Remember 2002? Cool, me neither. So when I found this mixtape that I made when I was 16, I couldn’t resist popping it in and seeing what I was listening to 11 fateful years ago. It serves as a cultural relic of an adolescent girl with angst flying in one million directions, lured simultaneously by breakdowns and twinkly bits and gross greasy screaming dudes, bordering on the cultures of 2nd wave Midwest emo, post-punk, and the tail end of grunge and (the dreaded) nü-metal.
Put simply, I was of the emo/indie persuasion. I wore scarves when it was 72 degrees outside, had iron-on patches from Interpunk all over my Dickies messenger bag, and head-surfed at Saves the Day shows. Take it or leave it. If you are averse to this moment in history, you may not want to continue.
Grasping to commandeer the notion of coolness, teenagers like my 2002 self are predisposed to leave behind artifacts—snakeskins—of their ever-shedding tastes. Let’s have a listen.
1. Rainer Maria – Ears Ring
You know, this band is not bad. The singer has the swagger of Karen O., albeit less shiny and more likely to be found at a barbecue in Wisconsin. I feel like if this came out today, people would still be fairly receptive to it—it holds up well in the post-iPhone era. I also love the diner vibes in this video—so trademark of this era. People were just sitting in diners until 3am on the regs, sweating in cardigans studded with 1″ buttons. I think I spent about 40% of 2001-2005 sitting in a fucking Denny’s.
2. Coldplay – Clocks
I know, the word Coldplay strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of hip people. But hear me out. This album had just come out. The only previous impression that we had of Coldplay at this point was garnered from the tepid, somewhat adorable “Yellow.” So cut me some slack. How was I to know about Gwyneth, or Apple, or GOOP? How was I to know about Viva La Vida? I repent, but in all truth, in 2002 this song was considered tolerable at worst. Side note: I’m in a café right now and they’ve played a flamenco version of this song twice since I got here 45 minutes ago.
3. Braid – Do You Love Coffee
Like several of their contemporaries (Joan of Arc being the clearest example), Braid were secretly a math-rock band. Weird time signatures galore coming from these fools. However, this isn’t even close to being their best track. Should’ve picked “A Dozen Roses” or “Forever Got Shorter.” I was just flailing my way through the Polyvinyl discography.
4. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – A Perfect Teenhood
I was about to remark that this band was super-underrated since they seem to have disappeared into obscurity, never to be mentioned again in the American Apparel era, but then I did some research-Googling and discovered that Source Tags and Codes got a 10/10 on Pitchfork, and actually, they were probably overrated at the time. Whatever drugs they were on in the early 2000s were doing incredible things for them, although on second thought it would be hard to imagine them turning out well-adjusted after a decade or so of their habits (the refrain at the end of this song: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” etc.)
5. Pedro The Lion—Let Down (live Radiohead cover)
In high school, I was one of those Radiohead freaks who drew the Amnesiac minotaur all over my binders and bought bootlegs of TV interviews with them and stuff. And also, Pedro the Lion was at the peak of their folky sadcore baritone Christian indie act, and this cover is decent. The patience to listen to shaky live tracks of your favorite bands seems to wear thin after age 22.
If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop and the cultural hysteria of the early 2000s to show through somewhere in this post, this would be the place. Remember Orgy? Yes, that Marilyn-Manson-covering-Depeche-Mode-sounding act from the Family Values 98 tour, better known for their asinine cover of “Blue Monday”? Anyways, this was their original hit, and the hook should probably be reworked into a Skrillex song or something. Unsurprisingly, the video involves “technology” and the lead singer wears all white and plenty of liquid eyeliner.
7. Deftones—Knife Party at the Niko
Wild horses (or white ponies) couldn’t drag me away from liking this song, even as a Certified Adult who schedules her own dental appointments and saves money and mails things the day I intend to. Yes, the vocals are pretty quintessentially nü-metal (aside from the shrieks and wails of Rodleen Getsic toward the end, which fall somewhere between orgasmic and terrifying) but the chorus is colossal, and on a note of pure nostalgia, my friends Draper, Greer, and Victor and I used to buh-LAST this song out of my Ford Explorer every time we drove home from a hardcore show at The Pound (RIP). I remember once reading a critic calling Deftones “the Radiohead of metal.” Metal as a whole genre, maybe not. But this is like, shoegaze metal.
8. The Used—Maybe Memories
Imagine if your last name was already McCracken, and it was pretty much written in stone that all of the kids at you middle and high school were going to call you “crackhead,” and then your first name was also Bert, and you were a Mormon from Provo, Utah who took a turn for the worse at age 15 and became a methhead. This is your band! You’re the lead singer! It makes perfect sense. This music is like a can of Xtreme Exploding Cheese & Chili Pringles, embedded with market-researched flavor crystals specifically formulated for teenagers who shop at Hot Topic.
9. Elliott Smith—Between the Bars
This mix was made when Elliott was still alive and seemed so promising—it’s strange to think that it’s been 10 years since his death (as of only a few days ago). I don’t care how much of a cliché he is at this point; I loved his music with every hair on my forlorn little head and still do. I could listen to Either/Or at any time of any day and still be just as charmed by and heartbroken over it as I was the first time I heard it.
I’ve been around downtown LA a bit lately and thought about what a weird, seedy place it was—and continues to be, but not nearly as bad these days with all of those galleries and fancy lofts and whatnot—and how that was where Elliott used to hang out, strung out, looking to cop dope, feeling shitty. I really don’t think that anyone in music has filled the void he left. These days, popular “indie rock” is all of this safe, blasé, Starbucks-friendly crap, Arctic Monkeys and the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, and not to say that those bands have zero merits or that I wish that indie rock was still filled with self-loathing junkies but for Christ’s sake, where’s the edge? And I don’t mean like “Black Lips edge” where it’s like, “wooo, we puke and get naked on stage and we’re so shocking!” I mean representing the human condition in all of its beautiful, ugly, jagged little facets. I’m going to stop now and move on to the next song. RIP Elliott, when I lived in LA I would drive by the wall from the Figure 8 cover every day.
10. At the Drive-In—Hourglass
I feel like if At the Drive-In were invented now, I might find them incredibly annoying, but it wouldn’t be possible for them to be invented in 2013 because that would be like going back in time and killing your parents, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty sure their influence extends much further than the direct reach of their music. This ~*~sLoW JaM~*~ from In/Casino/Out is poetic in the cubist, haphazard way that only Cedric Bixler et. al. can be.
11. Joy Division—Love Will Tear Us Apart
Perhaps the most puzzling part of this mixtape is how the hell I was listening to Joy Division, The Used, and Orgy all at the same time without any sense of one being significantly better than the others. You’d think that after hearing a post-punk masterpiece like this I would have considered abandoning everything on Victory Records. But admittedly, I think I just discovered Joy Division from Trainspotting and Donnie Darko, both of which I was watching on a bi-weekly basis between 2002 and 2004.
12. The Ramones—Blitzkrieg Bop
Teenagers gonna listen to The Ramones. They will start with this song or maybe “I Wanna Be Sedated.” In the words of Sully from Degrassi: The Next Generation …
No surprises here.
Drive-Thru Records. Drive-Thru Records. More Drive-Thru Records. Everything on that label was a shaken-and-poured cocktail of pop punk, emo, and radio rock. Also, my college roommate told me recently that he pseudo-interned there when he was 15 and felt like maybe the married, 40-something guy who ran the label was sexually interested in young men. I guess that this makes Drive-Thru the Penn State of late 90s/early 2000s pop punk labels—widely popular, but with a dark underbelly. Finch is actually doing a multi-leg reunion tour for this album (What It Is To Burn) this very moment … which I will definitely not be attending.
14. Bright Eyes—Sunrise, Sunset
This year was the peak of BRIGHT EYES HYSTERIA. Every alt/indie/emo girl was in love with Conor Oberst, carving his name into their forearms with ballpoint pens; every alt/indie/emo dude was getting that Oberst-pioneered Kate Gosselin prototype haircut with the devilock and the short spiky back.
The following is an image that I actually used on my Livejournal during this era. Why I keep these things, I don’t know.
Okay though, at umphundredth listen 10+ years later, Oberst is a decent (if melodramatic) lyricist and the only thing that has aged really poorly about Bright Eyes is his warbling, tears-in-eyes voice, which is simply too much to pipe into headphones or car stereos on our morning commute. Like, cool, we get it, you’re affected.
15. Cursive—The Night I Lost the Will to Fight
But on the other side of the Saddle Creek coin, we have Cursive, who seemed to have achieved poignancy without preciousness. Domestica, the band’s concept album about a dyfunctional relationship/possibly the Brook Shields child prostitution movie Pretty Baby, is rugged, ugly, whispery, grating, scabby, tender, throbbing, and still really good. It harnesses the Nirvana/Pixies methodology of alternating loud-quiet-loud-quiet to keep you waiting, wanting, and exploding. Is it for teenagers? Maybe. But a lot of good music is/was. Plus, they were pretty great live.
16. The Movielife—10 Seconds Too Late
“THE SMILE JUST MELTED OFF YOUR FACE AND STAINED YOUR SHIRT.”
It’s hard to say whether punk is dead. At the time, I certainly felt “punk” listening to this snotty, snare-heavy ode to love-hating someone and yourself. But what is this? It’s not quite the bojangly, gang-vocally fun-time carousel of pop punk, nor the loathful cries of emo. This is the pterodactyl that came out of the cultural-genetic soup of the early 2000s—kind of like a bird, kind of like a dinosaur, but really just a weird-looking accidental hybrid.
17. Smashing Pumpkins—Set the Ray to Jerry
Still just one of the best songs ever, in this girl’s opinion. Wrote a longer essay about my ongoing, shameless love for this band on Deaf Forever, my old rock ‘n’ roll blog with Laura—”Slackers with a Vision,” if you care to read it. In that post (from a coupla years ago) I describe this song thusly:
Mostly driven by bass and some purring drums, this is a sexy, quiet one. … Definitely an end-of-the-night, about-to-make-out, low-lighting jam. Also definitely seeing the Cure’s huge influence on the band here.
Le sigh. Still hits me.
18. Bedroom Heroes—Second Hand
This must have been a Napster find, because these days this band cannot even be Shazaam’d. Perhaps a rare OOP hybrid of post-rock and emo? Think Dredg. Vocals are so very soft, so so soft, softer than Aubrey Drake Graham. It’s hard to know what I was ~*~so emotional~*~ about during this time that made this kind of stuff sound good, especially considering that at the time I was mostly just drinking Smirnoff Ice and smoking Marlboro menthols with my friends in 7-11 parking lots, making out with the junior boys, eating Caesar salads at California Pizza Kitchen, and trying to build liquid eyeliner finesse. Hormones!
19. Engine Down—Pantomime
Highly forgettable but not terrible post-hardcore band from Richmond, VA. Basically Sparta, but without the cred of having members from At the Drive-In. Got a 7.5 on Pitchfork—my, how tastes have changed. Zero emphasis placed on having decent vocals during this era.
20. System of a Down—Aerials
Oh, hell yeah. Why does everyone nut so hard over Rage Against the Machine and forget about the mania of this band? Is it because they fear the nü metal? Perhaps. No music genre got stuck with a worse rep than nü metal, mostly because it was home to the consistently reviled Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Like Deftones, SOAD was lumped into this category because they were pissed off and had deviant facial hair and proggy bass lines, but their political commentary was legitimate and nuanced, and they weren’t privileged white boys bitching about getting dumped a la Fred Durst.
21. Radiohead—Lift (live)
Moar Radiohead. Always with the Radiohead. From the days when they were still guitar-driven, this one wouldn’t have been out of place on The King of Limbs or even In Rainbows if it had had a little rearrangement.
22. Thursday—I Am the Killer
Oh, Thursday. Every emo owned and ruminated on Full Collapse, whether they would care to admit it or not. Though not a bad album, it was the lowest-common-denominator record for every teenager in 2002 who listened to punk, indie, emo, alt-rock, post-rock, you name it—basically any kid who was dying their hair black. Does it hold up? I wouldn’t be the one to tell you, because the nostalgia it conjures in me is too strong to be able to identify whether its shrieks, screams, cries, murmurs are relatable to post-Arcade Fire teens and Gen-Y-ers. What will become of this music? Is it doomed to ridicule, or will Geoff Rickly and Tim Kasher be living (hopefully) legends to our own spawn?
Tough to say. But if you were there, you were there.
Please pretend that this entire post was in the official font of 2002: