Music Features

The Comprehensive Ranking of All 34 Songs By The Format

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This year was supposed to see the glorious return of formative Arizona indie rock act The Format, a duo who burned bright and fast during their time in the Valley of the Sun, garnered some brief national attention (an anomaly in the Arizona music scene), and then went on an over-decade-long hiatus. Those dates have been rescheduled deep into July 2021, a date that we can only hope isn’t too optimistic, but in lieu of getting to see the band return to the stage, we decided to do the unfathomable: rank the band’s songs. 

Many now know Nate Ruess best for his time in fun., but as the legacy of that act looms in Jack Antonoff’s giant shadow, it feels fitting to return to The Format, where it ultimately still feels like his talents as a songwriter and frontperson were best displayed. As his words bounced of Sam Means’ guitar, a small but important indie rock legacy blossomed, one that had a lasting impact on Arizona as a local music scene, but also one that traces national impact back to MySpace and an emerging global Limewire generation. They were prolific in a short amount of time, the 12 years since they effectively broke up doubling the amount of time they were actually a working band. 

Still, it’s a formidable discography, two full-length albums and a handful of EPs and singles. Naturally, wrestling the entirety of the duo’s catalogue into an ordered list was a heady task—The Format are an act whose demos, acoustic cuts, and live songs essentially outnumber their original output. With that in mind, all of the commercially available original material was given equal consideration, including qualifying songs on B-SIDES AND RARITIES. The ground rules: This list consists of all original, officially released The Format compositions. The demos found across their catalog, including recordings from the Kenneth Room Sessions, were not considered, but are mentioned when appropriate below. Where multiple versions of a song exist, namely “The First Single (You Know Me)” and “Let’s Make This Moment A Crime,” they’re addressed within the same listing when relevant. This list comes from a place of love—long live the Format and we’ll see you on the dancefloor with them soon.  

34. “You’re Not A Whore” (By “The Real Partners” AKA The Format + Limbeck**) [B-SIDES AND RARITIES]

In theory, a team-up between The Format and Limbeck makes perfect sense. Unfortunately in practice, the result is a messy rough cut of a song that in its attempt not to slut-shame ends up doing just that—men really be like that sometimes. There’s a reason this track is on B-SIDES AND RARITIES and not a proper studio album. Feel free to skip it in your re-education on The Format. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

33. “Time Bomb” [DOG PROBLEMS]

I think the opening of “Time Bomb” is honestly pretty fun… those drum sticks clicking into a massive, instant rush of vocals, the promise that this is perhaps Nate Ruess if he were fronting Queen—an idea that in practice would be explored again down the road with fun. But that’s where my excitement about “Time Bomb” begins and ends. Between overlong sections of muffled, buried vocals and an overwhelming rhythm section (those drums bury Nate at times), it’s the album cut I return to the absolute least. The type of repetition is something the band very often nailed elsewhere in their discography, but on “Time Bomb” it’s a nauseating whiff with interesting ideas and bad execution. The leak of DOG PROBLEMS is ultimately what probably sealed that album’s fate commercially, but “Time Bomb” being the lead single is an interesting anecdote that makes me question how much anyone behind the scenes knew what they were doing with the band. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

32. “Faith In Fast Cars” [B-SIDES AND RARITIES] 

It’s no surprise this is a B-Side and/or rarity: “Faith In Fast Cars” is deeply boring, and kind of feels like it was written by a beat poet, or worse a grad student who idolizes the beat poets and thinks it very emo and cool to write about being too sad to fuck hot girls. Inherently misogynist and eye-rolling, there’s not much else to be said about “Faith In Fast Cars”; it’s a song every white man who once worked at a law firm to support his music career has written, best not to dwell on it. [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

31. “Your New Name” [SNAILS EP — BONUS TRACKS]

Perhaps because it is the only song from the SNAILS EP that is not available on streaming services, “Your New Name” is one of the more forgettable songs in The Format’s catalog. Clocking in at just over five minutes in length, “Your New Name” feels like it could have easily been split into two songs. In fact, it would ultimately probably be more successful as a song plus an outro to close out the EP. The first half of the full-band recording is actually pretty fun, but the second half feels a bit drawn out; subsequently the acoustic version has some nice moments, but mostly feels a bit sluggish once the upbeat drums and keyboard are removed. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube

30. “Dear Boy” [SNAILS EP — BONUS TRACKS]

“Dear Boy” is one of those songs where the more you listen to it, the more you both can’t stop singing along and never want to hear it again. Far from Ruess’ best work, the repetitive chorus is verging on annoying, yet I’ll still find it stuck in my head hours after I’ve put away my AirPods. It’s not a song I return to on its own, but when it comes up on shuffle I’m probably not going to exert precious energy to skip it either. By the time Ruess and Means released the SNAILS EP in 2005, the duo had nearly mastered the indie-pop song structure to the point that even their “bad” songs are actually technically good. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

29. “Inches and Falling” [DOG PROBLEMS] 

“Inches and Falling” is the exact kind of twee love song I should absolutely adore, but unfortunately Nate Ruess’ voice was not crafted by the gods to celebrate happiness. Nate Ruess’ voice was strung together to bemoan a girlfriend cheating on him or wax poetic about the ephemerality of youth, and it is simultaneously a strength and weakness of The Format, fun., and that one P!nk song he did. He toes a fine line between singing and whining, and that line is deeply polarizing for many. Obviously I love his voice, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, but “Inches and Falling” feels like this bizarre taunt—I get it Nate, you LOVE love, please get out of my house. [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

28. “Pick Me Up” [DOG PROBLEMS] 

“Pick Me Up” almost gets away with being simply forgettable, with basic verses and a punchy tempo, but once you hit the chorus the song is almost unsalvageable. Ruess whining “pick me up” over and over again is so annoying it’s easy to forget the rest of the lyrics are pretty good. The guitar riff before the bridge slaps, and certain effects on the song work well, but it’s impossible to make it through that chorus without wanting to smash “next song.” [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

27. “Career Day” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES] 

In a vacuum, it always feels like “Career Day” should be the last song on INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES. The melancholy of “A Save Situation” really brings the album back to Earth in a great way, but “Career Day,” one of the band’s longest songs at 5:45, balances the marching optimism of their best midtempo songs with a nice, building outro that seems final. Plus how perfect is that final, fading cry of “In with the outro and out with the old”? That kind of Big Tent ircus parade energy is something that the band did better on songs like “Dog Problems” or even “Dead End,” and to some extent “Career Day” more than any other song on INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES reads as pretext for DOG PROBLEMS’ sonic evolution. Is “Career Day” too long? Perhaps. And certainly its closing credits energy make it an odd song to return to outside of the album, but it was an energy the band would return to more later and for that it’s a unique moment for them. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

26. “At the Wake” [EP]

The Format never landed a song in THE OC, the coveted coming-of-age teen drama that had a pretty sharp who’s who of turn-of-the-millennium indie rockers featured on the soundtrack. It’s mostly odd given the band were contemporaneous to the show’s run on FOX and have a dozen-and-a-half songs that would fit the vibe perfectly, but admittedly an appearance on the show might’ve also shifted the band’s trajectory forever. “At the Wake,” more than those dozen-and-a-half eligible songs, feels like it was written for THE OC which is different. In some ways that’s an interesting look for the duo but it does result in something that’s exhaustively melodramatic. To its credit, this is The Format doing whatever their version of WE HAVE THE FACTS AND WE’RE VOTING YES is, and while I appreciate it in that context, I am glad this kind of plodding, heavy, emotional songwriting wasn’t part and parcel to what they would do later in their careers. It sticks the landing, that moment of quiet piano building into some semblance of catharsis is memorable and effective (“I’ve been losing everything / You just don’t see me anymore / I’ll say goodbye” — what a way to close out the second song on your debut EP) but it’s a singular song in the band’s past. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

25. “Janet” [SNAILS EP]

OK fine here it is: the one decent straightforward love song by The Format. “I’m falling in love with you, balloons or no balloons!!” Romance is alive and well folks. Admittedly there’s not much else going on with “Janet”—The Format prefers a vapid love song and a deeply personal breakup song—but this is fine. [Aya Lehman

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

24. “If Work Permits” [DOG PROBLEMS]

“If Work Permits” is like three songs in one, which in a lot of ways makes it the ideal closer to DOG PROBLEMS. There’s that folksy, coffee shop open mic start, which with the distant clap-along you’d swear is going to build into something more memorable. And we’ve seen them nail that song, and that open is fine in isolation even if it’s kind of drab. But really it’s a bait-and-switch for that striking piano drop-off and the subsequent explosion into this almost out-of-character Ramones riff. That moment is beyond striking, and it’s a helluva way to close out an album, but it’s also the kind of thing I would’ve loved to see The Format explore more. Nate yelling “Yeah I’m doing all right!” ahead of this fuzzy, expressive, celebratory glam rock finale is just just a triumph, perhaps one of the best pound-for-pound singular moments in their catalog. The opening of the track subverts what’s to come which is clever in its own way, but should we ever see LP3, give me more of whatever that final three minutes is. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

23. “Matches” [DOG PROBLEMS]

“Matches” is a song that works in its context as the album opener of DOG PROBLEMS, but loses most of its value when isolated away from “I’m Actual.” The dreamlike atmosphere and jaunty keys form a perfect introduction to the theatrical DOG PROBLEMS as Ruess and Means give us small tastes of something great throughout the fleeting song. It’s never quite enough to fully satisfy through, and “Matches” is, essentially, an amuse-bouche, serving to whet your appetite for the delicious meal to come. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

22. “One Shot, Two Shots” [EP]

“One Shot, Two Shots” exists in my brain on hot summer nights, music blasting with the windows down in my 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee as I pick my friends up to see a movie. It’s not the best that The Format has to offer, but the impossibly catchy song, full of “do do dos” and Nate Ruess belting over Sam Means’ effortless guitar strumming, is an early, perfect glimpse into what The Format would go on to become outside of some of the experimenting happening elsewhere on EP. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

21. “Swans” [MOVING MCALLISTER ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK]

In discussing “Swans,” we can’t not discuss MOVING MCALLISTER, the film for which the song was written and appears on the original soundtrack. As the trailer’s ending narration spells out very plainly, it’s “a comedy about friendship, romance, and going the distance for love,” and yes, it’s delivered exactly like a generic straight-to-DVD mid-2000s trailer. Post-NAPOLEON DYNAMITE Jon Heder, pre-A-List Mila Kunis, repaving-his-pool Rutger Hauer, it’s quite a relic! “Swans” is also a pretty interesting relic, clearly an opportunity for the band to experiment with some new ideas. The result is a soaring closing credits arena ballad, and while I’m hesitant to say it fully works, I think it’s fun to consider in a kind of pre-fun. context. After all, Ruess against this backdrop, albeit one that’s less melodramatic, ended up working years later commercially in ways The Format never did, but “Swans” also isn’t a conventional Format song from that standpoint—for context, this thing drops a pretty dramatic, ascending guitar solo at one point. It ultimately reads as the duo writing a Coldplay song, and it’s not bad, it’s not even as awkward as it really should be, but given it was the band’s actual swan song I think it’s held in higher esteem than it maybe warrants retrospectively. One thing is certain: it’s aged FAR better than MOVING MCALLISTER. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

20. “Even Better Yet” [EP] 

The chorus of “Ever Better Yet” is so raw, so striking. It opens with the up-and-down stomp of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” but evolves into this blown-out, lo-fi garage rock rough-and-tumble. Like “At The Wake” (see #26) it feels a bit like Sam and Nate early in their careers exploring a different corner of indie rock than they’d eventually settle into, but the far superior “Sore Thumb” has a bit of this edge to it as well. Of songs that I would’ve loved to see reworked years later with a lightly different aesthetic, “Even Better Yet” ranks highly, a kind of sparklers and streamers showtune paint job could make the song fit right in, but as is it’s still a strong capital-r Rock song from a band whose songs rarely felt this straightforward. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

19. “Tie the Rope” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES] 

An extremely Fine™ song! The chorus of “Tie the Rope” makes the song a little more than memorable, but overall this could easily fade into obscurity on an otherwise notable album. No one feels particularly hyped about the song—Ruess’ voice doesn’t feel as strong, and the music itself isn’t anything particularly notable on an album with a lot of huge, defining moments. If you played “Tie the Rope” for me without any information, I might guess it’s a filler song on a Jonas Brothers album from 2008. Is that a bad thing? You decide! [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

18. “Dead End” [DOG PROBLEMS] 

Many of The Format’s most defining songs feature a blown-out, show tune whimsy, rock songs that can exist on a made-up auditorium stage. That sing-along dopamine rush is more direct on “Dog Problems” or “Tune Out,” but “Dead End” deserves to be in that conversation. The piano, brass, and vocal performance feel like a massive post-intermission number of a happy-go-lucky musical or, at the very least, the kind of thing that closes an episode of a feel-good FOX sitcom. Even though it’s not looked at as fondly perhaps as “Dog Problems,” and it isn’t anywhere near as strikingly memorable as that song, it’s the natural, evened-out B-Side to that song, and is perhaps one of the more underrated, underheard songs in comparison to the “hits.” [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

17. “Does Your Cat Have A Mustache?” [FOR THE KIDS THREE] 

In the liner notes of B-SIDES AND RARITIES, Nate says they basically wrote “Does Your Cat Have A Mustache?” for ADHD-riddled children, which is probably why it directly appeals to me. This song has a little bit of everything that makes The Format great; swiftly and effortlessly lilting through different energies as Ruess nearly runs out of breath trying to make it through every line. A ridiculously catchy children’s song yet simultaneously… Weirdly romantic. Does your cat’s mustache remind you of me? “And all of the clams that is holding your hand could never, ever take the place all like me?” “I’m gonna find you?” Have I been in quarantine for so long that this is my idea of romance?  [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

16. “Wait, Wait, Wait” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES] 

This is the Format song for anyone who’s ever had an existential freakout at 1 A.M. Things going well? Probably time to overanalyze your place on this Earth and think about inevitable death! “The thought of death / it scares me to death / And I don’t know why / I don’t know / It’s just too much to never wake up.” “Wait, Wait, Wait” is more of a resting point following the energetic “The First Single (You Know Me) and preceding “Give It Up” (#7), which sets the stage for the rest of the album. An acoustic version of the track that appears on the SNAILS EP feels more present and thus successful, as it allows Ruess’ voice to shine in places where it can sound a bit drowned-out in the original recording. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

15. “The Compromise” [DOG PROBLEMS] 

Listening to the KENNETH ROOM SESSIONS’ demo of “The Compromise,” you can hear a kind of rootsy stomp to the song that is exchanged for more radio rock bravado on the DOG PROBLEMS version. That’s probably for the best, but imagining a stripped-down version of it is a fun thought experiment, especially since “The Compromise” absolutely should been released with choreographed dance moves to accompany it—imagining a bit of brass in the breakdown? Ho boy. If the song sounds like a bit of a more naked play at Top 40, it’s because it was allegedly the literal compromise with the label to make a song for radio (ironic given how the band chose their name). And “The Compromise” is appropriately simple and mindless, an earworm in comparison to much of the accompanying album. Much of the narrative surrounding their breakup always pointed towards a lack of mainstream success, but it’s clear they could write these songs all day if they wanted to (see: the chorus on “Tune Out”). As such, it makes “The Compromise” a great “what if?” on DOG PROBLEMS. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

14. “A Save Situation” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

Listen I simply love to vibe to a sad song, especially a nice two-minute-long acoustic situation that makes me vaguely emotional. I imagine if I was from Arizona (@CJSimonson), I would come home after a long, awful day in Los Angeles, California, sit on the floor, and cry to this song. One of The Format’s most grounded songs, “A Save Situation” is a perfect final note—a la “Exitlude” from The Killers’ SAM’S TOWN, it’s a solemn farewell to the polished, rocking hour we’ve spent together. [Aya Lehman

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

13. “Snails” [DOG PROBLEMS / SNAILS EP] 

It’s almost too simple a line: “Snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch.” It’s a fittingly everlasting Hallmark anecdote to build a song around given that it’s the only borderline country song they ever wrote—although there’s a bona fide pop country ballad somewhere in “A Mess To Be Made” should Nashville be reading this. Hearing the aching wind of the pedal steel on the EP version, which comes in with a folksier, more lackadaisical energy, really emphasizes that notion compared to the far brighter trot of the album recording. Even if it’s clear the DOG PROBLEMS version is meant to gel sonically with the rest of the album, acting as a late-album interlude ahead of single “The Compromise,” the campfire sway to the EP version really highlights just what a timeless, cheery piece of songwriting it is. It’s simple, albeit wordy, but one of the more delightful songs in their discography. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube (Album) | Spotify (Album) | Youtube (EP) | Spotify (EP)

12. “Sore Thumb” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

Mid-2000s pop punk is absolutely shaking! I want to punch a guy in the arm listening to this song, I want to be 14 again and turn the volume all the way up on my iPod Touch and think about my former crush on a road trip with my parents. I will never understand why this didn’t close out an episode of THE OC (see #26) or THE HILLS, as it’s the perfect “walk away from the camera” kind of jam. Deeply petulant and almost comically emo, “Sore Thumb” is flawless highway headbanging material. [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

11. “A Mess to Be Made” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

“A Mess to Be Made” is notable, firstly and most importantly, as the first song by The Format to be featured on MTV’s LAGUNA BEACH, specifically in the Season One episode in which Stephen and Trey engage in a verbal argument with Wee Man (yes, of JACKASS fame) after a blink-182 concert. Historical pop culture moment aside, “A Mess to Be Made” is also a strong almost-ballad on INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES in which Ruess laments a failing relationship as well as his hatred for California. Frankly, I can’t think of a better tune to soundtrack a messy high school love triangle. A banjo feature from Means is a welcome surprise as the track builds into a fun, folksy-pop tune. This track feels like it could easily lean further into a folksy/country sound, something I’d love to see the band explore more of when they do finally return. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

10. “I’m Actual” [DOG PROBLEMS] 

“I’m Actual” is exactly what I am talking about when I say that Nate Ruess is best when he is heartbroken: uproarious, pound-your-steering-wheel, rip-your-heart-out, scream-into-the-abyss… “CAN WE PLEASE TAKE THIS HOUR! AND TALK ABOUT ME!” “I’m Actual” is a perfect introduction to DOG PROBLEMS: an hour of reeling in the remains of a breakup, how the effects of said breakup come in waves, the neverending desperation to talk about said breakup. The rollicking orchestration that comes to a head in the final minute is pure catharsis and quintessential Ruess (he uses a very similar effect to open fun.’s second album, SOME NIGHTS). As far as breakup albums go, DOG PROBLEMS is notable in its deeply self-absorbed response: rather than a 12-song analysis of the other person, can we please…. talk about me? [Aya Lehman

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

9. “Let’s Make This Moment a Crime” [EP/INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

“The First Single (You Know Me) might have been the breakthrough moment for Ruess and Means, but “Let’s Make This Moment A Crime” showcased just how adept and forward the two would become at capturing the fleeting moments of love and loss. While the songs on the band’s initial EP feel scrappy, frequently endearingly simple, both “Let’s Make This Moment A Crime” and “The First Single (You Know Me)” endured because they nailed that forlorn listlessness that the band would be chasing for the next several years, the former a late night cry and the latter a delightfully hooky sing-along. Ruess summarizes that idle ennui directly with the refrain “On and on and on you wait / And oh the days they fade away / And all the nights / They’ve never felt the same” and all these years later it remains striking and effective. Unlike the straightforward re-recorded album version, which shortens and blows out the track while emphasizing the celebratory smiling-while-crying nature of that original tone, that EP version takes more time to build to that final refrain. Plenty of modern revivalist emo acts have name-checked The Format, and songs like “Let’s Make This Moment A Crime” are one of the central reasons why. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube (Album) | Spotify (Album) | Youtube (EP) | Spotify (EP)

8. “I’m Ready, I Am” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

“I’m nicotine / I’m coming clean” is a lyric practically dreamed up for middle school me as I went through my “angsty” phase (read: listened to a lot of Taking Back Sunday and Dashboard Confessional, but still wore polos from Abercrombie). I certainly should have felt the imposter syndrome Ruess touches on when I put those lyrics in an AIM away message (I can neither confirm nor deny that this exact scenario happened, though I do know I was a dumb enough kid to do so). Revisiting “I’m Ready, I Am” in 2020, it’s amazing (though not surprising) how much harder this hits. When you’re young, you can only really understand a good pop song at the very surface level. The song is obviously catchy. The keys and horn section add an enchanting whimsy, while the slide guitar in the instrumental break allows Means to rightfully show off his prowess as a multi-instrumentalist. Nearly two decades after its release, the feeling of “fake it ‘til ya make it” and moving on from past relationships all while being sleep-deprived that Ruess emotes in his lyrics? Yeah, it just fucking hits different. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

7. “Give It Up” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

The third track of an album is critical. It is the point of no return. Sure, the opener should be what draws you in, but it’s typically on the third track where decisions are made. Am I going to continue down this path? Do I really want to spend another 30-45 minutes with this album? What am I having for dinner tonight? “Give It Up” is a perfect #3 on INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES that makes the answer to those first two questions an easy “Hell yeah!” The no-frills tune overcomes a weaker second track in “Wait, Wait, Wait” to draw you back in while also setting the tone for the rest of the album. The keyboard and tuba (there’s really not enough tuba in pop music these days) capture the aura of nostalgia as Ruess takes a trip down Memory Lane. “Give It Up” is a prime example of The Format’s ability to evoke intensely relatable and familiar emotions through song. It’s a clinic in power pop songwriting. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

6. “Tune Out” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

The irony is that the traffic on the 51 isn’t THAT bad. Having now lived in places where traffic is actually terrible, I have to laugh whenever I hear Ruess’s ode to losing yourself to the radio in bumper-to-bumper. “Tune Out” is The Format’s best pop song, a natural followup to the clapping chorus of “The First Single (You Know Me)” that, better than most, plainly showcases the duality of the band. Writing a song about getting lost in your car speakers requires a chorus that almost overshadows the song itself, and miraculously not only does “Tune Out” feature arguably the band’s most catchy chorus, it perfectly undermines the verses themselves, where Ruess and his girlfriend go on a drive to forget that things are falling apart. As Ruess laments that his relationship is slowly dying, ultimately assessing that these drives are “better then silence and better then shame,” it always flips back to a chorus you can see Jimmy Fallon and Questlove jamming to with toy instruments, or SESAME STREET branding a viral video for. While plenty of songs on this list are goofy, and Ruess’ songwriting gifts were always accessibly playful but deceptively serious in ways that I think made them almost easy to discredit from afar (see: “Dog Problems”), none of them were as slick as “Tune Out.” [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

5. “Oceans” [DOG PROBLEMS]

First of all, “Oceans” is exactly the kind of song that makes me long for concerts—oh to experience the chorus of this song surrounded by sweaty men, sloshing their flat beers all over the floor of The Fonda. This is a quintessential break-up song, so much so that I would be shocked it’s not constantly on the radio except that, for some reason “Oceans” was not a single? I’ll never understand. This sleek earworm hits every beat of the post-break-up desperation for one more interaction, to re-launch your life on Instagram, to pick up everything and move to California. It’s perfect pop rock, perfect summer driving, perfect single material! The perfect break-up song on a break-up album! It makes no sense. As I mentioned previously, a heartbroken Ruess is the only Ruess I’ll accept, and “Oceans” is PEAK heartbroken Ruess—masking his sorrow and pain with an upbeat radio ready pop rock sound. [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

4. “On Your Porch” [INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

Nate Ruess’ writing style is deeply personal, his lyrics often reading as though they were plucked straight from his MySpace. “On Your Porch,” the stripped-down ballad off of INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES, is perhaps his most personal song in The Format’s catalog and an essential listen to understand his internal motivations. He finds himself saying goodbye to his home and his family shortly after his dad survived a life-threatening illness. “It’s time to get out of the desert and into the sun. This lyric always makes me chuckle a bit. After all, the desert is a famously sunny place. Though here it’s clear Ruess intends for the sun to represent his dreams of “making it” as he moves to California. It’s an all-too-relatable song for anyone who grew up in a small town they couldn’t wait to freakin’ leave, but still get hit with a wave of nostalgia for that place from time to time; a perfect accompaniment to an evening of wallowing on your bedroom floor. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

3. “She Doesn’t Get It” [DOG PROBLEMS]

“She Doesn’t Get It” is easily the most important song the band ever wrote outside of “The First Single.” By most accounts, amidst the many theoretical entry points to their music that have been pitched in this list, it was an actual entry point outside of the Phoenix area. It was the song that saw the most airplay nationally of any song, and actually reached radio waves far beyond “The Edge” 103.9 FM. Listening to it nearly a decade-and-a-half later, the song very clearly should have been the lead single, not “Time Bomb.” It’s feels nostalgic as it’s playing out, and the way Ruess delivers “She stops and she sings / “Do do do do do do do do” lands with fond remembrance; more than any other song on this list, full-stop, it’s the one that makes me flash back to what it was like when The Format were actually together, the way Nate would sing “Do do do do do do do do.” It’s a brash mix of forlorn, perhaps doomed young romance, hometown resentment, and cheeky anecdotes, and “She Doesn’t Get It,” like the songs ahead of it on this list, has that in spades. Aya smartly pointed out back on #29 that Ruess’ voice was built for heartbreak more than it was ever built for love, and boy is that true here, as jovial a pop song as “She Doesn’t Get It” may be. Enough time has passed I hope there are people claiming “She Doesn’t Get It,” even if it may have been from before they were born. [CJ Simonson]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

2. “Dog Problems” [DOG PROBLEMS]

“Dog Problems” is a perfect song. Not just a perfect Format song, a perfect song. It breaks so many fundamental rules of songwriting, yet every single facet functions perfectly. I have never listened to “Dog Problems” once—every time it ends, I play it again in an attempt to understand how Ruess and Means took the most deeply personal experiences and feelings and crafted a rousing four-minute epic. “Dog Problems” is everything DOG PROBLEMS is trying to communicate, and they just dropped it in the middle of the album as if anyone could just proceed as normal afterward. Where “Oceans” and “I’m Actual” are about very specific post-break-up feelings, “Dog Problems” is every single break-up feeling all at once:  overwhelming every sense, filling your head with a cacophony of horns and a chorus of voices chanting the meanest spelling exercise of all time (Taylor Swift’s “ME!” is shaking). “Dog Problems” was the first Format song I ever heard, discovered while scrolling through Tumblr., and I was instantly consumed by its unsettlingly personal lyrics paired with the bouncy, almost Broadway-esque composition. This song never gets old. Every single time I want to crack open Nate Ruess’ diary to parse a different line. It’s complex and absolutely ruthless—in the same song Ruess refers to his ex as “my tangerine, my pussycat, my trampoline” and “a fake.” It’s the most eloquent stream-of-consciousness ever committed to vinyl. No shade to this Becca girl, but if my ex spelled out my name with my absolute worst qualities, I’d consider changing my name. [Aya Lehman]

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

1. “The First Single (You Know Me)” [EP / INTERVENTIONS + LULLABIES]

“The First Single (You Know Me)” is, to put it simply, the singular song that best embodies The Format’s appeal. It is… the titular role. From its opening snares and bouncy guitar riff, it captivates. The catchy verses blend into a chorus that is anthemic in a “scream at the top of your lungs with the bus windows down on a school field trip” type of way. The handclaps on the track felt galvanizing at the time, even if now it’s an overused and borderline pandering element of 2010s pop music that should probably be retired (here’s looking at you Fitz and the Tantrums). Ruess and Means’ greatest strength lies in their diametric opposition to one another. Ruess, the bold and theatrical frontman keen for the spotlight, and Means, the quiet craftsman more humble in his approach, together create confident, perfectly crafted pop songs. “The First Single (You Know Me)” is the song that best displays this dichotomy. Ruess’ vocals go big, commanding your attention, while Means’ instrumentation keeps the song grounded just enough so as not to get too big that it feels cheap (an area where fun. often fails). “The First Single (You Know Me)” is an instant boost of serotonin, even if the lyrics may not be all that happy. It is a song that DEMANDS to be played 2-3 times on loop at a minimum, an essential relic not just of The Format’s first go-around, but of the early-2000s indie-pop explosion as a whole. [Becca Lengel]

Listen: YouTube (Album) | Spotify (Album) | Youtube (EP) | Spotify (EP)

**Correction: A previous version of this article claimed The Real Partners was The Format + members of Jack’s Mannequin. That one off band was members of Limbeck, not Jack’s Mannequin. Still a bad song. We apologize for the early 2000s switch up. 

Merry-Go-Round Magazine at Five

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