Chris DC’s #1 pick: Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
Hey there, Chris! How you doing? For the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2020 project, you chose Against Me!'s 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues as your #1 pick of the decade. By now the readers know that this album eventually made the #1 spot by a longshot, and also that you were one of two people to put this album as #1 (the only album to get that). What lead you to choose this as the top pick of the decade?
Musically it’s such a solid record from front to back. It’s catchy and fun, and it’s dark and topical. And there isn’t this hard separation of that either; AM! has always had this great knack for making us dance along to the roughness of humanity. But with this album being what it is, that element feels not only more prevalent, but necessary as well. It was a pretty noteworthy event when Laura Jane Grace came out, and with this album serving as a documentation of that, I feel like on the one hand, it was important to convey the difficulties of the situation. But ultimately, it’s a celebration.
That being said, it’s not just the music itself that makes this my top pick. It’s what the album was, and when it was. I feel like the 2010s was the decade when gender identity really started to enter the mainstream conversation. Of course these different identities within the gender spectrum have been around since the beginning of time; they’re natural occurrences. But I think this was the decade when it all came out from under the rug, when we really started to recognize the value of, and hold each other accountable for, identifying others as they identify themselves. It was long overdue. And LJG coming out and making this album really became a landmark. I mean at the time, how many celebrities had come out publicly as transgender? I’m not saying AM! or Tom Gabel were household names, but they definitely had a notable following. Nobody had done this before. And on top of that, it was a punk rocker?? Huge moment.
What you've said seems to be a typical response: how it isn't just the album itself, but also the scenario that surrounded it. Everyone makes a point that the music is top-notch, but also feels the need to reinforce just how much of a landmark it was.
Well it was! That’s how you can tell a true classic; when everyone repeats each other when discussing it. Haha. But you know, the landmark status isn’t limited to just the matter of gender identity. At least to me it isn’t. In my humble and usually correct opinion, the 2010s were also when we lost rock and roll. It had been sputtering like a car running out of gas for a while, but by mid decade it honestly felt like it was gone. Now sure, punk had been keeping rock music afloat for quite some time, but at that point in time even some of the stuff that was passing for punk was questionable at best. Then Transgender Dysphoria Blues came along and kicked it all in the pants; because it’s a rock and roll record before anything else. Obviously there’s a good dose of punk, but there’s also a great deal of (what old guys like me used to call) alternative, classic AM album rock, blues. What’s crazy is that if someone were to ask me “did Against Me! save rock and roll?” it honestly doesn’t feel all that far fetched to say Yes.
(laughter) I'm sure a lot of people would agree on that. I would agree about the rock part, but would add by definitely saying that, by this point, AM! had really lost a lot of their punk veneer. The lyrics and subjects are just as intense as before, but the band has definitely evolved to be much more "accessible" music-wise. I like their stuff over the past 10 years or so but, I won't lie, I REALLY miss their older style.
I think it’s fine that the music changed but the mood hasn’t. A band evolving their sound is a natural thing, and is certainly nothing to look down on. It isn’t like they’re unrecognizable. We’re not talking about Sugar Ray or Goo Goo Dolls and the vast cosmos between their first releases and how we know them now. I love AM!’s old stuff too. But I don’t think it’s fair for me to say I “miss” it. It’s still there after all. Just that the new stuff is here as well. Some bands do perfectly fine sticking with the same sound for 30 or 40 years. Look at the Vibrators, or Cock Sparrer. Two of my very favorite bands. For them, evolution just wasn’t in the cards, and that’s fine. For Against Me! it was, and that’s fine too. It’s ok to branch out without calming down, and they’ve done that very well indeed.
Indeed. So, as you probably know, both you and Julie chose this album as their #1 for the decade. However, you both split the other two AM! albums of the decade, with you also including White Crosses (at #47) but not Shape Shift… in your top 100. Can you elaborate on the fairly large gap from #1 and #47, and on why the latter was left off completely?
Oh man, really calling me out with this one! Short answer is, that’s the way the cards fell. I love White Crosses, I do. But there’s a ton of other music from the decade that I love too. I could’ve made the argument for any album in my top ten to be my number one, maybe even beyond ten. In the end of course, TDB was it and I stand by that. That being said, that choice doesn’t necessarily mandate that other AM! albums have to follow right behind, or even appear at all. I’ve noticed other contributors sometimes will take a bunch of albums by the same band and rank them all together in one big chunk. No disrespect to them; it’s their list, they can do what suits them. In doing my part for features like this, I look at each album individually, I’m comparing it directly with what’s above and below, and it just pans out the way it does. I’m comparing each album to all others, not all Against Me! albums together against everything else. Great records are gonna end up in the middle or bottom of the list. An Against Me! album very likely won’t fall directly behind another, not when there’s so many artists and albums to consider. And sometimes a great album, like Shape Shift, is gonna fall off the list altogether. For me, and I don’t know if it’s because I had more time with it, or simply because it’s just better, Crosses holds steadier in the grand scheme than Shape Shift.
The latter to me felt like Trainspotting 2. Nobody expected it to be as good as its predecessor, but it’s a great sort of accompaniment to it, and once in a while even has moments that, I dare say, outshine it! But all told, it just slid down the list until it was gone. Crosses on the other hand, has more of its own legs. It’s more that classic, edgier AM! sound you were referring too. For me it stands up on its own much better than Shape Shift did. It’s such a great sounding record; I love the production on it, and honestly if that was the lone factor I was considering it probably would’ve ranked much higher.
That's a pretty awful answer! (laughter) So we've come down to the end and I only have two more questions for you. The first is: taking the 2010-2019 time frame requirement out of the picture, where does this album stand in the list of your favorite albums of ALL-TIME? Does it still rank #1, top 10?
Man I hate this question. It’s so hard to gauge. My best estimation would be somewhere in the top half, likely in the 40s; no lower (or is it higher?) than 50. It really is a fantastic album that will stand the test of time. That said, see my last response regarding the many other albums that deserve their due!
I'm picking up what you're putting down. OK, here's the doozy: I you had pick ONE song off of the album as your absolute favorite, which would it be, and why?
Believe it or not, this is an easy one. “Paralytic States”. I love the storyline and the grit and the questioning of it all. It’s just this seedy, unapologetic confessional that I think really hits home for a lot of people. I’ll plead the 5th though haha.
But there’s more than that. A couple years ago I was thinking about this, pondering why “Paralytic States” seems to be my standout track on the album, by however small of a margin that may be. And then it hit me. It’s because I’ve heard this song before. I’ve been listening to it for decades, hundreds and hundreds of times. “Paralytic States” isn’t just itself. It’s “Runnin’ On Empty” and it’s “Hollywood Nights” and “End of the Innocence” and “American Girl” and all of these gruesome, hopeful stories that got pulled straight from the sweat stains on a Greyhound bus seat; the one that you look at and wonder when whoever left it got to their destination, and if they’re better off now for having taken that trip.
I love songs like that. I love being a fly on the wall in a shitty motel room. Smelling that sweat. The loneliness and the hope and the fear, I’ve felt all of it a thousand times and I love being brought back to it.
Wow. I think it is best we leave it at that. If I try to say or ask anything more I'm going to ruin that sentiment. Chris, thanks for chatting with me about your #1 pick for the 2010-2019 decade!
You’re quite welcome Jeff, always a pleasure!
Johnathon1069’s #1 pick: The Lawrence Arms - Metropole (2014)
Hey there, Johnathon! It seems like just last year that we went through this for the 2000-2009 Top 100 (laughter)! For the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2020 project, you chose The Lawrence Arms's 2014 album Metropole as your #1 pick of the decade. Now, you had quite an eclectic mix for your top 10, but when made you land on this as the #1?
I think it became my number one in the years following it's release. The themes of realizing you’re not that young anymore and the sting of your teenage years/early twenties definitely mirrored my life from 2014 onwards.
So… you get it because you're getting old? (laughter)
Sort of, maybe mature is word I should use. There was just very much this sense of finally being able to be honest with yourself in the lyrics on Metropole. (laughter)
There’s definitely more self-reflection on the album, along with a strong sense of "I spent a large portion of my life doing something and now I don't know if I have anything to show for it." That's a better way of saying it actually.
I can see that. I'll be honest here, though: despite the relevance of the lyrics (the guys are just a bit younger than me), I felt like there was something missing on the album. It didn't seem complete to me… Although I am fully conscious of the fact that it followed up Oh, Calcutta! which will likely remain TLA's masterpiece, so I may have come in with expectations too high…?
I think, musically, the album was a bit of a shift for them. I think Brendan's acoustic work might have caused that. But, the lyrics are definitely what kept me revisiting that album the most of albums released in the past decade.
I agree. For me it may also be because the album seems to me to be too slickly produced. I think the urgency of the lyrics and music would've been better served with a more "in your face" sound. What do I know, though… I'm part deaf! (laughter)
Now that I think about it, it was really a lot cleaner production wise. Now I'm wondering if that's because Matt Allison or The Lawrence Arms had more input production wise.
That's actually a good question, and also reminds me that Matt and TLA have basically been hand-in-hand from the beginning. I totally forgot about that. Long-running collaborations like that are definitely something you don't see much anymore in most music genres. I can't recall seeing if Matt is doing the new TLA album either… give me a sec to see if Brendan will tell me.
(I message Brendan via FB)
OK, yep. Matt Allison is doing the new one, too.
Nice, he really captures their sound well.
Kind of like the fourth member of the band.
He's their George Martin
For a sec there I thought you said George RR Martin and I was like "is that why it keeps taking longer and longer between album releases?!? (laughter)
I actually made that observation in one of the blurbs I wrote up, about how some bands just keep producing mediocre albums while others bide their time. If TLA is releasing this year, that’ll be six years between the new album and Metropole.
Which, I think is a solid amount of time between albums. There haven't been many musicians who can release an album every year and have them be classics. The only ones who come to mind, immediately, are Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and The Clash.
True, but I still wish the creative juices flowed a wee bit faster. Like, four years instead of six. (laughter)
Agreed, though I'll take six years over bands who repackage the same greatest hits album every two years.
Totally. Then we'll come down into the home stretch, and start with this: taking the decade out of the equation, how does Metropole stack against your favorite albums of all time? I don't think it's in the all time top 10, definitely Top 50 though. < b>
That's a pretty broad range. I think I know the answer to this, but why do you think it drops so much?
I think it's mostly because my tastes have grown a lot in past decade. I wasn't into nearly as much jazz, funk, hip-hop, and other genres ten years ago.
OK, here's the final question: favorite song on the album, and why?
I actually touched on this in my blurb, I'm glad I can expand on it a bit. It's the title track, when my mom got sick in 2016 the lyrics, "Mother I don't even care, I thought I tried I'm so sorry I never call and I never write. The traffic light blinked a million times I blinked twice and twenty years went by" really spoke to me. Not in the sense my mother and I didn't have a good relationship, but just in the sense you feel like you could have done more or something better in situations like that.
Oh yeah, totally. Those lyrics hit me pretty hard, as well. My mom passed in 2008 and there are so many times when I have those same thoughts.
It will be interesting to see if the last six years will have them being less introspective on this next album.
Johnathon, thanks for speaking with me about your #1 album of the past decade!
No problem, thank you.
Em Moore’s # pick: PUP - self-titled (2013)
Hey there, Em! Hope all is going well. For the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2020 project, you chose PUP's 2013 self-titled album as your #1 pick of the decade. What was it that lead you to pick that over all else?
Hey Jeff! Thank you. I hope all is going well with you too. I picked PUP's self-titled album because I felt a connection to every song and played it almost every day. Before listening to this album, I listened to a lot of older punk bands who weren't around anymore and I felt that the scene didn't really exist for me. PUP made me realize that there was something relatively close by (I live in a small town outside of Toronto) that I could become involved in. Pup opened my eyes and ears to new bands that I never would have come across on my own. In addition to all of that it's an album that I never get tired of and can still listen to over and over again. That is why Pup's self-titled album got my top spot.
I didn't really know much about PUP until the drummer of a (now defunct) UK band introduced them to me when I was living over there. This was something like '16 or so. I know he was, like, REALLY enthusiastic about the band. So I thought to myself "I trust him, let's give the band a go."
That's a good way to find out about them! I find that people who like the band get really excited about them and you always learn something new talking to them What did you think of Pup when you checked them out?
They suck! Just kidding! (laughter) No, I liked it. The Dream is Over had just come out, but I went back and listened to the s/t album first. I think that may be my favorite overall, although The Dream… and Morbid Stuff have some great songs, I think the first one works great because there is a sense of urgency and unrefinement that makes it quirky.
I agree! There's so much energy to the self-titled album The first show I was in the pit for was right after they released The Dream is Over at the Phoenix in Toronto. They played "Reservoir" from the first album as one of the last songs and everyone went completely crazy. I was near the front at the start of the song and ended up at the back by the first chorus. It was amazing, if you ever get a chance to see them go for it!
Looking at your rankings, you've got all three PUP albums in the top 25, with The Dream is Over at #4, but then a big drop to Morbid Stuff at #21. What do you think explains that?
Well I really like PUP's music and I wanted to make some room for other bands that I like to shine. I enjoyed Morbid Stuff but I've listened to their self-titled album and The Dream is Over more at this point.
So, if we got back to you, say, in about 5 years or so Morbid… may have had a longer time to percolate in your brain?
I think that's fair to say. There would have been more time for the songs to have more personal meaning to me than they do right now. When I think of certain songs from PUP they are connected to so much in my life like what was going on when I first heard then vs what's going on now and how the meaning of the songs change based on those events.
True. Our appreciation of the music of our lives evolves as we grow and gain new experiences.
Will my #1 still be pretty high on my overall list in, say, 10 or 20 years? Who knows?
So, we've come to the first of two final questions that I ask everyone: What is your favorite song on the album, and why?
My favourite song on the album would have to be "Yukon". The imagery of the snow and the change in moods throughout the song gave me chills the first time I heard it and still does. "Yukon" always makes me feel that if something bad is going on, it will pass and I will come out the other side better and stronger.
Oooo… that one's a powerful slow burn, it is! OK, so the last question: how does PUP's self-titled album rank in Em's all-time favorite albums? Still as high? At the top?
Hmm PUP's self-titled album is in my top five favourite albums of all-time. It ranks number three just after Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables.
Awesome. Well, Em, I think that's about it unless you have anything else you'd like to add? Okay great! I don't think I have anything else to add right now. Thanks for the interview Jeff! Thank YOU for talking with me!