Back to 2010 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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2010, huh?

Specific year markers, like decade transitions, always seem to get to me. They put in black and white the passage of time in an even block. I both can’t believe and am not shocked that it’s been ten years since 2010. It feels both impossible and obvious at the same time. I browse through AbsolutePunk’s best-of list from the year and see it filled with albums that would define the next decade in music. Records that would be so influential that they would help shape the musical landscape for years to come. And I see albums from bands that were a part of the fabric of AbsolutePunk, like The Graduate and Valencia, that would soon disband and fade into the memory of forum posters alone.

I also see some big names missing. My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days is nowhere to be found. An album that was profoundly polarizing upon release, and remains one of constant debate in the community. Was it ahead of its time? Was it too poppy and removed from what fans wanted? I still see these arguments playing out ten years later. I admit, at the time, I didn’t like it. In a year where I was into more gruff rock music, it felt too polished, too clean, too electronic, but in the subsequent years, I’ve found myself returning to it quite often. We’re also missing Taylor Swift’s Speak Now. It wasn’t really until Red that the forum, and staff, really started to get behind Taylor and champion her music and songwriting talent.

At a high level, it’s an interesting year for the scene. There’s a lot of rock-oriented music in our top ten. You have The Gaslight Anthem releasing the hugely anticipated follow up to The ’59 Sound, and by most accounts it delivers and delights. You have The Arcade Fire releasing what will end up becoming a Grammy-winning album, and launching a meme. And we have The National’s High Violet, which was at times the most talked-about album on the entire website. Then there’s Vampire Weekend, Republic of Wolves, and Titus Andronicus all heavily featured. This was also the year of Jimmy Eat World releasing Invented, with a first single that people complained “sounded like Fall Out Boy,” and an album that I continue to think is underrated by the fanbase. It’s the year of Motion City Soundtrack bending back from the pop-bliss of their previous album into the more pop-punk crocheted blanket of My Dinosaur Life, and Anberlin zagging expectations with Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place. It’s a year where The Wonder Years starts to pick up steam, and Yellowcard will announce their return. A year where Finch, As Tall as Lions, Straylight Run, and Envy on the Coast will say goodbye.

It’s also the year where Mumford and Sons were goddamn everywhere.

To be honest with you, I don’t really want to talk about Kanye West. It’s the year of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and that album is rightfully ranked as one of the best, and most important, records of the decade. Its influence on music and production is undeniable. Its accolades and reputation are, in my opinion, deserved. It helped shift the tectonic plates of the music industry, and those reverberations are still being felt today. But I have no joy thinking of the album or Kanye West in 2020. I derive no happiness thinking about the ensuing ten years. And flipping through the current news, the extremely harmful statements, all of it, just makes me sad and angry. In order to use social media over the past four years, I’ve had to develop blindness for certain topics. A way for my brain to see and yet just skip over various things without letting them actually register. I’ve found it’s the only way to navigate social media in the MAGA era without driving myself completely mad. Kanye’s in that blind spot. I do not have the mental capacity to devote to anything he’s doing anymore. After the praising of Candace Owens, the Trump gestures around wildly everything, and so many other controversies that are too numerous to list, I’m just out. The album remains what it is, but even writing this paragraph has drained the life-force from me.

Looking at my list from 2010, I find myself nodding along at first glance. I forgot that I put The Social Network score at number three, but you know what? That’s a damn good score, and it holds up. I remember how excited I was for that Neon Trees album, and how I thought it had a chance to influence where our music scene was headed. I’m not sure how much that held up, but that 80’s inspired vibe has continued to be something I’m drawn to. Hellogoodbye comes in at number eight, and I think that’s held down only because it was the most dramatic reimagining of a band I can ever remember. I hated their previous album and could not believe this was the same band. Would it Kill You? would go on to be one of my most played albums of the next ten years, an album that I still think sounds fresh and ready for any summer.

I’ve returned to that Steel Train and Sufjan Stevens albums quite a bit as well. The former being one that reminds me of early Jack Antonoff pop-prowess and the later being an album that felt so out of left-field at the time, I didn’t quite know how to process it. Sometimes I think I’m the only one alive willing to fight for Minus the Bear’s OMNI, but I liked it then, and I like it now.

I forgot all about Stars’ Five Ghosts, but that’s an album I always thought should have been bigger. And for all my jokes about neon pop-punk, I was always impressed with Mercy Mercedes’ debut. I’m obviously missing My Chem, but the other glaring miss for me is Against Me’s White Crosses. That’s an album that I think holds up exceptionally well. They went all-in on the more accessible version of their sound, and I’ve always contended it’s an immaculately produced rock album. I don’t know why it’s not on my list. Did I put it in honorable mentions? Last.fm tells me I was listening to it in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I got really into it. Maybe it’s that simple.

So, it’s time for the re-rank. Again, my rules are arbitrary and gut-based, I don’t want to add too much into the list if I wasn’t actively listening to it at the time, and things that have been played the most in the subsequent ten years tend to get ranked higher.

Best of 2010 (Re-Ranking)

  1. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
  2. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network
  3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  4. Hellogoodbye – Would It Kill You?
  5. Cary Brothers – Under Control
  6. The National – High Violet
  7. Jimmy Eat World – Invented
  8. My Chemical Romance – Danger Days
  9. Against Me – White Crosses
  10. Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life
  11. Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away
  12. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  13. Anberlin – Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
  14. Valencia – Dancing With A Ghost
  15. Neon Trees – Habits
  16. Brandon Flowers – Flamingo
  17. Steel Train – Steel Train
  18. The Graduate – Only Every Time
  19. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
  20. Minus the Bear – OMNI
  21. Stars – Five Ghosts
  22. The Damned Things – Ironiclast
  23. Taylor Swift – Speak Now
  24. Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise
  25. Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz
  26. Republic of Wolves – Varuna
  27. Make Do and Mend – End Measured Mile
  28. Crime in Stereo – I Was Trying to…
  29. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
  30. The Menzingers – Chamberlain Waits

My number one album hasn’t changed. American Slang was the album for me in 2010. It was an album that defined the year. It’s an album I still reach for regularly and recently returned to for its tenth anniversary. I think it’s the album that best combines Brian’s songwriting skills with an aura of catchiness. Songs like “Bring It On” and “Boxer” encapsulate this perfectly.

I still think very highly of The Social Network soundtrack, and it’s become something I’ve reached for many times over the years when I want some background music while coding or writing, and don’t want to be distracted by lyrics. The combination of piano and electronic elements keeps it fresh and modern, with just a hint of unpredictability.

Hellogoodbye sees a big jump in the ranking, Against Me! and My Chemical Romance are slotted into the top ten, and albums from Make Do and Mend and Crime in Stereo find their way into the new top thirty. I had to make some painful cuts, but this feels far more representative of the albums I’ve spent the last decade listening to.

The year 2010 acts as a clean delineation in time with 2020. Everything after gets put in the “last decade” bucket so you can say things like “in the last decade I did…” or “my last decade was defined by…” but, for me, this comes with a lot of reflecting and inner strife. My last decade was one of difficult moments and personal turmoil. It was one of admitting to myself that I did not like who I was, was worried about who I was becoming, and deconstructing myself in therapy and meditation until I felt strong enough to rebuild. When I look backward to the first half of this last decade, it’s doesn’t come with the same intoxication of nostalgia as previous years, it’s, for me, a moment in my life that signaled a dire need for change, even if I wouldn’t fully realize it for another few years. A realization I wish I could say I met with grace, humility, and dignity, but instead often met with anger and frustration. These early years of the last decade were where friends got married and moved away. The core group of my childhood pals would stop seeing each other as much, and then often not at all. Text chains fell silent. Group hangs further apart.

The isolation of early adulthood and seeing your thirties just around the bend, your life no longer a dream of what you want to be when you grow up, now a reality of who you are. For me, reflecting on the music of 2010 is, in part, watching the bend before the break. I can see now what I didn’t understand then, and it has me wondering what the next ten years of my life will have me thinking about the person I am today. It’s both clarifying and motivating. I know this decade is starting in an almost apocalyptic fashion; the daily pressure fluctuates me between terror and rage. Still, the choices I make right now, how I handle it, what I do, who I decide to be, and what I decide to stand for will be what future Jason looks back upon to determine how his last decade worked out. And, for the first time in my life, I feel more prepared and ready to make that person proud than ever before.

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