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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Chocolate Fig Rugelach (Inspired by Yo La Tengo)


Chocolate fig rugelach


2013 got off to a rocky start: About a week into the new year my grandpa went into hospice care back in Michigan, and later that week D and I hopped on a plane to be with my family during his last couple days and attend the funeral. My Papa would have been 93 (!) at the end of this month. He was a great man who lived an incredibly full life (it’s actually pretty amazing), was always so proud of his daughters and grandkids, and he died peacefully, which is the best anyone can ask for. I’m thankful I was able to spend so much time with my family, but it was an exhausting rollercoaster of a week. And I’m also thankful I had someone willing to put his own life on hold for a few days to keep me sane as we drove back and forth from hospice and all around metro Detroit, then rushed from the funeral to the airport, only to find out our flight was delayed four hours (public service announcement: never fly Spirit Airlines). I was a wreck, he is a champ, and I am a very, very lucky girl. Between losing my grandpa and a few other goings-on, we can already tell there will be some challenges as we head into our second year together — but that trip was a reminder that we can handle whatever comes our way.

Yo La Tengo’s new album Fade sums up a lot of what’s been in my head these last couple weeks: The overall theme is that sometimes things fall apart, it’s OK to be scared when they do, and if we stand together we can get through it. In the first track, “Ohm,” Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew sing in an awesome chorus, “Nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained/ The harder we go, the longer we fly.” “Stupid Things” is about the everyday bumps in the road (and, as Matthew Perpetua at Fluxblog more eloquently put it, “a song about realizing that even the dullest moments of your life are precious, and recognizing the value of a longterm partner”), and in “The Point of It,” Kaplan sings, “Say that we’re afraid/ Say that we were wrong/ Maybe that’s okay/ If we’re not so strong/ That’s the point of it.”

Baking projects can be exhausting, but sometimes when I’ve had a stressful week, being in the kitchen calms me down — I’m using my hands and channeling all my energy and thinking in one direction. I get lost in it; kind of like I do in Yo La Tengo’s music (not so much on Fade, which doesn’t have any of the long, droning songs found in much of their catalog, but certainly during their live shows). Rugelach is fitting because it takes a while to make but it felt like the time went by quickly. It’s also a pastry with Jewish history — like my family, and like members of the band, who put on eight Hanukkah shows almost every year (those shows are something special). And, it was fitting that in Deb Perelman’s writeup about this recipe in her Smitten Kitchen cookbook, she talks about her husband being “the great voice of food reason” behind her site, always making suggestions, and the recipe is dedicated to him. It summed up how I feel about my wonderful partner in life and in the kitchen, who often has his own great ideas, and I used fig jam and chai spices in this because they are a couple of his faves. Anyway, there might be a tough year ahead, but I can rest easy knowing I have Yo La Tengo and this guy to help make it all OK.

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Drinking Tunes: Fall Beer + Music

(Michigan State University’s campus in fall 2005)

Fall is easily my favorite season; likely because I grew up somewhere that actually has a fall (Michigan). New York typically has autumn weather, which we’re finally sort of starting to feel, but it’s definitely not the same as being somewhere with trees that change colors and leave you with a yard full of leaves to rake up and jump in. And going apple picking here is certainly not as easy as it was when I was growing up (my senior year of high school, some friends and I ditched homecoming and instead piled seven of us in my old grandpa car and went to the apple orchard). And I hope you’re prepared for lots of pumpkin, apples and soup on here in the next couple months.

I wrote a few words about five songs, new and old, that are perfect for autumn and my friend Bret Stetka, who writes about food and drinks for Time Out New York, Metromix and (he also has a doughnut blog), paired them each with a beer that complements the music and the mood, and explained why they work together. Cheers! (Also check out our spring and summer editions.)

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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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