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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French toast

Citrus French Toast with Brandied Peaches (Inspired by Kathleen Edwards)

French toast

THE DISH
French toast inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail

THE INSPIRATION
Kathleen Edwards’s album Voyageur has held up as one of my favorites this year — I was introduced to and fell in love with her music last fall, and this particular collection of songs came at just the right time. She wrote it while going through a divorce with a former bandmate and then falling in love again not long after (with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who co-produced the record with her). I first heard Voyageur near the end of one relationship, and the songs continued to sink in as I got over that one and found myself in a new one that took off faster than I could have ever anticipated (there’s nothing wrong with that, but it definitely took me by surprise).

The song “Sidecar” is about the excitement of starting a journey with a new partner — going on adventures, learning about their favorite places, and taking on new challenges. Apologies for being a total mush, but now it’s more than half a year into this journey and I am filled with more love than I ever knew was possible. There’s a line in the song that goes, “Sit up, sit up, sit up, I went and made you/ Breakfast in bed, coffee and juice” — so I made breakfast for my “sidecar” on his birthday last Friday, inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail. (I would have made him a cake, but 1) we were traveling and it would’ve been tough to transport and 2) how would I have been able to compete with this?)

The drink uses brandy (traditionally cognac), orange liquer and lemon juice, so there’s lemon in the French toast filling, orange in the batter, and brandy and more orange in the topping. (It wasn’t actually served in bed.)

P.S. Listen to Kathleen Edwards. Her first album Failer is a good place to start.

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Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce + songs for new beginnings

THE DISH
Vietnamese-style spring rolls with peanut sauce (recipe here)

THE SONGS
New York has been feeling like spring, well, throughout most of where winter normally would have been. But this week we finally had the first real day of spring, and to celebrate the beginning of a new season, I made these spring rolls — tasty, refreshing, and uh, springy. Make a few and go eat them in a park (that’s what I did the evening of the spring solstice, and it was lovely). And, since spring is a time for starting over — a new season, new life outside, spring cleaning, etc. — below are a few songs/albums about new beginnings.

Bowerbirds, “Tuck the Darkness In”
The Clearing is a fitting name for Phil Moore and Beth Tacular’s third LP as Bowerbirds: A clearing is a clean slate to start over again, and these songs came out of Beth battling an extreme illness, the couple breaking up and getting back together, rescuing a stray dog, and beginning to build a cabin together in the woods. [Recipe: Acorn squash soup, inspired by Bowerbirds]

Edwyn Collins, “Losing Sleep”
On the title track of Edwyn Collins‘s 2011 album, the former Orange Juice frontman sings, “I must believe, I must retrieve/ The things I know, the things I trust.” In 2005, a brain hemorrhage left him at the beginning of a long road to recovery. That he regained the ability not only to speak and walk again but to make an entire new album (and he also finished one he’d started before the hospitalization) is astounding.

We Are Augustines, “Book of James”
We Are Augustines are made up of former members of the band Pela; that band was dissolving, frontman Billy McCarthy’s brother James committed suicide, and We Are Augustines rose from their ashes. This song from their debut, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, is a tribute to James, with McCarthy singing, “Just know we tried/ You’re forgiven.” [Recipe: Peach-blackberry-ginger popsicles, inspired by We Are Augustines]

Kathleen Edwards, “Sidecar”
Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards‘s recent album Voyageur is, in part, a post-divorce recovery. But the end of that brought on the beginning of a new relationship, this time with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who helped produce the record. Voyageur was also sort of a musical rebirth for Edwards, who traded a bit of her older (and amazing) music’s Americana twang for a little more pop polish. This is a perfect song about a new romance — sharing each other’s favorite places, eating breakfast in bed, getting over monsters from the past and “chasing down the hard stuff” as we go.

Mikal Cronin, “Apathy”
Graduating from college is a monumental time to snap into start-over mode, and that in-between is what fueled California garage-rocker Mikal Cronin‘s 2011 self-titled album. In “Apathy,” he sings about being older and “getting along with my future.”

Great Lake Swimmers, “New Wild Everywhere”
On the title track from Great Lake Swimmers‘ upcoming album, Tony Dekker sings about new life outside: plants rooting, “blooming sounds,” and the sky exploding. Also, this band will always make me think of new beginnings, thanks to my cousin and his wife, who played their song “Your Rocky Spine” at their wedding last summer.

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Maple-Mustard Roasted Veggies + a post-Thanksgiving playlist

THE DISH
Maple roasted carrots, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve said this before, but it certainly bears repeating: I am obsessed with the circle of friends I’ve found myself in in New York. And I was thrilled to learn that most of them — all of us transplants to the city, mostly from Michigan — would also be in town for Thanksgiving weekend, because obviously that meant it was yet another excuse to spend time together, making tons of food and eating (and drinking) ourselves silly. I’ll save my ramblings about how much I love them for a post I have coming up in a couple weeks, and instead I’ll share my contribution to our Thanksgiving feast: a simple mix of roasted veggies that, of course, I made way too much of. It has absolutely nothing to do with music, but I’m giving it to you anyway, along with a playlist of some songs I’m thankful for this year — not a best of 2011, as a few of them aren’t from the past 11 months, but songs that, for various reasons, have made my life just a little bit better this year.

THE PLAYLIST
Listen on Spotify here; tracklisting (and recipe) below!

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