Back to 2009 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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2009 was a sneaky great year for music.

If you had asked me right before I looked at the AbsolutePunk list from 2009, I wouldn’t have remembered how stacked it was. Unlike 2008, I didn’t have an album in mind that I just knew defined the year and would go on to represent the better part of the next decade in my life. Now, looking over this staff compiled list, I’m reminded just how incredible a year 2009 was for our music scene. And I’m reminded that when a band or album started to get some buzz in our forums, it felt like an unstoppable wave of hype. 2009 had two of the most “get on that hype train” albums from this era that I can remember: Manchester Orchestra’s Mean Everything to Nothing and The Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun. With Manchester Orchestra, we had already heard their debut full-length, and the early rumors were they were going all out with their follow-up, and it had the rumblings of an instant classic. The Dangerous Summer had released an EP and was just brimming with potential; combining the tried and true formula of incredibly relatable lyrics with just the right amount of hooks and guitars. A true “your next favorite band” contender.

Do you remember that feeling? That buzz right before an album came out, and everyone was talking about it? That remains one of my favorite feelings. That tension and release when a thread explodes with everyone hearing an album and reacting to it. That communal experience is a big reason why I still run a music forum.

On the website, 2009 felt like a year where we were really in the swing of pushing out content. Often at a break-neck pace. New staff members were brought on, new reviewer blood led to an influx of reviews and writers finding their voice, sometimes with a controversial take. I was tweaking the layout of the website to feel more modern, and I was already pushing back against my new corporate overlords 1 for their desire to expand how many ads and how big they were on the website. These battles usually just ended up being delayed surrender. Looking over the staff list, it seems pretty representative of what was being discussed and talked about on the website and in our music scene that year. There are a few glaring misses, however. First, there’s no A Day to Remember, and Homesick was massive. This was also the year of All Time Low’s Nothing Personal, and while I much prefer their later work, this was the start of the rise of their profile and the undeniability of their talents. And Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown is nowhere to be found on the staff list. That surprises me. It was virtually impossible to follow up American Idiot, but they were still at just about the peak of their popularity. There’s also some heavy hitters sitting relatively low on the staff list. Paramore is shockingly low.2 Brand New Eyes holds up just about as well as anything. And Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down has aged into many considering it one of the band’s best albums. Following the trend from the previous year, there’s also more crossover here with some of the more significant indie albums of the year, with Phoenix, Grizzly Bear, and even Animal Collective all seeing representation.

2009 was also the return of Blink-182 from hiatus. There were the early rumblings, the leaked messages, and then the band officially announced their arrival in a kinda awkward Grammy presentation that promptly crashed my website. Fun times. This then led to the band heading out on a reunion tour with Fall Out Boy and Weezer, and it would be not long after its conclusion that Fall Out Boy themselves would announce an extended hiatus. We would also see the end for bands like Armor for Sleep (sad), Cute is What We Aim For (happy), The Matches (sad), and Houston Calls (shoulda been bigger). We’d also see Jim leave Pennywise, Craig leave Chiodos, and Ryan Ross and John Walker leave Panic! at the Disco. It would also be the debut year for a little band called Twenty One Pilots; I wonder if anything ever became of those dudes?

I think seeing Fun. in the number two spot, with Aim & Ignite, brings me the biggest smile. It’s another example of our website being right out ahead of the mainstream. That band was on the precipice of massive stardom, and that album is an excellent bridge from The Format’s Dog Problems into the pop-powerhouse of Some Nights. And I can’t think about Thrice’s Beggars without remembering the extremely early leak of the album3 and how, even though they quickly put it up for sale, it always felt like that derailed a lot of the band’s momentum. That album is incredible. Sometimes I even convince myself that it’s their best.

Looking at my list from 2009, I am not quite sure how I feel about it. Once again, Morrissey can fuck right off, and I haven’t listened to that album in years. That MuteMath album didn’t make the staff list, and yet there’s an argument to be made that it’s held up better than almost anything. I still listen to that album in awe and don’t think they ever quite reached those highs again. It’s an intoxicating blend of instrumentation with this layered pop sound that continues to be very much in my wheelhouse. If it were released, unchanged, tomorrow, I’d have it high on 2020’s end of the year list.

My thoughts on anything Brand New related are unchanged from what I wrote about during the 2006 list. I would be remiss if I did not also point out recent allegations against P.O.S., which really fucking hurts, as Never Better is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time. I am still assessing that entire situation and trying to get a better grasp of everything going on there.

My love for Manchester Orchestra’s Mean Everything to Nothing was extremely strong in 2009, and it’s remained through all these years. I still think that it is one of the better rock albums, and it walks the line between fist-pumping and emotionally cathartic in the best way. John Mayer and Imogen Heap are higher on my original list than I expected, and The Dangerous Summer lower (coming in at number ten). That Dashboard Confessional album will, in my opinion, forever be their most underrated. It’s the last Dashboard album I truly loved, and I am continually shocked it wasn’t better received. That, and Boys Like Girls’ Love Drunk, which I have down at 29 on my original list, are the two albums that I unabashedly say are incredibly underrated pop-rock records from 2009 that history should remember more fondly. Love Drunk has pre-choruses better than most band’s choruses and is ahead of its time in stylistic, songwriting, and production choices that you hear all over records that came out in the past five years. These are two hills I am still willing to die on.

So, let’s re-rank the list. As always my made-up rules are arbitrary, but I try and put together the new list in a way that takes into account what I’ve listened to the most over the past eleven years, what I would have actually been listening to at the time with a few minor affordances if I got really into something a little later on.

Best of 2009 (Re-Ranking)

  1. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything to Nothing
  2. MuteMath – Armistice
  3. Thrice – Beggars
  4. The Dangerous Summer – Reach for the Sun
  5. P.O.S. – Never Better
  6. Fun. – Aim and Ignite
  7. Paramore – Brand New Eyes
  8. Marianas Trench – Masterpiece Theatre
  9. Dashboard Confessional – Alter the Ending
  10. Boys Like Girls – Love Drunk
  11. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  12. John Mayer – Battle Studies
  13. Thursday – Common Existence
  14. Relient K – Forget and Not Slow Down
  15. Every Time I Die – New Junk Aesthetic
  16. Paper Route – Absence
  17. Cartel – Cycles
  18. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste
  19. Rx Bandits – Mandala
  20. Imogen Heap – Ellipse
  21. John Nolan – Height
  22. All Time Low – Nothing Personal
  23. Nightmare of You – Infomaniac
  24. The Swellers – Ups and Downsizing
  25. Kevin Devine – Brother’s Blood
  26. Hockey – Mind Chaos
  27. New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight
  28. MUSE – The Resistance
  29. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
  30. mewithoutYou – it’s all crazy! it’s all false! it’s all a dream! it’s alright!

At the top level, I think this top ten is absolutely ridiculous. I’d put it up against others as one of the strongest top tens from any year. I struggled with putting Manchester Orchestra or MuteMath or Thrice or The Dangerous Summer in the number one spot. I can make an argument in my head for every single one of those records being my favorite from this year, or my most listened to over the next eleven, and holding not only a place in my heart but also albums vital to the music scene as a whole. In the end, while it’s virtually a tie in my brain, I had to go with Manchester Orchestra at number one. That album feels like a seminal album and the kind of release that captures an entire year and everything surrounding it. My love for Armistice remains strong, and any other year Beggars would top the list easily. And it is hard for me to think of an album I played more during the following summers than The Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun. An album with lyrics that still can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Paramore’s Brand New Eyes and Marianas Trench’s Masterpiece Theatre are two new additions to my list. The former I already mentioned how well it holds up, and the later has become one of my go-to pop-punk albums when I want to talk about how a band can expand and play within the genre to make something truly special. It’s an album that combines hooks and musical creativity to achieve rarified air. A pop-punk collection that is not only impossibly addicting but so well structured it virtually sets the bar.

After the top ten, the new list is full of albums that range from “Oh yeah! That still is good,” to “I haven’t picked that one up in years.” A lot of solid releases from artists like Thursday, Every Time I Die, Relient K, and more that I adore. And yet, while these wouldn’t be my personal favorites from their catalog, they are great additions to it.

While 2008 was a year that signified change, great expectations, and hope, for me, 2009 was where I felt my life was pushed into overdrive. I was working as feverishly as I ever had before. The pedal was pushed down so hard it stuck. I’d wake up and spend the entire day working on the website, pushing out content, getting into the dumbest arguments, and pouring over data, and content calendars, and analytics. I don’t remember sleeping much; I don’t remember doing much besides working on the website. Every day. Most hours. If news broke, even as small as a new song release, I needed to be there, wanted to be first, felt like I had to be. I hadn’t converted to an iPhone yet, and if I wasn’t at a computer, I was glued to a BlackBerry.4

I bought a home in a suburb of Portland because I felt like that was just what one did and what the next step in my life was supposed to be. In hindsight, it was so stupid.5 But I was in my mid-twenties and was looking at life as a list of checkboxes that I needed to complete. Do this, check! Next is this, check! And instead of looking at what I wanted, or probably needed, I was determined to push forward trying to check these arbitrary boxes and believing that the mere act of checking them was living. I never even gave a thought to if the items on The List were things I actually wanted in life. I looked around, saw what my peers were doing, and thought: I’m rather unhappy, uh, they seem happy, I guess I need to do what they’re doing. I was wrong. Oh, my god, I was so wrong. If I knew then what I know now, I’d know that 2009 was a year of mistakes. A year of choices made out of fear that without motion, I was standing still, and standing still meant I was missing out, and missing out meant I wasn’t living. But the result was instead of finding this allusive “aliveness,” I was barreling toward burn out, a machine without breaks speeding by warnings signs for anxiety, depression, and bad decisions. No guardrails, no system in place to evaluate how I was feeling or what I even wanted in life, just the tunnel vision of plowing forward and ignoring every alarm bell going off in the cockpit.

Reflecting now on 2009, I look at this list of albums with awe — powerhouses of the genre, titans of my soundtrack for years to come. And I also think about how little I actually remember from 2009 as a year. I browsed through Wikipedia, looking at the movies that came out that year,6 significant events, trying to resurrect memories from this period in my life. And it’s a blur. It’s all jumbled together. It’s an overturned jigsaw puzzle with the photo on the box hidden from view. I was trying to go too fast, trying to force a life and happiness upon myself by declaring it prematurely achieved. All of that sure came crashing down, but hey, I sure was right about a lot of the music.

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  1. See last week’s article.

  2. I touched on the sexism in the music scene in the 2007 article, and it’s hard not to see that at play here again.

  3. This is a Vagrant Records promotional stream.

  4. LOL. Remember those?

  5. Having now lived downtown longer than I’ve lived anywhere except for my childhood home, I absolutely should have moved to the city and experienced life here when I was younger. I waited way too long to find out where I wanted to be, never even thought it was possible after growing up in the suburbs. That was all I knew. Better late than never, I suppose.

  6. Avatar, huh.