I wish that everyone can be blessed with a band like Relient K in their lives: A band that so closely matches your personality and growth that listening to them sometimes feels like looking into a mirror; a band that feels like it was designed specifically for “you”; a band that you love as much for its trajectory as you do its consistent greatness.
Relient K has grown up with me. Their development has been closely intertwined with the evolution of my own music taste. When I was a freshman in high school back in 2002, I first heard a song by them (“Sadie Hawkins Dance”). It struck a chord with me because it was a cute, catchy little song that my friends liked. That’s all I wanted from music at that point in my life, and that was really all that Relient K was creating at that point.
Jump ahead to 2005. Then a senior in high school, I was beginning to take music a little bit more seriously. I was starting to think about songs in terms beyond catchy melodies (though I still value those, too). That’s when I heard “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been,” a great song that’s both propulsive and meditative. It sounded totally different from “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” much more grown up and conscientious. It was exactly the type of music I was hungry for.
As a freshman in college, I took the plunge with the dwindling funds from my summer job, and ordered used copies of all of Relient K’s four albums to that point: their self-titled debut (2000), The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek (2001), Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right (2003), and Mmhmm (2004). I definitely do not regret that purchase.
As as I spun those CD’s and listened carefully, I connected strongly with the music. A lot of the connection was simply on a sonic and composition level — Relient K creates catchy punk-pop music.
But what I gradually realized — and is something that I still believe to be true — is that the thing that really separates Relient K’s music from the crowd is Matt Thiessen’s lyrics.
Thiessen is the lead singer and guitarist for Relient K. He is also their primary writer, responsible for the sole writing credit of just about every song they’ve released.
And I find Thiessen a tremendously appealing and relatable songwriter. He’s one of few (along with T-Swizzle, Bruce, and a handful of others) whose lyrics I feel beckoned to listen to; I want to know what stories and reflections he has to share.
Thiessen would never be mistaken for a truly great, generation-defining poet; He’s no Bob Dylan or Bright Eyes in disguise. But Thiessen’s lyrics connect with me more than just about anyone else’s.
Thiessen paints the picture of someone fundamentally optimistic and positive struggling to reconcile faults (both his own and the world’s) with the innate goodness of existence. His writing is spiritual in a way I can relate to: When he writes and sings “I am a hostage to my own humanity” or “when all of my alibis desert me / I just want to get by, I don’t want nothing to hurt me” he’s taking thoughts and feelings I’ve had, crystallizing them, and pairing it with music that really captures it.
As I my freshman year of college continued, I found difficulty transitioning into the new phase of my life. I tried to experience new things and develop a new identity away from home. But it wasn’t easy. Excitement for RK’s next album was one of a handful of things that really helped.
That spring, Relient K released their fifth album: Five Score and Seven Years Ago. It was definitely a peak point for my interest in Relient K; I saw them for the first time live four days after the album came out.
Five Score won’t go down as my favorite album by them — or maybe even top three — but it’s still an album I adore. Thiessen’s writing is more mature than ever. Along with some of his warmest love songs (“The Best Thing” is as sweet as they come), Thiessen delves into some weirdness and darkness towards the end of the album. It’s not as melodic as their best albums, but Five Score hit me hard.
For two years, I continued processing and loving Relient K. And, if it had all ended there, you’d probably be reading this in the Top 25, but not the Top 10. Probably a couple spaces ahead of Eve 6.
How often does a band release its most relevant, transcendent work a decade after forming? It has to be a small percentage of bands. Show me a band great 9+ years after their inception, and I’ll show you three Oasises, Weezers, and Bostons. You’d excuse me for assuming that Relient K had hit its apex some time around Mmhmm.
Forget and Not Slow Down dropped in late 2009 — a few months after the foundation of this site — and it slowly grew on me. As recently as 2011, I wrote a review marking it at 4 out of 5 stars. But with each listen I love it more. It’s easily the band’s greatest work, and has become one of my favorite albums of all time: The band’s sound is more intricate and mature than ever, and Thiessen’s lyrics are phenomenal (and, for the first time, dark) as he processes his shame at cheating on his fiance.
Re-peaking after they were already one of my favorite seven or so artists pushed Relient K over the edge for me. They went from “that little band I love” to a true titan on my favorites list. I just love their entire stretch from 2003-2009. It’s so damn perfect. It keeps me entertained and intrigued no matter how many times I listen.
My enthusiasm is only slightly dampened by their disappointing 2013 release Collapsible Lung. It would have been worse had the track “Collapsible Lung” not been about as great a song as the band has ever released, especially if you’ve been tracking Thiessen’s writing and spiritual evolution for the better part of the new millennium.
And so Relient K earns its spot in the top ten as perhaps my most personal, intimate favorite item on the list. They’re a band with tremendous personal meaning, but also a band that’s great enough to keep me coming back, day after day, year after year.
In 2011, I put together a retrospective of Relient K’s career through reviewing all of their albums. It was the first long-form retrospective I wrote for this site, and it’s still the most thorough analysis of the band’s discography on the band I’ve seen online. Beyond that retrospective, I’ve written several other pieces about Relient K:
- Relient K Retrospective: “Watch the glint in my eye shine off the spring in my step”
- The Top 50 Relient K Songs
- I picked Forget and Not Slow Down as my #2 favorite thing since the founding of our site
- I picked Two Lefts as my #5 favorite album a few years ago
- See all the (many) articles in which I’ve mentioned Relient K