How does our music scene follow-up a year like 2003? With many of the bands that had released breakout albums the previous couple of years coming back for seconds. We’re at a spot where this music scene is riding a wave. Blink-182 helped bring pop-punk into the mainstream, and bands like New Found Glory, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Sum 41, and Yellowcard are spearheading the next wave. 2004 is where New Found Glory drop Catalyst, Sum 41 return with Chuck, Jimmy Eat World tears us open with Futures, and Green Day takes back the crown with the massive American Idiot. And it’s the year where a bunch of new artists appear in our lives. We’ll see Straylight Run, Name Taken, The Spill Canvas, and Northstar all release albums that captivate the community. We’ll get Underoath’s They’re Only Chasing Safety and an extremely polarizing Taking Back Sunday record.1
2004 marks the spot where I wrap up this My Nostalgia series. I started in 1998, and the Back To series began in 2005. So, 2004 is the crossroads. It’s everything that led into that next crest of bands that so many of you reading grew up with. It’s where AbsolutePunk undeniably took off to new levels and my life shifts from this website being a project I was doing for fun, into something I will dedicate the next 15 years of my life to.
Let’s head back. It’s 2004. This is the period of my junior year of college and a little bit of my senior year. I’m growing frustrated with classes. I’ve changed my major to business, and yet the classes run from seemingly obvious (marketing) to things I definitely don’t want to ever do (accounting), and what I want to be doing (working on AbsolutePunk) is squeezed in between all of the regular college things. Except, this year, there’s one little tweak. A bunch of my close college friends, including my roommate from the previous two years, will study abroad for a semester. Most of them are going to Salzburg. For a brief moment, I think I’m going too; I even get a passport. But then I find out that the house we’d all be staying at gets very weak, at best, internet. While the website is beginning to blow up, I’d have to, in many ways, put a pause on it for a semester to get the full experience of studying abroad. I decide I can’t do it.2 So now I’m back at school, and most of the people I spent the previous two years with aren’t there. I’m living off-campus in an apartment with some people I only knew tangentially from the earlier years. I spend most of the time at my girlfriend’s apartment with her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend. But it doesn’t feel the same. I’m wandering. I’m feeling restless. I’m feeling trapped in a rut. Everyone around me is stressed about trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and I feel like I have the answer but not the time to commit to it. I start thinking about just dropping out of college to work on the website full time. It’s making some money; I could get a part-time job, maybe even keep living somewhere around the campus and hang out with my friends? When my girlfriend at the time decides she’s going to go abroad the next semester, I see an opening. I propose to my parents that I take the next semester off.
They flip their shit.
To say that the conversation did not go well would be a tremendous understatement. And rightfully so! How often does someone take a semester off and then actually return to school? It can’t be that frequently. I try to argue that I know what I want to do with my life, I have what could be a job right in front of me, and that I just need to take some time to work on it. They counter with my needing something to fall back on. It’s a tenuous period where I’m actively contemplating just doing it anyway.3 Finally, my mother agrees that I can take the second half of my junior year off, if I promise to go back, promise to take a few community college courses over the summer to transfer some of the basic credits,4 and overload my senior year so I still graduate on time. I agree.
And so I head home and move back into my parents’ basement. It’s a frosty period in that relationship, but also one that leads to me spending virtually every waking hour online. I redesign the website around vBulletin, and it will become the red gradient three-column beast we all know and love. My “office” consists of a giant six-foot-long plastic table from Costco. I have all the seasons of Friends on DVD that I put on the TV while I work and keep playing through them, on repeat, constantly. I’m living off mostly orange juice, which I drink straight from the gallon container, and all combinations of cheese-flavored crackers. I go to sleep most nights at around four in the morning. And it’s somewhere in this period that I reach out to a company called IndieClick to see if they’d run the banner ads on the website for me. It’s kind of a blur now, but the combination of redesigning the website, getting IndieClick to take over all of the advertisements, and all of the music released right around this time, is where everything changed.
The website traffic exploded. And it was already doing really well. Now it’s moving so fast I can’t even keep up. And the website’s now making money.5 It goes from something I can handle to all of a sudden I am way over my head. The server costs begin to creep upward; the amount of traffic the website is seeing is almost laughable. But I’m 21 and invincible. And the music is incredible.
So here’s what we have during 2004 that I remember most:
- A Wilhelm Scream – Mute Print
- Aaron Sprinkle – Lackluster
- Anadivine – Zoo
- Audio Karate – Lady Melody
- Autopilot Off – Make a Sound
- Bad Religion – Empire Strikes First
- Brandston – Send us a Signal
- Butch Walker – Letters
- Cartel – The Ransom
- Cary Brothers – All The Rage EP
- Descendents – Cool to Be You
- Don’t Look Down – The Fear in Love
- Emery – The Weak’s End
- Fall Out Boy – My Heart Will Always Be The B-Side… EP
- Good Charlotte – The Chronicles of Life and Death
- Green Day – American Idiot
- Gym Class Heroes – The Papercut EP
- Hellogoodbye – Hellogoodbye EP
- Home Grown – When it All Comes Down
- Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
- Jimmy Eat World – Futures
- Joey Cape and Tony Sly – Acoustic
- Letterkills – The Bridge
- Matchbook Romance / Motion City Soundtrack – Split EP
- MC Lars – The Laptop EP
- Midtown – Forget What You Know
- Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News
- Moments in Grace – Moonlight Survived
- Morrissey – You Are the Quarry
- Mutemath – Reset EP
- MxPx – AC/EP
- My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
- Name Taken – Hold On
- New Found Glory – Catalyst
- Northstar – Pollyanna
- Recover – This May Be the Year I Disappear
- Reeve Oliver – Reeve Oliver
- Relient K – Mmhmm
- Rise Against – Siren Song of the Counter Culture
- Say Anything – Is a Real Boy
- Simple Plan – Still Not Getting Any…
- Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
- Straylight Run – Straylight Run
- Strung Out – Exile in Oblivion
- Sugarcult – Palm Trees and Power Lines
- Sum 41 – Chuck
- Taking Back Sunday – Where You Want To Be
- The Academy Is – The Academy Is
- The Cure – The Cure
- The Get Up Kids – The Guilt Show
- The Killers – Hot Fuss
- The Matches – E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals
- The Spill Canvas – Sunsets & Car Crashes
- Underoath – * They’re Only Chasing Safety*
Now, that’s a list.
The funny part is we have a record of how I was feeling about music at the time. I reviewed Butch Walker’s Letters, Midtown’s Forget What You Know, and, yes, that review of Say Anything’s …is a Real Boy. They’re all full of extreme hyperbole and over the top dramatic flourishes. But god damn am I into the music, and you can see it in every line. It’s peak, “I love this shit, and I think you should too, and I want it to matter, dammit.”
It’s a year where the big releases stick out. American Idiot was as big of an album as I can remember covering. Jimmy Eat World’s Futures was an instant classic in our world and remains one of the most respected albums in our little scene of the past twenty years. But for me, it’s also about some of the under the radar releases from this year. Like Autopilot Off’s Make a Sound and Name Taken’s Hold On. Yep, I reviewed both of those too.6 It’s the year of Mute Print and Northstar releasing Pollyanna. It’s these albums, these little gems that I felt like only our community was even aware of, that still bring a smile to my face. And I was so damn excited to see them get love. It’s the year where I can fall hard for a song like “The Tide” by The Spill Canvas and start writing about it, and all of a sudden, people are talking about them. Other websites are writing the “why The Spill Canvas sucks” takedowns, and the online discourse was, uh, bad.7 But it was also a year where I felt a consistent buzz; it always seemed like something was on the cusp of happening.
There are albums on here that I think I always knew would take off, like Taking Back Sunday, and stuff that to this day I think are underrated and should be more appreciated, like Anadivine. And it’s a year of music that in many ways laid the foundation for everything that’s coming next. These are the seeds of inspiration for countless artists that we continue to write about to this day, and it’s the excitement from this year that gives it a special place in my heart. Like seeing a band such as My Chemical Romance go from giving us a song to “leak” on the website to being covered by MTV and becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. It felt like that kind of transition to superstardom was always on the horizon. That the music I loved had a chance to be huge. And that we were playing a little role in that happening.
I’ll end up keeping my promise and return to college for my senior year. I even buckle down and stuff my schedule and graduate on time. But that semester gave me a taste. I now knew this was exactly what I wanted to spend my life doing. And I give my parents, and especially my mother, so much credit for actually letting me take the chance. I don’t know if I would have the same poise and trust that she did if I were in her shoes. That support is the only way everything that happened next could have happened.
Over the last seventeen weeks, I’ve deconstructed my musical taste and journey from 1998 to 2015. There’s something like over 36,000 words now written about how I went from discovering music to falling in love with it, to creating a Blink-182 and MxPx fan-page, to creating AbsolutePunk, to everything that soundtracked my growing up along the way. I’ve brought back hundreds of pieces of scene history and put it in a format that is backed up, preserved, and can live as long as someone is paying the hosting bill. And now I’ve documented my life behind the stitched heart and told the story, as best as I can remember, of what our music scene looked like as I was living it. It’s a part of my life that will forever be etched into my soul; in many ways, it’s more me than maybe anything ever will be. But I also needed to do this to be able to move forward. To look at what was and the voyage that brought me to today. We live in a time and place of uncertainty. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and rising tensions around seemingly every corner. I’m at a spot where I don’t even know how much longer I can afford to support myself, and my family, by writing online. Uncertainty finds a way to coil around us as cold and unforgiving as anything on this earthly plane. But this essay series has reminded me that we have some constants that can guide us through it all. Music is always there. It can be a warm and guiding reminder of what moves us and what it’s like to feel. And there is a community of people that we can share that commonality with as well. Others that seek solace in song, strength in harmony, and a comfort in the melody. Be it a catchy beat, soft muted guitars, or the loudest screams, that connection remains. It mends.
Music mends broken hearts. Because, of course, that’s what I believe.
Thank you for reading.
I sometimes ask myself if I regret this decision, and I don’t think I do, even if I wish I had those memories with my friends. I still see their pictures and think about what might have been.↩
I know, I was a stubborn bastard.↩
Drawing, Spanish, and Business Law.↩
Remember when web ads were relevant and kinda good? I miss those days.↩
Sure was nice not to have to worry about classes, I guess.↩
I’m just laughing thinking about all the forum drama now. Remember Slade? sigh↩