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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Sweet Potato Cornmeal Pancakes With Smoky Peach Sauce (Inspired by Kacey Musgraves)

Cornmeal Pancakes

My 2013 music collection has officially been dominated by country albums. (Shhh, don’t tell this to the Warped Tour-going 15-year-old me.) I don’t mean the bros singing about pickup trucks and cowboy boots, or the kind of infuriating garbage that topped the country charts earlier this month. But as someone who loves a wide range of folk and Americana, I guess my dip into the twangier stuff was inevitable. There’s a staggering number of grade-A country albums out this year — I’m using that term sort of broadly, but a few faves (which might show up here later on): Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, Amanda Shires’s Down Fell the Doves, Ashley Monroe’s Like a Rose… I could go on for a while! But one of the first gals that started the trend for me this year was the 25-year-old Texas native Kacey Musgraves, who’s been touring with the likes of Kenny Chesney and Lady Antebellum and just kicked off a headlining U.S. tour (I saw her at Bowery Ballroom last week — even after playing all those stadium shows she seemed genuinely thrilled to have sold out a show in New York. Loved it!)

On her album Same Trailer Different Park she sings about getting out of small towns, finding the positives in a crappy situation, and loving who you want; at least a couple of themes that aren’t so commonplace in the typically uber-conservative country world (“Follow Your Arrow” encompasses all of this). It’s refreshing!

I wanted her dish to be something round, for the never-ending cyclical pattern of small-town living that finds its way into so many of her songs, especially the first single (and one of the album’s best tracks) “Merry Go ‘Round.” It’s about how girls are expected to be married with two kids by 21, go to church every Sunday, and follow exactly what their parents did, with the absurdly clever chorus of “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay/ Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane/ Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down/ Mary, Mary, quite contrary/ We get bored so we get married/ Just like dust we settle in this town/ On this broken merry go ’round.” Then in “Blowin’ Smoke” she’s singing about waitresses who keep saying they’re going to get out of town, but they’re just “blowin’ smoke” and before they know it their kids are already finishing school. The cornmeal is there because it’s common in a lot of southern dishes, but the texture also fits Musgraves’s music: It’s rough and grainy (and the pancakes are savory) for the “Merry Go ‘Round” line about dust settling, and it represents the tough situations her characters find themselves in. The sweet potatoes are for her Texas roots (her hometown, Golden, has a whole festival for them every year), and the yellow/golden color of the pancakes is for the song “Dandelion,” as well as the summery and autumnal feel her songs give off.

For the topping, the sweetness in the peaches is for the hopefulness in songs like the album opener “Silver Lining,” which is, not surprisingly, about finding the good on a day when you “woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom.” The molasses gives the sauce a sort of smoky flavor (for “Blowin’ Smoke”).

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