(Note: The entire beginning of this article is a joke. I don’t care what you do or don’t call emo.)
Before I go any further with this article, it’s time to crush some dreams. First and foremost, there is no “emo revival”. Mostly because emo never really went anywhere and a revival implies it did. Secondly, most, if not all, of the bands who identify with that music play an off brand, awkward version of emo more akin to emo or math rock. And all of you nerds with your thigh high shorts and pabst blue ribbon can argue with me about all of this as much as you want but you’ll still always be wrong.
That being said, what exactly is Real Emo™? To put it simply, Real Emo™ was a movement started by a select few hardcore bands located in or around DC in the early 80’s and continued on through the late 80’s/early 90’s. Around this time is when bands on the West Coast adopted the more experimental, melodic approach to hardcore punk music and began to lay many of the foundations for what would eventually become screamo. The music is often stylistically similar to early hardcore acts such as Minor Threat or The Bad Brains in that it is fast and passionate, but differs in the sense that the lyrics tend to be a bit more introspective and the overall sound far more melodic. With bands like Nation Of Ulysses and Moss Icon further experimentation became increasingly popular as well, adding many “spacier” elements as well as incorporating a bit of spoken word. Nation Of Ulysses even had a saxophone occasionally, something that later bands like Native Nod couldn’t help but pick up. And, interestingly enough, not a single had any “twinkly” guitar parts.
Rites Of Spring – End On End
Famously known as Ian Mackaye‘s band between Minor Threat and Fugazi, Rites Of Spring was essential in the development of what would later become emo. The band played with the passion of Mackaye’s past act but took challenged the energy in a much different direction, focusing on many much more personal topics lyrically. They also began to include a far greater influence from post punk in their sound, adding an entirely new level of melody to hardcore. While seemingly minor this drastically changed the compositional rules of hardcore. No longer did songs have to be simple, fast bursts of passion with little to no structure. Instead, they could now more fully explore melodic aspects of their songs making not just shout alongs, but sing alongs as well. Much of what they did seems relatively small in comparison to the grand scheme of how much emo ended up changing and evolving, but at the time it was truly groundbreaking and their discography still stands the test of time. Do yourself a favor and listen to this rather legendary band.
Indian Summer – Science 1994
As far as the bands who proved essential to the development of screamo and truly pushed the boundaries of emo, I can think of none more crucial than Indian Summer. Existing for only one year from 1993-1994, the band took the more melodic elements of Rites Of Spring and turned them completely on their head. Indian Summer began introducing droning sections of dissonance as well as vocals that bordered far more on shrieking than actual singing, intertwined with spoken word sections. Add to this a very, very common use of often out of place old jazz/blues samples and you have the Indian Summer formula, a formula many would try to jack over the year but an endless amount failed to get quite right. And, to speak a bit to how much Real Emo™/Screamo fans love these guys and how profound their influence is, they didn’t even name any of their songs beyond “Orchard”. Instead a bunch of really sad (assuming they’re sad because, ya know, emo music) fans named all of them. While I personally believe that Science 1994 is one of the greatest albums ever recorded and an essential listen for any fan of beautiful, passionate music in their right mind, an essential song to be picked from it is definitely “Woolworth/Angry Son”. Even today, 2-3 years after discovering this album, chills still run down my spine every time I hear it. I honestly feel as if words cannot describe how truly amazing and influential this band is so just listen instead and be amazed at how many of your favorite bands have jocked their style instead.
(P.S. The version of the album listed below has all of the correct tracks, but in the wrong order and with the wrong names. “Woolworth/Angry Son” is marked as “Sleeping”, and it’s also a free download for the album, so have at it.)
Faith/Void – Split LP
In the context of hardcore history alone this album deserves a listen. After all it is not one but two essential bands sharing an album making for one ear shattering and truly unrepeatable experience. On one side is Void, the legendary crossover thrash/realistic pioneers of all things metal/punk crossover who deliver such an unhinged, disgusting experience that the listener is often left wondering if they just listened to a record or got run over by a semi-truck. On the other side, however, is the band pertinent to our discussion of Real Emo™, the almighty Faith. In the context of emo’s development, Faith were the true innovators of the genre as their short lived stint from 1981-1983 was the first to truly incorporate melodic elements into hardcore. Their approach was far more subtle than say, Rites of Spring, but it was notable none the less, especially as they avoided the general “rebellious” nature of early hardcore punk music to instead focus on their own personal demons. It’s got just the right amount of melody to remain consistently memorable while having just the right amount of hardcore bile to make sure that it never grows old.
Other Essential Listening: