Top 10 Essential Emo Revival Bands
Picture it: you’re at a fancy party, popping cocktail weenies with champagne in hand. Suddenly, Elon Musk, Greta Gerwig, and Malala Yousafzai approach you. Elon Musk makes a joke about space. Everyone laughs. Classic Elon. You zone out as the trio starts talking about complicated things like geopolitics, reverse stock splits, and fax machines. Suddenly, everyone’s eyes are on you, waiting expectantly. “Um… what was the question again?” Greta laughs, tossing her head to the side. “Malala here thinks that twinkledaddies can stand on their own artistic merit, but obviously their appeal is solely fueled by the nostalgia of an audience yearning for 2nd wave emo of days gone by. What say you?” You down another cocktail weenie to buy some time, wishing everyone could just go back to talking about stupid fax machines or stupid space or stupid human rights*. Who knew that people still cared about emo music?
You wouldn’t be alone. So many people fell out of the know on emo trends after the genre’s mid-2000s heyday that Noisey had to publish this very angry piece lambasting fake fans for their recently renewed interest in the genre. Despite being originally published in 2013, its contents are still timely and should be shouted verbatim at any person who has the gall to utter the phrase “emo revival” in your presence. Or, if you’re not an arrogant elitist, you could recommend some artists and bond over a shared interest instead.
To help out any poor souls who might find themselves trapped in a discussion about emo music at a party for the TIME 100, I’ve compiled this list of bands essential to the “emo revival” (for the purposes of this list, any emo band from 2008 onwards). I don’t claim that these are the “best” bands, but rather, the ones you need to know in order to have a deep conversation about emo’s 4th wave. This list will comprise some of the most influential and prolific acts in the genre, serving as a concise primer on the key bands of emo’s resurgence.
*human rights are not stupid
Just Missed: Into It. Over It., Tigers Jaw, Tiny Moving Parts, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), Pianos Become the Teeth
Man, was this tough. So many quality bands that deserve the utmost respect and appreciation. I believe all of these bands are on the cusp and could have a strong case made for their inclusion. Some omissions that are personal favorites include Pity Sex, You Blew It!, Seahaven, and Mansions.
10. A Great Big Pile of Leaves
Word of warning: Don’t ever try to describe these guys as “math rock” to an emo snob. This Brooklyn-based group is notable for their upbeat tunes, catchy hooks, and pop sensibilities. Even their “sad songs” seem to still be brimming with infectious positivity. This band serves as a perfect bridge to introduce indie rockers to the more accessible bands of the emo revival, making it an essential group you should know about.
9. Merchant Ships
Edging out Pianos Become the Teeth, Merchant Ships is a notable forefather of the skramz (screamo) revival, whose influence can be heard in more contemporary acts like Old Gray. Merchant Ships was short-lived, with their most influential work coming in the form of a 6-song EP. However, the absolutely destructive track “Sleep Patterns” would go on to inspire scores of musicians (and rip out the hearts of even more). It also earned shitpost status. Merchant Ships’ limited discography is a knock against them, but their place in the emo timeline and clear influence on future acts needs to be respected.
8. Glocca Morra
Disclaimer: Glocca Morra is one of my favorite bands (definitely top 3). You could compare them to 2nd wave midwest emo (except with an overdrive pedal) but that would be unfair. Glocca Morra has serious songwriting chops, crafting songs with interesting, captivating arrangements that are also simultaneously jam-packed full of hooks. Aside from their consistently visceral and excellent discography, their influence in the Philadelphia music scene further cements their place on this list. Glocca Morra helped lay the foundation that has made Philadelphia the premier location for modern emo and punk music.
7. Title Fight
Talk about a band that has grown. Early offerings were pop punky, but as the band has matured, they started incorporating more post-rock and shoegaze influence into their tracks. It’s almost as if they took the positive reception of “Head in the Ceiling Fan” and decided to use that song as the blueprint for 2015 release Hyperview. Due to the constant evolution of their sound, they’re a hard band to pin down, but their ability to successfully encompass so many subgenres makes it a certainty that any emo fan encounters them eventually.
6. Joyce Manor
Joyce Manor is THE emo/punk band of the golden coast, which helped give them the edge over the equally killer punk band, Tigers Jaw. While Tigers Jaw has leaned more into the indie rock sound of late, Joyce Manor has stuck with their signature brand of emo punk. Joyce Manor’s self-titled release is essential listening, with Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired and Never Hungover Again being solid entries to their discography. While I personally felt Cody was a bit of a misstep, Joyce Manor remains one of the biggest acts in the game, even if their genre-defining releases are behind them.
5. Modern Baseball
Joyce Manor’s Philadelphia counterpart. Modern Baseball smooths out the rougher edges of their punk sound, with more vulnerable lyrics tinged by the influence of Weezer and The Front Bottoms. Their relentless work ethic in the house show community of the Philadelphia area helped them become one of the city’s favorite acts. Modern Baseball has a knack for writing songs that resonate with their audiences. There’s no such thing as a passive Modern Baseball fan. The fan who followed them from a dingy Philly basement on day 1, and the person who didn’t hear of them until they were on tour with emo icons Brand New, often come to treat MOBO with the same level of faithful adoration.
4. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die
TWIABP strikes the perfect balance between 2nd wave “twinkledaddies” and post-rock. Their albums feature both elements in perfect harmony, resulting in works that feel purely emo, rather than some hybridization of sound where emo receives the 4th genre designation. Whenever, If Ever is a must-listen genre-defining album, which is ironic since TWIABP has arguably improved on each subsequent release.
3. The Front Bottoms
Curiously, The Front Bottoms seem to have shed the emo tag by virtue of… becoming popular. While many regard them as “folk punk” the lyrical content of their albums (especially their first two) are undeniably emo. Brian Sella’s evocative imagery helped catapult them into pop punk playlists around the globe, and his lyrical stylings seem to have rubbed off on other acts such as Modern Baseball, McCafferty, and Mom Jeans. A smash hit by emo’s standards, The Front Bottoms created a sound that has been often imitated but never duplicated.
2. The Hotelier
One of the most exciting acts in the emo revival, The Hotelier’s bold sophomore release, Home, Like Noplace Is There was a breath of fresh air. Charting a conceptual direction for the genre, they delivered a thematically dense and complex suburban album for a suburban genre. Avoiding the juvenile pitfalls other emo acts tend to fall in, The Hotelier delivered a mature and serious offering that carries serious weight. Well-received follow up Goodness proved to the scene that The Hotelier are far from a one-hit wonder.
1. Algernon Cadwallader
The undisputed kings of the emo revival, how could any other band take top spot? I don’t care if some snooty hipster wants to write them off as derivative or “Kinsella worship,” the fact of the matter is, they reignited the genre and the Philly emo scene. It’s no coincidence that the estimation of 2008 as the start date for the emo revival coincides with the year Algernon Cadwallader released their debut album, Some Kind of Cadwallader. Any serious discussion of the emo revival is going to start with Algernon Cadwallader, making them your most essential act.
I compiled a playlist with some selected pieces from these artists. Feel free to check it out and let me know how I did in the comments (I’m sure you will all have nothing but positive things to say!)