Yes, I’m doing another challenge. Sorry about that. Go here for more details.
Let’s get cracking, shall we?
Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary: Right from the get-go, I’m transported back in time, back to an era of thick glasses and backpacks. I don’t think I ever actually heard this album, but all the ingredients are there: guitars that sound like they’re not quite tuned, minor chords, ever so slightly off key vocals, big choruses, and a shambolic melancholy. It’s excellent, so that’s probably a good start. If I committed to 50 albums and they were all a bit shit then that wouldn’t be much fun.
The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good: Another band I know more from seeing their name bandied about by scene kids much cooler than myself, this is excellent. It lacks the rawness of SDRE, and ups the catchiness quotient, but it’s still got that indefinable cool detachment thing going on. Very nice. Shit, I hope some of these albums are rubbish so I can bitch about them.
The Get Up Kids – Something to Write Home About: It’s a funny old brew, emo. This is only a few notches away from the So-Cal punk of NOFX and Lagwagon at times, but still feels more akin to the other albums on the list than to the land of beer bongs, baggy trousers, and casual misogyny. Most of that’s down to the vocals, which have the feel of a man perpetually on the verge of crying into his cornflakes.
Braid – Frame and Canvas: This is far more angular, all Fugazi worshipping choppy riffs and time changes. When you think back to the roots of emo (an abbreviation of ‘emotional hardcore’) this is the closest I’ve heard so far to the ‘hardcore’ part of that heritage. Excellent stuff.
Texas is the Reason – Do You Know Who You Are?: I think it shows how little a ‘proper scene kid’ I was that it’s five albums in before I come to one I used to own. This band were probably the band that got me into ‘proper’ emo, when I heard one of their songs on a Revelation Records sampler CD. It now sounds a bit reedy, production-wise, but solid enough. I think I might already be getting bored of minor chords and sadness.
Boy’s Life – Boy’s Life: It’s funny, lots of scenes do their best to brand themselves as ‘not a scene’ as soon as anyone pays attention, but emo sticks so rigidly to its own confines that if all six of the albums I’ve heard so far were albums by the same band you wouldn’t be hugely surprised. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, like Kerry King being asked why Slayer keep releasing the same album by some snotty journalist and answering ‘because it’s a fucking good album.’ I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it applies to this list. This is really discordant in places, the guitar work is excellent, but the vocals let it down a bit. Still, it probably pushed the boundaries a bit more than what I’ve heard before.
American Football – American Football: Speaking of pushing the boundaries, this is brilliant, and sounds nothing like the other albums so far. Gentle but intricate guitar work that lies somewhere between math rock and post rock (don’t you just love genres?) with angsty emo vocals over the top. It’s all then interlaced with trumpets, sadness, and excellence. This is probably the best thing I’ve heard so far, so I really need to hate an album soon, or people are going to stop reading.
Cap’n Jazz – Analphabetapolothology: Readers of my previous musical-stupidity-exercise may recall how nothing used to stoke my ire more than a career retrospective, best of, or other compilation. Surely then, given the opportunity to compile a list of my very own, I would veto such abominations? No. I’m an idiot. The website that prompted this list put this ‘everything they ever recorded ever’ compilation as the required listening for this band, and I added it blindly to a Spotify playlist. I was over an hour in before I realised what it was. I cursed myself fairly heartily. Anyway, it’s decent enough, albeit with a vocalist who veers between finding the howling angst sweet spot and missing it and crashing into a nearby building. Not one to return to.
Mineral – Endserenading: All the sadness. This couldn’t be any more angst-ridden if it was sat on the back steps of an American High School reading The Bell Jar and eating a sandwich of tears. It’s a fairly one note album, and that note is pretty whiny, but somehow that still works for me. That might say more about me than it does the album, though.
Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy: Hooray, something a bit bouncier. Thank the emo gods for that. It’s quite far away from the traditional ‘emo scene,’ and if it hadn’t been such a pivotal moment in the scene’s development, it might well never have been part of it at all. It’s a very good punk album, emo in its lyrics and passion, rather than its sound. After the unending sadness of that Mineral album, I can live with anything that doesn’t have me searching the cupboards for the pills.
At The Drive In – Relationship of Command: Again, not really an emo album, you can just about justify the inclusion of this hardcore masterpiece in that it melds a lot of vaguely emo melodies amongst its anarchic punk rock explosion. It’s chuffing brilliant, but then you probably already knew that.
Owls – Owls: Challenging, I believe would be the term. That’s my polite way of saying it’s fucking terrible. It’s discordant, but not in a ‘we worship Fugazi’ way; this is more ‘we’ve never heard the concept of melody and we want to cause you physical discomfort’. All the instruments seem to be playing different songs, and the singer sounds like when that Shreds guy makes pastiche videos of One Direction on You Tube. I’m genuinely not sure if I’ve ever enjoyed listening to an album less than this, and I’ve listened to some terrible, terrible shit.
The Appleseed Cast – Two Conversations: It’s funny, although it’s a fairly tight blueprint (guitar based, mixing post hardcore riffs with the angst of grunge and adding in a dash of pop-punk), there’s a lot of scope for difference within emo. I suppose that’s why people get into a scene or a movement, it’s like digging into a Lego box and making a car, then wanting to build every type of car you can, until finally Lego releases a pre-made car kit that’s more elaborate and overblown than the little cars you made, so you dismantle all the cars with a sense of sadness and start making something else. What the fuck am I talking about? Anyway, this is lovely, there’s a wistfulness about it, it’s a lot gentler than a lot of the more angular stuff on the list, but it doesn’t have the crushing misery of something like Mineral. Very nice.
Far – Tin Cans With Strings to You: I added this one, because Far were to my mind the greatest of all the emo bands, even if a lot of emo fans don’t really see them as part of the scene. They’re a lot heavier, with a crushing guitar tone more akin to Helmet or Deftones than Jawbox or Fugazi, but in Jonah Matranga they had a tremendous vocalist, able to convey all the angst in the world without ever sacrificing his tremendous tonal clarity. This album remains pretty high on my all-time list.
Desaparecidos – Read Music/Speak Spanish: I’d never heard of these guys, being only familiar with Bright Eyes era Conor Oberst onwards, but this is tremendous. It’s basically just a slightly heavier version of his more well-known later work, more OC-emo than backpack-emo, but it’s excellent.
Saves The Day – Stay What You Are: Eww. Pop punk. This is horrible. If your music sounds like it needs to be accompanied by a glossy music video where really good looking teenagers enjoy what looks like a bitching party and everyone looks like they’re having a fabulous time, you’re doing emo wrong. This sounds more like the backdrop to a 40 minute long GAP advert. Awful.
The Anniversary – Designing A Nervous Breakdown: We’re solidly back in emo territory here, and, shock of shocks, there’s actually a woman singing on this one. I’d forgotten what a male dominated scene this was, a scene of boys crying about girls, at least to begin with. Certainly as it exploded, the music seemed to pull in far more girls than boys, without ever really adding any women to the bands themselves. But could it be that it was my own misogyny that led me to abandon the scene the minute it became more appealing to girls? That’s a worrying thought. Let me tuck that down in the dark recesses of my psyche where I put all the other troubling thoughts. *ahem* Back to the album. This is very poppy, keyboardy emo, but it’s summery and lovely.
Reggie And The Full Effect – Songs Not To Get Married To: I really cannot fathom what to make of this. It’s the solo project of the keyboardist from The Get Up Kids, and involves musicians from lots of very good hardcore bands, but its mix of emo, screamo, metalcore, pop punk and seemingly thousands of other influences is about as enticing to sit through as an episode of Storage Hunters. But then, some people like Storage Hunters, so go figure.
Jets To Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary: This is tremendous. I thought it might be the same singer as the Jawbox album from earlier, and Wikipedia has proved me right, so that’s always nice. This is a lot more emo than his former band, but the term still doesn’t quite feel big enough to encompass the many sounds on here. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard so far on the list. Well done them.
Christie Front Drive – Stereo: This is very minimal in places, opening with a gentle piano refrain before expanding out, slowly. This sits the more discordant end of the emo scale, but it’s full of soaring melodies to go alongside the mathy time changes. I absolutely love it, it’s the kind of album that might have changed my life if I’d heard it at the right time. Unfortunately I’m too old for all that these days, so I’ll settle for just really enjoying it.
Coheed and Cambria – The Second Stage Turbine Blade: I remember when this came out, everyone in the metal/rock press were fawning over it, and desperately trying to categorise its blend of prog rock and emo. Premo? Emog? Progressive Emotional Rock? I remember listening to it at the time and deciding that the correct term was ‘fucking unlistenable bullshit’. Listening to it again now, I don’t see any reason to amend my original position. The singer’s voice is the main reason, it’s like nails on a blackboard to me, fuck off great big Freddy Kruger ones. On top of that, the music is a bit too polished and flat for my tastes. It’s all just a bit jaunty. I don’t really do jaunty.
Death Cab For Cutie – We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes: Not really an emo band, but I can see why they got added to the list. Ben Gibbard’s voice has a very emo quality, the songs are full of wistful longing and confessional lyrics. Either way, this is brilliant, so I’m glad it made the list.
Rainer Maria – Past Worn Searching: Hooray for another female voice on the list. This is definitely at the lo-fi angsty end of the spectrum that’s my cup of tea. Ironically, tea is not my cup of tea, because it tastes like someone has sifted water through foliage.
The Rocking Horse Winner – State of Feeling Concentration: Another female vocalist! My first impression on this one is that I’ve suddenly transported into the club in Buffy where she and Angel sway together in front of some emo-pop, gazing longingly at each other, before some biker vampire gang busts in and they have to kick some ass, while Xander quips about it all and Willow looks adorably worried. If you think this means I didn’t like it then we really don’t know each other very well.
Weezer – Pinkerton: Hooray for Pinkerton! Widely panned when it came out by a press expecting the Blue Album Part 2, those of us still ruled by our hormones at the time saw the glory at the time, and took its angst-ridden pop to our hearts and our scribbled diary entries. It still sounds amazing, and while it’s not quite emo, its impact on that nascent seedling of a scene can’t be overestimated.