Texas Is The Reason @ The Blue Chair, Tampa, FL, 3/17/1996

Ask anyone old enough to drink what they think emo is, and you’ll get about as many different responses as people willing to answer. They’ll just about all be right, too (if Last.fm is any kind of reference, anyway). Everyone’s nebulous identification and loose understanding of the genre is both its best and worst quality — emo is just so damn personal. No matter if you credit Rites Of Spring or My Chemical Romance for introducing raw, bleeding-heart emotions into the lexicon of punk and hardcore, the bands you listen to and define as “real emo” are undoubtedly among the most important to ever appear in your life. And yet there was indeed a solid stretch of time, roughly under a decade, when everyone who cared to could wholeheartedly agree on what the hell emo actually was, and they could not get enough of it. I like to refer to this as the Golden Era of Emo. Starting in the early ’90s and sputtering out just after the turn of the century, it was an exciting period for underground punk and hardcore scenes. The Golden Era gave emo its unequivocally best songs, and it also birthed a number of bands and artists who would go on to become both huge commercial successes and revered darlings of independent music. This wasn’t when the term “emotional hardcore” was coined, nor was it when emo became a household word; this was that perfect pocket of time when a specific kind of unabashedly earnest rock was able to incubate out of the spotlight and thrive amongst a tight-knit group of eager and unjaded peers.

Between the old-school band reunions, the classic album anniversaries, the reissues, the re-emerging record labels, and that whole #emorevival thing, now seems like the ideal time to talk about the music that made all of this stuff important to us in the first place. And what better way to kick start the discussion than with a list? But let’s first lay down some ground rules. For the 30 Essential Songs From The Golden Era Of Emo list, I opted to leave out bands who I lovingly think of as “proto-emo” — that is, grandfathers of the scene such as Hüsker Dü, Rites Of Spring, Embrace, and Dag Nasty. I also did not include seminal screamo acts like Saetia, I Hate Myself, Antioch Arrow, You And I, Jeromes Dream, Pg.99, Orchid, etc., because, honestly, that’s a whole other list unto itself. No, instead I focused on the more melodic and relatively recent ends of the emo spectrum. And because there are simply just too many great bands to include in a list like this, I decided to only pick one song per group, though keen eyes and ears will undoubtedly notice a few different bands with shared members. Finally: This list is not ranked worst to best, or best to worst; it is presented chronologically by release date (or approximate release date, when the historical release date proved impossible to nail down), from oldest to newest. Now, with all of the necessary caveats in place, let’s take a song-by-song trip through the definitive age of emo.

1/94 Jawbox – “Savory” (from For Your Own Special Sweetheart)

Most people equate ’90s emo with the Midwestern sound popularized by bands from the suburbs of Chicago, Omaha, or Kansas City, and while that is unquestionably an integral part of the music’s lineage, it is not the be-all and end-all. There is another, admittedly much smaller region with a sizable stake in emo history, too: Washington, D.C. — the birthplace of “emotional hardcore.” The East Coast counterpart was more angular and aggressive, but no less unafraid of visceral expression, which is all on brilliant display in “Savory.” The closest thing to a breakout single by J. Robbins’ most well-known band, Jawbox, “Savory” gained mild popularity on MTV, offering a glimmer of hope to musicians who didn’t want to write grunge songs when it was released in January of 1994. Robbins would go on to become the underground rock scene’s preeminent record producer with his Magpie Cage Recording Studio, helping to shape the sound of a number of the bands featured on this list.

(See also: The Dismemberment Plan – “The Ice Of Boston,” Burning Airlines – “Pacific 231,” No Knife – “Minus One”)

5/94 Sunny Day Real Estate – “In Circles” (from Diary)

Little can be written about Sunny Day Real Estate’s masterful “In Circles” that hasn’t been said time and time again (though I certainly tried my best on the 20th anniversary of Diary). For countless people, this song is the epitome of emo, the defining anthem of the pioneering Seattle band and the era of music it inadvertently spawned. The song’s loud-soft dynamics, deep post-hardcore roots, artful lyricism, and unobtrusive pop sensibilities gave the Golden Era of Emo its blueprint, and as such, “In Circles” has still never been topped in terms of sheer influence and ingenuity.

(See also: Texas Is The Reason – “A Jack With One Eye,” Mineral – “Parking Lot,” The Appleseed Cast – “Marigold & Patchwork”)

9/94 Policy Of 3 – “Nine Years Old” (from the American Woodworking 7″)

Another entry in the list of emo bands owing a great deal to D.C. hardcore, New Jersey’s Policy Of 3 existed in the grittier outskirts of the ’90s underground scene, a world more interested in jangly instrumentation, dark iconography, and starkly DIY production than its relatively populist peers in the middle of America. Policy Of 3 wrote music that helped birth the nascent screamo sound proliferated by labels like Ebullition, Level Plane, and Gravity, but on songs like the winding and powerful “Nine Years Old,” they hold enough back to keep things tuneful and understated.

(See also: Rites Of Spring – “For Want Of,” Moss Icon – “Gravity,” Hoover – “Electrolux”)

1/95 Cap’n Jazz – “Little League” (from Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On And Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over)

It sounds a bit strange to call a bunch of teenagers from Champaign, Illinois the godfathers of Midwestern emo, and yet here we are. Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Davey von Bohlen, Sam Zurick, and Victor Villarreal have been fixtures of the scene since the mid-’90s thanks to the popularity of Joan Of Arc and the Promise Ring, but their long-defunct band Cap’n Jazz didn’t rise to prominence until Jade Tree reissued its discography as Analphabetapolothology in 1998. With a 34-song tracklist, the double-disc release offers a ton of material to go through, so its no surprise that its two best songs — “Little League” and “Oh Messy Life” — kick off the whole bunch. (It’s also how they appeared on Cap’n Jazz’s original debut LP when it was released in ’95.) Everyone surely has their own favorite of the two, but if you ask me, the unbridled energy and raspy yawping in “Little League” is just way more fun to sing along with.

(See also: Joan Of Arc – “God Bless America,” Ghosts And Vodka – “It’s All About Right Then,” Owls – “Everyone Is My Friend”)

9/95 Jawbreaker – “Jet Black” (from Dear You)

I don’t know about everyone else, but I genuinely miss hearing movie samples in rock songs. Sure, it’s an antiquated, often clunky songwriting and production tool, but when it’s done right, it can make a song just as memorable as the movie it references. “Jet Black,” the moody centerpiece from Jawbreaker’s divisive major label album, Dear You, nails the trick when it samples Christopher Walken’s monologue from Annie Hall for a bitingly dark effect. Though Jawbreaker might be more lovingly remembered for punky gems like “Boxcar,” “Want,” and “Do You Still Hate Me?,” bandleader Blake Schwarzenbach’s introspective and nuanced songwriting on “Jet Black” (not to mention other Dear You highlights, like “Accident Prone” and “Fireman”) foreshadowed his work with the equally seminal Jets To Brazil.

(See also: Texas Is The Reason – “Antique,” Knapsack – “Courage Was Confused,” Jets To Brazil – “Sweet Avenue”)

4/96 Texas Is The Reason – “Johnny On The Spot” (from Do You Know Who You Are?)

As literally post-hardcore as it gets, Texas Is The Reason was born from the ashes of two revered NYC hardcore bands, and went on to make a more lasting impact on independent music than their previous projects combined. The four-piece outfit carved its Misfits-inspired name deep into the DNA of ’90s emo with an effortless juxtaposition of hooky riffs, powerful drumming, and a plaintive vocal style that never shies away from downright catchiness. Following a solid self-titled EP in ’95, Do You Know Who You Are? became the next canonical emo album after Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, though it would be Texas Is The Reason’s only full-length record. “Johnny On The Spot” opens the LP like a bold mission statement, clearly outlining the band’s charging style of melodic, emotional post-hardcore in a blast of high energy and thoughtful candor.

(See also: Elliott – “Dionysus Burning,” Jets To Brazil – “Starry Configurations,” New End Original – “Lukewarm”)

6/96 Christie Front Drive – “Radio” (from Christie Front Drive)

Christie Front Drive is your favorite emo band’s favorite emo band, and a perfect example of how fantastic music can go largely unnoticed until it’s too late, a story that a number of the bands on this list can relate to. Though they got their start in ’93 and worked with the likes of Boy’s Life, Jimmy Eat World, and renowned emo label Crank!, the Denver, Colorado quartet didn’t release a proper debut album until the tail end of ’96, after they had already broken up. (The CD’s liner notes actually end with the band writing “Goodbye!”) From that technically self-titled record (often referred to as Stereo), “Radio” is a glowing illustration of the subtly inventive and personable music that Christie Front Drive prolifically wrote throughout its brief career.

(See also: Cursive – “After The Movies,” Cross My Heart – “Dornier,” Penfold – “I’ll Take You Everywhere”)

9/96 Weezer – “Tired Of Sex” (from Pinkerton)

Chalk it up to revisionist history if you must: Weezer’s Pinkerton is the best “too mainstream to be real emo” emo record there is. Diehards will decry any significance that Rivers Cuomo’s breakup album has in the grand scheme of emo history, but for those of us who are willing to give genre archetypes a little more wiggle room, there are some classic songs for the brokenhearted here. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more emotional than someone screaming “Why can’t I be making love come true?” over crashing drums and intensely distorted guitars. Those qualities alone put the satisfyingly bombastic “Tired Of Sex” straight into the emo continuum, but if you need another reason, where do you think emo’s thick-rimmed glasses and sweater schtick came from, anyway?

(See also: Superdrag – “Sucked Out,” Smoking Popes – “I Know You Love Me,” Piebald – “American Hearts”)

1/97 Mineral – “Gloria” (from The Power Of Failing)

Originally released in ’94 as the A-side of a two-song 7″, “Gloria” is to Mineral’s The Power Of Failing what “In Circles” is to Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, a pitch-perfect encapsulation of what makes the whole album so absolutely good. The music’s energy jumps and dives with smooth, flowing movements, blasting through punk-informed choruses and bridges with the same resonance as each softly lilting verse. Singer/guitarist Chris Simpson’s songwriting and vocal skills would come to be revered on the same level as SDRE frontman Jeremy Enigk’s, and the enduring power of Mineral’s small discography — not to mention that of Simpson’s next band, the Gloria Record — is testament to the widespread effect his music had on the emo community.

(See also: Sunny Day Real Estate – “Seven,” The Gloria Record – “Grace, The Snow Is Here,” Pop Unknown – “Half Of Ninety”)

10/97 The Promise Ring – “Red & Blue Jeans” (from Nothing Feels Good)

The Promise Ring is about as deliciously upbeat and poppy as emo gets. Davey von Bohlen’s first post-Cap’n Jazz band channeled the unbridled enthusiasm of his earlier project into more refined songs like the bubbly “Why Did Ever We Meet” and 30° Everywhere’s wistful “A Picture Postcard” — caught between those dominant forces is “Red & Blue Jeans.” The Nothing Feels Good standout represents everything that has made the Promise Ring’s large and devoted fanbase stick with the band through bouts of gleeful abandon (Very Emergency) and a change of identity (Wood/Water): sticky bubblegum hooks, thoughtful lyricism, and thoroughly melodic rock delivered with a grin, a wink, and a sigh.

(See also: Jimmy Eat World – “Claire,” The Get Up Kids – “Don’t Hate Me,” Braid – “First Day Back”)

12/97 Rainer Maria – “Tinfoil” (from Past Worn Searching)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, female-fronted emo bands are especially hard to come by, but that doesn’t make Rainer Maria a novelty by any stretch. The Madison, Wisconsin-born three-piece didn’t rely on cutesy boy-girl exchanges between their two singers, nor did they write overtly twee melodies and saccharine riffs — Rainer Maria were as intensely expressive as any of their more masculine peers, if not occasionally more so. Opening the band’s debut album for Polyvinyl, Past Worn Searching, “Tinfoil” bursts out of the gates with singer Caithlin De Marrais commanding our respect and attention: “Goddammit! I’m not talking about my heart like it’s something you could break.” In many ways, Rainer Maria’s explosive song was the ringing announcement of both a band and a record label that would give late-’90s emo some of its finest music.

(See also: The Jazz June – “When The Drums Kick In,” Jejune – “This Afternoon’s Malady,” The Anniversary – “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”)

4/98 Braid “A Dozen Roses” (from Frame And Canvas)

Speaking of highly influential Polyvinyl bands, Braid was yet another fantastic emo export from Champaign, Illinois, whose last and arguably best studio album was released via the label in April of ’98. (They’ve since reformed in recent years, and actually just released a new full-length record called No Coast!) Frame And Canvas has no lack of excellent, inventive songs — in fact, almost all of its 12 tracks are core elements of Understanding Emo 101, and just about every #emorevival band out there owes roughly 80% of their sound to them. But for all of the wild energy and restless hooks that bustle through Braid’s third LP, it’s the mildly restrained centerpiece that stands a head taller than the rest. Maybe because of Bob Nanna’s offhandedly poetic lyrics, or the unexpected bounce of Damon Atkinson’s drums, or the fluid versatility of Chris Broach’s guitars, or how the band exudes such emotional resonance in both a whisper and a shout, but “A Dozen Roses” is somehow a song that only Braid could write.

(See also: Boys Life – “Golf Hill Drive,” Piebald – “The Sea And A Lifesaver,” Hey Mercedes – “The House Shook”)

8/98 At The Drive-In – “Napoleon Solo” (from In/Casino/Out)

Just because most emo bands sing about unrequited love, relationships, and heartbreak doesn’t necessarily mean that they all do. Case in point, the socio-political inclinations of one of emo’s premier innovators, At The Drive-In. Despite hailing from El Paso, Texas, the quintet set themselves apart from their peers with a distinctive take on the D.C. post-hardcore sound; intricate guitar work, esoteric lyrics, and a rhythm section prone to dance-friendly grooves landed At The Drive-In closer to Fugazi than Sunny Day Real Estate. But a song such as “Napoleon Solo” finds the band neck deep in the driving, loud-soft dynamics of Midwestern emo, albeit on their own terms. Between Omar Rodríguez-López’s hypnotic riffs and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s soul-shaking wail, “Napoleon Solo” is the first irrefutable example of what makes At The Drive-In an unforgettable chapter in emo’s history.

(See also: …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – “Mistakes & Regrets,” Q And Not U – “End The Washington Monument (Blinks) Goodnight,” Sparta – “Cut Your Ribbon”)

10/98 Jets To Brazil – “Chinatown” (from Orange Rhyming Dictionary)

In the wake of Jawbreaker’s breakup after Dear You, frontman Blake Schwarzenbach made the move to Brooklyn and began working on new songs with bassist Jeremy Chatelain. The pair eventually recruited Texas Is The Reason drummer Chris Daly to help them write and record what would be Jets to Brazil’s first and most beloved album, Orange Rhyming Dictionary. The record was released via Jade Tree (home to the Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, etc.) and featured two important names from the emo world, but its songs were more eclectic than anything either party involved had done before. Nonetheless, there are plenty of moments on Orange Rhyming Dictionary that evoke Schwarzenbach’s and Daly’s roots, not the least of which is “Chinatown.” It’s hard to pick just one defining element of the song — somewhere amidst its cynical outlook, deceptively simple instrumentation, and affable ambiguity lies the secret to Jets To Brazil’s exemplary debut.

(See also: Jawbreaker – “Accident Prone,” Pop Unknown – “Follow You,” The Van Pelt – “The Good, The Bad & The Blind”)

2/99 Jimmy Eat World – “For Me This Is Heaven” (from Clarity)

It might be hard to imagine now, but once upon a time, Jimmy Eat World was a young band struggling to break out of their underground roots and into the mainstream. Clarity, their third LP and second release with Capitol, was meant to do just that, but despite having a lead single (“Lucky Denver Mint”) featured as the theme of Drew Barrymore’s Never Been Kissed, the record never reached the kind of cultural immersion it wanted. In underground circles, however, Clarity was heralded as a masterpiece, the new high-water mark of pop-oriented emo. And while each of its 13 songs resonated about as strongly as the others, “For Me This Is Heaven” epitomizes the album’s lush, astral arrangements, youthful romanticism, and subtly nuanced production from Mark Trombino. It also framed the kind of tender longing that emo has long obsessed over with one of the genre’s finest lyrical stanzas: “When the time we have now ends/ And when the big hand goes round again/ Can you still feel the butterflies?/ Can you still hear the last goodnight?”

(See also: Christie Front Drive – “Field,” The Promise Ring – “Become One Anything One Time,” The Jealous Sound – “Hope For Us”)

5/99 Piebald – “Grace Kelly With Wings” (from If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For Us All)

The jokesters of emo, Piebald combined a goofy sense of sarcasm and wit with big, fuzzy guitars and hooks aplenty. Their first full-length, When Life Hands You Lemons…, hinted at an innate playfulness, but it wasn’t until the Boston four piece released If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would be Curtains For Us All in May of 1999 that they started to fully realize their potential. At the start of that record is “Grace Kelly With Wings,” a uniquely sweet and shapeshifting emo song that jumps between soft balladry, upbeat pop, anthemic chords, and strangely unironic bar rock during its ambitious five and a half minutes. By the time Piebald finishes their second album’s opening song, it’s obvious that this is a band who will try just about anything, and with an extra bit of panache that few could claim.

(See also: Vitreous Humor – “Why Are You So Mean to Me?,” Reggie And The Full Effect – “Thanx For Staying,” Benton Falls – “All These Things”)

7/99 Further Seems Forever – “New Year’s Project” (from the From The 27th State split EP)

Like it or not, religion played a role in the Golden Era of Emo, and I’m not just talking about Jeremy Enigk’s conversion to Christianity or Texas Is The Reason’s past with Hare Krishna hardcore. Being a genre that resonated largely with teens and early 20-somethings, emo had to center around mostly all-ages shows, and if those weren’t held in cafes or VFW halls, they were more often than not held in churches. You can imagine the effect it had on the kids who attended those churches. Further Seems Forever — or, for the uninitiated, the first well-known band featuring Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba — came from that scene, releasing its first record as a split EP with Recess Theory via Christian label Takehold. The Florida band wound up re-recording two of those three songs for their solid debut album for Tooth & Nail, The Moon is Down, though neither “The Bradley” or “New Year’s Project” changed a note during the two years between those releases — and thankfully so. Each of them boast driving riffs and Carrabba’s soaring vocals, and yet something in the way “New Year’s Project” deals with love and devotion speaks to the kind of spirituality that Further Seems Forever fostered in its earliest music.

(See also: Sense Field – “Building,” Elliott – “Suitcase And Atoms,” mewithoutYou – “Nice And Blue”)

7/99 The Casket Lottery – “Midway” (from Choose Bronze)

There was always something sort of dangerous about the Casket Lottery, like the band would fight you just as soon as tell you a great story, and they were at their best when it felt like they were doing both. Coming from the same scene that gave us the Get Up Kids and metalcore band Coalesce, the Kansas City trio came out swinging with debut album Choose Bronze, a tour de force signaling the arrival of one the most important bands taking emo into the 21st century. Songs like “Trust Nolan,” “Ocean,” and “New Year’s Eve” delivered walls of searing guitar, singer Nathan Ellis’ raspy howl, complex and punchy drums, and a bass tone that could cut glass if not shatter it completely, but the excellence of the Casket Lottery’s fierce sound is no better encapsulated than on the mercurial “Midway.”

(See also: Penfold – “Microchip,” Small Brown Bike – “The Cannons And Tanks,” Hot Water Music – “Jack Of All Trades”)

8/99 Planes Mistaken For Stars – “Copper And Stars” (from Planes Mistaken For Stars)

Okay, let’s talk about Deep Elm. Here was perhaps the first label to openly and proudly wear the word emo like a badge of pride, releasing a widely known series of compilations called The Emo Diaries, which aimed to showcase the plethora of obscure bands working with the beloved genre. But for all of its efforts, Deep Elm only discovered a small number of bands who would last longer than one or two albums, and even fewer who ever left the label for greener pastures. Peoria, Illinois quartet Planes Mistaken for Stars is one such group, however, and “Copper And Stars” epitomizes their first record released with Deep Elm. Before the band started down a much darker, borderline sinister path with their equally brilliant second EP, Knife In The Marathon, they worked with a blistering style of emotive hardcore marked by Gared O’Donnell’s smoke- and booze-addled voice and a manic sense of dynamics. “Copper And Stars” remains one of the best songs in either Deep Elm’s or PMFS’s discography.

(See also: Race Car Riot – “Racing California,” The Casket Lottery – “A Dead Dear,” Small Brown Bike – “See You In Hell”)

9/99 American Football – “Never Meant” (from American Football)

The Golden Era of Emo is absolutely brimming with anomalies, one-hit wonders that seemed to have disappeared just as abruptly as they arrived. Yet no other flash-in-the-pan band seems to have connected so strongly and with as many people as American Football did. The first group fronted by singer/guitarist Mike Kinsella since his days in Cap’n Jazz and Joan Of Arc, American Football (the original lineup of which called itself the One Up Downstairs) released only one EP and one LP via Polyvinyl during its very short time together. But what they lacked in quantity they made up for with a flawless discography. Perhaps American Football’s finest accomplishment is the opening track of its self-titled album, “Never Meant.” All spindly guitar plucks, cross-hatched drums, and heartfelt vocals, the song seems to be built solely from fond memories of a teenage romance in a quiet suburb, which speaks to nearly every emo fan in the world. Kinsella’s band may have lasted less than a quarter as long as his current solo project, Owen, but the impact that American Football had on a generation of budding music lovers can not be overstated.

(See also: Very Secretary – “Nagarkot,” The One Up Downstairs – “Franco The Bull,” Owen – “Most Days And…”)

9/99 The Get Up Kids – “Holiday” (from Something To Write Home About)

Don’t let the lack of mentioning the Get Up Kids’ Four Minute Mile trick you into thinking I don’t appreciate the importance of their classic debut LP. It’s just that for every catchy phrase, bubbly hook, and restless drum roll that record delivered with rollicking eagerness, Something To Write Home About offered twice as many, and with an added touch of refinement. The Kansas City, Missouri band had become a core element of the Midwestern emo scene on the back of Four Minute Mile, but it was Something To Write Home About that launched them into worldwide acclaim, with Matt Pryor & Co. touring extensively alongside the likes of Green Day and Weezer. “Ten Minutes” and “Action & Action” wound up getting the proper single treatment, though nearly all of the record’s 12 punk-fueled emo-pop cuts could’ve done the trick. As such, it’s hard to pick just one favorite, but after having spent 15 years learning every lyric and riff on Something To Write Home About, I can’t think of a better representation than the song that first launched the album into the emo hall of fame, blazing lead track “Holiday.”

(See also: Reggie And The Full Effect – “Girl, Why’d You Run Away,” The Anniversary – “All Things Ordinary,” The New Amsterdams – “Lonely Hearts”)

11/99 Saves The Day – “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” (from Through Being Cool)

There was a very fine line between pop-punk and emo in the final years before Y2K, and Saves The Day’s Through Being Cool LP all but diminished it completely. Amidst the double-time drums and palm-muted guitars of fan favorites like “You Vandal” and “Shoulder To The Wheel” was singer Chris Conley’s morbid prose, darkly personal lyrics delivered with a boyish whine. “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” might feature some of his most graphic imagery, as Conley sings about digging out a girl’s eyes with a rusty spoon and listening to her cry. It’s sickly satisfying stuff, and when set between the band’s chunky riffs and sharp rhythms, lines like “Heart is on the floor! Why don’t you step on it?” just beg to be screamed at the top of your lungs. Though bands like New Found Glory, Brand New, and Taking Back Sunday would eventually turn the album’s brand of emotive pop-punk into their own infectious, burnt-sugar confections, there’s no doubt that Saves The Day were the first to make it cool.

(See also: Jawbreaker – “Do You Still Hate Me?,” New Found Glory – “Hit Or Miss,” Hot Rod Circuit – “Radio Song”)

1/00 The Anniversary – “The D In Detroit” (from Designing A Nervous Breakdown)

After the release of the Get Up Kids’ game-changing Something To Write Home About, Vagrant Records made a concerted effort to ingrain itself into the poppy, punky ends of the emo scene, signing bands like Alkaline Trio, Saves The Day, Hey Mercedes, and Dashboard Confessional. But just before that explosion in 2001, a little-known band that became close friends with the Get Up Kids while touring together released its debut album with the label. The Anniversary’s Designing A Nervous Breakdown was almost like a second coming of Something To Write Home About — in that it offered upbeat, youthful emo with the soul of pop-punk and dashes of synth — except that it was more interested in dreamy textures and featured singer Adrianne Verhoeven’s cooing voice. “The D In Detroit” is probably the best example of those elements which kept the Lawrence, Kansas band out of the Get Up Kids’ shadow, but it also shows exactly why fans of Something To Write Home About loved the Anniversary in equal measure.

(See also: The Get Up Kids – “Ten Minutes,” Rainer Maria – “Artificial Light,” Desaparecidos – “The Happiest Place On Earth”)

3/00 The Appleseed Cast – “Forever Longing The Golden Sunsets” (from Mare Vitalis)

In 1998, Lawrence, Kansas band the Appleseed Cast came out of obscurity to release its debut album via Deep Elm. And though The End Of The Ring Wars is still one of the best records in the label’s extensive catalog, it wasn’t until Mare Vitalis arrived in February of 2000 that the Appleseed Cast left the school of Sunny Day Real Estate to forge its own identity. Their second LP was more focused and developed, both instrumentally and emotionally — often taking its oceanic themes to heart with seafaring guitar riffs, foggy atmospheres, and complex drumming which evoked crashing waves and stormy rainfall. “Forever Longing The Golden Sunsets” has all of these qualities in spades, but its the beautiful, seaside imagery Christopher Crisci breathes into his lyrics that makes the dreamy song stand out among Mare Vitalis’ teeming instrumentals and sweeping emo classics.

(See also: Planes Mistaken For Stars – “Staggerswallowswell,” The Casket Lottery – “Optimist Honor Roll,” Hundred Hands – “A Replay”)

3/00 Death Cab For Cutie – “Title Track” (from We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes)

Take a moment and allow yourself to imagine an alternate reality, a universe in which The O.C. never became a TV show, Adam Brody’s Seth Cohen character never said Death Cab For Cutie was his favorite band, and “A Movie Script Ending” was never featured in the soundtrack. In this world, perhaps Ben Gibbard never wrote “The Sound Of Settling,” and instead of going down the radio-ready path blazed by 2001′s Photo Album, the Bellingham, Washington quartet kept to the sullen, indie-pop roots of Something About Airplanes and We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes. “Title Track” would be the theme song of this world, reminding everyone how Chris Walla’s deceptively simple-sounding production and Gibbard’s downtrodden soul can make for some of the best emo-not-emo music there is.

(See also: Pedro The Lion – “Of Up And Coming Monarchs,” Kind Of Like Spitting – “Blue Period,” Pinback – “Penelope”)

6/00 Cursive – “The Martyr” (from Domestica)

Omaha, Nebraska might’ve been best known for giving the world Bright Eyes and the Faint back in 2000, but another band had been quietly building its legacy for five years before staking its own claim on that scene with a genius concept album called Domestica. Supposedly centered around frontman Tim Kasher’s divorce, Cursive’s third full-length was almost too personal, as it played like an uncomfortably real account of an intensely troubled relationship. On “The Martyr,” Domestica hits an early peak of frustration and regret with the song’s anxious instrumentation and anguished storytelling. It may not have the upbeat hooks of “The Radiator Hums” or the inventiveness of “Shallow Means, Deep Ends,” but no other moment on Cursive’s Domestica is as deeply cathartic as when Kasher screams out, “Your tears are only alibis!”

(See also: The White Octave – “Appeals For Insertion,” Waxwing – “All Of My Prophets,” The Good Life – “Your Birthday Present”)

8/00 Elliott – “Calm Americans” (from False Cathedrals)

Elliott might be the Golden Era of Emo’s most underrated and underappreciated secret, a band whose uncompromising vision of driving, emotive post-hardcore only continued to swell in size with each consecutive album. Sophomore LP False Cathedrals saw the Louisville, Kentucky band expand their sonic palette to include piano and subtle electronics (an oncoming trend in the genre’s later years), and the dreamy, sensual “Calm Americans” shows off just how well those new sounds blend with Elliott’s previous instrumentation. Few bands were able to maintain their emo cred while exploring ideas atypical of the genre, but Elliott’s eclectic discography — especially False Cathedrals — proves how seamlessly and tastefully it can be done.

(See also: Chamberlain – “Her Side Of Sundown,” The Gloria Record – “A Lull In Traffic,” Further Seems Forever – “The Moon Is Down”)

4/01 Thursday – “Understanding In A Car Crash” (from Full Collapse)

If the New Jersey suburbs were a lovesick Pablo Neruda poem in the eyes of Saves The Day, they were an Orwellian dystopia in the wails of Thursday. The band’s second album, Full Collapse, erupted into the 2001 post-hardcore scene with chugging guitars and gawky, gap-toothed frontman Geoff Rickly’s charismatic stage presence. Thursday’s impassioned reflections and a shared interest in heavy metaphors about the loss of innocence — not to mention an affinity for throwback “emotional hardcore” à la Rites Of Spring and Indian Summer — earned them the emo badge. “Understanding In A Car Crash” wasn’t Full Collapse’s only adored single, but the song’s sinuous riffs, understated breakdowns, and melodic vision of screamo are responsible for spawning an entire generation of swoopy-haired bedroom moshers.

(See also: Grade – “Life Gets In The Way Of Living,” Boysetsfire – “Still Waiting For The Punchline,” At The Drive-In – “One Armed Scissor”)

10/01 Brand New – “Jude Law And A Semester Abroad” (from Your Favorite Weapon, October 2001)

While Thursday usurped girl problems and sex appeal with raw emotional power, Brand New popped up on the other side of the street, exclusively fixated on those concerns. Love them or hate them, Brand New’s and Taking Back Sunday’s movie-script-perfect rivalry — complete with a backstory of best friends wronged by a cheating girlfriend — represented a kind of emo that was perfect for the popular kids. These were teenagers who fought, fucked, and got wasted, and not for the same reasons as Blake Schwarzenbach. In 2001, an idolatry of Morrissey, echoes of ’90s alt-rock, and a love for Saves The Day created an endearingly egotistical cocktail on Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon, with “Jude Law And A Semester Abroad” making for its lead single. The song is a late-emo staple thanks to its neo-pop-punk format and sing-along choruses, but when singer Jesse Lacey quotes a girl telling him why she hates him in his lyrics, it’s an eerie foreshadowing of the selfie-obsessed third wave of emo.

(See also: The Juliana Theory – “If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?,” Saves The Day – “At Your Funeral,” Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without The ’E’ (Cut From The Team)”)

2/02 Desaparecidos – “Greater Omaha” (from Read Music/Speak Spanish)

Say what you will about Bright Eyes, but Conor Oberst’s Omaha, Nebraska supergroup Desaparecidos filled a gaping void in the 2002 emo scene with their one and only full-length, Read Music/Speak Spanish. While most contemporary emo bands at the time were interested in traveling the roads paved by Saves The Day, Brand New, and Jimmy Eat World, the Midwestern five-piece returned to the genre’s roots, emblazoning each powerful blast of passionate rock with loads of gnarled guitar tones, punk-fueled tempos, flourishes of synth, and hoarse, shaky vocals. Most of Oberst’s lyrics were sociopolitical in content, but the way he would sing caustic phrases about suburban sprawl in the blistering “Greater Omaha” invoked the brazen expressiveness that colored in emo’s earliest days. With Read Music/Speak Spanish, Desaparecidos were somehow able to make the final breath of the Golden Era of Emo sound as vital and invigorating as its first.

(See also: Commander Venus – “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Cursive – “The Recluse,” Bear Vs. Shark – “Buses/No Buses”)

//

Check out our Golden Era Of Emo Ultimate Playlist on Spotify.

Comments (159)
  1. Ummmm…. “At Your Funeral” anyone?

  2. Thank you for this list. Can there be a current one as well?

  3. No Omaha no I hate myself.. no Floodgate “california band” no Garden Variety.. and no friggin Still Life?!?!? that was the biggest f-u ugghh..

  4. I hated emo at the time, and I still hate it. (Except for Pinkerton, which is amazing and doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the rest of these hacks. And Death Cab has maybe two good songs.) And now people are getting all nostalgic for it? What’s next, a list of essential songs from the golden age of nu metal? Apologies if this comes across as trollish. Emo just makes me kind of…emotional.

    • Check out Orange Rhyming Dictionary by Jets To Brazil. This album changed my opinion about the genre. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I get the feeling you’re confusing this kind of emo with the stupid whiny pop punk that became popular in the beginning of the 00′s. None of these bands sound like that. Give them a shot. You’ll probably be surprised.

      • Yeah that whiny pop punk was the worst, but no, I am familiar with most of these bands. My friends were all listening to it in the late 90s/early 00s. Most of it just does nothing for me at best, and is downright grating at worst.

        • To be fair, I’ve been listening to Sunny Day since 94…so 20 years is enough for nostalgia. Diary is one of my favorite albums to this day.

  5. I was really enjoying this new Lykke Li….but now I’m scrambling to find my Jets To Brazil. Cuz I’m gonna rock that shit all day. Because “I Typed For Miles” melts my mind. In a good way

  6. About damn time. With all this revivalism going on, this is the first list I’ve seen that mentions Texas Is The Reason, and Elliott, and, and you recognized how underrated Elliott was! Kudos, finally a list written for the people that were there.

    • “a list written for people that were there” <– This is 100% the reason why I did this. Glad you could tell!

      • I think the fact you mentioned Jimmy Eat World’s “Lucky Denver Mint” being on the S/T to “Never Been Kissed” told me you where there.

  7. Thank you–this is definitely more on the ball than most lists like this. FYI: Cap’n Jazz is from Buffalo Grove and Wheeling (Chicago suburbs), not Champaign, Illinois.

  8. Love that Piebald got a mention. Terribly underrated, and a lot of fun live.

    Gotta say, I always considered ATDI more a part of the post-hardcore scene, with their peers being Refused, Glassjaw, and Blood Brothers, more so than emo proper, but I suppose the lines are blurry.

    • While I agree with you about ATDI if we’re talking Relationship of Command, the bulk of In/Casino/Out fits comfortably under the emo umbrella.

      The one thing I’d add to this list is anything from Rival Schools’s United By Fate, a great album too often neglected in all these emo reminiscences popping up of late.

      • I absolutely agree about Rival Schools. I wish New End Original had been mentioned as an entry instead of “see also: New End Original “Luke Warm” but I get there isn’t a whole lot of room to mention every band.

  9. Pretty decent list. Would have included Sense Field and Chamberlain. And maybe Lifetime…

    • Yeah, with all this emo revival talk going on, how come I haven’t been seeing more talk of great bands like Chamberlain and Mock Orange. I mean, I’ve got Nothing Feels Good and Burritos…at the top of the heap where they belong, but The Moon My Saddle and Nines & Sixes are right up there.

      • Oh man, The Moon My Saddle! Yes, you guys are so right about Chamberlain. Mock Orange too. Aren’t they both from Indiana as well (just wanted to give my state a shout out here)?

    • I can’t stress enough how much the “see also” sections are vital to this list. Both Chamberlain and Sense Field are both included there (on the Elliott and Further Seems Forever selections, respectively). Lifetime is a great band, a bit too punk/hardcore for this list.

      • I had the opportunity to do a few dates on the West coast and few festivals with Elliot,they were fantastic and some of the nicest people.

  10. pree  |   Posted on Jul 22nd +2

    whiiiiite booiiiiis

  11. What this list tells me is that I didn’t listen to much emo, which I pretty much knew already.

  12. I have seen almost everyband on the list live! Awesome! Some great memories of one of the best times in my life. No Hot Water Music ? Blacktop Cadence? Discount? Come on now!

    • HWM certainly fit into the melodic hardcore model, but I always saw them as emo-adjacent, but never quite emo. I don’t know, genres are funny.

      • In early versions of this I had Hot Water Music on the shortlist, but in the end decided to include them in the “see also” section for The Casket Lottery. I’ve always enjoyed Blacktop Cadence, as well, but when getting to the heart of “essential” songs, had to cut them as well. Unfortunately, there are just way too much great bands and songs for a list of this size.

        • HWM was far to manly to be emo,LOL. Jason Black is easily one of the best bassist in any genre of music, that dude constantly blew me away.

        • Yeah, in terms of quality, HWM outstrips nearly every band here, but in terms of actually being emo…ehhhhh.

      • 352 REPRESENT! Im in gville right now!!!!

        • What a magical place. I went to school there from 2000-2004, but I’ve lived in NYC for the past 7 years. Went back to gville a couple years ago for a day and had an awesome time. Swung by Leo’s, the Top, and Boca Fiesta. The music scene seems to have changed since then, but I remember it seeming like the epicenter for a lot of this style of music. I remember seeing HWM at the original tiny Common Grounds and the last ever Discount show at Market St. (among many many others). Good times.

  13. I’ll just say it, if you’re going to include “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” (which by all means you absolutely should), it’s kind of silly not to include “Cute Without the E” as well.

    • Fair point! And that’s why the song is included in the “see also” section for “Jude Law…” Obviously, there were so many influential bands from this time period, too many to fit into a list of 30. That’s why the “see also” section is so important. I put almost the same amount of time and thought into selecting those songs as the features ones!

  14. great list ! ahh the anniversary ! anyone remember their second record ? it was like a flaming lips indie pop weird gospel thing – loved it !

    also ! i saw cap’n jazz’s last show i think (at metro in ’06) ! that should make you love me !

  15. This is kind of irrelevant because I’m going to bring up current emo, but do Cymbals Eat Guitars count as emo? Because I feel like they should, but they’re being totally overlooked/under-appreciated in this whole revival.

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  17. Nice job putting together this list. Not all bands fall into a single category cleanly, but all-in-all this is a pretty solid list. There are some bands on this list that I hadn’t heard before and I’m always stoked when I can discover some new music!!

  18. Anyone remember Emogame? That was pretty fun at the time, even though I never really liked emo music.

  19. I really like this list. Not only does it have some of my favorites but its revealed to me a lot of bands I was looking for but didn’t even really know it. Emo is a genre I’ve always been fascinated and drawn to and I know a lot of people are bitter or resentful of this emorevival going on but I personally love.

    a brief history: When I was a young skater punk I used to hang around the skatepark near my house. At the time I was deeply into hardcore punk with Black Flag and Minor Threat curving the shape of my spine. But I used to have one friend there who was older but a lot different from everyone else at that skatepark. Different in the sense that he liked all these bands I had only heard in skate videos but never actually met any fans like Bright Eyes and Broken Social Scene (now it seems almost too common to find these people). The thing I remember most was his car but more importantly the two stickers he had which were Modest Mouse and Sunny Day Real Estate. flash forward to me getting my first job and being able to afford music for myself. I found Diary digging in my local shops used cd bin and remembered that sticker and how cool that guy was so I bought it. As soon as I opened it up my whole changed. I was shocked at how poetic and simple the lyrics were so gracefully there in the cd fold. And the music was so life changing for me because it opened up a whole new world for me. The emotion still rings within me every time I listen to it and its something I look for in new music. Being emotional myself I can’t help but get pumped seeing young adults taking their talents and channeling them itno something so powerful

    It seems to me emo gets a lot of flack because everyone thinks its just white boys complaining about their trivial problems but to a lot of people, including me, its a genre of music where its ok to say how you really feel which is emotional and almost ready to breakdown. And just like any genre it does get watered down the longer the imitation acts go on but its one of my favorite genres and will always speak to me

    Also bold move including “Tired Of Sex” but I agree with the sentiment. That song has always been one of the more emotional Weezer songs and one of the best because of it

  20. how about Northstar – Pollyana?

  21. y2k  |   Posted on Jul 22nd +2

    really nice list as an introduction to the genre. one great midwest 90s band who i thought should of got a whole mention of their own rather than a ‘see also’ are boys life. their second album is really expansive and powerful and great for summer! they dont sound aged at all and i really suggest checking them out!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_c1vZE_dAI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRsTDeVSq9o
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPwvcXCphdg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcGh7ljfQ_I

  22. here is a list i made of 73 top notch 90s emo songs on spotify, includes some stuff that is more on the hardcore end of the spectrum:

    http://open.spotify.com/user/mossicon/playlist/2IH6T4LKHOU9HhJQ2qXOBK

  23. No Seaweed, no Knapsack/The Jealous Sound, no Thirty Ought Six, no Boilermaker… NO DICE!

    ATDI and Jawbox are post-hardcore. Musically they’re heavier and more complex, and anything labeled “emo” should have some semi-personal lyrics too it, no?

    And Weezer? So lame…

  24. You’ve GOT to put Juno on this list. Although, imo their best ‘emoish’ song was from 2001.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lyiNq2WE80

    • That was the one band I was looking for too, and that’s one of two songs I would have put on the list (“Killing It in a Quiet Way” would have been first).

  25. Despite mid to late 90′s being such a sausage party, the “there are not many women in emo” tag is just really lazy. I mean, the token mention of Jejune aside, what about Dahlia Seed, The Starlight Conspiracy, Crash and Britany, Jen Wood (who was doing the acoustic thing before Doucheboard Confessional), and the Fisticuffs Bluff. All of them were plying their hustle during the “golden age”.

    Combining listicles with music writing is about the worst form for what passes for music criticism.

    • Hmm… You are inaccurately paraphrasing what I actually said, which is “female-fronted emo bands are especially hard to come by.” And, like it or not, that is 100% factual. I appreciate the suggestions all the same, though Jen Wood, Julie Doiron, Mirah, etc. are more folky, singer/songwriter types.

      • The degree of accuracy of my paraphrasing secondary, it seems. And as much as I didn’t like the fact when I was around those days <> and the statement on the order of fact that you offer in your reply, it is worth pointing out that raising the fact without alluding to the question of, well, why that’s unsurprising or why that might be the case is what was lazy about music writing. Because it just perpetuates fannish or faddish music writing and gives the illusion of depth when the elements that make up the surfaces of the musical output are so much more complex.

        More importantly, your initial statement and my response share a presupposition: that gender is actually a problematic point when it comes to thinking about a phenomenon like “emo”, a “genre” whose boundaries are ill-defined and somewhat useless. Thus, to push out Jen Wood to a singer/songwriter or folk paradigm is to overlook the shared ethos (mostly progressive, DIY/post-punk, culturally speaking) between many of the independent/non-commercial bands of the era and the ways that their musical works were part of a broader conversation. For instance, Jen Wood was a contemporary of SDRE’s in Seattle and wound up singing with Jeremy Enigk as well as the Postal Service (one member of which came out of that scene in L.A. and playing bass in a band called Strictly Ballroom).

        From conversations and time spent with musicians in that time and place, what became utterly clear to me was that composition and songwriting mattered more than genre. But by the loose logic that constructs an idea of genre in your reply to my comment, Tim Kasher, Tim Kinsella, Jim Adkins, among others, would be be just as much a part of the singer/songwriter camp as Jen Wood. And despite whatever good intentions go into the writing, not raising the question tends to reinforce the gendering of the genre as it has been thought about and written. So why bother repeating the same pablum about emo if nothing new is to come from it?

        To wit: I recalled during those touring van, vinyl-selling out of the back of the truck for gas money days that these bands shuddered at being called “emo” and were part of this much more ample and fluid context of musicians and even musical styles. That seemed to be a tag that was more for listeners to have something to latch onto and create an identity out of a kind of b(r)and loyalty.

        In any case, in the spirit of a less savage critique: perhaps a good follow-up story to this piece is to really ask if, and/or why, there was a gender problem in that scene when it was a pretty electric time for independent music.

  26. As long as we’re naming overlooked additions to this list, how about some love for Samiam?

  27. Great list. There is a book I recently read from 2003 called “Nothing Feels Good” and covers the rise of “emo” and the various bands up into 2003 with a lot of these at least getting a few sentences if not paragraphs (or parts of chapters) written about them.

  28. “The Golden Era of Emo”

  29. well he pulled one over on me with that one ladies and gentleman. nothing like spewing and bunch of words to get this jaded vet inspired, excited at the promise to have someone finally speak the truth about a genre I am so passionate about. not only does he bear hug the 3rd wave, but he includes at least 6 or 8 bands nowhere near the genre, including Jawbox. he might of some of the bands right, but he didn’t even select the good songs. another waste of time. most of the bands on this list killed or contributed to the demise of something that was once great.

    • Ok, jaded guy. Give me 10 albums I must own from this genre. I’m not trolling and I’m not kidding.

      • Just buy “End on End” 10 times.

      • If you truly want to learn about the emo genre, then I would start with the discographies from all these bands listed below from each of the 5 waves.

        1st Wave: (The 80s DC Area)
        Rites of Spring
        Moss Icon
        Embrace

        2nd Wave: (or what people who weren’t there refer to as Skramz or Screamo)
        Indian Summer
        Current
        Native Nod
        Policy of 3
        Mohinder
        Antioch Arrow
        Drive Like Jehu
        Republic of Freedom Fighters
        Hoover
        Navio Forge

        –Honorable Mention
        Evergreen
        The Van Pelt

        3rd Wave: (Mid 90s and the Midwestern Invasion)

        Promise Ring
        Jimmy Eat World
        Texas is the Reason
        Boys Life
        Braid
        Cap’n Jazz
        Boys Life
        Christie Front Drive
        The Get Up Kids
        Sunny Day Real Estate
        Mineral

        4th Wave: (The Ruining)
        I don’t have a list because the bands from the 3rd wave were still making decent records,
        but there was a rise of crappy bands like Dashboard Confessional, Saves the Day and Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance destroying the genre that I love and making the term “emo” into a household word and making it sound dirty.

        –Honorable Mention:
        Pele
        Bells on Trike
        Penfold

        5th Wave: (the “Midwestern Revival” or “Twinklecore”)

        Algernon Cadwallader
        Snowing
        Malegoat
        Prawn
        Empire! Empire!
        Glocca Morra
        Into It. Over It.
        TWIABPAIANLATD
        Loud?
        Gates

        –Honorable Mention:
        Crash of Rhinos
        Plaids
        Well Wisher

        • LOVED Drive like Jehu. What about One a.m. Radio or Very Secretary. Not sure what ‘wave’ they’d fall in, but a couple favorites of mine.

  30. Dang, Stereogum. This may very well be my favorite list you’ve ever compiled. Thank you for picking so many of my favorites.

    One of my highlights this year: Meeting Chris Carrabba at a Twin Forks/Augustana show and reminiscing with him about the 2001 Vagrant Tour. Ughhhhh emo bliss!

  31. This basically sums up high school and college for me.

  32. This list included pretty much all of my favorites and introduced me to some new stuff as well. Well done!

  33. Ahh the Brand New and Thursday selections were my some of my jams in high school, thanks for bringing them back into my mindseye

  34. These guys may have come in a little late to make this list, but Circle Takes the Square seems to be missing. Or is that a little too thrashy? As the Roots Undo is such an amazing and underappreciated album.

    • I am definitely a fan of Circle Takes the Square, but their music falls closer to the “screamo” category for a list like this one. Also, I was cutting off the entries at 2002, and As the Roots Undo came out in ’03. Great band, though! Someone should make an essential screamo list. *hint hint*

  35. Modest Mouse Trailer Trash.

  36. Bright Eyes? And FSF’s The Moon Is Down didn’t come out until 2001, not ’99. And, for that matter where’s The Rocking Horse Winner? “Elementary” was my jam!

  37. Putting Jawbox and Sunny Day on the same list as some of these whiny hacks doesn’t make any sense. If you’re going to go sort of old school, where’s Quicksand/Gorilla Biscuits? I have no idea why Weezer would be on here either.

    • Everyone seems to forget that around the turn of the century, Pinkerton was seen as THE flagship emo album. Yes, even moreso than Diary.

    • Calling At The Drive In & Jawbreaker “whiny hacks” ?! First off that’s the furthest from the truth. Secondly, you obviously do not understand or appreciate this genre. I bet you most likely scrolled through the bands looking for some to identify with and didn’t see what you were looking for. And instead of taking the time to listen to the conveniently attached songs and read what the author had to say regarding why they felt it worthy of this list you attack it. AND YES Pinkerton does belong on this list very much so. It’s the definition of the style , raw and heartfelt. It’s not Weezer as a whole on this list, but that one record. Because yes everything they did after Pinkerton sucked and the album before all though good in it’s own right wasn’t emo.

  38. I was 15 when the first Sunny Day record came out, and I don’t remember hearing the term emo used to describe a genre of music until my mid twenties. I think at the time they were just kind of lumped in with all the other bands that were coming out of Seattle, grunge/alternative. The first band I think I actually applied that label to would have been Bright Eyes, sort of, cause even then it was such a loose description. I really thought of Bright Eyes more as folk/poppy/indie rockish. I was hanging out with this girl once and Cursive was in my CD player and she says, “oh, I guess you’re one of those emo kids.” That was the first time I heard the term.

  39. Planes Mistaken For Stars. Holy balls. I forgot about that song. I loved it so much. Deep Elm rocks my frickin socks. Love you.

  40. After all these years. Emo kids are still so opinionated and obsessed with calling everyone out on their bullshit. Sucks that I love this music so much. You people suck.

  41. Made a more complete list (with the other songs mentioned in the article). Had to sub one or two…
    http://open.spotify.com/…/playlist/4u8KU3qxIVnCsY30SMH3Jj

  42. Where is Funeral for a Friend?

  43. Indian Summer-”Angry Son” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSxJe2JWe70 The BEST emo song that you don’t know about. Until now.

    • Once again, reading the intro really helps to clarify why bands like Indian Summer aren’t on this list. It would seem more and more that making an essential screamo list is kind of necessary. This would definitely make the cut in my book!

      • Indian Summer is not retroactively “screamo”
        To all the kids in the early to mid 90s, Indian Summer was one of the premier “emo” bands
        Emo being an offshoot of hardcore, not pop punk/indie.

        • Amen. This list is a bit too heavy on the poppy Midwestern bands and leaves out bands on the coasts that were more indebted to hardcore. In ’95 the same kids turned up at Promise Ring, Botch, and His Hero is Gone shows.

  44. Went ahead and put (almost) all the “see also” tracks together: http://open.spotify.com/user/12811608/playlist/1NOAddPSKjM2Ei9b0TIwpO

    • This is so cool! Thanks a ton for taking the time to make this list.

      If anyone wants to really dig deep, they should give this awesome playlist a spin! The “see also” selections are just as important and awesome as the featured songs, I just couldn’t write about them all in detail. There is amazing music here.

  45. Ok, so for starters, cut me some slack, I’m old (58). I read through the list, and have only heard of one band, Death Cab. I probably could not recognize one of their songs, unless I’ve heard it flipping stations on the FM. Are there two songs that I could check out that really define the genre? Also is the band Barcelona emo? I have heard them a lot, they’re from where I live, Seattle.

    • Can’t go wrong with “In Circles” — and SDRE are also from Seattle.

    • You want to define a whole genre in two songs? A lot of these bands sound nothing alike, but I guess give “In Circles” by Sunny Day Real Estate and “Never Meant” by American Football. It’s a safe bet that anyone who likes emo loves at least one of those songs.

  46. Besides Jawbox and SDRE, I don’t like any of these bands… BUT I LOVE THIS LIST. Definitely can feel the love.

  47. Jawbox and SDRE are the only bands some of these commenters feel it’s OK to admit to liking, but damn there were some great albums from this time.
    Here’s my top 10 (not counting Jawbox and Weezer)

    1. The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good
    2. Cap’n Jazz – Burritos…
    3. SDRE – How It Feels To Be Something On
    4. Cursive – Domestica
    5. American Football – American Football
    6. Chamberlain – The Moon My Saddle
    7. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity (it should be noted that Bleed American is great too – top notch pop songwriting)
    8. Mock Orange – Nines & Sixes
    9. The Get Up Kids – Something To Write Home About
    10. Rainer Maria – Look Now Look Again

    • Great idea posting your own top 10! Would love to see what other people have as their favorite albums from the era. Maybe I’ll post mine if I can find some time to think it over.

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