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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Eggplant Ricotta Rolls (Inspired by Lorde)

Eggplant ricotta rolls

It kinda blows my mind that Lorde’s “Royals” is the No. 1 song in the country. Not because it isn’t amazing (it is!) and it’s certainly not surprising that it’s popular, but it’s so not in the same world as everyone charting right behind her — Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Drake. Lorde (16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor) herself is so unfazed by everything the pop-music industry usually stands for, she writes all her own lyrics, and couldn’t care less about being famous; it’s refreshing and rare to find that in a pop artist.

Her whole record, Pure Heroine, is amazing, and amazingly smart: O’Connor writes about adolesence and growing up in a way that’s relatable, even for those of us who are a decade or more past her, and she does it without being cheesy or contrived. In a recent interview with the Guardian, she said, “I’m like the most terrible person to go to a party with in the world, because I just can’t enjoy it. I’m just thinking all the time about what it means and what the implications are. So everybody’s getting fucked up and I just can’t give myself over to it, because I’m thinking about…the archetypes of being a teen. I’m really interested in kind of weird social situations and cliques, watching girls vying for attention, watching how the popularity thing happens. I’ve always thought way too hard about everything.” I’m usually so pessimistic about today’s teenagers, and then there are gals like this (and Tavi Gevinson, and everyone who was at her incredible Rookie Magazine party and talent show in Brooklyn a few weeks ago) who remind me that it’s not all bad out there and restore my faith in humanity.

Aaaand, on to the food: A lot of the backing music on Pure Heroine uses rippling, swirly electronics, so the thinly sliced eggplant, and the pieces of it being rolled into spirals, represents that, as well as the layered vocals in most of the songs. The eggplant is also for her music’s darkness; I think of cool colors like purple, blue and gray. The filling has curly kale in it — because Lorde has the best. hair. ever. and also because it’s known as being trendy and high-brow, but in reality kale has been around forever and is easy for any common person to find or afford; kinda like in “Royals” where she and her friends are pretending to be fancy, even when they don’t come from money and only dream about it. The lemon, which comes through really brightly here, is for the boldness in O’Connor’s lyrics — she sings about chasing dreams and, like Kacey Musgraves in last month’s post, living in a small town (“We live in cities you’ll never see on a screen,” she sings in “Team”). And its acidity is for her sarcasm: The line, “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/ So there” in “Team” kills me every time, and there’s “It’s a new artform showing people how little we care” in “Tennis Court.” Overall it’s a comforting dish, which is for the reassurement that comes from banding together while going through the sometimes-B.S. that is growing up — which happens even when you’re well out of high school.

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