This week we'll be following up the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2019 with interviews with each participant, where we discuss their personal #1 picks of the decade. We've reached hump day, and have three great ones for you!
Terry McGinty’s #1 pick: The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past (2012)
Hey Terry! How's it going? For the Top 100 of 2010-2019 you chose The Menziingers 2012 album On The Impossible Past as your #1 album of the decade. Tell us a bit more about why you chose that as the best of the best.
So I thought about this, and I really couldn’t come up with a definitive reason as to why this record is so important to me. It didn’t hit me at a crucial point in my life, the lyrics really don’t have any special meanings, nothing like that. It’s just a record that’s filled with huge, unforgettable moments throughout and has this weird way of evoking your own memories, even if they’re not completely relevant to the context of the song. These are the songs that get the biggest response live too, and that feeds off the added emotion the guys pipe into them when playing. I just feel like it’s been a part of me for so long and never gets stale. It’s been my soundtrack for any and all situations, from long drives to working out to walking through the city, yadda yadda. it’s a just perfect collection of songs that always seem to be “there.”
So, more like it evokes a response based on its overall substance, and not because of the meaning of the lyrics themselves?
Yes and no. I don’t want to discount their lyrics or story-telling, because they are incredible, but maybe to put it in a better way, I can just FEEL where their songwriting comes from here. The substance of the record is built simply on the concept of memories, and in the Scranton-area of Pennsylvania, a place that’s been through so many tough years, memories are very much the substance of everyday life. I know that area, I’m from that area myself, and I know the same emotions that went into the content of these songs. Those emotions that come out in the bridge on “The Obituaries” or even just like the guitars on “Casey,” I don’t know, something just sparks something in me. I know those feelings, and those big sparks throughout the record just get me thinking of my own stories and the places that that got me to wherever I am at that point in time.
Oh golly! I wasn't trying to say "their music rocks but their lyrics are shit" kind of thing! (laughter) Just that sometimes a song can evoke an emotional response that is completely separate from what the musician wrote the song about.
I didn't take it that way at all! The point that I guess I was trying to make, (if you even want to call that rambling “a point,”) (laughter) was that just because of that huge emotional response the record produces for me, that I shouldn’t undermine their lyrics or sound like I was making them secondary.
See Jeff, now you’re evoking an emotional response out of me trying to explain my emotional ties to a punk record. (laughter)
"Hard-hitting journalism" and all that, eh? (laughter) So, going back to what you said, it is more of an experience to behold? Like, a lot of the participants generally take the tack that "this album spoke to me in a trying time" kind of thing but, it seems for you, that this just created an experience that moved you… am I getting that right?
Pretty much. “Experience” is a good word to use here. Front-to-back, it’s one single experience that’ll move you in different ways pending your time and place, but it’s those huge moments throughout that make it a record to also be experienced with others.
If you took the decade requirement out of the mix, where does this album land in your overall list of favorites?
Wow. On the spot here. (Laughter) Off the top of my head, I would have to say top 10-15ish? I don’t think I can think of 10 records at this moment that I can just hit play on and enjoy all the way through. Don’t Turn Away is my all-time favorite record, not even a question. Some that would follow would be Sludgeworth’s Losers of the Year, My Brain Hurts, the Slapstick record. Big twenty plus year gap between those and The Menzingers. (laughter)
Quite a gap! OK: Favorite song off of the album, and why?
Well, this question pretty much goes against everything I wrote about in my blurb for the record, but for sake of our conversation, I guess I’ll say the opening track, “Good Things.” It sets the tone from the get-go, ping-ponging between soft and somber vocals and gritty and gut- wrenching outbursts. It establishes their theme early on, that living in the past might just be the best way, or perhaps only way, to live. And as I so repetitively spoke of the enormous moments on the record that are baked into the songs, “Good Things” gives you that first big shout-out-loud moment at the end, with the “Yeah, yeah, yeahhhhh, like when we would take rides in your American muscle car.” Live, that part is just amazing, one of those moments you can experience with strangers.
Nice. Well, Terry, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your #1 pick of the decade. See you in ten years?
You bet! This was a blast, thanks Jeff!
Julie River’s #1 pick: Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
Hey there, Julie! What's shaking? 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 two people put this album as #1: Chris and yourself (it is the only album to get that). What lead you to choose this as the top pick of the decade?
I feel a little obvious picking this album. I’m a trans woman and I feel like you could talk to any trans punk and ask them their favorite album of the decade and they’re going to pick this one and have a similar story to mine about how this album changed their life. But that’s basically what it comes down to. This is an album that had a huge impact on me and who I became. It changed everything for me. And of course it’s also a brilliantly written album and one of the bravest pieces of art of the whole decade.
So, in a way it is combination of factors not just reliant on the album itself, but also how it affected (or impacted?) you in that stage of your life?
Exactly. I was still early in the process of figuring out who I was and here was an artist that I already knew who was going through the same thing and making a whole album about it. It felt like I was finally being given permission to be who I wanted to be.
It spoke to you, one would say? You also ranked 2016's Shape Shift With Me pretty high, #23. But left off White Crosses altogether.
I’m not sure I made the right decision leaving White Crosses off. At first it was a mistake because I forgot which decade it came out in. Then I rethought it and I was thinking it wasn’t good enough for the top 100, but really I think my judgment was clouded because of how much I hate the song “Bob Dylan Dream” off of White Crosses. I love Bob Dylan, but that song sucks. But really, the rest of the album is amazing and should have been on my list.
As for Shape Shift With Me, I know it’s not their most popular album, but it means a lot to me. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the album about realizing you’re trans, Shape Shift With Me is the album about getting dumped because you’re trans, which is exactly what happened to me as I was starting to come out. My ex-girlfriend knew I was questioning my gender identity when we started dating and said it didn’t matter to her because she was pansexual, but as soon as I got serious about it it was all “I don’t know if I can be with someone who hasn’t decided who they are yet.” And that’s around when Shape Shift came out and I really related to it.
So, in a way, a lot of major life events for you have coincided with these AM! albums… it's almost like LJG is writing a sound track to your life! I kid, but only a little bit. I know for me that, sometimes, the right album comes out at the right point in my life.
But it’s not just that the right album came out at the right time. A completely unprecedented album came out at the right time. Since 2014 there have been some more bands talking about trans issues like G.L.O.S.S., The HIRS Collective, Nervus, The Worriers, but there was nothing before Transgender Dysphoria Blues talking about these issues ina positive light. There was like that one Green Day song off Nimrod about crossdressing, and yeah there have been artists in a few genres that have challenged gender roles, but this was the first album to talk about the trans experience like that. And from an established artist in the scene, no less. So here I am trying to figure out who I am and it’s like literally the first album ever made on the topic just falls out of the sky and lands in my lap.
Good point about the "completely unprecedented" part. I mean, when LJG came out in 2012 my wife and I just kind of looked at each other and were like "good for her" kinda thing. But I didn't expect how much of that experience would translate into the band's next album.
Before I get to the last two questions, is there anything else you'd like to add about the album, or actually anything in relation to it?
What’s weird is that, before the album came out, she released a digital EP called True Trans which was just acoustic versions of two songs from the upcoming album, “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “FuckMyLife666.” I listened to that so many times when I was starting to experiment with who I am. When I would go out dressed in women’s clothes for the first time I would put on “True Trans Soul Rebel” in the car to hype me up. I listened to it so much that it still feels weird to me to hear “True Trans Soul Rebel” with an electric guitar. Not to knock one of the most famous songs off my own number one album, but that song is an acoustic song to me and it always will be. I saw her close her set with Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers with an acoustic version of that song, and I was like “That’s it. That’s what it’s supposed to sound like.”
(laughter) I totally get that. I mean, aside from the obvious personal connection, it's true that sometimes a song is demoed in a certain style and then your hear the album version and you're all like "yeaaaahh… but, this isn't it." Like, the demo is what the artist heard in their own head and recorded that, but then it had to be spruced up for the main release.
OK, if you recall from the last time, I have two final questions. We'll start with the first: Taking the 2010-2019 requirement out of the mix, how does this album stand amongst your ALL-TIME favorite albums?
I think it still ranks second to London Calling. I mean Transgender Dysphoria Blues changed the way the punk world sees and talks about gender and gender identity, but London Calling changed punk itself and ensured that the entire genre was able to grow and evolve and actually survive. I think London Calling shaped the entire music world ever since 1979 and it’s an even bigger accomplishment than what Transgender Dysphoria Blues did for me and so many other people. Without London Calling, Transgender Dysphoria Blues never happens. And Laura Jane Grace would be the first to agree with me on that.
I feel like this is a Jerry Springer moment where I say: "Actually, here's Laura now, let's ask her in person!" (laughter) I can buy that answer. You made a very strong argument for London Calling when we last interviewed for the 2000-2009 list, and I can't expect that answer would change so suddenly in the intervening months.
OK, Julie, brace yourself: Top song on the album, and why?
Definitely the title track. I guess I have a thing for album openers, but that first, title track is amazing. For one thing, it’s got the most relatable lyrics to me. “You want them to notice/The ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you/Like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot…” In the years—and yes there were years—between finding out I was trans and finding the courage to come out, I would put on that song and be reminded of what I was someday find the courage to do. Plus it has that sort of military style marching beat to it that you wouldn’t expect to find in a song about transitioning from male to female, but it kind of works in a weird way to make the song more driving and inspiring.
You can't get much better than that. Julie, thanks for chatting with me about your #1 album of the past decade. I look forward to doing this again in 2030! (laughter)
May I please be writing for a publication that actually pays money by then! (laughter)
Brian Shultz’ #1 pick: Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You (2014)
Hey Brian! How you doing? For the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2020 project, you chose Pianos Become the Teeth's 2014 album Keep You as your #1 pick of the decade. Tell me a bit more about what makes that album top for you.
Sure! I'd been following the band's trajectory for a while at that point, and really enjoyed their early stuff, which was a great modern encapsulation of the "screamo" style as it were. But they started to progress and become even more interesting and it actually amplified the drama of their vibe. It all came to a head on this album. There's something I just really love about what's basically a scrappy punk band exploring their sound and trying something completely different, almost totally eliminating screamed vocals in favor of clean singing and not having it come out like some weird pop thing, but more like a grandiose indie rock band with emo roots.
I'm going to be honest: I've never heard of these guys until the showed up among the Top 100 entries. I'm listening to the album now (which may or may not be the recommended order to be introduced to their music, but oh well), and we'll see where it goes… (laughter) I'm back. Wow, that ISN'T what I expected based on your description (although your description is pretty spot on). I like it…? It's very relaxed with some small bursts of forthright energy. I defo got an indie vibe from it.
oh yeah for sure, and the album is pretty much all about the singer continuing to come to grips with the loss of his father due to MS several years prior and sorting through the memories of him and grappling with the aftermath, so it's pretty deeply emotional.
Hmmm… I'm kinda glad I didn't know that. I prefer to not know what the emotional baggage that comes along with an album is until after I listen to it, in an attempt to judge it on its own merits. But now I'm going to have to give it another go! (laughter) Looking at your list, aside from the split with Touché Amore, which you put at #11, the next Pianos album doesn 't show up until #67. That's the 2015 EP Close. That seems like a pretty big drop. Is it because Pianos is a band you like, but Keep You is just a phenomenal outlier, or is it something else?
Close was actually just B-sides from Keep You. REALLY strong songs, obviously enough to crack a top 100 of the decade, but it's more that they're just really bonus tracks and 'Keep You' is a deliberate and unified album that happened to come out rather superb.
Wow, I am learning more and more about this as we go along. So I get it now, Close being a decent second of B-sides from what is, inarguably, the stellar Keep You. I can see that. I've really taken a shine to this band, and have been listening to their stuff a lot since this whole process started.
That rules! Yeah, the early stuff is pretty different but VERY well-done for their genre.
Oh yeah. But you weren't kidding about it being like a big sea-change for the band. If I had listened to them from early on it would've been a huge shock when Keep You came out. To be honest, I'd imagine it may have alienated at least some of their fans. Or maybe not? I don't know. (laughter)
I actually don't think there was much of a backlash at all. It had been kind of a natural progression, since there's a song on their second full-length with some cleaner vocals and then a song they did on a split with Touché Amore that really started to go that route. Plus they weren't ever really a basement DIY screamo band per se, so I don't think they ever attracted many of those more pretentious and closed-minded fans. The bands they associated most with definitely weren't really screamo bands, or even bands with a unified sound: Make Do and Mend, La Dispute, Defeater, and Ruiner (whose last show they played) were some of their more visibly close peers, and I think that diversity ended up lending itself to growing a fanbase similarly tuned into fairly different punk subgenres.
Now we're coming down the home stretch. I'll finish up with two questions. The first is: disregarding the 2010-2019 requirement, how does this album rank in Brian's all-time list of favorite albums? Still #1? Top 10? Enquiring minds want to know!
Still #1 for sure.
OH WAIT… “All-time,” sorry, I misread the question. It would definitely make the cut in a top 20 I think. Top 10, it probably just misses it.
Nope, you're stick with your first answer! (laughter) OK, name your absolute favorite song off of the album.
Care to elaborate? (laughter)
There's a lot of emotional high-drama on this album, and this track in particular really captures it best.
Good stuff. Well, Brian, thanks for chatting at me about your #1 pick of the decade!