Back to 2006 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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Last week I started the process of re-looking through the, and my personal, best-of lists from the early years. I began with one of my favorite years in my musical memory, 2005. It’s a year filled with nostalgia, pop-punk royalty, and stacked top to bottom with albums virtually anyone that grew up in this music scene consider classics. But here’s the thing about nostalgia, not all of it’s soaked in sunshine. Part of looking back means doing it with the clearer eyes of today; what you know now has to impact what you see. And that means it won’t always be fun because the light of the present can see into the shadows of the past.

What I remember most about AbsolutePunk in 2006 was that it felt like a shift in the music scene was underway, and it happened quickly. From the pop-punk goodness of 2005, the music that paints our 2006 list has a darker tinge to it. Blink-182 are no more, and +44 carries with its pop-rock an undercurrent of bitterness. New Found Glory shed their pop-punk identity in Coming Home for a sound that immediately divides the fan base, and one they’ve never returned to. Bands begin to experiment a little more with their sound and stretch outward. The Format shift with Dog Problems, My Chemical Romance goes all out in The Black Parade, The Early November aim for glory with a triple-disc concept album, and we see various expansions from Underoath, AFI, and Moneen. And, on top of all of that, we have debut full-lengths from Saosin and Manchester Orchestra. Two bands that will feature in our lives for years to come.

2006 was a year where I felt a lot of artists wanted to make a statement, show they were more than whatever corner they had previously been painted into. For many, the gamble paid off with some of the most exciting music of their careers. And with that, some of the more polarizing arguments may have seen. From arguing over Mark and Travis making music without Tom, to decking out the website in a Decemberunderground theme and many longtime AFI fans screaming “sellouts!,” to people wanting The Format to be more poppy, or The Matches (and Underoath) to sound more like their last album, or the half-billion arguments over Cove as the singer on Saosin’s full-length; it was a year of change and vociferous debate.

Looking at the staff list now, I think I’m most surprised by Saves the Day and +44 being up as high as they are and My Chemical Romance not being in the top ten. Along with that, this doesn’t feel like a year where I listened to a lot of singer-songwriter music, but then I see John Mayer, Rocky Votolato, Damien Rice, and Kevin Devine all there, and those are some powerhouse albums. And with The Lawrence Arms, Rise Against, Anti-Flag, Strike Anywhere, The Loved Ones, No Trigger, and Ignite, this was a shockingly deep punk year as well. With a lot of pop-punk’s heavy hitters releasing music in 2005, and quite a few stacked up for 2007, pop-punk was in a weird place. Set Your Goals released Mutiny!, which now stands as an interesting crossroad to where the pop-punk sound started to shift. And, to top off this transitional period, we had the bands that never quite got over the hump into mainstream acceptance. These were the bands that at the time we didn’t know were putting out the last albums of their careers. Matchbook Romance’s Voices wasn’t well-received by fans at the time, Over It went for a more “mature” sound in Step Outside Yourself, and once website mainstays, Spitalfield, and Gatsbys American Dream would soon disband.

It’s an interesting year in the scene’s history. One of huge influential albums and yet also of transition and tastes moving between sub-genres. When I scan over my personal list from 2006, I see a boy fresh out of college trying to stretch his musical identity. I was known as the pop-punk kid, but after graduating college and trying to figure out how to navigate this new world I found myself in,1 I was also trying to explore other genres and parts of my taste. A big part of that was Zach Braff and Scrubs. I see that Joshua Radin album at number two, and I think of how many nights I spent with Scrubs on DVD in my “office” while I worked on the website before that same DVD was moved to the bedroom to play while I fell asleep. Before Netflix, before streaming, I’d re-watch DVDs to keep me company, and the music, a lot of it curated by Zach Braff, felt this comforting level of sad-boy-but-introspective that I connected with. I don’t think I was depressed in 2006, but I wasn’t happy. The world after college felt bigger, but I didn’t know my place in it. George W. Bush was still President, our country still at war, and I wanted to make a mark on the world but struggled with what that meant. Posturing online, seeing friends become famous, and seeing the music scene I covered become mainstream all left me with a lot of conflicting feelings. At this point in time, the website was massively popular. Tens of millions of pageviews a month and so much traffic I could barely keep the servers alive. I was brash, arrogant, and had no fucking clue what I was doing, so I put my entire life into the website as a substitute. It was extremely unhealthy.

So when I look at this best-of list, that’s part of the pain of nostalgia I was talking about. But then it goes deeper. We have to talk about Brand New.

This is something I’ve been struggling with for almost three years. Something I struggled with all week when I knew heading back to 2006 was on the horizon. Something I’ve struggled with since the first accusations against Jesse Lacey came to light, and I wrote my first thoughts the day after. I sit here now, no better prepared to talk about how I feel. I’ve probably written a dozen drafts over the past three years trying to put to words what’s inside of me, and I fail every single time. So, all I can say is what’s true for me here today. That album, The Devil and God…, was exceptionally important to me not only in 2006 but for almost 14 years after as well. There is no denying that it is a part of my past, and part of me in that rare way some albums feel tattooed to your soul. But we get to choose who we are in the present, and I choose not to have it be part of mine. Over the past three years, I have spoken to multiple people hurt by this band. To people that, as recent as a few months ago, were still being harassed by their fans for coming forward with what happened to them. I cannot even start to move to a phase where I can think of anything else while that is still happening, while the silence and lack of support for these brave women is still leading to their harassment. I know what my past holds, I have no idea what the future will bring, but I know how I feel right now in the present and how wrong I would feel to praise, elevate, or lift up that album, no matter how influential it was to me, or the music scene as a whole.

This is my list today, and like I said last week, I’m using thin guidelines and arbitrary rules as I go.

Best of 2006 (Re-Ranking)

  1. The Format – Dog Problems
  2. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
  3. Manchester Orchestra – I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child
  4. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex / LoveSounds
  5. John Mayer – Continuum
  6. Anti-Flag – For Blood and Empire
  7. Joshua Radin – We Were Here
  8. The Matches – Decomposer
  9. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
  10. +44 – When Your Heart Stops Beating
  11. AFI – Decemberunderground
  12. Rocky Votolato – Makers
  13. Thursday – A City by the Light Divided
  14. No Trigger – Canyoneer
  15. Underoath – Define The Great Line
  16. Liam and Me – There’s a Difference
  17. Brandtson – Hello, Control
  18. Copeland – Eat Sleep Repeat
  19. The Lawrence Arms – Oh Calcutta!
  20. Rise Against – The Suffer and the Witness
  21. Set Your Goals – Mutiny!
  22. Saosin – Saosin
  23. Moneen – The Red Tree
  24. Spitalfield – Better Than Knowing Where You Are
  25. Kevin Devine – Put Your Ghost to Rest
  26. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
  27. Anathallo – Floating World
  28. Latterman – We are Still Alive
  29. New Found Glory – Coming Home
  30. Over It – Step Outside Yourself

My favorite album of 2006, now, and it’s not really that close, is The Format’s Dog Problems. Moving that to the top was a no brainer and is an album I still listen to on a semi-regular basis. After that, we have My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, an album I cannot for the life of me explain why it didn’t appear on my original list. I have no idea what I was thinking. This has not only become a classic of the genre but is one of those rare albums that seems to be almost universally accepted as a classic by casual music listeners as well. Morrissey’s album got booted, not just because he’s a piece of shit, but because I also don’t like that album anymore. I tried listening to it again, and it’s overstuffed, overwrought, and dull. Manchester Orchestra sees a massive jump up this list, and that’s something I’m amazed didn’t happen in 2006. The album coming out in October may have caused it to get overshadowed and underplayed at the end of the year, but it’s one that’s stood the test of time and still feels fresh. There’s some astonishingly good songwriting for a debut here.

In 2006 I was (stupidly) unwilling to brace some of my more mainstream or pop-loving tendencies. I wasn’t ready to admit to the world that Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex / LoveSounds felt like an album that could redefine the pop landscape. I have no such reservations now and don’t think he’s ever returned to this release’s genre-pushing highs. Anti-Flag’s For Blood and Empire also sees a big climb as it’s become one of my favorite punk albums of all time in the subsequent years. It is pathetic how relevant so many of these songs still are 14 years later. One thing I still love about this release is how great the melodies are. It’s incredibly catchy.

What was most shocking to me as I re-thought out this list were the few albums that I just never really kept listening to over the years. The Steal, that Living End album, and ActionReaction are all things I haven’t returned to in years. Whereas quite a bit of this list still finds its way into my rotation, there are others that I haven’t even thought about. I’m not sure if that is a comment on my musical tastes moving around or the music itself, but there were also a whole lot of things that I left off my original list that have become collection staples.

2005 was looking back and thinking, “Oh God! I remember that year!,” and remembering the sun, the promise, and this bubbling bouncing energy. 2006 carries with it a completely different, almost hushed whisper, “Oh, God … I remember that year.” A nostalgic paint with a grayish hue. A year of change, not only in the music I was listening to but echoed in my march forward into the world as well. A year where gazing backward causes numbness to prick the base of my neck. As though I had been sitting on my hands for too long, and that feeling has shot through my entire body. Not all nostalgia is neon light and summer fun, and as I walk back through the music scene, there are other rocks to uncover and look beneath. It won’t always be easy, but part of growing is exploring, revisiting, and hoping what you know today becomes part of the light to drive out the shadows that you find.

I’ve put together a Spotify and Apple Music playlist with songs from my re-ranked list. If you’ve never checked out some of these artists before, now’s a great time to become acquainted.

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  1. Often very badly, mind you.