15 Essential Emo Albums That Taught Gen-Y How To Feel
I'll admit I was an emo kid.
Though "emo" as a genre of music has been around since the '80s, the "emo revival" of the '90s and early 0'0s really solidified itself as a sound to listen to.
With bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Rites of Spring paving the way for modern emo, the sound burst into the club with this frenetic melancholy.
It had an overbearing sadness and angst that had any optimist weeping in his or her newly written-in journal.
Back when MTV played music videos, emo music forlornly sauntered out of TV speakers, filling the air with emotional instrumentals and even more emotional lyrics.
I remember listening to a lot of these bands.
I remember plugging in my earphones to drown out the world with the saddest tracks I could find.
I remember forcing myself to cry while I listened to these songs.
(I was a chump, okay? I thought emo was cool, though I was far from emo and even further from “cool.”)
That was some 10 years ago.
Recently, I found myself on the corner of Memory Lane and Lamentation Avenue.
I have been listening to many of the songs, albums and bands I used to listen to: Switchfoot, Relient K, Taking Back Sunday, AFI, Fall Out Boy, Crossfade, Trapt and Linkin Park.
I’m not too sure why.
Wait, I do know why: They were actually good.
In my teen years, I listened to bands like Simple Plan and Hawthorne Heights because their songs were tragic, encapsulating exactly how I felt in a neat little track.
Now that I’m older, I have come to appreciate my humble (and unnecessarily sad) beginnings.
These bands not only delivered music that hit the feels, but they also released damn good sounding tracks.
Here are 15 records I used to listen to growing up that are actually good:
1. AFI’s Decemberunderground (2006)
With a stage name like Davey Havok, you know AFI was meant for the big leagues.
AFI (A Fire Inside) has gone through copious stylistic changes in their tenure, between their first release in 1995, up to their latest release in 2013.
They have grown and changed, both as a band and as people.
However, for me, the apex of their greatness was 2006.
After watching the music video for “Miss Murder,” I was sold on the aesthetic.
Donning heavy eyeliner, makeup, black nail polish and massive amounts of hairspray, AFI was determined to show the beauty in darkness and isolation with poetic lyrics and compelling instrumentals.
Strangely enough, this record made me feel cold, like it was perpetually winter.
Oh, and Davey, please bring back that side bang.
Favorite Track: "The Interview"
2. Alesana’s On Frail Wings Of Vanity And Wax (2006)
I never understood the point of three guitarists, especially when all three guitarists played the same parts.
Perhaps it is to make the guitars sound more boisterous, but that’s the job of the audio engineer in the studio and the audio technician at live shows.
Perhaps it's to make the band look cooler.
Thankfully, Alesana’s three guitarists all rarely played the same line.
If they did, one of them was typically a lead, creating a harmony with a powerful rhythm section.
Couple this with the juxtaposition of their look (hair-in-eyes for days) and the subject matter of their lyrics (Greek mythology galore), and you get a band that took “emo” to another level.
While their vocals sounded frail at times (on purpose, I’m sure), they themselves were never frail.
Favorite Track: "Congratulations, I Hate You"
3. Brand New’s Deja Entendu (2003)
I still remember the first time I heard this band.
I was confused, scared and intrigued.
The music video for “Sic Transit Gloria….Glory Fades” had elements far too complex for me to understand in my angst.
Even to this day, the video is still difficult to discern.
However, that’s what makes this band fun to listen to.
Picking apart and dissecting their lyrics and music videos provide a greater sense of understanding the band.
With ear-grabbing instrumentals and thought-provoking lyrics, Brand New wants to make sure they are always heard.
Favorite Track: "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows"
4. Escape The Fate’s Dying Is Your Latest Fashion (2006)
Capitalizing on the latest fashion, Escape The Fate exploded onto the music scene with their debut record, Dying Is Your Latest Fashion.
With Ronnie Radke at the helm of the project, Escape The Fate was looking to be the “teen girl lust” group that many bands before them were.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen, as they were a bit too “try hard” in their approach.
(I mean, one of their members looked far too much like Slash. Weird.)
Despite this, Escape The Fate had very talented guitarists, and their lyrics exuded a sort of melancholic passion that made them tolerable.
For better or for worse‚ they were listenable.
Too bad dying was their latest fashion.
Since Ronnie left (or was kicked out, depending on how you want to look at the situation), I don’t know what has happened to the band’s sound.
But it’s not good.
Favorite Track: "There’s No Sympathy For The Dead"
5. Fall Out Boy’s From Under The Cork Tree (2005)
Pete Wentz was (is?) every girl’s boyfriend.
At 22 years old, my fiancé still had his picture taped to her ceiling.
Whenever she went to sleep, she would see his face and wish him a goodnight.
(Why she did that is beyond me.)
When we moved in together, I took the picture down. Not because of jealousy, but because we all have to grow up at some point, right?
She tragically said, “Bye Pete,” as if he was some secret lover I caught her cheating with.
She acted like she was never going to see a still image of him again.
Enough about Pete, though. The band was actually good.
Although the lyrics are some of the most clichéd, they are the perfect encapsulation of emotions, and that's what makes Fall Out Boy memorable.
That and their wordplay (at times), the catchiness of their music and the farcical song names.
To this day, I wonder what a cork tree is.
Favorite Track: "Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued"
6. Hawthorne Heights’ The Silence In Black And White (2004)
We are drawn to catchy music, and we are drawn to simple music.
We are drawn to music that is easy to find the rhythm and nod to.
Hawthorne Heights did all of this and more.
With frenzied screaming and even more frenzied lyrics on suicide, abjectness, lost love and self-harm, Hawthorne Heights established themselves as the quintessential emo band to listen to, particularly because of the track “Ohio Is For Lovers.”
(I don’t know about that now, but it was certainly the case back in the day.)
Even though the devastating passing of the band’s rhythm guitarist and screamer, Casey Calvert, hit Hawthorne Heights hard, the band still knows how to construct good music in the silence of black and white.
Favorite Track: "Life On Standby"
7. Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American (2001)
You know, Jimmy Eat World has always reminded me of "Malcolm In The Middle."
(Why, I don’t know. It's not even funny.)
Anyway, Jimmy Eat World is an incredible band.
Their lyrics span various topics from love and partying to self-harm and self-mutilation.
The guitars are intricate, the drums are complex and the vocal performance is engaging.
Everything about this band screams perfection.
I think this band is why we bleed America.
Favorite Track: "The Middle"
8. My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)
Composed of brothers Gerard and Mikey Way, My Chemical Romance was an amalgam of high school angst and awkwardness.
Coming from a play on the title of Irvine Welsh’s "Ecstasy: Three Tales Of Chemical Romance," the band not only sounded emo, but looked emo, too.
(Is that even a thing? To “look” emo?)
Another band clad in heavy eyeliner, makeup and black nail polish, My Chemical Romance played music that was as dark as their souls.
However, they had some sentimental tracks as well. (“Helena” and “The Ghost of You” were great examples.)
The lyrics were relatable and multifaceted, and in some instances, they truly inspired sweet revenge.
Favorite Track: "It’s Not A Fashion Statement, It’s A F*cking Death Wish"
9. Panic! At The Disco’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005)
Every girl I knew in 2005 (I was in middle school, damn) had a fantasy about Brendon Urie.
It usually contained actions far too lewd to share. (But use your imagination, and you’ll get it.)
Sadly, I can understand why: He’s a fine-looking gentleman.
He also has a beautiful voice, with an impressive — albeit underused — range.
Panic! were interesting because of their theatrics.
They incorporated theater elements in their music and performances to set them apart from other bands.
Still, they fell right into the label of “emo” with their look and lyrics of young love, f*cking, infidelity, sadness and the like.
The guitar work was catchy, the drum beats were rhythmically simplistic and the extra instrumentals added layers not found in other bands of the time.
Truthfully, I don’t know if this is a fever you ever want to sweat out.
Favorite Track: "Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off"
10. Scary Kids Scaring Kids’ The City Sleeps In Flames (2005)
I don’t know if the band was trying to be ironic or frustrating, but after typing the name hundreds of times to find music videos and tracks to convert on YouTube, Scary Kids Scaring Kids found themselves on my various iPods.
I’ve gone through quite a few, okay?
Self-mutilation, alienation, self-harm and the like make this band a little perturbing on the first listen, especially if you’ve renounced your emo ways.
However, the vocal work is impressive (for 2005), the instrumentals are interesting and the lyrics are actually quite touching, even if they are dark.
Though the city slept in flames, Scary Kids Scaring Kids are still on repeat.
Favorite Track: "A Breath Of Sunshine"
11. Senses Fail’s Still Searching (2006)
At first glance, Senses Fail doesn’t look like the typical emo band.
Their faces aren’t caked up with makeup, their souls aren’t blacker than the night sky and they don’t sing too much about emo topics.
When you start diving deeper into their record, however, you find out the latter is absolutely true.
They sing about loneliness and more.
With topics dealing with matters of depression, medication, psychiatric help and the like, Senses Fail never fail at evoking emotions of complete and utter abjection.
After listening to Senses Fail, I realized I didn’t have to search much further to find music that perfectly exemplified my convoluted, silly and superfluous emotions.
Favorite Track: "To All The Crowded Rooms"
12. Taking Back Sunday’s Where You Want To Be (2004)
With titular mic flipping and throwing, Adam Lazzara burst on the scene with his band, Taking Back Sunday, back in 1999.
However, “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)” solidified them as a band worth paying attention to.
With lyrics diving deeper than most trite emo bands and a willingness to mash other genres into their own style, Taking Back Sunday was exactly where I wanted to be.
(I definitely don’t want to be where they are now, though.)
Favorite Track: "A Decade Under The Influence"
13. The Used’s In Love And Death (2004)
Bert McCracken is certainly a character.
I’ve never seen The Used live, but I’ve watched plenty of live videos in my time.
He is exciting to watch.
He's energetic and frenzied in his performance, taking Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” quote to heart.
Much like other emo bands, their lyrical subject matter deals with matters of forced happiness, suicide, depression and the like.
But it’s really the complexity of the record — the heavily distorted guitars, the high-pitched screams and the intricate drum patterns — that make this record easy to love, even in death.
Favorite Track: "Sound Effects And Overdramatics"
14. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ Don’t You Fake It (2006)
Not only does The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have a strange name, but they all were (are?) every teen girl's crush.
The name came from a band vote of random words thrown against a wall.
However, don’t let that naivety beguile you: These guys meant business.
With themes of love, love lost, depression, perennial darkness and domestic abuse, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus certainly made sure never to fake it.
(However, I have no idea what happened to their sound following this record.)
Favorite Track: "Justify"
15. Underoath’s Define The Great Line (2006)
As they are a Christian band, you can expect their lyrics to be tinged with some sort of religious preaching.
Thankfully, that is not true.
Underoath delivered a record that was religious, sure. But, it was more self-referential and reflective.
It discussed topics of loneliness, regret and anger.
I guess you could say these are staple emotions of the genre.
Whatever the case, Define The Great Line did define the band’s great line.
Favorite track: "In Regards To Myself"
There were plenty of other bands that could (and maybe should) have been on this list.
Bands like Matchbook Romance, Simple Plan, Sum 41, Relient K, Armor for Sleep, Yellowcard and many others come to mind when I think of emo bands that every emo kid knows (or should know).
However, when I went back to listen to their records from beginning to end, I found myself not able to finish them.
Perhaps it’s because the songs don’t speak to me as they used to.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve “grown up,” whatever that means.
Perhaps it’s because the records just weren’t that good.
Whatever the case, the “emo phase” is a part of life and a part of growing up.
Every child is going to go through phases, and “emo” is one of them.
So, it’s okay to admit you were an emo kid. Embrace it.
Though I have long passed that phase in my life, I am proud to call myself “a former emo.”