From ‘Three Cheers’ To ‘Bleed American’: The 10 Most Important Emo Albums
From the early days of Sunny Day Real Estate to the cinematic scope of My Chemical Romance, these are the albums every emo fan needs to know.
Emo is perpetually misunderstood. Every fan, faithful, or past worshipper feels like they own their own little part of the culture — it’s why it’s been given so many different meanings and consequently, why it’s so enduring in its influence.
Over the last few years, there’s been an undeniable resurgence in the perception and discussion of the genre, from Post Malone divulging how his high-school mall-goth obsessions lead to influencing his signature woozy melodies, to My Chemical Romance’s triumphant return, its impact has continued to penetrate all corners of pop culture.
Spanning so many musical crevices, emo can’t be confined to one sound or style (however, according to website Is This Band Emo, it can). In celebrating the culture that has historically given a home to misfits, outcasts and everything in between, here are the ten essential emo albums that touch every boundary of the expansive genre.
Sunny Day Real Estate — Diary (1994)
Amid the grunge explosion of the ’90s, Seattle birthed a different kind of angsty in the form of Sunny Day Real Estate. Like most other emo bands of the era, Sunny Day’s activity was short-lived but impactful.
1994’s Diary swoons constantly without meandering. Playing on the grunge trope of loud-soft-loud dynamics, the band utilised this structure to flow between glistening clean guitars, kind melodies, and bellowing choruses.
The Get Up Kids — Something To Write Home About (1999)
“What became of everyone I used to know”, bellows the opening line of ‘Holiday’, a slick slice of emo punk — one of many bangers to be found on The Get Up Kids’ 1999 release Something To Write Home About.
Gifted with a famously bad 2.5 rating from Pitchfork at the time, the band revelled in pop-punk pomp, proving that you didn’t need to sell your soul to burp-jokes in order to write a hook laden teen bop.
American Football – American Football (1999)
It’d be fair to pinpoint American Football’s 1999 self-titled record as emo’s most influential record. With the band breaking up shortly after the release of the record, American Football famously gained cult status among record store hermits and house show goers of the world.
The Chicago natives, alongside acts like Texas Is The Reason, Braid, and Mineral were responsible for the dominance of glistening, twinkly guitars and dreary, yet charismatic, vocal performances. However, amongst the incredible crop of artists, the album’s endurance lies in its musical diversity and frank lyricism.
With Mike Kinsella at the helm, math-rocky tempos and alternative tunings carry the album’s post-rock ambience. The nine-minute instrumental epic ‘Stay Home’ is one of the most affecting pieces of the music in the emo cannon, and the rolling, riff driven ’Never Meant’ is probably the closest thing ’90s emo had to a hit.
Jimmy Eat World — Bleed American (2001)
Whilst 1999’s Clarity could also sit comfortably on an essential-emo guide, 2001’s Bleed American is the easiest entry point for the boundlessly prolific Jimmy Eat World.
Jimmy Eat World constantly transcended the confines of emo, assuming a seat in the top echelon of the genre through consistently showcasing their ability for affecting songwriting. On Bleed American, the band are at their most sentimental, nostalgia-focused, and relatable — the perfect formula for a time-stamp free emo record. Musically, it recalled bands like Teenage Fanclub and Built To Spill.
Their impact extends beyond the iconic chorus of ‘The Middle’, a song that means the band gets unfortunately lumped on one-hit-wonder lists to this day — excellent cuts like ‘A Praise Chorus’, ‘The Authority Song’ and ‘If You Don’t, Don’t’ are proof as to why modern acts like Slowly Slowly, Ceres and Columbus hold them so closely as an influence.
Taking Back Sunday — Tell All Your Friends (2002)
It feels as though Taking Back Sunday have celebrated this album’s legacy in every capacity since its release almost 20 years ago — and with good reason.
Tell All Your Friends has aged well, and it’s unfortunate that sometimes its influence among the masses is diminished to ‘Cute Without The E’s’ as an emo club night favourite. Wrangling with the sounds of heartland rock, the record feels timeless in comparison to the output of their contemporaries like The Used and Senses Fail.
Frontman Adam Lazzarra’s charisma is unmatched on TAYF — no other vocalist would ever be able to get away with lyrics like “I got the mic and you’ve got the moshpit” after spilling his guts on a track like ‘You’re So Last Summer’.
They took cues from ’90s alternative rock and emo acts like Seaweed, Penfold, Jawbreaker and Samiam, which allowed them them to carve a sound that now sits more inline with Foo Fighters than anything else.
Fall Out Boy — Take This To Your Grave (2003)
On paper, Fall Out Boy should never have worked. Yet here we are, almost 20 years after their inception, with their influence on pop culture still unfolding before our eyes and ears. After all, believers never die.
Emerging from Chicago’s hardcore scene at the turn of the century whilst boner-joke slinging skaters (think Blink-182, Sum 41, New Found Glory) reigned supreme, the youth born from unforgiving, mid-west and east coast winters were craving something a little more relatable.
On Take This To Your Grave, the band’s charming, chaotic concoction of influences are on display. It captures the immediate, vital energy of basement-show hardcore, and expands on the pop-punk riffage of genre predecessors like Lifetime and Saves The Day. Frontman Patrick Stump’s stunning, R&B influenced vocals trumped any snot-nosed whinger of the time, while Pete Wentz’s Rushmore referencing, sardonic musings on broken relationships and betrayal made for perfect black Converse graffiti material.
Tracks like ‘Chicago If So Two Years Ago’ and ‘Grenade Jumper’ have been ripped off by almost every pop-punk band in the years since, but none have managed to capture the teenage feelings that Fall Out Boy nailed.
Although Fall Out Boy’s post-hiatus legacy has been founded on tasteless tropical-house-meets-pop-rock crossovers and Hollywood-sized features, their ’00s output are pillars of the genre. It’s not uncommon for genre purists to turn up their nose at this album, or Fall Out Boy in general — but the band, alongside My Chemical Romance, remain the best entry point into the emo subculture at large.
My Chemical Romance — Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)
Taking cues from horror punk, glam rock and metal chaos, My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge set the blueprint for most emo and post-hardcore bands. Infused with melodrama and theatrics, the album excels — from its lyricism to the deft instrumentation.
The album was the first real example of MCR’s knack for “packaging” themselves as an entire universe, rather than just a “band” — something which hadn’t been trialled by emo bands prior. Following an intense, lovelorn narrative signature, the tracks feel as cinematic as the wrapping in which they’re presented.
With now-legendary hits like ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ and ‘Helena’ leading the charge, it’s the album’s deeper cuts, like the harrowing ‘Cemetery Drive’ and ‘Give ‘Em Hell Kid’, that shine like uncut gems.
Tigers Jaw – Tigers Jaw (2008)
As emo reached its commercial peak in 2007, and the overwhelming presence of neon tank tops and tacky radio hits had reduced the genre to a one sided cliche — a new scene was beginning to bubble underground.
While the emo-revival truly came into prominence by roughly 2011, Tigers Jaw’s 2008 self-titled record is a true landmark release for the era. From the opening bellows of ‘I Saw Water’ to the summery, lo-fi power-pop of ‘The Sun’, it’s a timeless and evocative showing of indie rock, harkening back to the likes of emo-adjacent acts like Death Cab For Cutie and Rilo Kiley.
It’s 2010 re-release on record label Run For Cover (the undisputed champions of the emo revival) reignited public interest in the record. The album’s warm and introspective sound soon found a comfortable home amongst Tumblr’s soft-grunge lyric edit faithfuls.
Almost 12 years on, Tigers Jaw remains a highly influential release, reflected in artists and bands like Soccer Mommy and Camp Cope.
Modern Baseball — You’re Gonna Miss It All (2014)
The prevailing trauma of high school awkwardness is a thematic staple for emo. During the emo revival, while most bands preferred to revel in a level of mopeyness that could easily turn trite, Modern Baseball’s quick wit and earnestness saw them dominate the genre during their short-lived career.
Their ascent saw them become the poster boys for the emo revival, their appeal expanding to devout indie-heads and Vans-donning pop-punk kids everywhere, with 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All.
Their pitch-weary vocals and tattoo-ready lyrics rendered Modern Baseball comfortably imperfect and recklessly youthful. Tracks like ‘Your Graduation’ have been covered to death by local bands attempting to capture the sleep-deprived, sentimental glory that Modern Baseball perfected.
The Hotelier — Home Like NoPlace Is There (2014)
The Hotelier’s Home Like NoPlace Is There is nothing short of a masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best emo releases of all time, it remains a stunning example of the wide-reaching capabilities of modern rock.
Moving away from the by-the-numbers pop-punk of their 2011 debut, It Never Goes Out, the critically acclaimed Home marked the apex of the emo revival. It’s a confronting listen — there’s nothing quite as gut-wrenchingly sombre as the imagery in ‘Housebroken’ or ‘Your Deep Rest’.
There’s an great sense of nostalgia within this record. Around the time it was released, the kids who spent their childhoods obsessing over Panic! And Paramore records, and teenage years studying the suburban lyricism of The Wonder Years and Fireworks, were entering early adulthood. Fans were, for the most part, probably experiencing the disillusioned, sombre realities that the album explores for the first time — making it painfully relatable for fans.
Bianca Davino is a writer and critic based in Sydney. Follow her on Twitter.
All this week, Music Junkee is tumbling down memory lane and exploring everything to do with the emo. Get stuck in here.