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 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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