Back to 2011 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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I used to think about the idea of ‘re-living’ a year. The mental game of knowing what you know now, and seeing what differences you could make in your life with various changes and the superpower of hindsight. After 2020, I don’t think about that much anymore; there are years that should be burned and the ground they’re buried within salted and forgotten. 2011 is a year like that for me; a year I’d spend years getting over.

As I look over the AbsolutePunk staff list from 2011, I’m reminded most of all these little dramatic moments this year inspired. Blink-182 finally released their reunion album, Neighborhoods, and it was instantly polarizing. Was it a great return? Was it garbage? Did the band desperately need an outside producer? Should they be forced to all be in a room writing together? It was virtually instant drama, swift speculation, and all of the excess noise seemed to hum louder than any real discussion of the music itself. And that wouldn’t be the only polarizing release this year. Thrice released Major/Minor, the only album of theirs I don’t unequivocally love, and would soon after take a hiatus. Thursday released No Devolución, a record many thought was a departure from their core sound (but one I’ve long championed as their best work), and then would also take a hiatus. Manchester Orchestra would release Simple Math, and to this day, I can’t tell you what the consensus around that album is. Is it loved? Hated? I feel like I’ve read every single take about that album and still don’t know how it’s thought of within the Manchester Orchestra fanbase. Patrick Stump went solo with Soul Punk, and arguments of selling out and comparisons to Fall Out Boy were inevitable. And then there were The Dangerous Summer at peak Drama Summer. They were one of the buzziest, most talked about, and most adored within our community bands. But those assholes just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. War Paint is an undeniable album, but I look at my list from 2011, and I have it all the way down at number twenty-eight. I just couldn’t divorce the antics from the music and was so sick of their shit.

At the same time, I am also reminded of getting to experience the coming-out party for Bon Iver. I remember hearing Bon Iver, Bon Iver for the first time and being absolutely shell shocked. It felt like my music world was being turned on its axis. And then we had Brian Fallon operating in a songwriting phase unlike anything I can remember. From The ’59 Sound, to American Slang, to then dropping The Horrible Crowes’ Elsie in 2011. I mean, my god. There are times, with as much as I love The Gaslight Anthem and their entire catalog, that I want to make the argument that Elsie is Brian’s best work. That’s an album that feels like it’s operating on a different level of existence than the rest of us. And 2011 also brought us the return of Yellowcard with When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, an album that felt like rekindling a summer romance and falling back into all the same grooves. Radiohead would release King of Limbs, which while an apparently unpopular opinion, I still adore. And, speaking of unpopular opinions, this would be the year all the pop-punk bands I never got into became the favorite bands of the next generation of pop-punk fans. The Wonder Years would release Suburbia, Fireworks would release Gospel, The Story So Far would release Under Soil and Dirt, and Transit would release Listen & Forgive. OK, I actually like that last one.1

In 2011 we’d say goodbye to The Academy Is… and The Graduate. The Spill Canvas and Good Charlotte would join Thrice and Thursday on extended hiatus. And Foxing, Modern Baseball, and The Neighbourhood would all be formed.

Reading over my list today, I think I’m most surprised by Frank Turner’s England Keep My Bones only being an honorable mention. That album has stayed in constant rotation and is a height I don’t think he’s ever gotten back to. Jack’s Mannequin’s People and Things has also aged well for me, as all of Andrew’s music seems to, but that is also missing from the original list. The biggest miss of all, however, is having How I Met Your Mother in my favorite TV shows. Not only did that show age horrifically, but I’ve never seen a finale of a TV show that retroactively made me hate the entire preceding series. Fuck Barney Stinson, and fuck that show.2

So let’s re-rank the list. Same arbitrary rules as always apply, I’m not adding too much stuff that I wasn’t actively listening to at the time.

Best of 2011 (Re-Ranking)

  1. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
  2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  3. Thursday – No Devolucion
  4. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
  5. Radiohead – King of Limbs
  6. Marianas Trench – Ever After
  7. The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
  8. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
  9. Jacks Mannequin – People & Things
  10. Maritime – Human Hearts
  11. Yellowcard – When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes
  12. Butch Walker – The Spade
  13. Transit – Listen and Forgive
  14. Augustana – Augustana
  15. Thrice – Major/Minor
  16. MuteMath – Odd Soul
  17. Dessa – Castor, The Twin
  18. The Damnwells – Nobody Listens to the Band Anymore
  19. Doomtree – No Kings
  20. Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground
  21. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
  22. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
  23. Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  24. Blink-182 – Neighborhoods
  25. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
  26. The Black Keys – El Camino
  27. The Rosebuds – Loud Planes, Fly Low
  28. Joyce Manor – Joyce Manor
  29. Balance and Composure – Separation
  30. AraabMuzik – Electronic Dream

I have a ridiculously hard time pinning down this year. It feels so all over the place to me and oddly filled with my least favorite albums from some of my favorite bands. But, that top two is absolutely ridiculous and virtually impossible for me to pick between. I did the same thing I did in 2011, I went with the one I’ve had the more emotional connection with, and by tiniest of margins, Elsie wins out. Barely. Microscopically. Like, it’s so close it’s whatever weird place Ant-Man went to in that only somewhat fine Marvel movie that I pretend I like more than I did because I love Paul Rudd.

Thursday and Manchester Orchestra both see significant gains. Marianas Trench sees a rocket into the top ten behind one of the better theatric pop-punk albums I can remember, and Frank Turner and Jacks Mannequin get slotted in. That Maritime album fell off a little for me over the years, and The Dangerous Summer gets retroactive credit further removed from the shenanigans. The rest kind of feels like throwing darts at a list. It’s hard to nail down in a way that feels satisfying. It’s hard for me to even get a good grasp on a theme for this year. It’s more like stumbling in the dark, dodging furniture with hazy vision while only seeing the outline of shapes. You know where things kind of, sorta, should be, but nothing’s defined or with the clarity you’d hope. That’s a weird thing to be thinking nine years later. Time refusing to shine the light I expected, so I’m left with a jumbled mess of memories and confusion.

The top two albums are unassailable to me. Then the top five, maybe top ten, contain a bunch of stuff I still revisit but with diminishing returns. And after that, this list is full of albums I don’t come back to nearly as often as virtually all the others within all of the respective discographies.

The question I keep asking myself, is why?

Is it because I just don’t think, with a few exceptions, these albums are on to the same level as others by these artists? Or is it because the year of listening to these albums was one of the more tumultuous and depressing in my life? Do I unconsciously avoid the music of that era in an attempt to block out memories of the misery? I don’t know. I’ve spent most of this morning thinking about it, trying to pull myself back in time, trying to explore where these feelings of blasé originate. The music or the misery? And I’m left wanting. What I do know is that there are various points in my life that I consider important inflection points, points where my life could swing one way or another, and this year ended up being one of them. The result was soon after beginning a reconstruction of self that would take years and remains ongoing, and in many ways, that’s what I take most from looking back at 2011. When I look at the music, it’s almost impossible for me to separate the two. So, I see a couple of albums that remain all-timers for me and then a bunch that when I’m scrolling through an artist page on Apple Music, I go “oh yeah, I remember that one,” before selecting a different album from the band instead. From Blink-182, to Yellowcard, to Thrice, to MuteMath, to Jack’s Mannequin, to Foo Fighters, to Coldplay, to Augustana, to Explosions in the Sky, to even Manchester Orchestra, these are pieces of the catalog with many gems3 amongst albums I have fuzzy feelings around as a whole.

I started this project as a fun way to get back into weekly writing while stuck in quarantine during a global pandemic. A way to try and revisit the formative years of my life, of, and to try and bring new ‘content’ to everyone on a semi-regular basis while giving me something to focus on and distract myself (and hopefully you) with at least once a week. The result has also been a personal reflection each week of who I was and seeing the past fifteen years in soundtracked memories. It’s been a reminder for me of how “in it” life can sometimes feel, and it’s only with the passage of time that the bigger picture is revealed. And it’s a reminder that somethings stick with you the rest of your life, imprinting upon you in ways that may never be completely understood. We as a world are experiencing shared global trauma in a way that I don’t think we have even begun to comprehend the ramifications of, and it leads me to wonder what I will be thinking about nine, ten, years from now while looking at my end of the year list from this year. Will the albums feel discolored by the memories of this festering wound of a year? I have no idea. I suppose only time will tell.

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  1. Even as a critic, that’s a cynic, that lacks drive and heart to do what they do.

  2. Yes, I’m still angry about it.

  3. I still ride for Blink-182’s “After Midnight.”