Emo isn't a new genre — technically, its been around since the mid-'80s, although in different forms over the years. But it's true that there is probably no other genre of music that had such a meteoric rise into the mainstream over the past 10 years.
Thanks to MySpace, the Warped Tour and guyliner, emo became an overarching title for all sorts of music – pop-punk, post-hardcore, screamo, power pop, etc. So the if a band played on Warped Tour, put some demos up on Purevolume.com, wore skinny jeans or was featured on AbsolutePunk.net over the past 10 years, they could be on this list of the best albums.
BEST ALBUMS [in no order]:
Brand New, “Deja Entendu” (2003) – The decade’s seminal release for this scene. Every track on this intensely emotional album is tremendous in its own way. From hush calm of “Play Crack the Sky” to the dual vocal synergy on “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” this album is from start to finish, perfect.
Fall Out Boy, “From Under The Cork Tree” (2005) – With Pete Wentz’s biting lyrics, Patrick Stump soulful vocal and explosive work from guitarist Joe Troman and drummer Andy Hurley, Fall Out Boy was able to take the mainstream pop-punk torch from Blink-182 and run with it. The singles were great, but it was the album’s middle portion that made it a keeper.
Blink-182, “Blink-182” (2003) – The scene’s biggest stars and biggest jokers went really serious on their as-of-now final studio release – and it paid off completely. The album’s 14 tracks profile a band that has finally found its true identity, and hopefully we get to see that continue in the future.
Thursday, “War All of the Time” (2003) – As one of the first post-hardcore bands from the scene to get a major label deal, Thursday’s Island debut was ardently anticipated and “War” did not disappoint. Though more melodic than previous (and future) efforts, this record features the right combination of hard-hitting guitar work and sizable hooks. The title track is epic.
Saves The Day, “Stay What You Are” (2001) – Saves The Day are scene legends for a reason – and a lot of it has to do with this album. Chris Conley’s winy croon has never been better than on “Freakish” and “This Is Not An Exit” and “At Your Funeral” should probably lead off any scene mix tape.
Thrice, “Vheissu” (2005) – After bashing their way into mainstream consciousness with the post-hardcore gem “The Artist In The Ambulance,” Thrice took a left turn into more expansive, layered music on “Vheissu.” The atmospheric “Atlantic” and “Red Sky” are Thrice classics.
My Chemical Romance, “Three Cheers for Revenge” (2004) – Their arena rock follow-up “The Black Parade” is truly impressive, but it cannot match the charm, hostility and pure energy that is “Three Cheers for Revenge.” Only 39 minutes long, this one is 13 tracks of pure adrenaline.
Taking Back Sunday, “Tell All Your Friends” (2002) – Dashboard may have gotten the mainstream intrigued with “emo,” but this record turned all the kids into believers. Aggressive, raw and probably too emotive, “Tell” was surely used as the blueprint for thousands of bands in the latter half of the aughts.
New Found Glory, “New Found Glory” (2000) – NFG are pop-punk royalty and 10 years later, their Drive-Thru debut still feels fresh. It’s sappy and a bit winy, but combines that with a rougher musical edge, a formula they (and thousands) of other bands have aped since this came out. This record is also notable for launching Drive-Thru records, the biggest player of the aughts’ first half.
The Starting Line, “Say It Like You Mean It” (2002) – If we were to ask any twentysomething emo fan to pick three albums that provided the soundtrack to their high school lives, this one would top the list almost every time. Kenny Vasoli’s too-earnest lyrics are instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever had a broken heart.
UnderOath,, “Define The Great Line” (2006) – After breaking through with the screamo-heavy “They’re Only Chasing Safety,” UnderOath’s follow-up expanded their sonic presence immensely. Heavier, denser and infinitely more layered, this album is less accessible than “Safety,” but it’s when UnderOath became a real-deal rock powerhouse.
Say Anything, “In Defense of the Genre” (2007) – A 27-track emo opus, “Defense” features guest appearances by the scene’s biggest players and sees Max Bemis take shots at religion, haters, himself and (duh) the genre.
Lydia, “Illuminate” (2008) – Lush sounds and soft tones give “Illuminate” an epic, sweeping feel as every track perfectly weaves into the next. Lydia is probably the most unknown artist on the list and after just one full listen of this album, you’ll see that’s a crime.
Motion City Soundtrack, “Even If It Kills Me” (2007) – The most underrated record from one of the scene’s most underrated acts. “Even” sees Justin Pierre drop the goofy, pop culture-infused lyrics that dominated MCS’ two previous (and still stellar) albums, and instead bares his soul about his battles with alcohol run his life. Less synth and more traditional piano give this a more mature sound that goes with the adult lyrics.
Mayday Parade, “A Lesson In Romantics” (2007) – Just when we thought traditional power pop-punk had gone to the wayside thanks to the neon revolution, Mayday Parade’s debut album released the smorgasbord of hooks that is “Romantics.” Nobody does mid-tempo like Mayday.
The Academy Is…, “Almost Here” (2005) – After Fall Out Boy’s success, their label Fueled By Ramen churned out one solid band after another, but TAI is still the best. “Almost Here” isn’t hard enough to be pop-punk and has a little too much funk to be pop, but whatever the hell it is classified as, it still remains as one of the best debuts of the decade.
Dashboard Confessional, “The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most” (2001) – Thanks to this album, this list has the word “emo” in it. Chris Carrabba’s tear-soaked acoustic guitar charmed everyone, and as on-the-nose as “Screaming Infidelities” it is impossible not to relate.
Midtown, “Forget What You Know” (2004) – After toiling around with still-great pop-punk, Midtown’s final release is slightly experimental, angry and actually creative for this kind of music. But because no one bought it, Gabe Saporta decided it would be cool to start Cobra Starship. We have only ourselves to blame.
Relient K, “Mmhmm” (2004) – This is another example of a band ditching some of its kitschier, goofier elements while still keeping their identity in-tact. “Mmhmm” is chock-full of piano-driven pop/rock gems that are undeniable.
Jack’s Mannequin, “The Glass Passenger” (2008) – Andrew McMahon refused to let his bout with cancer get him down, and instead used the illness to craft an album that is full of short little stories about hope and pain and grieving that is nothing short of beautiful.
Paramore, “brand new eyes” (2009) – “Riot!”includes more radio-friendly tracks, but Paramore’s latest effort sees frontwoman Hayley Williams become a complete force, both lyrically and vocally. The album’s closer, “All I Wanted” is a tour-de-force of explosive vocal proportions.
Gym Class Heroes, “As Cruel as School Children” (2006) – The re-released and over-played “Cupid’s Chokehold” aside, Gym Class Heroes’ second Fueled By Ramen release is a sweet combination of funk, pop and hip-hop. Patrick Stump’s fantastic production and an intelligent grade-school concept, “School Children” is a triumph of genre-mixing.
Forgive Durden, “Razia’s Shadow” (2008) – In a time when so many artists are doing the same exact thing, Thomas Dutton went the complete opposite way by composing an emo-pop musical, with a complete story and everything. It’s partially creepy and partially beautiful, but ultimately is entertaining as hell.
The Dangerous Summer, “Reach For The Sun” (2009) – A.J. Perdomo is one of the scene’s most impressive young writers and his work on “Reach” is very personal without being too sappy or cliché. Add that with the band’s ability to craft solid mid-tempo numbers that seemingly expand in sound and we have the best full-length debut of 2009.
AFI, “Sing The Sorrow” (2003) – Goth-punk legends AFI’s major label debut sheds some of the faster-paced work they had built their career on to that point – and that is a good thing. Slow builders like “The Great Disappointment” and “…But Home Is Nowhere” are long, intense numbers that reach a satisfying end.
Gatsbys American Dream, “Gatsbys American Dream” (2006) – The Gatsbys sound is very difficult to put into one or even six different genres or subgenres, so let’s just call it “good.” The act’s self-titled release features a slew of pop culture and literacy references to layer over the crunchy, plodding melodies.
Yellowcard, “Paper Walls” (2007) – By the time this one was released, “Ocean Avenue” was a thing of the past and Yellowcard didn’t matter to the mainstream anymore, but that didn’t stop the band from releasing an album that was as lyrically mature as the career-killing “Lights and Sounds,” but was just as hook-filled as “Ocean Avenue.”
The Gaslight Anthem, “The ’59 Sound” (2008) – Gaslight’s sound has influences from Americana rock above anything else, but they’ve managed to add an extra layer of Ramones-like punk roughness to it their storytelling. Providing more than a generic message or sentiment is rare these days, so the stories told on “Sound” are a breath of fresh air.
Jimmy Eat World, “Futures” (2004) – “Bleed American” is a pop-rock standout, but its gloomy, more complicated follow-up is more of an accomplishment. Featuring five of the band’s best tracks – “Futures,” “Kill,” “Work,” 23” and “Polaris” – and a general theme of struggle, “Futures” is the perfect album to listen to on a chilly fall day.
Anberlin, “Cities” (2007) – Though their previous two albums were solid pop/rock releases, “Cities” saw lead singer/lyricist Stephen Christian embrace a more introspective writing style that paid off masterfully. The album’s closer (*Fin) pulls together lyrics and themes from the rest of the album beautifully, creating a lovely finish.
Panic! At The Disco, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” (2005) – Pretentious punctuation aside, Panic!’s debut effort is full of catchy melodies that provide the back-drop for some pretty dark lyrics. And though they’re known for some sort of dance-punk, this album’s latter half is much more exploratory than that.
Warped MVP: Fall Out Boy – Brand New is the cliché choice and My Chem is a damn good one too but FOB has been able to manage major mainstream success while keeping pretty much true to their pop-punk roots. Pete Wentz might be a major media whore, but no one pens witty, one-liner lyrics like he does. The band has released four albums that were are different, but the same Fall Out Boy sound remained.
Best single of the decade: “I’m Not Okay,” My Chemical Romance and “Sugar We’re Going Down,” Fall Out Boy – 2005 brought us the explosion of the scene into the mainstream thanks to these two ridiculously catchy anthems. Though they go about it in very different ways, both tracks scathingly attack the opposite sex in a way that is partially whiny and partially awesome – which is exactly what the best kind of “emo” is.
Worst trend: Haircut bands, crunkcore, mudercore, etc. – The last few years of the decade have seen an explosion in the number of bands that mix screamo and rap or screamo, rap and graphic lyrics about killing people while others worry more about their god-awful MySpace-approved haircuts instead of the music, man. These bands are one of the reasons why aliens think it’s easy to abduct and possibly rule us people.
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