In its purest form, emo music used to be the lovechild of punk and confessional prose. Characterised by angst-ridden lyrics and aggressive punk musicianship, Emo has come a long way since the early 1990s – albeit in appalling fashion. Short for emotive hardcore, this once covert style of music has now been championed as a watered-down, crude misrepresentation of the genre. Misconstrued spin-off bands of the genre included the likes of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco which paved the way for further dilution by post-hardcore and screamo.
It is noteworthy that while even the most unlearned of music enthusiasts are able to differentiate the likes of Bad Religion from All Time Low in Punk, and Motörhead from Killswitch Engage in Metal, the same cannot be said for Emo. It comes as no surprise though, seeing as how disparate styles of Emo have sprung up to collectively define the genre. Whether it’s abrasive maniacs like Drive Like Jehu, the earnestly heartfelt The Promise Ring, or arpeggiated softies like Mike Kinsella, conversations about bands with Emo roots more often than dictate the inevitable comparison between Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate. While the former characterised the primal energy and angst in post-hardcore, Sunny Day Real Estate laid the groundwork for the introspective and melodic Emo we know of today. For a band that debuted with an LP titled Diary, you could very well say that they were the true founders of Emo.
While passion and honesty defined Emo, the overblown culture developed into an internal friction that would eventually befall the genre itself. The 1990s Emo scene was clearly void of teenagers with jet-black side swept hair and skin-tight jeans – a complete obliteration of Emo in the early 2000s. And it all went dismally downhill from there. At its lowest point, even the likes of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Linkin Park were deemed Emo heavyweights.
Emo is no longer represented as a genre, but an attitude to the functions of punk rock, its fans and bands. But it is worth considering its existence as a spit-shined product of punk’s do-it-yourself culture. Emo has definitely seen better days, but that doesn’t mean we should brush off its modern counterparts either. I’ve therefore compiled a list of what I regard as Emo’s finest albums – both old and less old – to reminisce because let’s be honest, that is pretty much the only thing we can do now.
Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate (1994)
Even if Diary isn’t quite as influential as the sheer number of its imitators suggest, Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album should and always will be at the forefront of Emo. While Diary’s garage sound seems a bit dated for today’s modern rock standards, let’s not forget the countless times SDRE have been mentioned in interviews of late.
Dusk and Summer by Dashboard Confessional (2006)
Venturing into pop rock without losing any of his Emo roots, Chris Carraba does everything different from his days in Further Seems Forever. Despite massive pop success (venturing away from the DIY style), I hold Dashboard Confessional in high regard as one of Emo’s modern pacesetters.
American Football by American Football (1999)
Often conveniently left out as a forerunner in Emo, American Football was one of Mike Kinesella’s ventures. Bearing close resemblance to Cap’n Jazz has certainly not hurt this short-lived trio, who prove that you do not need heavy distortion to write an Emo song.
Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World (2001)
Jimmy Eat World’s very involvement in both The O.C and One Tree Hill’s soundtracks speaks volumes about its place in Emo. With most Emo bands defunct, Jimmy Eat World is one of the very few in mainstream music going strong, churning out release after release without significantly straying away from the signature Emo sound.
Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids (1999)
With one foot in punk and the other in emo, The Get Up Kids have been heavily cited as influences by successive bands in both genres. Although the band went horribly downhill after Something to Write Home About, it only goes to show that the album was a sheer masterpiece.