Strong Odors Favorite Albums 2010

Does this really need an introductory paragraph?

Honestly, I discovered a ton of great new music this year… it was pretty tough to whittle it down to 10 albums. For example, even though I’ve been totally obsessed with Kanye’s new album since its release (along with everyone else), I didn’t include it in the top 10… mistake?

Leave a comment if you think I missed the mark on my Top 10… and how you’d have replaced my choice. I’d love to hear what your favorites from the past year might have been.

THE NATIONAL: HIGH VIOLET

I’m not sure I’d come out as “melancholy” on the Myers-Briggs scale… in fact I’m not even really sure what that means.

What I do know is that High Violet is melancholy… and it is awesome.

Right now in my life i’m discovering the most important things in life into which I should throw myself are almost always the most dangerous as well.

I think that’s the case with this album for anyone who is sad, depressed, heartbroken…

Though the sadness contained within the grooves of this record could potentially have the power to nudge the-despondent-into-oblivion, the healing power of hurting together… of sharing our grief with one another… may not only save you from destruction, but give your pain a name and a face so that you can see it for what it is and continue moving forward.

Side Note: I think it’s really interesting now to contrast the song “Runaway” from this album, to “Runaway” on My Dark Twisted Fantasy… really interesting.

THE LOVE LANGUAGE: LIBRARIES

The first thing that jumped out at me when I heard this new record from The Love Language was Stuart McLamb’s voice. It has that type of quality that you can’t really put your finger on… it’s full yet vulnerable. He manages to bring these spectacular melodies to life in a way that feels entirely sincere, without a hint of over-production.

If he has enough songs in him to continue writing for decades to come, his voice could rank among some of the most genius I’ve heard.

The tunes are-reminiscent-of the sixties, which seems to be a bit of a trend this year… much to my delight.

Often times when an album tries to be something… like when it tries to appeal to all different types of listeners and for all occasions… it comes across as fabricated and ultimately boring.

Libraries, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to try to be anything other than what it is… and in doing so it magically becomes the perfect record for just about any mood. It works for me morning and night; at a party or when you’re relaxing with a hot cup of tea.

BEST COAST: CRAZY FOR YOU

At any given moment listening to some of my favorite albums of 2010 I think “Man, this sounds like it came from the 60’s!,” only a minute later to say “no, it’s the 90’s!” and then it’s the 80s, etc.

What I’m starting to realize is that it’s not so much particualar eras that these songs are pulling from (though they do), but just a return to rock-and-roll in it’s purest form.

It’s not music formulated in an Ivy League computer lab to sound perfect or manipulated in Nashville for mass-appeal.

It is 3 instruments and a mic verse-chorus-bridge-chorus stuff like you might have heard The Frozen Embryos play in the basement at the neighbor kid’s party.

Such is Crazy for You.

Perfectly simple garage-rock that will remind someone someday of 2010.

LOST IN THE TREES: ALL ALONE IN AN EMPTY HOUSE

This is a classic.

If I had All Alone in An Empty House in vinyl (which I don’t) I would absolutely put it on for my grandkids someday.

I know they’ll roll their eyes… but that will make me just that much happier.

Just like the way teenage-me really liked the fact that grown ups disliked my music choices… I mean, come on… if adults dig it then it’s automatically lame (Mr. Belding wearing Buddy Bands ringing a bell?)

Weezer: Hurley

Ok… now here’s the one very unusual selection that will undoubtedly discredit my list among all other “respectable” music bloggers [read: “snobs”] out there.

The casual Strong Odors reader (or personal�acquaintance) might expect me to always include a Weezer release in my top ten, simply out of sheer loyalty, but I take my lists pretty seriously, and I wouldn’t put anything in here that I didn’t really believe in.

Even if it was my own record. (which would be rap and also awesome, by the way)

The fact is that nothing Weezer’s done in the past decade has come anywhere close to the top 10 at the end of its respective year and that really won’t change for Hurley this year. In fact I’m sure you won’t see it in the top 50 in any of the most critical reviews.

And as much as I’ve enjoyed rocking out to Hurley since September and even had a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun with “Weezer Week” this album wasn’t on my Top 10 radar until a couple weeks ago when I heard it in a new way for the first time.

Because Pinkerton re-released.

The album universally maligned by critics and fans (Rolling Stone readers voted it “Second Worst” in 1996) is now universally praised as one of the best and most important records of my generation. Pinkerton’s 2010 “deluxe edition” re-release garnered the super-rare rating of “10” from ultra-snobs at Pitchfork and also holds an unprecedented score of 100 from metacritic…

Not too shabby.

But the reviews surrounding Pinkerton’s re-release reminded me of (1) my own feeling upon hearing it for the first time and wondering why it wasn’t more like the blue album and (2) the critical abuse the record suffered.

And I realized that the original gut reactions to Pinkerton are very similar to those surrounding Hurley.

Of course I don’t jump to the conclusion that every maligned album will go on to infamy…

But what has made Pinkerton special has had less to do with the music itself (no matter how great) and more to do with timing and culture. It has grown to what it is because we needed it at that moment.

And this is what is making Hurley marvelous to me this week.

As much as the blue album rescued me during the awkwardness of adolescence, and Pinkerton gave me an honest framework for the fear and emotion and inner conflict that I was experiencing coming-of-age in the late 90s, Hurley has the potential to do the same for me in middle-age.

Just as the early albums offered the possibility of a sense of humor around my grief, Hurley allows me a sense of adventure about the hum-drum-ness typical of the 35-50 demographic.

Instead of a story of girlfriends and unrequited love and repressed sexuality, this is a story of one who’s found himself in the midst of nothing (and lost himself in the process).

Our lives (like his) become a different type of death…. one in which you are alive, but not really living…

Where your Saturdays are spent at Bed, Bath and Beyond; your Sundays sitting on your fat butt watching football and your weekdays (also on your fat butt) in the office wasting as much time as possible on Facebook.

Often (like in Hurley’s story) it unfortunately takes tragedy to rescue us from this death. It comes in the form of transgressions, bankruptcy, divorce, loss and sometimes literal death.

But if you persevere… the future is waiting… and it is wide open.

So this is why Hurley is in my Top 10… it’s inclusion may cost me your respect, but whatever. It’s a pretty bold move to say it has the potential to be another Pinkerton, but bold moves are just one prescription when facing the death of middle age.

MUMFORD AND SONS: SIGH NO MORE

I first heard about this album when Thunderpants blogged about it this summer… but for whatever reason I never took the time to dig into it until just a few weeks ago when another mutual friend encouraged me to do so.

“Listen to the whole album straight through and loudly.”

Since then it’s climbed from my “not-too-shabby” list, into the “honorable mentions” and up into the “totally obsessed” category.

If it were any other year, this could definitely have been my favorite album of the year (but keep reading and you’ll see why that just wan’t possible in 2010)

What Sigh No More has that pretty much all other modern music lack is passion.

“Passion” is actually one of those words that I hate to use. It’s become cliche and it is pretty much just annoying…

Especially when you exist to some degree within an evangelical subculture (as I do)… once meaningful words like this tend to get worked to death in any particular year…. so they become basically meaningless and trite within a very short period of time.

But there is no other way to describe this album.

What is often mistaken for passion (within the church particularly) is usually emotion… and even though the two aren’t entirely exclusive, they most certainly are not the same.

Mumford & his sons manage to capture the passion most of us wish we had for life, love and seeking God.

I think one of the reasons this album has resonated in a huge way with my Christian friends is because of the theology contained within. The songwriting on this album is probably the best in this entire list… and much of it has to do with the searcher seeking brutal honesty with himself and his God.

Grace is both the central message and question.

Irish folk-rock is merely the medium… but it sure does work.

GIRL TALK: ALL DAY

I love the idea of mosaic.

Taking something that is something and tearing it up, breaking it apart, smashing it… whatever.

Then piecing these somethings together into another thing.

Merely for the sake of beauty and art.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND: CONTRA

Contra came out like the first week in January and I thought there is no way I’ll hear anything that even comes close for the next 12 months at least.

And maybe if this were still as fresh today as it was that first listen I’d place it at #1 (but probably not)… it is just an amazing album.

As much as I loved the authenticity in Best Coast and Wavves and Sleigh Bells zits-and-all garage rock this year, I love Vampire weekend just as much for being entirely precise in every single moment of this album. It is fun and provocative, well written but not too serious.

And anytime any one artist can take a myriad genres and create a new one… I’m sold (though attempting to do such a thing could and usually is quite disastrous).

Albums like this are scary though… because they are so good that the world starts to listen.

And it’s just another one of those things that I do want everyone to know about so that I can share my joy… but at the same time I’d like to keep it to myself so that they don’t get ruined….

Of course that’s selfish… so enjoy hearing the likes of Vampire Weekend and Temper Trap and Pheonix over and over and over again on those TV commercials… I’m sure it won’t ruin the songs for anyone….

ARCADE FIRE: THE SUBURBS

Ok… so this is where my top 10 list becomes incredibly obvious.

So I’ll just say this album has grown increasingly special since I wrote this review (after just a few listens) and said this about the danger of the suburbs:

The American dream of sameness that has removed the adventure from our collective narrative and replaced it with the illusion of security and comfort.

I also said in there that “hype can be like kryptonite to a great band.” So we’ll have to wait and see if Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy nomination makes them the champion for indie rock or takes away their powers or turns them into evil Arcade Fire that blows out the Olympic Torch and straightens the Tower of Pisa.

SUFJAN STEVENS: THE AGE OF ADZ

One of the things that made this record so great for me this year is that it was a surprise.

It was only announced about a month before its release and I’m so glad… because if I had known about it a year ago and waited and waited and waited… the anticipation would have been so great that I would have been totally set up for a huge let-down.

However, this is the very rare work that would have lived up to eery ounce of anticipation that might have been built up in that situation.

It is really genius.

It is incredibly challenging… The Age of Adz requires at least 5 or six listens straight-through before you start to grasp it.

But if you can do it… you won’t regret it. You’ll emerge from the other side a new man.