My Best Years May Still Be Ahead of Me: My Favorite Albums of the 2010s

An Introduction

The Upsides leaked on Christmas Eve, 2009.

Wonder Years vocalist Dan Campbell was panicking in an Outback Steakhouse bathroom (seriously, he wrote a song about it), and I was sitting at my parents’ desktop computer downloading the album that would have an immeasurable influence on the next ten years of my life. I don’t know Dan personally, but I would guess that was as much a turning point in his life as it was in mine.

The Wonder Years would go on to tour the world, release four more albums, and become my favorite band in the process. In the meantime, I was playing in bands, writing songs, and occasionally touring. I was briefly a critic, writing reviews for two music blogs. I recorded and mixed records for myself and my friends. But first and last, I was a fan. All these years later, I still love the feeling of hearing a great album for the first time and letting it wash over me, of a lyric that cuts to my emotional core, of singing along with a room full of people or by myself in my car, of feeling seen and understood, feeling like I was a small part of something important.

A decade-spanning list like this is fraught with complications, biases, and tough questions. How important is a decade anyway? How do you weigh an album with five or eight or ten years of influence against one that came out six months ago? Can I cheat and list two EPs as one album? How do you reckon with the personal significance of art whose work is tainted by the artist’s problematic behavior?

I don’t have good answers to those questions. I just have a list of albums that were important to me over the past decade. These are the albums that soundtracked every significant moment of my life since senior year of high school. They’re in some semblance of an order, although that order gets messier the further down the list you go. I hope you listen and find something you love.

I was eighteen years old, still in high school at the start of this decade. I was still buying every album I liked on CD. I had yet to discover vinyl collecting (and Vinyl Collective). I didn’t know DIY bands were releasing their albums for free on Bandcamp and dubbing their own cassette tapes. Spotify hadn’t launched in the US. The entire musical landscape is so much different now than it was back then, and I’ve certainly grown a lot in the intervening years as well, but it’s still possible for music to move me like it did a decade ago, by the light of a desktop computer, the first time I heard The Upsides.

The List

  1. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
  2. The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There
  3. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
  4. Fun. – Some Nights
  5. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  6. Bleachers – Strange Desire
  7. Beach Slang – Broken Thrills
  8. John K. Samson – Provincial
  9. Laura Stevenson – Wheel
  10. Jimmy Eat World – Damage
  11. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
  12. The Menzingers – After the Party
  13. Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz
  14. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
  15. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
  16. Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life
  17. Thursday – No Devolucion
  18. Joie de Vivre – We’re All Better Than This
  19. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful and So Unaware of It
  20. Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught On Tape
  21. Ruston Kelly – Dying Star
  22. Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers
  23. Paramore – After Laughter
  24. Into It. Over It. – Intersections
  25. The Graduate – Only Every Time
  26. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
  27. The Wonder Years – The Upsides
  28. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
  29. Jimmy Eat World – Invented
  30. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  31. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk
  32. Bleachers – Gone Now
  33. The Hotelier – Goodness
  34. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  35. You, Me, and Everyone We Know – A Great Big Hole / I Wish More People Gave a Shit
  36. Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?
  37. Hellogoodbye – Would It Kill You?
  38. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
  39. The Tower and the Fool – How Long
  40. The Hotelier – It Never Goes Out
  41. Waxahatchee – American Weekend
  42. Modern Baseball – Sports
  43. Desaparecidos – Payola
  44. Copeland – Ixora
  45. The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours
  46. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
  47. Taylor Swift – Red
  48. The Menzingers – Rented World
  49. The 1975 – The 1975
  50. Future Teens – Breakup Season
  51. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In the Alps
  52. Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness – Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness
  53. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Whenever, If Ever
  54. Charly Bliss – Young Enough
  55. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  56. The Swellers – The Light Under Closed Doors
  57. The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
  58. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
  59. You, Me, and Everyone We Know – Some Things Don’t Wash Out
  60. Joie de Vivre – The North End
  61. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
  62. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
  63. State Lines – Hoffman Manor
  64. Into It. Over It. – Proper
  65. Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
  66. Fireworks – Oh, Common Life
  67. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
  68. Broadway Calls – Comfort/Distraction
  69. Transit – Keep This To Yourself
  70. Polar Bear Club – Clash Battle Guilt Pride
  71. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
  72. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten
  73. The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
  74. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  75. Real Friends – Everyone That Dragged You Here
  76. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
  77. Guster – Easy Wonderful
  78. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
  79. Better Love – We Were Younger and Less Put Together
  80. I Am the Avalanche – Avalanche United
  81. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
  82. Bomb the Music Industry! – Adults!!!
  83. Smallpools – Smallpools
  84. The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
  85. Jason Isbell – The Nashville Sound
  86. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
  87. The Swellers – Good For Me
  88. Braid – No Coast
  89. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
  90. Converge – All You Love You Leave Behind
  91. Touché Amore – Is Survived By
  92. All Get Out – Nobody Likes a Quitter
  93. Fireworks – Gospel
  94. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars To Kill Me
  95. Hostage Calm – Please Remain Calm
  96. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence
  97. Daytrader – Demo
  98. Aficionado – Aficionado
  99. Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland
  100. The Appreciation Post – Work/Sleep

“Although It Wasn’t Changing the World, It Was the World To Me”

To all the friends I saw at the Wonder Years show yesterday (and of course the ones didn’t see as well), thank you for making it one of the most fun nights of my life. Thank you for caring and buying a ticket and stage diving and singing along.

Last night felt like a triumph. The Wonder Years have been my favorite band for at least three years, and they’ve been an inspiration and a force in my life for even longer. I’ve laughed and cried to them, and their records have been the perfect soundtrack to my highest and lowest points. They are the band I want to share with every single person I meet because I realize that some people might not have ever felt like I have while listening to “New Years With Carl Weathers” in a freezing cold Toyota Camry or yelling the words to “Woke Up Older” when it mirrors your life all to closely or being moved to tears by the emotion in a live performance of “The Devil In My Bloodstream.” Everyone deserves to feel that deep, visceral connection with an album. It’s what music is all about. To see so many of my friends, some of whom I introduced to The Wonder Years and many more of whom I met through their shows or because we were both fans, experiencing that connection in the moment last night was truly incredible.

But that isn’t the only reason last night felt like a victory. It wasn’t just who was there, it was where we were. Since attending my first local shows during my freshman year of high school, I’ve worked as hard as I could at building the music community in Bloomington-Normal. At first, that meant inviting all of my friends to every show I went to, but then I started a band (and then another and another and…), and then I started putting on my own shows. With every step of that journey I wanted to grow the scene meant so much to me, and the fact that a few pop punk bands can sell over eight hundred tickets in the middle of Illinois is vindicating in some small way and proof that our scene can still be the powerful, important place of community and self-discovery that it was for me.

I’ve never been more proud of where I’m from