Speak Now is the most pivotal album in the Taylor Swift discography. It’s not the one that started the story (2006’s self-titled debut) or the one that made her a global superstar (2008’s Fearless), nor is it her biggest album (2014’s 1989) or her straight-up best (2012’s Red). But it was on Speak Now where Swift took full control of her creative enterprise, came into her own as a songwriter, and established many of the key elements that would ground her career for the next decade. It also might be the album that, more than any other, sets the table for the next 10 years of country music, from the pop influences to the confessional style of songwriting. It is, in a word, a landmark.
Swift, unlike many mainstream country stars, was always a songwriter first and foremost. Her debut self-titled record dropped when she was just 16 years old, but she still had writing credits on all 11 songs (and wrote three of them solo, including the number-one country smash “Our Song”). On Fearless, she more than doubled that number, taking solo writing credits on seven of the 13 songs (including “Love Story,” which briefly became the best-selling country single of all time). Still, Swift racked up a lot of co-writes on those first two albums, particularly with veteran Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, who has 12 writing credits across Taylor Swift and Fearless. On Speak Now, the big selling point isn’t that it’s a concept album about wild romance and dramatic heartbreak (Red), or a leap into pop (1989), or a rejoinder to her haters (Reputation), or her “indie” record (folklore). No, the big selling point here is the simple fact that Swift wrote all 14 tracks by herself. Read More “Taylor Swift – Speak Now”
Flash back to the year 2000, and a group of awkward young 20-ish-year-olds were looking for their own voice in a crowded punk field. What made Good Charlotte so charming was their ability to speak to the misfit youth of America by connecting directly to the underdogs of the world. They made this clear on their first radio single, “Little Things” with the spoken introduction of, “This song is dedicated / To every kid who ever got picked last in gym class / To every kid who never had a date to no school dance.” The band made it clear that they were making this type of music for the outcasts of the world, and they had the musical chops to back up what they wanted to accomplish. It never came across as a “gimmick” or an act, and their authenticity is what led to a lot of their future success. Read More “Good Charlotte – Good Charlotte”
I have fallen in love with a disproportionately large number of my favorite albums in cars. Riding in cars, sleeping in cars, driving in cars, singing in cars. 15-minute drives to school in cars and cross-country road trips in cars. Nighttime drives with no other cars on the road and gridlocked rush hour drives with hundreds of other cars on the road. Hot-as-hell summer drives in cars and cold-as-ice winter drives in cars that were slipping and sliding down snow-covered roads. Celebratory “turn the music up” moments in cars with friends, and long, lonely, sad solo drives in cars with nothing but the music and my own thoughts to keep me company. There is something about being in transit in an automobile that makes music sound better, and it’s something that can’t be replicated on a boat, or a plane, or a train, or a subway, or a city bus. It’s the combination of the small space and the big sound, of the endless scenery flying by outside the window and the tiny self-contained environment of the vehicle. The right car ride can make a good album sound great and a great album sound immaculate. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my fondest years of musical discovery align directly with the years where I spent the most time in cars. Read More “Jimmy Eat World – Invented”
There is just nothing better than early 2000s?pop punk. Sure, I’m biased having grown up during this time, but the success of bands in this genre speaks for themselves. Blink-182, Sum 41, Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, The Starting Line, Good Charlotte, and New Found Glory, were all over MTV and their albums were flying off the shelves of Sam Goody and FYE stores. New Found Glory helped push this pop punk boom to new heights when they released their self-titled album, New Found Glory in 2000.
After making waves with their debut album, Nothing Gold Can Stay, New Found Glory signed with Drive-Thru Records. This move would forever change both the band and the record label. On their first LP for Drive-Thru, New Found Glory would successfully blend their love of pop music, punk and hardcore into a record that was raw, yet showed signs they stumbled onto something special. Read More “New Found Glory – New Found Glory”
It’s amazing to think how much things can change in just 20 years time. Bands form and can run their course over that period, whereas some of the best bands can stand the test of time by reinventing themselves over and over again. Enter AFI, who would continue to evolve and release some of the best melodic punk rock of this decade with this record. The Art of Drowning feels just as immediate, punishing, brooding, and essential as it did on its release via Nitro Records in the start of 21st century. Black Sails in the Sunset marked a smaller musical turning point for the band, as they began to explore some darker elements, and featured some new band members in Jade Puget (guitar) and Hunter Burgan (bass). But The Art of Drowning would remain the album that changed this band’s life for the foreseeable future. This core lineup would go on to record some of the more quintessential Gothic punk rock that future bands would try to emulate for years to come. Read More “AFI – The Art of Drowning”
In 2010, Linkin Park was one of the biggest bands in the world. They had put out two iconic albums with 2000’s Hybrid Theory and 2003’s Meteora, quickly turning heads for their unique sound, successfully fusing metal and rap together. Instead of getting painted into a corner as a nu-metal band, Linkin Park wanted to show they were so much more. They started to tinker with their sound, and the result was 2007’s Minutes to Midnight. Despite the album producing hits like “What I’ve Done” and “Bleed It Out,” the record received mixed reviews. Most of the songs were slower (aside from “Given Up” and “No More Sorrow”), there were guitar solos, string arrangements, Mike Shinoda sang more than he rapped, and Chester Bennington sang more than he screamed. Longtime fans of the band weren’t sure how to react. While they easily could’ve abandoned this experiment, they doubled-down on this new sound on A Thousand Suns, and the result was something special. Read More “Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns”
My memories surrounding Anberlin’s fifth studio album, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is kind of a mixed bag of emotions. While on one hand, I found the aggressive and darker tones to the music presented here as a nice change of pace from the brighter material that came before this, I couldn’t help but feel like some of the lyrics on this record were a tad too repetitive to connect with me on a deeper level. Anberlin worked on this record with veteran hit-maker Brendan O’Brien, and under his watchful eye, the band was able to create some of their best material as well. From the brilliant first single “Impossible” to the thoughtfully-crafted “Take Me (As You Found Me),” the band appeared to be hitting the right groove in the latter stages of their career. While some fans of the band regard this album as a rare misstep in the band’s evolution, I feel like Anberlin were at the cusp of something incredible during this moment in time. When asked about the possible impact of this record, Stephen Christian replied in one interview, “I feel like we’re on the brink of something…either world domination or destruction, but either way we’re on the brink.” By pushing themselves to the brink of creativity, the band have made an album that fits nicely into their storied discography. Read More “Anberlin – Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place”
When Arcade Fire won the Album of the Year Grammy for The Suburbs on February 13, 2011, it was legitimately shocking. Sure, the Grammys, as an institution, are known for weird out-of-left-field choices, particularly in the Album of the Year category, where the favorites (either odds-wise or in terms of public or critical sentiment) regularly lose to something a bit more sentimental (think Green Day, Usher, Alicia Keys, and Kanye West all losing to the late Ray Charles in 2005) or maybe just a bit more white (Beyonce’s self-titled smash losing to an unexceptional late-career Beck album in 2015). But The Suburbs was different. There was no precedent for an indie band taking the top prize. A band hadn’t won the award period since U2 and Dixie Chicks won back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. The other contenders were also all gargantuan albums that had spawned at least one ubiquitous, generational hit: Katy Petty’s Teenage Dream, Eminem’s Recovery, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster, Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now. Arcade Fire weren’t nobodies: they’d made arguably the second most acclaimed album of the 2000s with 2004’s Funeral (the first most acclaimed being Radiohead’s Kid A), and The Suburbs had even debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. But next to a gaggle of mainstream hit machines, the Canadian indie rock band didn’t stand a chance. Read More “Arcade Fire – The Suburbs”
The death of a loved one is a nightmare come to life. It’s something that can completely devastate you, leaving you feeling empty and forever changing life as you know it. While there is that overwhelming sadness, sometimes loss causes those left behind to do something special in their own lives. They find the strength to push forward and honor those who are no longer here.
For Avenged Sevenfold, they suffered a tragedy on December 28, 2009 when their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, died at the age of 28 from an accidental opioid overdose. The Rev had become widely known as one of the best drummers in the metal scene, and his death stunned the world. Avenged Sevenfold had become a household name at this point, thanks to the success of their albums City of Evil and the self-titled Avenged Sevenfold. They were becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world and just as they were in the process of making a new album, Avenged Sevenfold lost one of their brothers. Read More “Avenged Sevenfold – Nightmare”
“The first day I was alive I got on a ride against my will. It’s so amazing I’ve made it this far.”
Cody Bonnette, one of As Cities Burn’s two vocalists, sings these lyrics with an impassioned earnestness. They come from “Maybe,” a highlight from the band’s underrated 2019 release Scream Through The Walls, their first release after a decade. In those two lyrical sentences, I am understood, and my emotions of where I am at right now represented. As Cities Burn has always been the band that I could find myself in every single song.
In 2005, this wildly popular local band fronted by two brothers from Louisiana put out their debut record on Solid State. At the time, Underoath were beginning to embrace their position as an undisputed juggernaut of the scene. Demon Hunter and Zao were already established giants. Norma Jean and Haste the Day were coming off two wildly popular releases. Young guns Emery, Showbread, He Is Legend, and The Chariot were skyrocketing in popularity every week. August Burns Red was just a name on an undercard compared to the bands already listed. Read More “As Cities Burn – Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest”
The first time I ever heard American Slang was in my freshman college dorm room, just a week or two from the end of school, on a gorgeous April spring day. Now, if I’d been a law-abiding listener, the wait to hear the new album from The Gaslight Anthem—their follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed The ’59 Sound—still would have been the better part of two months. American Slang didn’t officially hit the streets until June 15. But 2010 was maybe the golden age of album leaks, and as a broke college student with a budget for little more than gas and the occasional midnight McDonald’s run with my roommate, that fact was very good news for me. It also meant that American Slang, a bulletproof summer soundtrack album, got to serve as the bookend to my first year of college, and to all the anticipation I was feeling as four months of summer approached.
When The ’59 Sound broke in 2008, The Gaslight Anthem quickly became one of the most buzzed-about rock bands in all the circles I was a part of online. Here was a band that respected classic rock traditions and made them sound new again; a band willing to pilfer from their influences in the most loving manner possible; a band whose frontman was, perhaps, worthy of being called “this generation’s Bruce Springsteen.” All that hype only became louder and louder throughout 2009 and into the early part of 2010, which meant that by the time Gaslight announced their new record, excitement for it was through the roof. A title and an album cover that seemed to promise another sweeping classic-rock-styled masterpiece? Well, who could resist that? Read More “The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang”
To paraphrase the timeless Forrest Gump, Modest Mouse albums are like a box of chocolates; you never know what kinds of songs you’re gonna get.?
You could have a beautiful song with an epic ending like “Talkin’ Shit About a Pretty Sunset,” a wild, weird 11-minute jam like “Trucker’s Atlas,” or a chaotic song like “Breakthrough” that makes you want to shout like singer Isaac Brock and bounce around the room.
All of these traits are on display on Modest Mouse’s 2000 album The Moon & Antarctica, their first on a major label. Despite the jump to a bigger label with Epic Records, Modest Mouse only continued to grow into one of the greatest bands in indie rock. While some bands might drastically change their sound when they make the jump, Modest Mouse instead put together one of the greatest works in their career. They created an album where you don’t have to skip a single song, making each track feel like they’re all connected and are as important as the next one up the track listing. Read More “Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antarctica”
Listening to Eminem when I was growing up was like eating forbidden fruit. Now that I look back on it, my mom was spot on for not allowing me to own The Marshall Mathers LP album. Instead, I listened to it with friends at summer camp back in the summer of 2000. Strangely enough, my love for rap and hip-hop would blossom from this particular, ridiculously controversial album.
The Marshall Mathers LP is still revered as an iconic album. Eminem raps laps around any competition, and his expression of emotion (a lot of rage) is undeniably intoxicating. But, if you take a listen from start to finish, you’ll be reminded that much of what you’ll hear didn’t land well back in 2000, and is still cringe-worthy today, even if it most of it is just schtick. Read More “Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP”
When The National reemerged in 2010, they were primed to explode. It didn’t matter that they were coming up on their fifth album and had already passed the milestone that marked their first decade together as a band. They were, as people have often described their albums, a slow burn, or a grower, and by the time the new decade began, their fuse was ready to blow. 2007’s Boxer had changed the game for the Cincinnati fourpiece in more ways them one, turning them into prestige indie darlings, landing songs on the soundtracks of virtually every moody drama on television, and even earning them a small but memorable role in the campaign of a presidential hopeful named Barack Obama. By the time The National appeared on Jimmy Fallon in March of 2010 to officially kick off the rollout for High Violet, with a majestic performance of “Terrible Love,” it was clear they were ready to be rock stars. Read More “The National – High Violet”
“Cut my life into pieces / This is my last resort!” With those loaded words, Papa Roach immediately gained the attention of an army of misguided teens looking for their way in a confusing world. Infest was a massive record for a lot of reasons. In essence, it had a great lead single in “Last Resort,” fantastic marketing, perfect timing in the rap-rock scene, as well as ultra-talented musicians backing up what they wanted to accomplish in their sound. The music landscape in 2000 was littered with tons of rap-rock bands looking for their breakthrough in a crowded, and at times, confusing rock scene. What made Papa Roach stand out from the pack was their ability to grab their audience from the first listen and give them a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. I’m sure many of us can remember the first time we heard the guitar riff of the lead single on the music video that seemed to be airing on MTV more often than not, and how it made us all feel something.
Read More “Papa Roach – Infest”