When I say the word “emo,” what do you think of? Fall Out
Boy and My Chemical Romance? Dashboard Confessional? Hot Topic and middle
school? The tragic thing about genre classification is that you wouldn’t necessarily
be wrong, but you would be missing out on some really great music.
with emo is that, like any genre with a number of “waves” or stages, it can be too easy
to forget that all sorts of incredible artists develop underground followings
that never really compete with the bigger names in the genre. Fortunately,
there have been some rising bands in the past few years that are pushing the
sound forward, creating a “fourth wave” of emo.
To help you get your inner Claremont suburban rage out, I’ll go
through a brief history of how emo ended up where it is today, and highlight some
of the best of the new batch. While this is by no means a comprehensive survey
of the currently massive genre, it should be a good starting place. Let’s get
Since the whole categorization of genre waves is pretty pedantic
at best and hotly debated at worst, I’ll skip it in favor of saying that ’90s Midwestern emo is the main influence on this new crop. Begun as a melodic
and cathartic extension of the ’80s D.C. emo hardcore sound, this is where we
get introduced to swirly, twinkly guitar parts and the adorably sincere
Most notable for influencing the new wave are Cap’n Jazz and American Football, both products of Chicago’s Kinsella brothers,
Mike and Tim. The spazzy, dolorous math-rock sound did a lot to spawn this
fourth wave, and the two are absolutely essential for understanding what’s
going on now. Other important bands from this period that you should check out
include the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring, and Sunny Day Real Estate.
From there emerged the more polished sounds of FOB, MCR,
Jimmy Eat World, and so on. While these sounds have relatively little influence on
the new wave, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a single emo fan who
doesn’t hold Brand New or Taking
Back Sunday in high regard. Brand New’s The
Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is a modern classic, and has clear
descendants in every band that sings about self-loathing or inadequacy.
As that “mainstreamification” of emo winded down, the new
wave kicked into full gear with the support of Internet communities on websites like Tumblr
and Bandcamp. Two extremely influential bands from the early stages of the new wave have broken up already. Snowing’s
only EP, Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit, released
in 2009 for free, cemented Kinsella-revival as its own viable sub-sub-genre by
creating legions of loyal fans, while Algernon
Cadwallader followed in those chaotic Cap’n Jazz-y footsteps as well. Now, both
bands are practically legends within the emo scene.
When indie labels like Topshelf,
Count Your Lucky Stars, and Run For
Cover started up, bands like Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate),
Joie de Vivre, and Pianos Become the Teeth combined a do-it-yourself ethos with a rawer, homegrown sound. Dads brought that twinkly guitar thing to its absolute limit, and Dowsing kept the pop-punk side of emo
alive. Finally, that one band with the long name you might have come across on
that one blog, The World Is a Beautiful
Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, crafted an indelible feeling of
communal yelling, garnering a whole host of favorable comparisons to early
Arcade Fire from the music press.
But that’s enough for the usual narrative of the “fourth
wave” that’s been cemented in various think pieces over the course of the past
year. I’m also here to let you know about some other bands that are personal
favorites, most of which have been overlooked by the press.
First up is
England’s Crash of Rhinos, which actually broke up just this week.
With less tapping and noodling than the Kinsella heritage, they focused on
something closer to the D.C. hardcore sound, full of intense communal
scream-alongs to highly quotable lines like “I have a future in failing!”
outfit Glocca Morra dropped their beautiful
Just Married LP back in 2012,
developing a rabid fan base among those more inclined to experimental
from St. Louis, mixes the standard twinkly affair with healthy gobs of
Explosions in the Sky-level guitar atmospherics.
And finally, self-professed
“stoner emo” guys Cloakroom dropped
a crazy EP last year full of languid but affecting meditations called Infinity.
Basically, if you get nothing else from this article, know
that emo is in incredible shape, and it’s easily one of the best things going
on in music right now. Just because we let Dashboard Confessional happen, don’t
be afraid to let yourself revel in the sounds of angst.