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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Wine-Soaked Chocolate Cake and Pears (Inspired by the National)

THE DISH
Red wine chocolate cake with whipped cream and mascarpone topping and red wine–poached pears (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
When I first heard The National maybe about three years ago, I disliked by frontman Matt Berninger’s voice and wrote them off immediately (and quite unfairly). When I returned to their music last year, around the release of their album High Violet, I finally got hooked and wondered why I was so put off by them in the first place; although since then I’ve certainly acquired a taste for a wider range of voices. Anyway, I spent a lot of time with 2005’s Alligator, which has become my favorite album of theirs. I knew I had to make something based on the song “All the Wine,” partially because, like The National, it took me a few tries to call myself a wine fan, too. (Now, while I still hardly know anything about wine, I do love it and drink it quite often.)

When I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for red wine chocolate cake, I knew it was a perfect match for this band, but I had to take it a step further by not only topping it with Deb’s suggested mascarpone whipped cream, but also with pears cooked in more red wine. The cake itself is dense and rich and one bite goes a long way (the wine flavor does not disappear after baking), while the toppings give it a more complex mix of flavors. It’s similar to how The National’s music can be lyrically dark and sonically layered, but it’s contained and sort of coiled up, rather than exploding in every direction. Not to mention this is decadent and self-indulgent, just like “All the Wine”‘s chorus of “And all the wine is all for me.” Don’t feel bad, though, just indulge in this one. I made it for my dear friend Jena’s birthday because she totally deserves all the wine. It was served at our housewarming party last month, and there were only about two pieces left over.

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Drinking Tunes: Spring Beer + Music


(Jessica Lea Mayfield at Glasslands in Brooklyn, March 30, 2011)

Earlier this week it was in the 30s. It’s still in the 30s-to-40s and the next couple of days are going to be rainy and gross. So this post, like this week’s recipe, is some wishful thinking: Maybe drinking enough springy beers will make the cold go away?

I wrote a few words about five songs that get me in the mood for spring, and my friend Bret Stetka, who writes about food and drinks for Time Out New York, Metromix and MSN.com (he also has a doughnut blog — yes, a doughnut blog), paired them each with a beer that complements the music and the mood, and explained why they work together.



http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf
THE SONG: Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Blue Skies Again”
21-year-old Ohioan Jessica Lea Mayfield made one of my favorite albums so far this year (Tell Me, released on Nonesuch and produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), and this is one of its best tracks. It’s about getting over heartbreak in the context of the seasons changing from winter to spring.
Key lyrics: “This heart of mine/ Is ready for the spring/ Open up my window/ Winter bird, take wing”

THE BEER: Saison de Lente (The Bruery; Placentia, CA)
Saisons are made for spring, literally. They were first brewed by Belgian farmers in the winter for spring and summer consumption, and they’re far and away my favorite style of beer. They tend to be light and refreshing, yet spicy and full of flavor and Jessica Lea Mayfield’s ode to spring calls for the The Bruery’s Californian twist on the style (complete with a pink psychedelic Easter egg on the label). The beer starts with a somber sour foundation, much like the song’s moody intro. Then it blows wide open — a crisp, effervescent refresher perfect for Mayfield’s breezy, springy chorus: “Suddenly I can see blue skies again.”


http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf
THE SONG: Big Star, “In The Street”
Most of Big Star’s music feels best during the warmer seasons, but “In The Street” in particular perfectly embodies spring, with lyrics about hanging out with friends and driving around aimlessly with no worries.

THE BEER: Estate Homegrown Ale (Sierra Nevada; Chico, CA)
This song calls for a big, bold West Coast IPA — something with energy and intensity, but also a drinkable, major-key disposition. Sierra’s Estate Ale is aggressively hoppy and pleasantly bitter, the beery equivalent of Alex Chilton’s awesomely squawky screech. And the simple, nectary fruitiness holding it all together? Cowbell!


http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf
THE SONG: The National, “Apartment Story”
The National have never been known for their happy-go-lucky disposition. This one is about sinking into a winter depression with the idea that once it hits spring, everything might get a bit better.
Key lyrics: “Tired and wired we ruin too easy/ Sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave.”

THE BEER: Arabier (De Dolle; Esen, Belgium)
The National require something a bit darker and moodier than the usual spring sippers. Something brooding but slightly optimistic. De Dolle’s Arabier is a strong pale ale with an earthy, funky dark side and a dreary, rainy day haziness. But loads of bubbly carbonation and a bright citrus flavor hint at sandals and sunlight.


http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf
THE SONG: The New Pornographers, “The Crash Years”
The New Pornographers are the quintessential sunny-day band, thanks to A.C. Newman’s affinity for bright, multi-voiced choruses and Neko Case’s reedy wail. “The Crash Years” takes the cake, though, mostly because of its umbrella-filled music video. Directed by Sammy Rawal, it shows an aerial view of meticulously-choreographed pedestrians walking through a cobblestone courtyard pushing strollers, riding bikes, carrying ladders and walking under umbrellas.

THE BEER: Bräu Weisse (Ayinger; Aying, Germany)
Here I think we need something crisp, upbeat and approachable to match the band’s sharply-written indie pop. There also needs to be big payoff in terms of flavor, and despite that aggressive umlaut over the “a,” this bubbly hefeweizen is Pornographers-perfect. It’s light, citrusy and super spicy. Plus the idyllic German cottage on the bottle seems like a relaxing place to stay come spring.


http://listen.grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf
THE SONG: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, “Walking To Do”
This song is, in part, about making things happen on your own instead of waiting for religion to provide all the answers, but it’s also simply about living life and working through whatever gets thrown your way — which is a perfect attitude to have at the start of a new season. It’s also about walking, which is a lot easier to do after snow is gone! It’s one of my favorite Ted Leo songs, and one of his most energizing.
Key lyrics: “And if we stay on our feet, we’ll make it in our own time/ And though the road has got some steep climbs, I believe we’ll be fine”

THE BEER: Jack D’Or (Pretty Things; Cambridge, MA)
Ted Leo’s brand of straight-ahead indie rock, with its sharp Elvis Costello confidence, generally puts me in a good mood. As does Jack D’or, another perfectly springy saison. It’s dry and crispwith big spice, just like Leo’s high-energy treble-rich tune.