Heading back to reflect on 2003 is going to be a difficult one.
It’s arguably one of the most critical years in my musical journey, but that comes with some scars. This week we continue the trek by exploring the end of my sophomore year of college, that summer, and into the start of my junior year. AbsolutePunk has shed its fan-page skin and become a website for all the music I want to talk about, and it’s starting to see traffic on levels I never expected. I’m running it from my dorm room; I’m getting so much mail I get banned from the college post office, in class I’m sketching new ideas for what I want to do next with the website, between classes I’m updating it from the computer lab with news.
Things are getting a little wild.
And then, in the span of these next couple of years, the scene explodes like a thunderclap.
It’s difficult to properly put this year in context because the albums coming out feel like rapid fire on reflection. There’s so many. And so many of them that had a massive influence on the music scene, and me personally, that it’s virtually impossible to talk about all of them. Albums like Thursday’s War All The Time and Further Seems Forever’s How to Start a Fire could be deconstructed in entire articles. I could tell stories about how I was convinced Matchbook Romance was about to blow up and late-night AIM chats with the band about signing to Epitaph and coming up with their new band name. This is the year of AFI’s Sing the Sorrow and The Ataris’ one dance in the spotlight with So Long, Astoria. It’s the year of Rufio’s inexplicably recorded vocals and MCMLXXV. And it’s the year of Ben Gibbard flexing with Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism and The Postal Service’s Give Up. I mean, get the fuck out of here with that Ben!
I could write treatises about all of those albums and more. They all had an outsized impact on my life, who I became, and the kind of music I enjoy. But to really deconstruct my musical taste and the music scene’s trajectory as a whole, I need to focus on a specific five.
First, we have the handoff of the pop-punk championship belt to a new class of bands. As we’ve explored in the past few weeks, Blink-182 is now one of the world’s largest bands and is gearing up for the release of their untitled album. It’s an album that is going to shift and change a generation’s musical taste. It’s an album that will signal, for many, a change in the very kind of music they’re exploring and listening to. It’s an album that explores the band’s creative side, cost an obscene amount of money to record, and will be for many, the band’s crown achievement. It’s also decidedly not a pop-punk album.
But the next wave of pop-punk is coming. In May, Fall Out Boy release Take This to Your Grave. It’s an album that, within our community, is immediately a hit. I remember Pete Wentz sending me a burned CD with, I think, three or four songs from the sessions they were recording and thinking it was going to be massive. After hearing songs like “Homesick at Space Camp” and “Grand Theft Autumn,” I knew this would be the biggest band in the world. The first run of that album had a quote from me on the sticker that said something like that. It would take another couple of years for their sophomore release to prove me right. It’s a release that, while now lyrically tricky to sit with, incapsulated youthful angst that felt like a changing of the guard. For years pop-punk singers would mimic Jordan from New Found Glory and write lyrics like Blink-182. And as fast as your brain fills in the next part after “where is your boy tonight…” everyone wanted to sound like Patrick Stump and write one-liners like Pete Wentz. There was a gravitational certainty to their success, the perfect pairing of choir boy vocals and the sharp-tongued heartthrob.
And as that train is beginning to gain unstoppable momentum, we had the summer of 2003, and one of the most memorable release dates ever: Yellowcard drop Ocean Avenue and Thrice release The Artist in the Ambulance. I’ve written often over the years of this summer. We were watching Yellowcard’s career go from our website to the top of the charts, and I was watching a band go from goofing around on my friend’s piano to platinum records and a number one video on TRL. It was absolutely wild. I didn’t appropriately appreciate it at the time. I was barely 20, stuck between life in California, life in Oregon, and this new burgeoning life online. Hearing a song like “Back Home” was like having a piece of my heart whipped at my head through the speakers.
Another sunny day in California
I'm sure back home they'd love to see it
But they don't know that what you love is ripped away
Before you get a chance to feel it
And with Thrice came an awakening of a love for this new style of music. Aggressive, loud, fast, lyrically clever, and tackling topics beyond your usual affair. Combining this with Thursday's War All the Time and seeing these writers, not that much older than me, with such skill, would lead to hours pouring over the liner notes. Scouring every phrase, every line, in awe.
In a year where Something Corporate releases North, John Mayer releases Heavier Things, and The Format release Interventions and Lullabies — three albums I consider among my favorites — it's still Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, and Thrice that define this year for me. That's the specific four that signal a cataclysmic shift in my musical taste and the music scene.
Four? Shit, I said there were five, didn't I?
Yeah. I did. [sigh] Well, I'm going to have to do this, aren't I?
As I've written about multiple times before, it's impossible for me to tell my musical journey, and the journey of this website, without mentioning Brand New. Their impact on my life, my musical taste, and in many ways how I listen to music and what I am interested in, is incalculable. They were my favorite band, and yet here today, even thinking about them breaks my heart. With that said, Deja Entendu was the most important album in my life. It's an album that I would forever change how I would judge all other music. It would become the standard by which every other band I listened to would be compared, from sound to emotional resonance, to scene impact. It's an album I've listened to more than any other. When I was happy; when I was devastatingly sad. It was the album I listened to when relationships crumbled, and when I lost my cousin. And it was the album I turned to on a random weekend night laying in the grass contemplating life. It was forever my go-to "favorite album." Directly said, there is no other album that has ever felt as stitched to my soul. It was also incredibly influential in our music scene. This dramatic change in style would be attempted, often with disastrous results, by many bands to come.
Over the past three years, I've scrolled past the album in my Apple Music account many times, and even seeing the artwork pulls memories from my skin. But I've yet to hit play. These memories hurt. I still can't even articulate quite why, or how, or what I even want to do with them when they come rushing through my brain. I keep typing, hoping one day the right words will come. They don't. But I can't talk about 2003 without saying that this album's imprint on me, and on our musical world, was undeniable.
And with that, here's the list of albums I most associate with 2003.
- AFI - Sing the Sorrow
- The Ataris - So Long Astoria
- Anberlin - Blueprints for the Black Market
- Blink-182 - Untitled
- Boys Night Out - Make Yourself Sick
- American Hi-Fi - The Art of Losing
- Acceptance - Black Lines to Battlefields EP
- Anti-Flag - The Terror State
- Boysetsfire - Tomorrow Come Today
- Brand New - Deja Entendu
- Cauterize - So Far From Real
- Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth
- Copeland - Beneath the Medicine Tree
- Count the Stars - Never Be Taken Alive
- Dashboard Confessional - A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar
- Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
- The Early November - The Room's Too Cold
- Every Time I Die - Hot Damn!
- Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
- Fall Out Boy - Take This To Your Grave
- The Format - Interventions + Lullabies
- Funeral For a Friend - Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation
- Further Seems Forever - How to Start a Fire
- GOB - Foot in Mouth Disease
- Inspection 12 - Get Rad
- JamisonParker - Notes and Photographs EP
- John Mayer - Heavier Things
- Less Than Jake - Anthem
- The Living End - Modern Artillery
- Lucky Boys Confusion - Commitment
- Limbeck - Hey, Everything's Great
- Mae - Destination:Beautiful
- Matchbook Romance - Stories and Alibis
- The Movielife - Forty Hour Train Back to Penn
- MxPx - Before Everything and After
- Park - It Won't Snow Where You're Going
- Pennywise - From the Ashes
- The Postal Service - Give Up
- Relient K - Two Lefts Don't Make a Right … But Three Do
- Rise Against - Revolutions Per Minute
- Rocky Votolato - Suicide Medicine
- Rufio - MCMLXXV
- Saves the Day - In Reverie
- RX Bandits - The Resignation
- Saosin - Translating The Name EP
- Senses Fail - From the Depths of Dreams EP
- Slick Shoes - Far from Nowhere
- Something Corporate - North
- Steel Train - For You My Dear EP
- The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart
- Story of the Year - Page Avenue
- Straylight Run - Demo EP
- Thrice - The Artist in the Ambulance
- Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue
- Thursday - War All the Time
- Watashi Wa - The Love of Life
Honestly, it's almost too much to comprehend here. Drive-Thru Records is still right at the peak of their powers and is cranking out full-lengths and EPs, and there are the beginnings of some soon to be classics as well. John Nolan leaving Taking Back Sunday and forming Straylight Run was such a massive story for the year. It's hard to even put into context how much drama and debate there was around it. (I still really like all those Straylight Run songs, and it remains a fantastic band name.)
Some other random memories from this year include: a friend driving down to my college to play me the instrumental Saosin songs and saying, "we're flying in someone to put some vocals over them in the next few weeks." The guys in Over It giving me an early copy of that Lucky Boys Confusion album and swearing me to secrecy. (I am still amazed that album didn't do better; it should have been huge.) And dropping the guys in Yellowcard off at a bar in Portland so they could watch their TV debut on "Pepsi Smash." There was no doubt in my mind after that performance that the band were going to be stars.
2003 was a transitional year. One that finds me between two places. Friends, relationships, and ties to my youth in Oregon, and the new life I was building in college in California. It's a year of watching my website grow beyond my wildest expectations, and the bands I've been writing about start to see real, tangible, mainstream success. And it's a year where I am trying to figure out what exactly life is going to look like after my final two years of college. I went to college thinking it would be the springboard to whatever career I would have, but I didn't feel like I was finding it. I dropped out of the computer science classes because they weren't teaching me the languages I wanted to learn. I switched to a Business Administration degree and started teaching myself how to program on the side. I hated my accounting classes and enjoyed marketing ones, but I really just wanted to spend my time in front of a computer learning more about code. I went to college thinking it would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and in a weird way it was … because I was starting to see that what I wanted to do with my life involved this website. And that realization is about to lead to a very uncomfortable discussion with my parents. But that'll have to wait until next week.