Back to 2015 (Re-Ranking the Best of Lists)

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2015 was the final full year of AbsolutePunk. Looking back at the staff list from this year, I’m filled with many conflicting feelings. On the one hand, there’s a whole lot of outstanding music from this year that I hold fondly in my memory. That Sufjan Stevens album, Kendrick Lamar, Foxing, Noah Gundersen, Carly Rae Jepsen, Fall Out Boy, and many others continue to get regular spin in my rotation. But at the same time, 2015 was the year I knew, beyond any doubt, that I needed to change something in my life.

Beyond the abject chaos of working for a large corporation spending money in the weirdest ways and having shakeups in management seemingly every week, this was a year where the music scene itself, and AbsolutePunk in particular, became a nightmare I dreaded being a part of. This is the year where the tour manager for The Wonder Years lies to me to cover up sexual assault from some dude in some crappy band on Pure Noise Records. This is the year where Front Porch Step is allowed to play Warped Tour after allegations of misconduct. The year where I’m getting in public and private spats with bands that are doing gross shit. I’m getting messages from record labels that don’t want me to write about any of this and want to cover for it as “boys will be boys.” And there was even that whole thing with Kevin Lyman himself wanting me to come out to some Warped Tour date, and when I suggested multiple women he should be talking to instead, he just said “no.”1

It was a year where I felt stress in virtually every aspect of my working life. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t want to write about music. I was disgusted by the music scene. Disappointed in bands, labels, and people I looked up to, and for the first time in my life, I started throwing out feelers about what other jobs might be out there. If I wanted to leave all of this behind, what could I do? It was not a fun or happy place to be. Each morning, coming into the office filled me with this overlaying dread of what disaster I was about to have to deal with online that day. And this is all pre-2016, Trump, the entire world throwing itself upside down, leading to whatever-the-fuck you want to call 2020. I guess we can call 2015 an anxiety-appetizer. A tiny taste of what the main course can look like.

But, hey, at least I’m excited about writing again.

And, hey, at least the music from 2015 was really good.

This was a year where the music listened to and promoted most by staff ended up running from the indie flavorings of Sufjan Stevens or Noah Gundersen to the hip-hop world of Kendrick Lamar to the pure pop-perfection of Carly Rae Jepsen. These artists are not the stereotypical “AbsolutePunk” group of bands. Sure, there were still your Wonder Years and Death Cabs and Fall Out Boys, but it seemed like newer releases from The World is a Beautiful Place…, Foxing, and other similar artists, were much more exciting to talk about. I was infatuated with the new album from Julien Baker, and these one-off songs The Japanese House was releasing, and starting to explore other genres of music with more gusto. This was also the year where I tried to pull back on the volume of music I was listening to. Instead of feeling like I needed to digest 10-20 albums at a time, I wanted to return to what it felt like when I was younger, and I only had a handful of CDs, and I could really get into an album. I started listening to two or three albums on repeat each week instead of churning through everything I wanted to hear. I wanted to live in that brilliant Kendrick Lamar album. I wanted to feel every placed note in EMOTION. And that simple change has been one of the better choices I’ve made in my musical listening habits in a while. I sometimes feel like I’m missing out by not listening to as much new music these days, but I know that the albums I am listening to I get to experience fully. And I feel more connected to them as a result.

Looking at my list now, I see a lot of stuff I’m still listening to.2 I’m not sure how much is going to change on the re-ranking, so, let’s find out. Same arbitrary rules as the past ten weeks, I think you know the drill by now.

Best of 2015 (Re-Ranking)

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
  3. Foxing – Dealer
  4. Noah Gundersen – Carry The Ghost
  5. Butch Walker – Afraid of Ghosts
  6. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
  7. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
  8. The Japanese House – Pools to Bathe In
  9. Anti-Flag – American Spring
  10. Fall Out Boy – American Beauty / American Psycho
  11. The Neighbourhood – Wiped Out!
  12. The World Is … – Harmlessness
  13. Tame Impala – Currents
  14. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
  15. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  16. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
  18. Marianas Trench – Astoria
  19. All Time Low – Future Hearts
  20. Doomtree – All Hands
  21. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
  22. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
  23. Adele – 25
  24. Fidlar – Too
  25. Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks
  26. Ryn Weaver – The Fool
  27. Penguin Prison – Lost in New York
  28. Mew – +/-
  29. Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
  30. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

The new list has Kendrick Lamar in the top spot. It’s an album I’ve come back to frequently and one of such brilliance that it sits rightfully high on our best albums of the entire decade list. Carly Rae Jepsen gets the slight nod over Noah Gundersen simply because it’s the most played album in my whole collection over the past five years. Sorting by “plays” in Apple Music and it’s number one. By a not-insignificant margin. It makes sense; I consider it one of the best pop albums ever recorded. Noah falls slightly to number three, but with the two albums above, that’s not disparaging. Both Anti-Flag and Fall Out Boy see climbs on this list. Both albums getting a lot of love over the past few years. Anti-Flag has been on an absolute tear of a streak that starts with this album. And while no Thriller or Pet Sounds, I’ll continue to argue that Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty/American Psycho holds up quite well in their catalog. It’s not as refined and tight as Save Rock and Roll, but it has some fantastic songs that push at the borders of what the band is known for. Foxing, Sufjan Stevens, Butch Walker, and Julien Baker all help round out this top ten, and damn, it’s an exceptionally emotionally heavy top ten. Those are some weighty albums. Ones that you feel in your chest when they stop playing.

The rest of the list plays out more or less similarly. Marianas Trench gets bumped from the honorable mentions into the top thirty. (Great theatrical pop-punk release that holds up well five years later.) And All Time Low were nowhere to be found on my original list, and yet Future Hearts has stayed in regular rotation over the years.

I think what this project and these past weeks re-compiling these lists has taught me, is that I should be more cognizant each year of what are the albums that I think I’ll be replaying the most in the future. In the moment, I tended to overvalue records that had high, say, artistic value, albums that I knew were great but maybe a little more challenging to put on randomly on a Thursday at 2pm. The records I’ve ended up ranking higher on these re-rankings have tended to be the ones I find joy in throwing on almost any time and have therefore had more plays in the subsequent years. I pretty consistently undervalued fun, enjoyable, pop/pop-punk albums that I probably felt a tad self-conscious ranking higher during their respective years. In time, that part of my taste won out because those were things I wanted to listen to, again and again. That’s something I’ll have to keep in mind when I’m putting together best-of lists in the future.

I also think this project benefited from using the Bias Sorter tool. It let me throw all the albums into the program and make the hard/easy choices one at a time. I almost always would end up tweaking a few things at the very end, but it was a great way to get a simple glance at the structure of the list, and it’ll be something I use while making these same kinds of listings in the future.3

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed walking from 2005 to 2015 with everyone over the past ten weeks. Some years were more pleasant to explore than others, but looking back at the music scene and the history of AbsolutePunk and its transition into Chorus has been a whole lot of fun. My plan going forward is to now move back even further into my past and walk the years from when I discovered I loved music and how my musical taste began up to 2005. That way, there will be an entire collection detailing my life’s musical soundtrack as well as the history of my time writing online.4

It’s hard to put a bow on 2015 and AbsolutePunk in a way that feels appropriate. As I wrote about when I started Chorus, AbsolutePunk was a massive part of my life. It was the website that I started as a teenager on a whim, and it gave me everything I’ve so far known. It’s where I grew up. Where I failed miserably in front of millions. Where I made lifetime friends with people I still talk to on a regular basis.5 And as I’ve been resurrecting various AbsolutePunk artifacts over the past couple of weeks, I think I’ve come more to terms with letting those years still mean a lot to me while also realizing putting all of that to bed was the only thing that allowed me to once again find joy in writing about music. Holding those two thoughts in my head at the same time is often difficult because I have a lot of pent up resentment about those last few years on the website. Things behind the scenes, all of the stuff within the music industry itself, and the fallout from it, and it’s been hard to get far enough removed from all of that to feel, or have space for, anything else. Honestly, I’m still not quite there. However, what I do know is that I’m actively excited to walk into the office each morning knowing I get to work on something that brings me joy. I like writing again. From regular news posts about bands I find interesting, to the weekly articles and the weekly newsletter; I enjoy what I do each day in a way I didn’t expect to find again back in 2015.

I think that’s a win, and I do thank everyone who helps make that possible.

Thank you for following along over the past weeks as I explored our music scene’s past and found a way to discover acceptance of what AbsolutePunk meant to me, devoid of just the frustrations of the final years. I appreciate that.

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  1. And, for the record, as all the stories that have come out since detail: we were absolutely right in describing the toxic environment of that tour.

  2. I’m also drawn to the movie section and remembering seeing Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time. That may have aged the best out of everything here. Now I want to go watch that again.

  3. I just wish I could upload a text file of the list instead of having to put them all in one by one.

  4. After that I have some other one-off featured article ideas I’ll be exploring each Wednesday.

  5. Hi Drew and Jared.