ETB’s Favorite Music of 2011

I have mixed feelings about end-of-the-year lists: I enjoy reading them, mostly because I’m curious about what records friends and other critics enjoyed throughout the year, and I love that they help me catch up on music I missed or didn’t spend enough time with (because I obviously have listened to every single record that was released in 2011…).

What I have a hard time with is the argument of who made the “best” record. That’s not to say I refuse to participate in the list-making at work — I certainly suggested certain albums should be higher or lower on our list — but it can get a little ridiculous. When I make my own year-end list, it’s just my personal favorites: I don’t mean it to say that one album is definitively better than another in terms of music, lyrics, whatever, or that my picks are better than everything else that came out during the year, but this was the music I connected with, what I listened to the most and what had the biggest effect on me.

Also, because I do use other people’s lists to catch up on what I’ve missed, that means there might be music that came out this year that I’m just now starting to fall in love with (see: Kurt Vile). And if we’re talking about my favorite musical discoveries of the year, there are quite a few artists whose music I heard for the first time in 2011, but they haven’t released anything recently (Patty Griffin, everything Mark Kozelek, Kathleen Edwards — the latter has already made one of my favorites of 2012). And if you ask me in a few months what my favorite 2011 records were, my response might be a little different than the following list. But for now, these were my favorites; my top 10 are in an order that could easy change over and over again, and then a bunch of others I loved listed alphabetically.

ALSO: Here is a mix of 27 songs I really liked this year — from many of these bands — for your downloading pleasure. Enjoy!

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Classic Potato Salad (Inspired by Wilco)

Easy-peasy — and low-fat, mayo-less — potato salad (recipe here)

I started listening to Wilco in high school, and the first album I bought was their super alt-country 1995 debut, A.M.. Reading about them in music magazines around the time A Ghost Is Born came out made me curious, and A.M. was the least expensive CD at the store, so that’s what I got. It’s not a great representation of them as a whole, but that album — especially songs like “I Must Be High” and “Passenger Side” — made for perfect summer driving music. They quickly became one of my favorite bands (and they still are); I saw them for the first time at Lollapalooza in 2006 (my first vacation with friends and no parents), and then they played at my college that fall.

Growing up I spent lots of summer weekends “up north” (what people who live in lower Michigan call the more northern part of the state — however, that is not necessarily the same as the “U.P.”/Upper Peninsula). My grandpa owned a summer camp in West Branch, Mich., when my mom and her three sisters were young, and for a long time our family still owned several of the cabins (a couple family members still do). My memories from “camp” are of getting lost in a corn field at 2 or 3 years old, picking strawberries, watching my mom and aunt make strawberry jam, catching a trout (and, at 5 years old, promising to eat the whole thing — which I did, thank you very much), paddle boating, and campfires. If you’ve seen those “Pure Michigan” commercials… it’s kinda like that.

Through every phase of their career — the alt-country, sunny acoustic rock, and the more experimental records — Wilco’s songs have always felt like the Midwest: being outside, driving with the windows down, and usually not being in too much of a hurry. Jeff Tweedy assures me that everything is gonna be OK in “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again),” and he makes references to seaside breezes and Michigan beaches in in “Muzzle of Bees” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” (Also, because I’m creepy and I read Spencer Tweedy’s blog, I know they vacation in Michigan).

Call this group of Chicagoans “Dad Rockers” and hate on ’em for it all you want: I am a proud Midwesterner, and Wilco is my musical equivalent of comfort food. So when I hosted my New York “family” (who are mostly from Michigan/the Midwest) for a 4th of July party, I wanted to make a comfort-food picnic and cookout staple: potato salad. I’m proud to say I made this up completely from scratch and without using another recipe.

On my Brooklyn rooftop, watching fireworks with a bunch of Michigan kids

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Rockin’ Valentine’s Day Cookies, with help from a super-cute music-biz couple

Sugar cookies with buttercream and royal icing (Recipe below)

No CALL ME’s or HUGS & KISSES here! Each cookie has a different love-themed song title. I know they’re not all mushy love songs, but it’s more based on the titles than the lyrics…To make these even more precious, I had help from the cutest music-biz couple I know: Heidi Greenwood and Bryan Vaughan, who run Brooklyn’s Paper Garden Records. Paper Garden is home to one of my favorite discoveries of the past year, Peasant, as well as Danish up-and-comers Alcoholic Faith Mission, and several other acts. Heidi and Bryan were gracious enough to spend more than four hours with me on these … they are amazing and I can’t thank them enough! Enjoy some super-cute photos of them below.

Tracklisting is at bottom of the post.
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