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.
Today are the final two interviews in the series.
Punknews writer Greg Simpson’s #1 pick:
The Mountain Goats - All Hail West Texas
JS: How are you doing Greg? As you've astutely pointed out, the Top 100 Albums of 2000-2009 poll of Punknews staff and reviewers has been nearly a decade in the making, across several staffers, and you finally took up the mantle and brought it to fruition. So, first off, I'd like to say "thanks" for spearheading this and bringing it to life!
GS: My pleasure. April 8th marks my 17th anniversary with Punknews. My first review went up that date in 2002, when I was a junior in college. I’m not 37 years old with a wife, baby, house and career. Punknews has been a big part of my identity now for half my life!! Happy to bring this project back to life, and it’s perfect timing to celebrate Punknews’ 20th birthday!! Heheh… your old! (then again, who am I to laugh?)
JS: So for your #1 pick, you landed on The Mountain Goats' 2002 LP All Hail West Texas. Out of all the choices you obviously had, what is it about this album that you feel deserves its #1 status?
GS: All Hail West Texas was a game changer for me. After rocking Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph skatepunk And Asian Man ska and punk through the 90s, and then getting into emo and indie and college in the early aughts, this record showed me that you don’t need electric guitars or drums to rock. Immediately after this album, frontman John Darnielle went full band and those records have all been great. But here, he exited the solo game at the peak of his powers. This album shows that songwriting is key. A boombox recorder and an acoustic guitar is all Darnielle needed to make my favorite record of this decade.
JS: Were you a fan of The Mountain Goats before this, or was this your introduction to the band?
GS: No, I actually I got into them through a combination of things. I was a huge Atom and His Package fan. The album Redefining Music, which was actually my #8 record on my personal Top 100 list for this project, had THREE Mountain Goats covers. Knowing that an artist I loved like the Mountain Goats enough to cover three of their songs really piqued my interest. And then a little while later, my wife-then girlfriend- Cara was working at the college radio station the year after I graduated and the Mountain Goats album We Shall All Be Healed came in with the tag "Recommended If You Like Neutral Milk Hotel." We loved NMH so she checked that album out and it's been one of our favorites ever since. We went backwards through their catalog and All Hail West Texas ended up finding its way to the top of a heap of great Mountain Goats records dating back to the early 90s. JS: That's quite a winding path, haha! But I totally get it. Superchunk did the same thing for me because, early in their career, they did A LOT of cover songs, and those songs introduced me to bands, and styles of music, I hadn't have been exposed to before.
So, in a way, you worked yourself backwards through TMG's discography and this one resonated with you the most. Do you have any misgivings about Darnielle transitioning to a full band?
GS: I love the full band albums. But half of me does wish he'd do a one-off album recorded with just him on a boombox. I actually had a conversation with him on twitter shortly after I reviewed Transcendental Youth on Punknews. It's a fantastic full band album with lots of brass on it as well, but when I Tweeted him with a link to the review, I asked if he'd ever do that. He essentially said, "I don't want to go backwards." So there you have it!
JS: "I love the new stuff, John… I really do. But…"
GS: Ha it wasn’t like that! It was like - I love the new stuff, but what about a “back to basics album” then right back to full band - kinda thing.
JS: That's bold, man! But hey, you got an answer and I can dig what he's saying. You talked earlier about different musical phases of your life, and how Atom and his Package kind of helped introduce you to THG. Building on that, did TMG open you up to any bands or styles of music that you hadn't entertained before?
GS: John Darnielle and the MGs not only have gotten me into more music but crazy pop culture stuff in general. For example, when I was writing the review for Beat The Champ I ended up down this rabbit hole of research into 1970 and 80s regional pro wrestling. I do not follow wrestling or at least I hadn’t since I was a kid, but that was the WWF(WWE) era, but these songs got me interested in the insanity and theatrics that went into the stories of these old school wrestling heroes and villains of Darnielle’s. And now the new album is surrounding the culture of Dungeons and Dragons which I was never into either. I’ll probably be a Dungeon Master within a year after this album gets me into that world.
JS: Haha! Wizards of the Coast will be all like "Why are sales up this quarter?"
GS: Haha yeah
JS: OK, now for the tough ones: If you had to pick one song only off of this album as your hand's down favorite, which would it be, and why?
GS: Well for years I would have said "Best Ever Death Metal Band From Denton," and this is a crowd favorite where everyone can gloriously sing "Hail Satan!" at the end of the song. But in recent years I've gravitated towards "The Mess Inside." It's the most heartbreakingly beautiful song I've ever heard. If you can listen to this and not tear up at least a little, there's something seriously dead inside you. It's about a married couple that's been together for a long long time but has lost their love for each other. They try desperately to harness nostalgia to rekindle their love but ultimately fail.
JS: Stop trying to make me feel the feelz! This last question either elicits a quick firm response, or one that's less and is followed with introspection: Taking the decade out of the requirements, how does this album stand amongst your favorites of all time?
GS: Oh man. Of allllll time it would probably be top ten but definitely top 25. From a pure songwriting standpoint and in perfecting it’s genre (lofi acoustic indie or something), it ranks up against the pillars of their own genres, records like Pet Sounds, Dookie, Rocket to Russia, Revolver, Horses, etc. So in a top albums based on songwriting, top ten. But I’m also a production guys and I pray to the altar of Motown and Phil Spector production (not his murdering). So there it would obviously be ranked lower because it’s just a guitar and boombox, and one song a Casio keyboard. It masters that style because Darnielle even considers the specific tape recorder and instrument. He picked it specifically because the wheels and gears of the machine made noise. He wanted the noise. For that production style it ranks up there with Bee Thousand. But overall I prefer an album like Pet Sounds, Sgt Pepper, or more recently, stuff like the slick Masked Intruder albums and the killer layered indie sounds of Modest Mouse and The Decemberists.
JS: I like that answer. Well, Greg, thanks again for answering my questions and, as mentioned before, getting the whole ball rolling on this long-gestating project!
Punknews Editor Jeff Sorley’s #1 pick:
Stereotyperider - Same Chords, Same Songs, Same Six Strings
Note- Punknews Editor Samantha Barrett stepped in for interviewer duties when it came to my turn to talk about my #1 pick
SB: Hey, Jeff! For the Top 100 of 2000-2009 poll you choose Stereotyperider's 2003 release "Same Chords, Same Songs, Same Six Strings." What made you pick this album as your #1 pick of the decade?
JS: Some time around the late 2000s Suburban Home Records had this big warehouse clearance sale, something like 50 CDs for $100 or something and I figured, even if 10 of those CDs are good, I've recouped the cost, right? So this big box of CDs shows up and most of these bands I hadn't heard of, and I decided to hit the several comps that had been included, as a lot of the albums in the package were by bands on these comps. On one of those comps I heard the Stereotyperider song "Ones for Me," which I really, really dug a lot. It wasn't entirely in my wheelhouse, but it stoked something and I needed to hear more.
So I dug through (my now alphabetized} pile of CDs from the shipment and found three Stereotyperider albums. I then tried them each in chronological order and Same Chords… was the first in that order (it is actually their second album, but the first wasn't in the package).
From the start I was just simply floored. The lead track, "Closest Brother," was so energetic and high tempo. It sounded so fucking good. Front to back I just sat there enthralled by how pumped the music made me. There were a lot of things in there that I love when bands do, and even a few things that are normally off-putting unless it is done right. I think I listened to it, like, eight times in a row just sitting there, which is something I hadn't done since, probably, The Smoking Popes first 7" Inoculator.
SB: Ahh. Those good old mass CD bundles of the 00's. Looking at the entirety of your list. This band did take the #1 spot, #32 spot, #49 spot and #65 spot on your list and have not made it on to anyone else's list. Why do you think that is? Is this band just a hidden gem that no one realized was there?
JS: I'd like to think so, but I can also see how they may not be to everyone's liking. Same Chords… is likely their most accessible album to the punk community in general, aside from their 7-song covers album Under The Influence which, if I recall correctly, was the progenitor of what would later become their label's Under the Influence 7" vinyl series.
It is slickly produced and has a lot of cool stuff going on, but is pretty straight-forward compared to the others. A lot of the things that Stereotyperider would try out on this album would be perfected on their two later albums. Both of which have some fantastic songs, but also some middling songs. For a fan those latter albums are still good, but if you came into the band at Same Chords…, you'd find them a bit different, sometimes a bit more experimental, which doesn't always fly with some people's tastes.
I don't know much about the band themselves- their sensibilities or whether or not they were good guys- as they broke up not long after I discovered them. It seems they wallowed in relative obscurity, only to occasionally pop up to play a reunion show in their home state of Arizona.
SB: Speaking of songs. What is your favorite song off the album? and why?
JS: Ugh… I didn't allow anyone else to cheat on this one, so I guess I gotta keep myself honest. I will say this: sometimes I am in a pop-punk mood, and then I usually go for "Wrong Reasons," which is just such a fast, fun, and catchy song.
But if I had to say hand's down, it is probably "Emerge and See." This song has all of the things that I love when band's do: entire sections of separate guitar parts (something Stereotyperider employs a lot on this album, but really comes into their own with on subsequent releases), phenomenally tight and fast percussion, the two other guys doing unique backing vocals; and a really great musical interlude that starts about halfway through which brings things down for a bit with a bubbly, bouncy bass line. They even pull off one of the things I normally dislike, which is a distorted bass on some of the deeper bass notes. I just love the part before the last chorus when the guitars are going d-d-dina d-d-dina d-d-dina and the bass is interspersing that with a loud growly, distorted note BLURP! d-d-dina BLURP! d-d-dina BLURP!!. It's just so fun and phenomenal. I get a grin on my face every time I play it, even in my head. That's how much enjoyment I get from this song.
SB: The fact that you even needed to say the exact BLURP! d-d-dina BLURP! d-d-dina BLURP!! in an interview sounds like you love it so much. So after all of the feelings and lists. How do you think this album rated as a whole if you took the date requirement off the table? Would it still be your top pick in LIFE?
JS: Yeah… uhhh… So it is really, REALLY hard for me to put down in concrete my top album of all time. I'm not fickle by any means, but my top 10 of all time is pretty damn tight across the board. Trying to pin down that #1 is almost an impossibility because moods will often dictate which one is just 0.0001% more preferable to me than another. I'd definitely put it at top 5, if not top 3.
I will say this with conviction: At any given time I have about 3000 or so tracks playing on shuffle on my iPhone while driving, exercising, etc. I have iTunes set to pull a track off and replace it with another from my library if I listen to it just once or if I skip it (sometimes I’m not in the mood). When I get to the end of my library, I reset the play/skip count and start over. This is one of the only albums which has enjoyed permanent residence on my devices since I got it back in '07-'08. Some other albums get loaded on directly for a week/month/year as my whims have me in the mood for something particular, but this one has always been there, and I never skip a song.
The album just seems to press all my buttons in the right place. It sounds great production-wise and the songs are so musically creative and clever- they really did a great job on composition for the songs individually, but curated them into the right places on the album so that they work so cohesively (especially how noisiest song "Aoina" leads directly into the poppiest and melodic song "Wrong Reasons").
I may not buy into the songs individual themes, but the chorus to "Forget It" is often something I'll sing to myself (often out loud, even in public so… not really to myself sometimes) when I'm feeling a bit down or worried about failing…
♫ I'm positive we're all just energy in a well-oiled machine.
Battery operated, scared of giving up, the fear of being afraid.
But, we're not afraid anymore.
We're not afraid anymore!
(WE'RE NOT AFRAAAAAAID!) ♫
It may seem silly, but that chorus is like a mantra to me now, and it really works.
SB: Well now… Thank you for making a list and sitting here to speak with me about your top record of the Aughts.
JS: We… aughta… do this more often.