A week ago, when my favorite podcast Encore announced it would be taking a week off, show host Thomas Nassiff alerted listeners that next week’s (AKA today’s) episode would cover the impossibly difficult task of him and the other host trying to pick their favorite albums. The parameters were narrowed down to ten (and only ten!) albums released between 2001-2015, and Thomas invited every listener to join in on the “fun” and make lists of their own. Naturally, following the hour or two it took me to compile my own list, I had to write a blog as well.

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This analysis also works as a sort of spiritual sequel to an older post, The Evidence for Our Opinions, in which I looked at how some opinions can be more right than others and how even something as subjective as “favorites” can be chosen with the help of correlated evidence. Here, I will be slowly leading up to my top ten favorite albums of the past fifteen years, dividing this article into chunks based on which albums didn’t make the cut.

I started off by making a list. A long list. Even though I already knew 3-4 albums that would assuredly make my list, I wanted to be thorough. I began with brainstorming, followed by asking friends if I was missing anything, and ending this first step by cross referencing with my iTunes collection. When the dust had settled, my list was just over 100 albums long. Here are the choices that got cut first, in no particular order:

The Long-Listers

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Floodplain/Tell Me What You Know by Sara Groves

Between the Heart and the Synapse by The Receiving End of Sirens

Right Where You Want Me/In Technicolor by Jesse McCartney

The Illusion of Safety/Beggars by Thrice

From Under the Cork Tree/Take This to Your Grave by Fall Out Boy

Define the Great Line by Underoath

The Question by Emery

Romantic Wealth by Lorene Drive

The Meaning in Makeup by My American Heart

Wonder by Michael W. Smith

Sound of Melodies by Leeland

Upstairs by Shane & Shane

VxV by Wolves at the Gate

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

Unbreakable by Backstreet Boys

Crashings/Exit Lights/Falling Up by Falling Up

All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes

Like Clockwork…/Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age

Awaken the Dawn by Keith and Kristyn Getty

The House Show by Derek Webb

Singularity/(m)orning/(a)fternoon/(e)vening by Mae

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This is What Happens by The Reign of Kindo

The Bell and the Hammer by This Day & Age

Paramore by Paramore

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

In Motion by Copeland

Migrant/Act I by The Dear Hunter

As Tall As Lions by As Tall As Lions

Blue Mountain by Brandon Heath

Satori/Connector by I the Mighty

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Chariot/Sweeter by Gavin DeGraw

Step Outside Yourself by Over It

Almost Here/Santi by The Academy Is…

Take Me Home by One Direction

Sinema by Swoope

Excellent by Propaganda

Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

Avalanche by Quadron

The Dance by Dave Koz

These Days by Vince Gill

Inland by Jars of Clay

Meltdown by Ash

Wall of People by Monty Are I

Control by Pedro the Lion

The Migration by Scale the Summit

The Blackest Beautiful by letlive.

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All the above albums are ones that I love or at least have loved. I tried to be as historically accurate as possible, thinking to myself, “What were my favorite albums in 6th grade? What album changed my life when I was 16? What album from 2011 made the greatest impact that year?” These questions led to fruitful results, so those above (which were cut first) ended up being albums that I loved, yes, but weren’t notably impactful. Next up, then, are the records that fostered personal significance.

The C-Listers

Departure by Jesse McCartney

Folie a Deux by Fall Out Boy

Popularity by Jonezetta

The Need to Feel Alive by Forever Changed

Phenomenon by Thousand Foot Krutch

Volcano by Gatsbys American Dream

Hiding Inside the Horrible Weather by My American Heart

The Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman

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It’s a Wonderful Christmas/This is Your Time by Michael W. Smith

Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew Peterson

Starfield by Starfield

The Great Awakening by Leeland

Loopified by Dirty Loops

Discovery by Daft Punk

The Everglow by Mae

The Greatest Generation by The Wonder Years

Animal Joy by Shearwater

The Silver Gymnasium by Okkervil River

Fast Times at Barrington High by The Academy Is…

A-Z by Ash

Failure On by Beloved

Promises for the Imperfect by Number One Gun

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Each album in the C-Listers category could have easily made a “favorites” list had we decreased the span of years or picked a specific genre. Narrowing things down to the top 20 was when I really had to start getting honest with myself about which artists have meant the most to me over the course of these fifteen years. This was also the point when a bias against newer albums crept in, since few albums after 2010 have really been given the time to earn a status over anything released during my seminal years of high school and junior high. Still, these next ten albums were the hardest to cut from my list:

The B-Listers

O Ransomed Son by Ascend the Hill

Never Gone by Backstreet Boys

Major/Minor by Thrice

And the Glass Handed Kites by Mew

Eat Sleep Repeat by Copeland

The End is Not the End by House of Heroes

The Water and the Blood by The Modern Post

(Note: These final three were in a list of the top thirteen for a whole day as I sat on it and tried to think of which three I could most honestly cut. Taking these three off the final list really hurt the most.)

Suburba by House of Heroes

The Color Spectrum by The Dear Hunter

Rhythm, Chord and Melody by The Reign of Kindo

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Without further ado, here are my personal choices for favorite albums of the past fifteen years. These are my most biased of loves. The albums that are the most “me.” The albums that prove how music has the power to shape a person.

The A-Listers

Here at the Mayflower by Barry Manilow

The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi by The Receiving End of Sirens

Vheissu by Thrice

Fireflies and Songs by Sara Groves

This is Us by Backstreet Boys

Infinity on High by Fall Out Boy

Destination: B-Sides by Mae

Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman

Stand by Michael W. Smith

Monolith by Sylosis

Reflecting on this final list, it’s incredible to me how many of these “favorites” aren’t what I would consider these artists’ best albums. Across the board, I ended up picking the album I loved the most during the time period when that artist meant the most to me. For Sara Groves and Mae, that meant picking the album that made me fall in love in the first place, the albums that are the reason I know own both artists’ entire discographies. For Smith and Chapman, Stand and Beauty respectively represent the points when I transitioned from being a fan of radio singles throughout my childhood to, as a teenager and adult, purposefully supporting and enjoying complete pieces of their art. All four of these artists immediately followed up the records I’ve chosen with superior works, yet my love for future records was planted within the fertile soil created by these ten. Even Thrice’s Vheissu, a world-altering record for me back in 2005 and an obvious shoe-in for this list, is only what I would consider Thrice’s 4th best album. Similarly, Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High is, in my opinion, Fall Out Boy’s 4th best work. (But “The Take Over, the Breaks Over” is just the jam to end all jams.)

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Elsewhere, heavier music makes its way on the list via The Receiving End of Sirens’ sophomore and unfortunately final album, The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi, and Sylosis’ Monolith, which in 2013 opened my ears to the world of metal and to this day (as by-far the newest album making an appearance here) puts a smile across my face like little else that exists in music. But for a final list that’s mostly split between CCM singers and bands from the pop-punk/emo scene, the greatest outliers are obviously This is Us by Backstreet Boys and Here at the Mayflower by Barry Manilow. Ironically, these might be the least known albums by each artist. The former was recorded when the famed boy band was down to four members, and it’s the only release of the band’s post-hiatus career that undeniably reaches the sugar-rush heights of the late-90’s glory days. The latter album in and of itself adds the most variety to my top 10. As a late career entry for the 70’s adult contemporary hitmaker, Mayflower stands above all Manilow’s albums (some of which are very good) as a genre-jumping, high-concept opus about a handful of characters living or staying in the famous Mayflower hotel. Along with simply loving to listen to this album from front to back, I have learned from it endless lessons about songwriting and the construction of concept records. From modern pop to smooth jazz to salsa to Broadway, each genre is pulled off with flying colors, a feat made only more impressive considering Mayflower is Manilow’s only album where he wrote all the music singlehandedly as well as a chunk of the lyrics. (My full, glowing review for the album can be read here.)

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Out of all these incredible albums, which I can’t praise quite enough, Here at the Mayflower might be my ultimate favorite, even though Manilow is an artist I sometimes get ridiculed for considering one of the greats. Yet isn’t that the very point of having favorites? How often do we pride ourselves on being unbiased, regardless of how true that is? Instead, these are wholly biased, uncensored choices, bearing no weight on how good or bad a critic I might actually be. There’s something freeing to that: something beautiful to knowing that anyone can listen to these albums and understand me better by the end of it.