Back to 2012 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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2012, only eight years ago, but it feels so much further away. It was the year the world was supposed to end, and yet the current state of things feels far more apocalyptic than almost anything from 2012.

Looking at the AbsolutePunk list from this year throws me in two different directions. First, it’s a year with a lot of really great rock albums. From The Menzingers, The Gaslight Anthem, Japandroids, Every Time I Die, and many others. And second, it’s the year of Fun.’s Some Nights. For whatever reason, I forgot that all of this was happening at the same time. In my head, I never associated The Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten happening while Fun. was blowing up across the country. It’s weird how time can play tricks on your brain like that.

At a high level, this staff complied list feels pretty representative of where the music scene was in 2012 and where we, as a publication, were starting to try and branch out a little more with our musical tastes. You see Taylor Swift’s Red on this list, an album that would do very well in our best of the decade list. And you also will find Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar making appearances.1 And then it’s also a year where a lot of heavier music and scene staples were putting out releases. Every Time I Die released Ex Lives, Code Orange Kids released Love is Love / Return to Dust, and Yellowcard put out Southern Air next to Anberlin’s Vital. Whereas last week had me coming to the realization that a lot of the albums in 2011 were great albums that often ended up becoming my least favorite of the bands’ respective catalog, looking at my list from this year is virtually the opposite. This is the year of albums that would, in time, make a run as being my favorite release from some of the bands that feature. It’s my favorite Japandroids record, I think I’ve come to conclude it’s my favorite Yellowcard record, it’s my favorite Every Time I Die record, it’s my favorite All-American Rejects record, and mewithoutYou, Now, Now, Stars, and The Menzingers all make a case as well. I don’t think it’s my favorite The Gaslight Anthem record, but there are times where I think it’s the best Gaslight Anthem record. When I think about the run The Gaslight Anthem had, and include Brian’s work with The Horrible Crowes, it feels like everything was leading to that record. And along with with Fun.’s Some Nights, it is probably what I most associate the year with in my head.

Seeing the rise of Fun. was one of the more, ugh, fine I’m doing it, “fun” experiences of following this music scene for as long as I have. Seeing all these members of bands I had been following and praising for years finally getting the massive mainstream success I had always thought they were destined for was a joy to watch. From The Format and Steel Train and Anathallo to winning a fucking Grammy? It’s one of my favorite success stories to come from our musical scene. Watching the years of hard work the band members and their team put into that band and it having the success it did, still brings a smile to my face. And it ends up being one of the biggest “what would the next album have sounded like and how successful would it have been?” questions that I still think about.

2012 was also the year that Blink-182 released the Dog Eating Dogs EP2, and the EP was pitched as a return to form because all of the band members were in the same room this time. There are a few good songs there, but not much I return to, it would also be the last collection we’d see from the band that featured Tom DeLonge. Elsewhere, All Time Low would make a bounce back record with Don’t Panic, and The 1975 would begin to make their way into our lives with a series of EPs. I still remember the first time I heard the “The City,” and knew we were in for something extraordinary with this band. The lyrics resonated with me in particular as they coincided with me making one of my most significant life changes as I moved … to the city.

I grew up in the suburbs. It was basically all I knew. I spent my life there, moved away to a relatively small college town in Southern California, lived there for about five years, and when I moved back to Oregon, I ended up in a different suburb. That’s just what I thought you did. I went to the city to visit bars or do some shopping, but I had never grown up thinking that you could live there. Oh, what a sheltered little suburban boy I was. In 2012, as I was finding my way through various personal struggles and intense therapy, I decided I needed the human version of a reboot. So I moved downtown. It would end up being one of the best decisions I have ever made. Now, eight years later, I’m still in the same condo. I will probably move again at some point (being quarantined in the city when all the benefits of city living are virtually not accessible has made the last six months difficult), but being exposed to city life had the exact outcome I was hoping for. It rebooted my brain. I sold my car, donated most of the “stuff” I had accumulated over the years, and picked myself up with the help of family and friends. I needed a shock to my system to kick me out of the routine and destructive cycles I was in. And soon, I’d meet my future wife at a random bar downtown. We’d have to do long distance for a few years while she finished up her doctorate, but that time led to me being able to fully discover the city while working on our relationship at the pace that we wanted.

And, while all of this was going on … I was searching for a way to take the website to a new level. AbsolutePunk was humming along. From the numbers I saw at the time, the website was making quite a bit of money for our corporate overlords, but the spending over there, was interesting. I wanted to bundle up the best pop-punk, alternative, and punk blogs on the internet and create a network of websites that could all work together to increase our reach better and have a traffic base that would rival some of the biggest music websites online. First, I absolutely did not come up with the name AbsoluteVoices. It was always supposed to be the stand-in name for the project while we discussed it, but then it came time for the press release, and it just became what it was. I’m still angry about it. Second, here’s what my original idea was: A network of websites on various platforms that covered similar, but distinctively different in subtle ways, alternative music. From WordPress to Tumblr, to very poppy to very punk, I wanted a collection of music websites that we could bundle to sell ads across together (at the combined peak we were at something like over 40 million page views per month) as well as use the combined talents of all the writers for various projects. I envisioned a news ticker that could go on the top of all the sites to display trending headlines, team up podcasts, video content, and shared resources to be able to do things like music festivals, merch, and be able to get real data on what was working on what platforms. Instead, it was an organizational nightmare. BuzzMedia, soon after becoming SpinMedia, was on the verge of all kinds of leadership shakeups and competing interests. It wouldn’t be long after that we couldn’t get funding for anything, let alone engineering resources, and communication ended up feeling like bureaucratic hell. I could share countless stories from this period, from when I ended up redesigning AbsolutePunk myself, and it never launched, to the end, and people being owed money they would never see. I felt like I was pulling teeth to get anything done. By the end, it was an absolute clusterfuck. I wasn’t even getting data or numbers anymore, and this led to me feeling completely fed up with the entire venture capital-backed media industry. I’m sure I’ll have more on that over the next couple of weeks.

But, back to the lists. Let’s re-rank my 2012 list. Same arbitrary rules: don’t add too many albums I wasn’t listening to, use what I’ve listened to the most over the past eight years as a guide, and yada yada yada.

Best of 2012 (Re-Ranking)

  1. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
  2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  3. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
  4. fun. – Some Nights
  5. Yellowcard – Southern Air
  6. Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives
  7. Now, Now – Threads
  8. John Mayer – Born and Raised
  9. The All-American Rejects – Kids in the Street
  10. Good Old War – Come Back as Rain
  11. Stars – The North
  12. Taylor Swift – Red
  13. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
  14. Anberlin – Vital
  15. No Trigger – Tycoon
  16. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
  17. Further Seems Forever – Penny Black
  18. The xx – Coexist
  19. Neon Trees – The Picture Show
  20. P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here
  21. Hot Water Music – Exister
  22. All Time Low – Don’t Panic
  23. The Shins – Port of Morrow
  24. Muse – The Second Law
  25. mewithoutYou – Ten Stories
  26. Propagandhi – Failed States
  27. The Killers – Battle Born
  28. Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon
  29. The 1975 – Facedown/Sex EP

This is the first time I can remember my top two albums staying the same.

That Gaslight Anthem album is still my number one from the year. I spent too much time listening to it over the last eight years for it not to remain. A lot of these albums helped soundtrack a critical year in my life, and, more than others, this entire list feels very much attached to my history. Other years it’s one or two albums, but this year feels more as a collective whole etched into my memory.

I went back and forth on Japandroids or Menzingers, but gave Japandroids the nod because it’s my favorite thing they’ve done whereas The Menzingers have other albums that at least rival this one. Fun. sees a slight boost because of how much they dominated that and the next year, and Some Nights remains a staple in my collection. Yellowcard actually saw a relatively large jump. Southern Air, I think, and I waffle on this sometimes, is my favorite album from the band. It combines everything I love about the band and mixes the pop-punk fun with poignant songwriting as well as any from the group. Every Time I Die and Now, Now also see a rise in the ranking, and while I had Blink-182’s EP on my original list, if I’m going to include any EPs from this year on my list, it’s going to be The 1975. But, I’m keeping them at the bottom because, well, they’re EPs, and I usually put those in a separate section.

Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Taylor Swift all make their way into the list. And this is based on the next few years and all three of those artists being very important to me, which would lead me to go back to their catalogs and spend a whole lot of time with them. They get dinged a tad because I was just starting to get into them all in the real 2012, so I feel it would be unfair to elevate them higher in the re-rank.

Stars and John Mayer drop a tad, mostly because I just haven’t gone back to those albums as much, and the rest just feels much more representative of what albums have continued to be a part of my life since.

In 2012, the world didn’t end. Obama was elected for a second term. I moved to the city. And I met my future wife; I just didn’t know it yet. It’s the part in my life where I consider it no longer my ‘formative’ years, as I’ll turn 30 just a few months into 2013. And it’s where many friendships I had most of my life would begin to fade away. Friends I grew up with would move away, start families, and our interests or ability to catch up would slowly bend apart. Whereas right out of college, I felt like we were all faking how to be adults, this was when I realized, without knowing when, that we had all grown into those shoes. We were looking at our thirties, and the word “adult” had been stripped of it’s usual “young” qualifier at some point I can’t pinpoint. We’d been raised to not trust anyone over thirty, and now we sat at that precipice with our ranks thinning like some of our hair. The grand expectations of our youth feeling like a distant memory. Where we once asked who, or what, we would be when we grew up, it now felt like we had the answers. But what I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that growing up is a never-ending process. You don’t just reach an age and have your entirety frozen in carbonite. Kris Roe once sang that “being grown-up isn’t half as fun as growing up,” and I yelled that refrain to concert walls for years. But, now, I have to disagree. I still feel like I’m growing up. I’m on the other half of thirty, having just turned 37 in the year of COVID. And I see forty around the bend. The next milestone. But these last eight years have been some of the best of my life. I’m still growing. It’s different, it’s not always fun, but there are still memories to make, still music to make them with, and I keep remembering the lesson I learned in 2012: if you’d like, you never have to keep being who you always were. It’s your life, live it.

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  1. And it was the year of that one Mackelmore album everyone kind of liked for a while.

  2. I’m still mad I missed out on this on vinyl.