Albums of the decade
Albums of the decade
I’ve been taking a sort of hiatus from music journalism since I moved back to my hometown of Miami in 2017, but I’ve never really talked about why unless I’ve talked to you in person and even then, only a few people know specifics. I’m ready to stop being as vague as I always am to strangers or acquaintances, since what happened is the reason behind my hopefully forthcoming blog about my albums of the decade.
Our story starts in the first half of 2016 and I’d never had such luck in anything I’d pursued as I did with music journalism. I was getting approved not only for Warped Tours locally, but even for out of state, found myself invited to that one and only press conference they did in Orlando and got invited on a short tour because of that press conference. I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be, fulfilling my life’s purpose, and I’d been out of Miami for almost a year to boot! I’d even found, or thought I’d found, a friend to help with this site, as it was getting overwhelming doing the photos and writing and keeping a regular job and going to school for a second degree. I even brought her with me while I interviewed one of her favorite artists, Matt Tuck from Bullet From My Valentine.
But because nothing that good can last apparently, the first domino fell. I’ll never forget it: me and this friend (“friend” as I later discovered) were on the way to that out-of-state interview with Matt Tuck and others at the Cincinnati date of the 2016 Warped Tour, as in literally driving through West Virginia’s treacherously narrow highways, the sun was setting, and it was my turn to relax so I was checking my e-mail. During the week or so I was on tour, I’d gotten an e-mail that Examiner, the site I got all my credentials through and was big enough to get publicists to give a shit and had written for for six years at that point, was closing down because of merger with AXS, the concert promoter, and I’d had 10 days to get all six years off the site. If that sounds impossible, it’s because it was. I would have been more worried if I didn’t finally start writing for AXS at the beginning of the year after applying three times. They were the publication I had credentials through after all.
Flash back to the car in West Virginia where I was checking my e-mail. I had an e-mail from AXS and immediately my anxiety spiked thinking something was wrong, but I never know when to trust that since my brain jumps to the worst possibility as soon as it’s presented. I opened it and my worst instinct was right and actually worse than I thought: AXS was letting me go not a month after Examiner had shut down.
Not only was I going to have nowhere to post any of my scheduled interviews now, but I’d suspected (and didn’t want to believe) what felt like 100thmedication my psychiatrist had given me for what they believed to only be depression (and barely listened to me about the anxiety disorder I’d been diagnosed with three years before AND been confirmed by their intake psychiatrist. Yeah. They were awful. Shout out to being in the medical profession, supposedly to help people, and being terrible at/apathetic about your job) was only making me more depressed and suicidal, you know, big neon signs flashing ‘WARNING, WARNING. GET OFF THIS TRAIN. NOW.’ but I hadn’t had time to go and was hesitant to go to those same psychiatrists. My worst fears were confirmed when a baseball bat with depression scrawled all over it pounded me in the stomach the longer this e-mail and its contents sat with me.
My “friend” was also struggling but refused to admit it was hurting her and only believed in self-medication so I didn’t feel like I could talk to her, which made everything worse. I had to pretend to be OK and I was months and months out of practice, plus I hate and hated doing that. Not like I knew how to talk about it anyway.
The second, third, and fourth dominoes are practically intertwined. I lived in The Marquee (a.k.a. The Sterling, as it still said on the trash chutes when I lived there), a shady, trash building that masquerades as a good, safe, clean building that is considerate to students. In truth, it is the opposite of all those things (they only clean when it’s parent visit time, the security gates for the parking garages were almost always broken and took forever to fix, half the key fob things that opened the doors to the apartments were broken, etc.) and that was the first time silly, naïve me who was trying to help my roommate (The Marquee was refusing to let her see the sub lessee list, wouldn’t let her bring in anyone else, and wouldn’t let her out of her lease otherwise, which would mean she would be paying double rent when she moved out-of-state where she still is to my knowledge) and believed that the complex would take our complaint seriously instead of threatening to evict us if we didn’t clear out in a week, which, by the way, is illegal but I didn’t know that at the time.
Other things I didn’t know: lawyers don’t want to help tenants and Legal Aid will only help if you’re still in the apartment. I could write an entire essay on how this “help” when you’re in an emergency is set up to not even consider you, but that’s not what this post is about. Before I knew all this, I didn’t see any other option but to move. The only thing I did know was that evictions stay on your credit report and that couldn’t happen.
Do you know how hard it is to find an apartment by UCF (University of Central Florida) in August? ‘Cause I found out real quick and thought a miracle had happened when this application I’d filled out all but said I’d been approved and something about a tour. However, when I got there to move in and after I’d turned in my key fob/keys to The Marquee, they told me I needed a cosigner… which I knew my parents would never do.
Another friend, let’s call her Jane, tried to be my cosigner but she wasn’t approved either. I walked back to the car, panic setting in as I realized I was homeless and not knowing what to do about it considering the difficulty I’d already had finding a place on my budget. I slid behind the wheel and had the first of many breakdowns in my car.
Jane, probably taking pity on me, said I could stay with her and her husband and another couple I thought I’d been friends with since sophomore year of college, which had been nearly 10 years ago at that point. Saying ‘I thought’ will make more sense later. She didn’t actually check with her husband or the other two and it made things very tense and he and the other two were constantly asking how the apartment hunting was coming. Apartment/room hunting is hard enough already on a limited budget but when you have someone breathing down your neck for you to get the fuck out, you get pretty desperate.
I found a cheap room in a house with a younger mom who seemed nice, though she didn’t mention she had a live-in boyfriend on the site I found her on, but he also seemed nice so it didn’t bother me much. I went and basically begged my college for money, which they had for occasions like this but only once then it was exhausted. I ended up wasting that money on the couple above as I only stayed with them a hair-raising month and discovered that the boyfriend was probably physically abusing the mom and definitely emotionally abusing her little boy (I called DCF as soon as I was out of there). Not only was the emotional abuse especially triggering for me but the mom’s blood curdling scream from behind closed doors along with the crash of something big falling to the floor echoing in my ears days after the fact told me I needed to run, not walk from this place, never mind if that meant putting myself back in the same place I’d just been in a month before.
Even though this was for safety purposes, I have to say, desperation does ugly things to people. I sat in my favorite plaza with all my worldly possessions the next week, knowing I’d done the right thing, but not knowing what to do at that point. I ended up messaging Jane and asked if I could stay with them again and she said she’d ask. Meanwhile, me and my trust issues not trusting that answer, looked up hotels and extended stays and found some so I had a back up… just in case.
What was supposed to only be a weekend turned into two weeks and they begrudgingly (probably due to Jane’s nudging) let me come back, but not without rules (I won’t go into them here. I’m honestly surprised I’ve been able to write this much).
Long story short, I was literally sleeping on their couch with nothing included (more just, ‘hey can I use… x, y, z?’) and had a huge change in finances: before I moved back with them, I was all but promised a second interview for a nice salaried writing position but then they went with someone with more agency experience at the last minute so I had to scramble for a job and went back to a miserable, minimum wage existence at Dunkin’ Donuts so I didn’t have money like I thought I would. I was honest with the husband, let’s call him Dick, about this but he, along with two others (all four of them worked full-time to my part time) insisted I pay their $400 electric bill and if I didn’t, he said: “I’m not kicking you out, but you need to find somewhere else to live.”
I barely had enough money to pay my own bills, let alone someone else’s and they all knew this. Between that and Jane not standing up for me/telling her husband off/being more vocal on my part, it added a layer of anger/indignance to the betrayal this was. I’d really thought these people were my best friends and would do anything for me. How stupid of me. How could I possibly think that? But then I took my indignation and told myself I didn’t need to be where I wasn’t wanted, even if it meant staying in a shelter.
Surprisingly, to me at least, all the shelters were full or had requirements I couldn’t fill. I finally found a temporary housing place that was more sober living house, but I called up the owner and asked if it was OK if I was just homeless. She said it was and that’s where I stayed the last 3-4 months I was in Orlando. I don’t want to go into that too much, other than the owner showed me more kindness in 10 minutes (painting the side of the room I’d have, bringing a whole ass bed and covers for me) than my supposed best friends of 10 years had in months, even if that bed she brought in did end up having bed bugs.
I was also in the worst depressive episode (not that I knew that’s what it was at the time) I’ve ever been in to this day. At one point, I couldn’t even bring myself to get up and go to class, even with the professor e-mailing me and saying he’d drop me if I didn’t go. I e-mailed back saying I’d be there next class and I’d have every intention of going but my brain had other plans. Either I’d lose track of time or I literally could not make myself get out of bed. Then I got fired from Dunkin’ because I’d had a breakdown in front of this asshole regular, not that that’s what they said and documented that they fired me for.
After not hearing anything back for a month job wise, maybe less, with my roommate moving out and this creep coming back to the house and my mental health further deteriorating, I felt well and truly alone, everything felt pointless, and my parents seemed to have changed so I finally gave in and moved back with them in Miami, where at least I wouldn’t have to worry about being homeless and maybe, just maybe, they could help me get back on my feet financially.
Job wise, I actually ended up running as far away as I could from music, getting a job as an after care teacher since I’d done some tutoring before moving. It wasn’t until I got an offer to review Neck Deep’s “The Peace and the Panic” that July that I felt myself being sucked back in and even then, that took months and literally a hurricane knocking out power to the house plus all of my faculties to write because I hadn’t dealt with all the other stuff that had attached itself to music in my mind.
I finally met the right psychiatrist and therapist at the beginning of 2018, when I had to admit to myself that with depression crushing me with its hefty weight again, it might be worth trying medication and therapy one last time.
My current psychiatrist is the one who, after five years and God knows how many therapists/psychiatrists/breaks in treatment ‘cause I was so fucking tired, finally diagnosed me correctly as bipolar II with anxiety and got me on the stabilizing medication I’m currently on. Even with my team’s help processing 2016, I still found myself only able to write two more articles over the year because I loved the festival and I was getting paid for once. And yeah, yeah, progress I know, but adjusting to life without hypomania (being like the goddamn Energizer bunny for a few hours and then crashing, which was actually how I’d gotten a lot of my articles done in the past, not to mention school projects) was WEIRD and I didn’t know what to do with it, never mind how my long time “friends” (read: drinking buddies that I didn’t know were drinking buddies) reacted to the fact that I couldn’t drink anymore. Like at all. Ever. Because it interacts with the medications.
Regarding music and music journalism, I’ve been like a child standing at the river’s edge who is simultaneously afraid of the water and also goes to dip a toe in, finds it too cold and scary and runs the hell away. That’s called avoidance, not just fear, according to my therapist, and something I am entirely too good at because of the way I grew up. I thought I’d broken myself of this habit but apparently not. It’s not like the ideas for articles or the desire to interview artists/review things ever went away, I just ignored all of them and focused on my fiction writing and listening to music just for fun. I needed to feel/remember why I loved it in the first place.
So, unsurprisingly, a lot of my picks for the decade have to do with mental health, some of which came out before I realized there was a PROBLEM, and meant a lot to me at varying times in my mental health journey and were sometimes the only thing that helped me keep going. The lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation all stuck out in my mind the first time I heard them and formed an emotional connection that kept me coming back. I’m sure I’m the not the only one who found something in the following picks:
1) Nothing Personal by All Time Low (2009)
Photo credit: Impericon
This’ll come as a surprise to anyone who’s only met me in the last six years, but I used to hate All Time Low. Like, gritted my teeth and rolled my eyes any time “Dear Maria Count Me In” came on MTV (back when they still played videos during daylight hours), and begrudgingly admitting to myself that “Coffee Shop Soundtrack” was a good song when I heard it on Take Action! Plea For Peace Vol. 6 hated them.
It wasn’t til a good friend of mine dragged, and I do mean dragged, me to see them at the 2008 Warped Tour. I was blown away by their live performance and was subsequently confused as hell. My friend also played all of “So Wrong It’s Right” and a couple other songs from them on the hour-long car ride home and the rest, as they say, is history.
It definitely made me more open minded when “Nothing Personal” came out a year later. It ended up being the first All Time Low record I bought based off how obsessed I was with “Weightless”, “Nothing Personal”’s lead single, and the song’s music video (which, let’s be real, any song that had both my teenage celebrity crush, Pete Wentz, in it and one of the singers from the band that got me into pop punk, Mark Hoppus, was guaranteed to hit in all the right places). I was all ready to disown All Time Low again when I realized half the record was about partying and being a heartbreaker, but then I heard “Lost in Stereo” and “Therapy”.
I grew up with the fear that people would think I was “crazy” if I went to therapy and because of a combination of that, an abusive existence that didn’t taper off until my late 20s, shitty breakups and people, and depressive episodes that I didn’t know at the time were depressive episodes, hearing lead singer Alex Gaskarth croon “ ”made me feel like someone understood me and what I was going through when I didn’t have anyone or any idea what was going on with me, just that I was a combination of angry and sad pretty much all the time (I’d later realize this was because I bottled everything up and, well, trauma).
Then, when I finally did figure out something was “wrong” with my brain, I went through countless terrible therapists, one of whom memorably said I wasn’t mentally ill and I was just situationally depressed and didn’t need medication because it was the devil, and there was plenty of me angrily blasting “Therapy” through my car speakers after. It’s still a song I reach for like my favorite comfort food whenever I’m sad or annoyed or frustrated or even just want to remember an awesome live performance.
“Lost in Stereo” describes Gaskarth admiring a woman who “works for the weekend” and gets so lost in the music she doesn’t even pay attention to him and also seems to have an acerbic tongue/free spirit and when 21-year-old me who was at a local show every weekend if I wasn’t at national touring concert heard this, I was like ‘holy shit, this man just described me.’ This was where it all started for me as a fan.
I went to their shows just for this album after that and after hearing other songs like “Jasey Rae” and “Remembering Sunday” and “Shameless” and how the crowd always yelled back the lyrics, especially to “Jasey Rae”, I started delving more into the fandom, which has since given me some of my greatest friendships and an admiration for Gaskarth’s growth in lyric writing and Rian Dawson’s drumming.
2) Masterpiece Theatre by Marianas Trench (2010)
Photo credit: Genius
This album was the one that, although it was their second release, was largely the U.S. introduction to Canadian pop dynamo Marianas Trench. Their jaw dropping musicianship, goofy personalities, fascinating concept albums and well, having a lead singer who not only produces but also wrote arguably one of the biggest hits of the decade in “Call Me Maybe” while also referencing the song in a parody of pop music writing in “POP 101 (barely feat. Anami Vice)” are what have kept people coming back to this band again and again, myself included.
What makes this album so special is that it was the introduction of the a cappella/harmonizing mixing of all songs, heartbreaking lyrics about breakups, cheeky commentary about “celebrity status”, and other struggles that would become the structure of a lot of their future releases.
“Celebrity Status” is one such cheeky commentary: “It never stops, stops, never stops, well, you better/think it over, prima donna, you don't want to sever/All the work to impress, charming girls out of their dresses/smiling pretty, well, pretty will swallow you forever/step one, step two, step three, repeat/and I pray at the church of asses in the seats I disappear behind the beat/Yeah…”
“Perfect” is another that still rings true today, if not more so: “What you [the fans] want, what you need has been killing me/try to be everything that you want me to be/I'll say yes, I'll undress, I've done more for less/and I will change everything 'til it's perfect again/If the point's to never disappoint you/somebody's got to tell me what to do…”
It doesn’t hurt that lead singer Josh Ramsey can hit pretty much any note given to him and maybe this is just me being a nerd, but I wanted to acknowledge how he whole-heartedly rejects the role model thing because he genuinely doesn’t see himself that way. He’s been frank about his struggles with heroin addiction, bulimia and getting kicked out of high school because of it in their first album, “Fix Me”, in “Masterpiece Theatre” songs “Sing Sing” and “Fix Me” and in later release “Here’s To The Zeros”. If anything, he tweets not to be like him, even if it did work out for him in the end.
“Cross My Heart” is the first song I heard from Marianas Trench and aspiring A&R person Hali knew she had something special on her hands. It’s a poppy, upbeat song about Ramsey’s promises to one particular woman to be with him. With lyrics like “And I do want to show you/I will run to you, to you till I/can't stand on my own anymore/I cross my heart and hope to die" and the funny and sweet music video, it’s hard not to be sold on the band.
“All To Myself” is the ultimate pining song (with a sprinkling of self-loathing) and, since I was in my early 20s when this came out and most of my “relationships” were basically pining on my part, I glommed onto it like ants on honey.
Guitarist Matt Webb, drummer Ian Casselman, and bassist Mike Ayley can consistently replicate all the cappella things on the album live as well and it speaks to their longevity.
3) Collide With The Sky by Pierce the Veil (2012)
Photo credit: Deezer
This is one of those albums that, no matter how often I listen or how often between listens, it always feels like the first time I listened to it and marveled at the downright poetic lyrics followed by tightly planned instrumentation that makes you FEEL said lyrics.
Pierce the Veil is another band who blew me away with their live show at a time when I didn’t listen to music with a lot of screaming in it. It also helped that All Time Low had brought them on this tour as, by this time, they were one of my top five favorites.
This album was the one I bought after the show and immediately fell in love with on the two/three hour drive back home. “May These Noises Startle You In Your Sleep Tonight” builds up to and segues into “Hell Above” so perfectly that it makes no sense to ever listen to them separately. Make no mistake though, it deals with some heavy topics, which was another reason I liked it.
“Hell Above” is one of those songs that deals with a heavy topic. Lead singer Vic Fuentes has said: “I wrote this song for all of our fans who feel like they don’t have a home or a place that they fit in.” and boy, was it that for me with my family issues. The song is also incredibly poetic and it just adds an extra nice touch: “Cannot spend another night in this home/I close my eyes and take a breath real slow/The consequence is if I leave I'm alone/But what's the difference when you beg for love?/'Cause I run through glass in the street/kerosene hearts carry the name that my father gave me…”
Another is “Tangled in the Great Escape” with Jason Butler formerly of letlive and currently frontman of Fever333 on guest vocals. The song is a heartrending tale of, according to Fuentes, “…one of my best friends who got hooked on some pretty serious drugs. It got to the point where I was so scared that if he didn’t get cleaned up soon, I knew he was going to die.”
Fuentes and Butler hit it out of the park on the emotion front vocally, which lyrics like “They all accept the lie/so bury what you are outside/brother, promise you won't leave me/I know you're tortured within/Your eyes look hungry again/but I'll never wander, my friend…” need.
More poetic lyrics combine with punch-you-in-the-face instrumentals on “Stained Glass Eyes and Colorful Tears. From the opening line of “I changed your mind and ended up here/through stained glass eyes and colorful tears…” to the beginning of verse two: I cherish my American girl/she holds them down while I destroy the world…”
It’s always such a treat to go back to, as is the whole album.
4) Lift A Sail by Yellowcard (2014)
Photo credit: Discogs
This is an unfairly underrated album by an equally
underrated band (don’t come for me about this, most
people I’ve talked to and seen on social media have only ever listened to “Ocean Avenue” and that’s it and that’s frustrating to me) and I, myself, who claimed Yellowcard as one of my favorite bands didn’t listen to it until I heard the title track at their farewell show in Orlando at the end of 2016.
I was homeless at that point and bounced from an extended stay to a “friend”’s place, to, finally, some temporary housing. I’d lucked into VIP tickets back when I was in the extended stay since a friend couldn’t go. I swear, the only thing that’s kept me alive this long is my own goddamn stubbornness and determination that I’m not going to let my own mind beat me. But I got so exhausted and done with fighting over the last half of 2016, especially with where I ended up, that I got scared of my brain and the thoughts running through it and how they influenced my actions, or lack thereof. I’d experienced more suicidal urges (I’m passively suicidal rather than active) than I’d ever had before and I was in the most dangerous place I could be in in that spot --- well and truly alone.
The kicker was I was seeing a psychiatrist at the time but not only did they (I went to a hospital and it was different each time if I went at a different time) not listen properly or, you know, care to figure out that maybe this cloud of symptoms is bipolar disorder and not just generalized anxiety disorder, depression, panic disorder and OCD. Also no medications worked correctly for me ‘cause of that and ‘cause my body didn’t react well to a lot of the medications but I could write a whole separate essay just on that.
Anyway. When I first heard Ryan Key sing the words: “If a cold wind starts to rise/I am ready now/with the last sail lifted high/I am ready now…” actual tears streamed down my face and, if not for years of practice of not doing so, I would have broken down right there. Although not the ideal situation, I’d chosen to leave where I wasn’t wanted and would have been taken advantage of monetarily even and I felt that spark of determination and stubbornness long buried inside flicker to life again and I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for anything in my life.
It’s continued to be relevant now that I’ve been back home with lines like “…all the wreckage I left behind/I burned the Earth beneath my weary weakened feet/feel my heart stop and lift my eyes…”
A lot of the album is about Ryan Key and his wife’s struggle once she got seriously injured and lyrically it’s a masterpiece. The music from violinist Sean Mackin, guitarist Ryan Mendez and bassist Josh Portman will make you FEEL, which is important when you’re considering any album, let alone album of the decade.
5) Issues self-titled (2014)
Photo credit: Music Mayhem Magazine
When I first heard this album, I was still struggling with the realization that not only had I come from a mostly emotionally abusive household but also that I was mentally ill and probably always had been. I didn’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act subsidies, though, because I made too little money (explain that one. That’s Florida for ya.) and, since I was 27 at the time, I was already off my parents’ insurance, not that I ever used it before because, however irrational it was, I didn’t want them to see anything therapy related on their insurance (I did not know how insurance worked at the time, but it wouldn’t have been above them to snoop. I was mostly afraid of them hearing by accident or something and having another thing to throw in my face).
The first song to make an impression on me after seeing them live on May 4th, 2013, (or May the 4thBe With You to Star Wars Fans, which Scout, their touring DJ at the time, was. He made an impression by wearing a Darth Vader helmet and I knew from that moment I needed to know who this band was) was the now eponymous “Never Lose Your Flames” and with lyrics like “Riddle me this, I gotta figure it out/are they laughing at me because I'm prone to fear and doubt?/am I messed up, am I loud?/well, eat my dust, that's all I am, a speck out in the crowd”
And the powerful chorus: “If you got the keys, then start the car and (Go!)/drive as far as you can/if you got the blood, then you got the heart to (Hey!)/give yourself a chance/seems like we've been so scarred/some people call it art/I hope you make peace with your pain/and never lose your flames” it became one of the most repeated songs on the album.
It’s still an album I reach for like a well-worn hoodie or comfortable blanket for songs like “Mad At Myself”, “Langdon House”, “Late”, “Stingray Affliction” and “Disappear (Remember When)” (when I’m sad).
6) Not Tonight Josephine self-titled (2015)
Lead singer Danny Garry spends much of the album talking about toxic relationships, whether with family or otherwise, and as the emotional abuse in my house was at its peak when this came out, it helped me feel not so insane, which is was and still is amazing. They seem to have broken up shortly after this EP came out (there’s no official statement but most of the band has literally disappeared), but the fire that comes from the vocals and instrumentation is something not to be missed and what’s kept me coming back to this EP.
7) Blurryface by twenty one pilots (2015)
Photo credit: Amazon
If me saying it isn’t enough, Spotify confirms it. Twenty one pilots is my artist of the decade and this album was my top album of 2015. It’s still a favorite.
From the first time I heard “Stressed Out” and delved further into the band’s mythos to figure out who “Blurryface” was and why singer Tyler Joseph not only painted parts of his body black but also had a backing vocal saying “my name is Blurryface and I care what you think” right after “I was told, when I get older, all my fears would shrink/But now I'm insecure, an' I care what people think”, I was in. There’s another line that hit my broke ass that didn’t feel like anyone (read: my parents) believed in me too: “Used to dream of outer space, but now they're laughin' at our face/sayin', ‘Wake up, you need to make money!’ yeah”.
Twenty one pilots were admittedly, a band I’d seen on the APMAs doing “Car Radio”, off 2013’s “Vessel”, in ski masks and climbing on stuff and I just didn’t get it. They were too weird for me at the time, I guess (“Car Radio” is now one of my favorite songs, ironically).
I hadn’t heard anything like this combination of sounds… ever. Not even in Issues’ genre bending music. Lead singer Tyler Joseph has called his and drummer Josh Dun’s music “ukulele screamo” and, in lead “Blurryface” track “Heavydirtysoul”, says “this is not rap, this is not hip-hop, just another attempt to make the voices stop.”
It works well for them, especially in the one line chorus “Heavydirtysoul”: “can you save my heavy dirty soul, for me?” The emotion Joseph puts into this repeated line is what really sells the song.
Twenty one pilots has become known for their lyrics about mental health, even their fans’ mental health (“Guns For Hands”, off “Vessel”) and making sure that depression/suicide don’t get glorified (“Neon Gravestones”, off 2018’s “Trench”).
8) Haven’t Been Myself by Too Close To Touch (2016)
Photo credit: Prelude Press
This is another one that equalized the darkest moments of 2016 and is still an album I reach for like my favorite comfort food when I’m sad. I’d never heard anyone put the frustration of constant well-meaning and infuriating empty platitudes like “cheer up” or “it’s not even that bad/why can’t you just get over it” in the midst of depression or depressive episodes or, in the case of anxiety/panic attacks, “calm down”, the way lead singer Keaton Pierce does in “Sympathy”: Don’t you dare/tell me I’m gonna make it/’cause I don’t believe a word you say/There's a sickness living inside me/You can spare me all your sympathy. Then there’s the way he words his response to “cheer up”: “I'm sitting waiting on the sun to rise/I know it never will/It comes as no surprise/So won't you stare into my hollow eyes?/They look so hungry now/It comes as no surprise…”
The great writing continues on “Crooked Smile”, about pulling yourself out of a toxic relationship: “Slowly finding the light that you've stolen/finally looking to purge all the poison/leaving while I can stand/when you watch me dig out from under your skin/don't wait up, don't waste your time…” The urgent intro along with Pierce’s vocals instantly pulls you in and makes you want to listen for those lyrics.
“What I Wish I Could Forget” is an emotional wallop of the best kind. From the hard hitting opening lines of “take every memory ingrained in me/erase it from my thoughts so I can sleep” to the anguished “I’d give anything to feel no pain/name your price and take the past away… they say I haven’t been myself/I’ve lost so much that I love/so that can’t help“, the fact that this was one of the few things that could make emotionally numb 2016 me feel anything should be a testament to how powerful it is.
“Inside Voices” is another powerful statement on what it feels like when depression is overwhelming and drowning you: “Silent screams refuse to ring, cause hopelessness can't sing/I used to make a sound that shook the earth beneath me/now, they're not even listening/I used to have a voice/I used to be so sure/I'd dream, they could never silence me…”
Representation of modern relationships in “The Art of Eye Contact” – the deceptively calm, musically at least, song hits an apex not unlike high tide not even a minute in to the 4:30 song and is simultaneously the most relaxing and emotion provoking song on the album. The emotion provoking comes from Pierce’s impassioned delivery of lyrics like: “Stop me from moving/keep me from the fears that know me best/you know what the truth is/you can have whatever soul is left.”
And “I feel it all lately, I wonder if I'm what you need When I hold you in I feel as if there's less of me…”
The last song on the album, “Eiley”, is the most impactful. Written about his three-year-old sister’s death, this song is one of those songs that’s so difficult to listen to you have to be in a really dark or really good place to handle it. Not surprisingly, some of the best and most heartbreaking lyrics can be found in this song, from the chorus: “Take me instead you only loved, I only consume/I’m worthless to the world/you’re innocent and pure/God why didn’t you choose me over her?”
to the anger at God: “Left with this hole, that six feet of dirt can't fill/so why don’t you just look me in the eyes?/say it straight to my face?/what type of man takes a girl from her place?”
to the agonized screamed last pre chorus: “She was mine, mine, you can't deny/three years is too quick to die”.
9) That’s The Spirit by Bring Me the Horizon (2015)
The change in sound on this album upset a lot of people, but those people missed out on a life-changing album. I’ve lived in a deeply Catholic/Christian community for most of my life (even went to Catholic school), but I’ve always felt alienated both by that community and for what I discovered were my decidedly non-Christian/Catholic views.
Because of that, I’ve always found Oli’s angry atheist views (“House of Wolves”, off “Sempiternal”, “Blasphemy” and “What You Need” off “That’s The Spirit”) refreshing, as they resemble things I’ve always thought, even if I consider myself more pagan than atheist now. That’s a small part of this album, though, as most of it deals with Sykes finally getting a correct diagnosis of his own (ADHD) after publicly stating in 2014 that he’d been struggling with ketamine addiction.
Lyrics in songs such as “Avalanche”, “Drown” and “Happy Song” are easily relatable to anyone struggling with depression or knowing something’s not right with you and not knowing what to do with it. They helped me realize I really needed to see a professional as I was relating to these lyrics about deep depression way more than was healthy and I’d hesitate to think about where I’d be if I’d never heard this album.
Between the exceedingly sarcastic cheerleaders chanting “S-P-I-R-I-T, let’s hear it! Let’s go!” and the first lyrics being to “I've/had enough/there's a voice in my head says I'm better off dead/but if I sing along a little fuckin' louder/to a happy song, I'll be alright”, it’s hard to decide what my favorite part of “Happy Song” is, but that’s definitely up for contention. This song is so hilariously sarcastic and ironic and still makes me feel better/understood ‘cause people really think depression can be cured by telling someone to “cheer up!” and saying “why don’t you listen to a happy song?” or the title of the album, “that’s the spirit!” and it’s ridiculous.
“Avalanche” and “Drown” were important songs for me in 2016 for what should be obvious reasons at this point, but I didn’t feel like I could spotlight this album without spotlighting two other songs I had on repeat at that time.
“Oh No” became important to me later, as it’s all about getting tired of the party scene and constant numbing of drinking. It also, hilariously, features a saxophone solo that mimics a typical pop song that would be played in a bar or similar venue (there’s also a constant whoa-oh-oh-oh in the background of the song).
10) Distant Like You Asked by Like Pacific (2016)
Photo credit: Pure Noise
Sometimes you just need an old school break up album to help ease your feels and this is it. Jordan Black’s raw and sometimes brutal/savage lyrics can ease any broken heart (“There's nothing to erase, I'm sorry about how I feel” from “Richmond and “your intentions are repulsive/they’re just like you”, from “Worthless Case” and ) and guitarists Greg Hall and Luke Holmes, drummer Taylor Ewart and bassist Chris Thaung are there to complete the picture with the perfect blend of with an early 2000’s emo/punk influenced pop punk sound.
11) Lifelines by I Prevail (2016)
Photo credit: New Noise
Sometimes an album comes along at exactly the right time in your life, with every song seeming to describe your life or at least the feeling you’re feeling. In 2016, “Lifelines” was a big one for me in that respect and it still is in some ways.
“Stuck In Your Head” was in heavy rotation on SiriusXM at the time and I was obsessed with both it and their metalcore cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. I first liked “Stuck In Your Head” because it was loud, catchy, and the concept of being stuck in someone’s head like a song was clever and somewhat original. The second reason was that it was a good angry listen after this wishy-washy dude I was sort of seeing went full wishy-washy and pulled out the rug from under whatever we were doing with no explanation (why is it they can never tell *you* but, instead, your mutual friends and you have to find out from them?)
Naturally, this led me to check out the rest of the album “Stuck In Your Head” was from when it came out that October.
Simply put, “Chaos” made me feel better about being homeless and not knowing what direction my life would take as the main lyric is “home is where you make it”. It’s still a song I skip unless I’m in the best of moods, but I’m still beyond grateful that I heard it when I did.
I love a good angry song and I blasted “Already Dead” after plenty of bad days at work. This song provided an outlet for all the anger I felt: at my “friends” and their betrayal, at shitty customers and roommates, at myself for deciding to pursue my dream and it blowing up in my face like it felt like it was.
Metaphorically, “Pull the Plug” is a hard-hitting, well written song about struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts and if you’re trying to help or understand a suicidal/depressed friend, you need to listen to it.
In context of what it meant to me, it’s a hard song for me to listen to, let alone write about but here goes. My suicidal thoughts have always been passive, which means I’m less likely to plan something and more likely to impulsively to do something (which probably has a lot to do with my bipolar disorder) and, after the last really bad one 11 years before, at least at that point, they were few and far between and became, as weird as it sounds, like swatting a fly or telling that trying-too-hard-to-be-edgy teenager in your head to shut up.
I’d always been able to bring myself back from the brink before and the year and a half I was in Orlando was the first time I was scared of myself; scared I’d actually do it because it felt like Ihadlost everything and there truly was nothing to live for and I was exhausted from arguing with my brain about why this wasn’t true, so my guard was down at the worst time.
This gave way to four times I can recall getting dangerously close (I even wrote a personal essay about one of those times) and wondering what the hell was happening to me. It had never been this bad before. I didn’t know it could get worse than I’d previously experienced. I’m not sure how I finally won over my thoughts, other than keeping crisis hotlines and chatrooms handy and listening to this song (well, one of the many songs anyway). It helped that someone knew exactly what I was going through and how to voice it, a running theme with music and me.
“Worst Part of Me” was another song that helped me feel better about Señor Wishy Washy, which was a feat at the time.
Detractors will be the first to say that I Prevail makes generic hopecore music, and it’s hard to argue with that on songs like “Outcast”, “RISE” and even “One More Time” but three songs out of 13 does not a hopecore band make and, even so, two out of the three, “RISE” and “One More Time”, did inspire that spark of hope in me again for their combined six minutes and 25 seconds of run time, a nice vacation from all the bad shit going on.
12) Bad Vibrations by A Day To Remember (2016)
Photo credit: Album Art OTD
To say this was, and still is, a polarizing album would be an understatement. It showed a poppier side of the metalcore band and, of course, people were NOT having it. I remember not liking it at first ‘cause I just couldn’t get into it and I didn’t like the lyrics as much as their previous stuff, but I’m convinced I wasn’t really listening then because soon after this all came out, the stuff with my “friends” happened and this became an album you could only pry out of my cold, dead hands because of songs like “Forgive and Forget”, “Negative Space”, “In Florida”, “Bad Vibrations”, and “Naivety”.
13) After Laughter by Paramore (2017)
My favorite thing about this album is how happy it sounds while being a primer on what it feels like to have constant depression because sometimes that’s what having depression feels like. It’s not always being sad all the time but more like doing something that makes you happy or being around people that make you happy and having your mood take the biggest of nosedives after. The biggest hit from this album, “Hard Times” is a prime example of this. “Rose Coloured Boy” is another. Albums like this are so important to the mental health conversation and need to be highlighted, especially when they’re as well-written and musically put together as this one is.
14) Paradise by Broadside (2017)
Photo credit: Genius
The heartbreaking accuracy with which lead singer Ollie Baxxter, guitarist Dorian Cooke (who has since left the band to pursue another project, Neverkept), bassist Pat Diaz, guitarist Niles Gibbs (who has since left the band to pursue photography), and drummer Jeff Nichols handle anxiety, shattered perceptions, using dark humor to deal with your depression, and realizing that music industry can be soul sucking, especially on the business side, is what makes this band stand out from its pop punk counterparts.
The aforementioned songs are called, firstly, “Laps Around A Picture Frame” so called because it’s an actual technique Cooke’s therapist taught him to quell panic attacks but also encapsulates the anguish prior to the technique calming you down: “I try my best to be more than my anxiety… you felt that/you cried on that floor”/ “I’m falling apart inside/do you really care if I live or die… the room has grown so cold…”
Secondly, “Summer Stained”: Ironically enough, but probably only if you actually read my long ass note at the beginning, this song is about the same 2016 Warped Tour where it felt like my music journalist life was over since I was without either big publication I’d been with but I was already at the date I was covering/didn’t want to waste my credentials because people, including Broadside, were expecting me to show up to interview them.
Knowing they’d been feeling like down on their own dreams/music too added another layer of emotional wallop to it as I’d come to make acquaintances of Broadside and liked them as people. Aside from that, “Summer Stained”, especially the chorus (“Validate me or I’ll give in/I’m on the edge and I’m losing grip/show me how to love and not fall apart), became like a stuffed animal or beloved Squishable pillow held close on the many nights where it all felt like too much, not to mention the emotionally exhausting workdays before I convinced myself to deal with my shit.
Then there are heartrendingly real lines like “slip and fall lose my faith/hollow dream/beginning” that’ll hit anyone, regardless of what they’ve gone through in life.
Thirdly, “Who Cares” features lines like “I've got bad jokes just to pass the time In social settings but I'm dead inside … I can fight against the current/show the whole world who I am On second thought I'd rather drown instead…” and, hilariously, features a ukulele breakdown with the lines “I’m drowning in misery/sink or swim or somewhere in between” that made it feel like someone got me and my twisted sense of humor that’s often a coping mechanism for my trial-and-error attempts to treat the havoc my bipolar disorder wreaks on my life.
and finally, “Tunnel Vision” and its poetic rendering of feeling like a puppet on a string as a lot of artists feel at one point or another in their careers: “Unlock my cage/and set the stage/but not tonight/They say the good die young/Tunnel vision, no exception/Just use me till I'm done/Tunnel vision, no exception/Lie to me, lie to me/So this puppet can dance now/Mistook your faith for love/And cut my strings on the way out”
On the flip side, they also have well-written songs about chasing your dreams and remembering to disconnect and lose your way every once in a while in songs of the same name. They’re all sung with such earnestness and passion (especially live) that it’s hard not to love/relate to them immediately.
15) Composure by Real Friends (2018)
Photo credit: Exclaim
I’ve struggled to write about this album even though I’ve wanted to. Lead singer Dan Lambton was so open to the world (or at least those on the press release list and such) about getting treatment and his diagnosis and I wished then that I could be that unafraid. We’re even around the same age and listening to this album might as well have chronicled my own journey to recovery/stability, the lyrics hit so close to home. I’ve never heard an album give such an unflinching, honest look at what it’s like to be a mentally ill person in a society that tells you you’re a buzzkill if you so much as mention you’re depressed or even sad.
The biggest example of that is “From The Outside”. I’ve never heard a line that sums up my life so concisely: “from the outside/I seem fine/on the inside, I'm still sick
/The pill's a temporary fix/from the outside, I seem fine.”
The song continues: “Redefine rock bottom/with these empty orange bottles/never felt so paralyzed before (never felt this paralyzed)/we’re all looking for some answers/with the hangman’s broken lantern/growing ever closer to the floor…”
“Stand Steady” stands out on this album for the same reason.
Then there’s another relatable heartbreaker in “Unconditional Love”, which talks about not getting enough or any support from the people who are supposed to support you, like close friends or family. This is apparent from even the opening line and melancholy music: “unconditional love/and a lack of patience/is all you gave me…” and shines through in the beginning of the chorus: “You let me down but you never let me go/tell me when we lost control…”
16) Entertainment by Waterparks (2018)
Photo credit: Sound of Pen
“TANTRUM” starts off with a Siri soundalike saying: “fuck these fuckboy bands who can’t think for themselves. Let’s put away our black clothes and cut up our voices. That’s what’s cool now, right?” before transitioning into angry guitar and drums and one of my favorite callout lines of all time: “if I wasn’t thin and white with blue hair, would I be here? Maybe if I kill myself, you’ll think I’m sincere.”
Though the alternative/punk scene was created for outcasts who didn’t fit in anywhere else, oftentimes they can be just as intolerant, if not more, than what they were trying to get away from. If you’re not covered in tattoos or have dyed hair or a generally apathetic/ or too cool for school attitude (don’t get me started on elitists), but you do like the bands, you’re judged more on your lack of alternative appearance than anything else and, on top of the fact that there’s still a frighteningly small amount of women OR people of color in the scene, this is more than a little concerning.
Then there’s an even smaller subset of critics and other music business people who are afraid to have even the slightest negative opinion about a band’s music or attitude, even if it’s constructive criticism, which, you know, is their job if necessary. Just to be honest. That’s why this song became my top played song of 2018: I applauded someone using his status to say something everyone probably felt but could never say.
Personally, I felt seen. as. hell. I can’t tell you how many times you think I caught looks of surprise when I walked in to interview bands and not looking “scene” enough; not to mention the visible surprise when my questions actually reflected my own research or previous knowledge of the band (though whether that’s more of a reflection on other journalists’ questions, who knows.)? I also loved that he called out famewhores for using his friends to get to him: “I'm getting texts from idols I've looked up to since 15/but now people use my friends to try to get to me (fuck you)/but we don't know you/you don't know we/we're freaked out and fragile/it's become more than a hassle”.
Then there’s the line “loud gets lonely” that just HITS because people use you to get to famous people or tickets and it sucks.
Track seven, “Rare”, is also unique because it both quotes Hamletand Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” while also being a happy sounding song about wishing for more in a relationship.
Waterparks gets an unfair reputation as a teenybopper band due to their admittedly large teenage fan base and oftentimes goofy lead singer, Awsten Knight, though their lyrics, primarily written by Knight, are often incisive, intelligent, and heartbreaking statements on the music business, fandom, and relationships.
I'm sure I'll continue listening to and savoring these albums for years to come and hopefully you found something in here you like. What are your picks of the decade?