Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009 #1 Pick Interviews (part 4)
by Interviews

During the polling for the Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009, 17 different Punknews staffers contributed, and we ended up with 17 different #1 picks for Best Album of the Decade. I engaged in "interviews" (more like conversations) with many of the poll's participants to talk about their #1 picks. These resulted in a discussions that are as varied and dynamic as the contributors themselves.

Over the course of the week Punknews will be presenting these interviews for your enjoyment.

Punknews writer Ioannis Pelegrinis’ #1 pick:

Carry On - A Life Less Plagued

JS: How you doin', Ioannis? For the Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009 poll of Punknews staff and reviewers, you chose the 2001 release A Life Less Plagued by hardcore act Carry On. What is it about this album that makes it the best, for you, of the decade?

IP: It was the first truly modern straight edge hardcore record that really spoke to me – both musically and lyrically – even though I am not straight edge myself. It takes that relatable sense of frustration expressed by more introspective bands from the late 1980s and early, like Chain of Strength and Battery, and amplifies it to 11 and couples it with a really raw and breakdown-heavy youth crew revival sound that still sounds as fresh today as it did back then.

JS: I have to admit that Carry On kinda flew under the radar for me but, now that I've gotten to hear the album, I totally see what you mean by that. Were you a fan of the band prior to the album's release, or did you discover them through the album?

IP: I wasn't aware of them or what was going on in hardcore - at the time I was super into third wave ska, just like the rest of the world seemed to be at the time. I discovered them through a Bridge 9 CD compilation in 2004 or so that also featured Champion, Terror, Mental and No Warning.

JS: It’s funny because that makes me think about how important those label sampler CDs were back then for discovering new music. I noticed that some of the bands you just listed also ended up high on your list. Was it that compilation CD that pushed you into hardcore a bit more than you had been previously?

IP: Absolutely, many of the bands on there definitely caught my attention and aside from Champion (for obvious reasons), those releases from that era in hardcore get regular play on my record player and remain favorites ten years on. Can’t say the same about the countless pop punk/ska compilations. The UKHC scene was also going through its own revival or sorts at the time so I was lucky enough to catch a few intense shows with some of those bands that really sealed the deal for me. It is a bit sad that these sort of label samplers have mostly evolved into highly forgettable downloads or slapped together playlists.

JS: Yeah, definitely. Not only is A Life Less Plagued your number one pick, but it is also one of six albums which were chosen as a #1, but didn't receive ANY votes at all from any of the other contributors. What's your best guess as to why this album didn't rate at all amongst the other sixteen of us?

IP: As with most straight edge bands, it didn’t help that Carry On weren’t around for that long and I suppose that ‘traditional’ hardcore wasn’t really on people’s radar at the time the record came out: third-wave ska and rap/metal were massively popular and the whole acoustic/folk thing was kicking off, so in this context I can imagine how a fast youth crew band might seem regressive to punk ears. At the same time labels like Bridge 9 and Rivalry Records had a tremendous few years with releases by Have Heart, Verse, Terror, Go It Alone, Ceremony and many others pushing hardcore in new directions, so it doesn’t really surprise me that “A Life Less Plagued” didn’t stand out as much.

JS: So, we got two more quick questions left for you. The first one is: If you had to choose one song on "A Life Less Plagued" as your absolute favorite, which would it be and why?

IP: The first side of the record is flawless youth crew (despite missing the Cappo Yell), but the song that has really stuck with me from that album is “So Much Of You” on the second side. It brings together the speed and urgency of that era’s skate punk (think NOFX on “So Long…”) with more emotive and introspective hardcore riffs from the late 90s like Turning Point. The whole record is a testament to how you can make incredibly satisfying, epic and hard breakdowns without resorting to any death metal nonsense, but on this song they also manage to introduce some feels to great effect.

Although some of their peers, like Have Heart or Verse, refined and took this formula further down that emotive path to greater artistic heights, Carry On managed to keep it uncomplicated, raw and highly accessible in the spirit of what I consider to be hardcore punk in its truest sense.

JS: And for the last question: taking the '00-'09 requirement out of the picture, does this album still stack up amongst your favorite albums of all time?

IP: Some of the lyrics don't quite hold up or resonate with me (I am not straight edge) as much as they did a few years back, but the music still gets me every single time and never fails to make me smile. It's definitely in my top 5 favorite records of all time and my go-to example for excellent modern hardcore, after the mid/late 80s heyday.

JS: Excellent! Well, Ioannis, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your #1 pick!

Punknews writer Nick Poyner’s #1 pick:

Alkaline Trio - Crimson

JS: Hi Nick, how's it going today? You chose Alkaline Trio's 2005 LP Crimson as your favorite album of the 2000-2009 decade. Tell me about the album and why it holds such an esteemed place in your opinion.

NP: I remember being in high school and hearing Good Mourning, which was the first I'd heard of Alkaline Trio. And then shortly thereafter Crimson was announced. I'm not proud of this but certain tracks were trickling out on Limewire and I had to get those as quickly as possible. (Since then I've bought the album in multiple formats, multiple times.) Each track had such unique wordplay: cutlery's usage on "Time to Waste" really stood out, the second verse on "I Was a Prayer," the dark fairy tale of "Your Neck." But it was "Burn" that solidified me as a lifelong fan. It was so dark and so catchy, like all of Crimson. And I think ever since, I've been searching for that perfect union in every new song I hear.

JS: So were you a big fan of the stuff you heard trickling out beforehand, or was it Crimson that truly brought you on board?

NP: Oh yeah. I couldn't get enough. I bought the whole back catalogue. But Crimson for me was still the best of it. It was cleaner but still had the dark, clever wordplay. It's so much about the lyricism and the ability to say so many of the things they did but still have the music feel synth-y and poppy. That combination is the best.

JS: It's always interesting to get into a band mid-career, and then work your way backwards through their existing discography. Kind of like seeing them devolve, if you catch my drift.

NP: Totally. Luckily, their back catalogue is also great. They never really had those early records you kind of want to forget about. They seemed full functional from Goddamnit! I think at that age though (I was 16 when Crimson came out), I was able to connect more with the bigger themes, whereas their earlier records touched upon struggles I associate more with maybe early twenties.

JS: What you say makes a lot of sense, and I can totally see how those bigger themes may come across as more accessible, even in general, to some of their earlier work. I think it also shows a bit of growth in the songwriting process for the band. I don't mean that in a "maturing" sense (although some could argue that), but more of an approach to what they wanted their songs to say? Does that make sense?

NP: Maturing is definitely the right word for it here even if it's a four letter word. Those early records are spent dealing with age-appropriate topics. I love "Stupid Kid" and "I Lied My Face Off" but I can see how those are different than problems you deal with in your thirties. I love Alkaline Trio because those bigger picture analogies have always been there. But on Crimson, it seems as though they sort of said to hell with it and dove in completely into all the bells and whistles but never at the expense of the songwriting or the bigger picture. (Sorry late twenties as opposed to thirties)

JS: Four letter word? "Matu"? Haha, I get what you’re saying.

NP: I guess I meant to imply the same thing, but was being too delicate with my wording.

JS: If you had to pick one song off of this album to call your absolute favorite, which is it, and why?

NP: I'd have to pick two. The amount of times I've listened to "Burn" in my life, especially when I was younger, in unrivaled. But now, I'd have to say "I Was A Prayer." Lyrically, it's one of Alkaline Trio's best songs. Dan's wording is so particular and visual.

JS: You double-dipped on that! Finally, taking the 00-09 out of the mix, how does this album stand up across your entire music listening experience? Is it still pretty high up there?

NP: I did, I did. I'm sorry. But what a perfect transition! Crimson is pretty high on my all-time list because it played such an important part in my youth. But I still happily go back to it. Again, harping on the lyrics, while there's plenty of the darker stuff that is attractive when you're younger, there's so much that continues to resonate, which is something the band has always been great at.

JS: Wonderful! Well, Nick, thanks for taking the time to chat with me about your #1 pick of 00-09!

Punknews writer Julie River’s #1 pick:

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

JS: Hey there, Julie! How's it going? So we're going to have a little chat about The Hold Steady's 2006 album Boys and Girls in America. In our poll you chose this album as your #1 pick for the aughts. Can you tell me a little bit about this album is tops for you for that decade?

JR: Craig Finn is just an incredibly strong lyricist. I've heard him say that he doesn't write about himself, at least not directly, but everything he writes is basically about fictional characters. He writes these impressively detailed stories, mostly about the drug scene in the Twin Cities, littered with literary references and references to punk and to rock in general. Tad Kubler's guitar parts are so strong, and Franz Nicolay's keyboards are simply beautiful.

JS: But isn't that EVERY The Hold Steady album, haha! Seriously, though- yeah, those are some of the defining traits of the band and what, I think, makes them so approachable from so many different angles. You ranked all of their LPs within your top 50, but the next one you ranked doesn't show up until #30 (Almost Killed Me), and then it goes #32 (Stay Positive) and #39 (Seperation Sunday)in quick succession. So this band obviously has a lot of pull with you, and that is some tight grouping. But considering the gap between Boys and Girls… at #1, and then the next album at #30, it seems like there is something special about this album for you, right?

JR: I'm a big fan of The Hold Steady. I wish they were more active these days. I love all their albums, even Heaven is Whenever and Teeth Dreams and nobody likes those albums. I'm even a big Lifter Puller fan, except for that first album.

But Boys and Girls in America is just the one that clicked for me the most. I grew up as a big Green Day fan in the 90's and that's when I really fell in love with the combination of upbeat music and dark lyrics, and that's what Boys and Girls in America does better than all the other Hold Steady albums. The lyrics can be so dark and cynical, but it's their most upbeat and hopeful album musically that it really pulls you through the darkness to get out to the other side. I remember one year getting ditched for a New Year's Party by this girl I liked and the drive to the party was 45 minutes, so I drove 45 minutes alone nearly in tears listening to "First Night" on repeat. It seemed an appropriate title since it was New Years Eve, so it was literally First Night, and there's that beautiful part in the song where it switches tempo and tone completely, it's just this complete catharsis, and that helped me through that night a lot. JS: It's kind of eerie how you described that album, but it is almost word for word how a friend described it to me back when the album came out (well, except for that NYE thing, sorry 'bout that). It's true though, and I think you nailed it on the head: for a such an upbeat sounding album, it does go to some deep and dark places. I've found that, for a lot of the people's #1 albums, it isn't just the music but also how it intertwined with the stage of their life when they heard it. Like, a lot of the responses seem to be along the lines of "I like this band a lot, but THIS ONE ALBUM came to me at a point in my life," you know?

JR: Addendum to the New Years story: that girl ended up marrying the guy she ditched me for on New Years and they now have three kids, but we've put it behind us and we're good friends now. Well, me and her are, anyway.

But yeah, there was a lot about that time in my life. I first discovered The Hold Steady in I want to say 2005 when they were opening for The Get Up Kids on TGUK's "Farewell Tour" (which makes me laugh because The Get Up Kids have a new album coming out in a few weeks). I remember The Hold Steady took the stage and I turned to my friend Tyler and said "These guys are really old." And like five minutes later I turned to her again and said "But they're really good." I had been involved with slam poetry for quite a while, so I really liked the way Craig kind of half sang/half spoke his lyrics. So I picked up Almost Killed Me and there were a few songs I really liked on it, but I couldn't really get into the album as a whole, so I put it away for a while.

A few years later, I had just graduated college with a film degree that I didn't feel like I knew what to do with, I was working as a bartender for a shitty dive pool bar in Providence, and then I got a temp job at a TV repair place, and I felt terrified and lost about my future. I fell in with this crowd of poets that were really big stoners and I started smoking a lot of pot and getting drunk with them a lot on the weekends and they were sort of my escape from having to figure out where to go next with my life. Boys and Girls came out around then and I decided to give the band another try because I thought the cover art was beautiful and lots of critics were talking about it, and it clicked with me because the characters on the album felt like they were lost like I was and they reminded me of the people I was hanging out with. It sounded like the exact soundtrack of my life at that point.

JS: It’s kind of amazing how an album can just kind of slot in to one's life at just the right time. Would you say that this album made you go back and reassess their other two LPs released up to that point? I see that they are both the next highest THS albums on your list.

JR: Yeah, they didn’t click for me until after I got into Boys and Girls in America. I was unmediated for my ADHD at that point, and it took a lot for me to digest an album as a whole back in those days. A lot of times I would have trouble getting past one or two songs I really liked to be able to appreciate the whole album. But Boys and Girls really sucked me in completely and I dug into the other two albums as a result. The Hold Steady (and Lifter Puller before them) don’t just make concept albums, they’re more like a concept band. All their albums are telling interconnected stories about the same characters. “First Night” is about the characters from Separation Sunday and Heaven is Whenever has a song that’s a direct sequel to “Chips Ahoy.” I love that interconnection and once I figured out that they all connect like that, it opened up their whole catalogue for me.

JS: That's super-cool. We're getting to the point where we'll wrap this up with the final two questions. The first is: if you had to absolutely pick one song off of the album as your favorite, which would it be, and why?

JR: I would probably say the opener, “Stuck Between Stations.” It just encapsulates everything on the album that I love. The guitar riff is killer, the keyboards are perfect, and I can relate to all the lyrics. I once had a girlfriend who was a good kisser and dancer but was not that great of a Christian or a girlfriend. Boys and girls in America do crush one another with colossal expectations. It’s right on all the way through.

JS: Solid, firm response! Now here's the one that some people have found to be a bit tougher: taking the decide requirement out of the equation, how does the album rank for you out of all time (so far)? Does it still keep a top spot? THE top spot? Or does it slip a little?

JR: The Clash’s London Calling is my number one now and forever. Craig Finn is a pretty big Clash fan and I think he would understand losing the top spot to them. But Boys and Girls in America is in my top five. Maybe third. I might put Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues at number two.

JS: For some reason i suddenly imagined Greg Finn breaking down in tears… haha! Well Julie, thanks for taking a few moments to share your thoughts on your #1 album of '00-'09. It has been a blast to chat with you!