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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Spring Quiche (Inspired by Kurt Vile)

spring quiche

Hello! It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted anything here, and if you’re one of the handful of people who’ve asked if I’m still doing this thing, thanks for caring and I apologize for such a long wait. Life’s been crazy (when isn’t it?) and while I’ve been stockpiling a bunch of half-baked ideas for ETB, I’ve had a hard time sitting still long enough to fully conceptualize them. That’s not to say I haven’t been cooking — a couple weeks ago, I settled in to my fourth (!) Brooklyn apartment, this time down in Bay Ridge, a lovely neighborhood in the southwest corner of the borough, with this guy. For the first time in a long time (ever?), I’ve got a kitchen that’s set up exactly how I want it to be, with no competition for the stove or fridge space, and I’ve got all my pantry items in one place. Going back and forth between apartments for 15 months was challenging and often stressful, and it especially took a toll on planning food projects. So, now that I’m finally settled in with the best roommate ever for as long as we’re allowed to live in this apartment, I’m hoping I can finally get my act together. Or not. We’ll see! Regardless, I’ve got a lot more peace of mind and I’ve been cooking up a storm — just mostly everyday dishes without ingredient lists or measurements. (And I’m thinking about ways to share that kind of stuff here, too.)

Anyway, on to Kurt Vile and my first legit crusted quiche (recipe here)!

I got into Kurt Vile at the end of 2011 when Smoke Ring For My Halo was on everyone’s best-of lists (I was late to the party) and he’s been in regular rotation since. His new record Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze is one of my favorites of the year and it’s been in my ears nonstop the last couple months. A good amount of Vile’s music is chilled-out, conventional-ish indie rock — great guitar hooks, moments of jangly pop, a few catchy melodies — but just as often he wanders off to the point where it’s easy to get lost and forget that I’m listening to the same song that started six minutes ago. He has a reputation for dark lyrics, but in reality he’s got an amazing, wry sense of humor; in the album’s first song, the almost-title track “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” he sings, “Phone ringing off the shelf/ I guess it wanted to kill himself,” and he jokes that he has to think about what kind of wisecracks he’s going to drop that day. Vile, who’s based in Philadelphia, told Pitchfork that he’s mostly a homebody and a “family man” — he’s married with two young kids — and there are a couple times here that he assures his loyalty to his family, like in “Never Run Away” and “Too Hard,” the latter of which is one of the sweetest songs I’ve heard in a while.

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in New York and that’s what this whole record feels like. “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” calls for a light, springy breakfast, so I made a quiche with greens and sweet caramelized onions. Vile’s homebody-ness is a great parallel because it’s a perfect dish for a leisurely brunch, but you’ve got to stick around for a little while to make it. It’s not incredibly difficult, but there’s a bit of prep work — though some of it, like caramelizing the onions and chopping vegetables, can easily be done ahead of time. It’s also versatile and can be used with pretty much any vegetables or cheeses you have on hand. That’s to say you don’t need to pay super close attention to your measurements, at least when it comes to the veggies: Vile’s songs can space out, and you can kinda do the same — just do your thing and it’ll turn out OK.

One of my favorite verses on the album is in the sprawling last track, “Goldtone,” which starts with, “Sometimes when I get in my zone, you’d think I was stoned/ But I never, as they say, ‘touch the stuff’/ I might be adrift, but I’m still alert/ concentrate my hurt into a gold tone.” Which is to say, things aren’t always as they appear (like the frequent categorization of Vile’s music as stoner-rock). It’s similar to how you might look at this creamy dish and think it’s full of fat — most quiche recipes use a stick of butter in the crust and two cups of heavy cream in the filling, which is kinda nuts, though I’m sure delicious. So while I didn’t skimp on the cheese here, it’s actually not quite as rich as it appears: The crust is made with olive oil instead of butter (and only a few tablespoons of it), as well as skim milk and a couple extra egg whites — but it doesn’t lose any of the flavor.

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