restaurants there! (Not a complaint.) Anyway, I need to make this again and make it better because it’s not totally amazing, but it was yummy.

THE PLAYLIST
I spent a lot of time driving around with my cousin, which meant plenty of time to share music. These are some songs that were significant to my trip for various reasons — some are obvious/cliché California jams, some are songs my cousin and I both love, and others just found themselves running around my head while I was there.

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