Without delving into what I’d consider a boilerplate introduction to the history of the genre (involving a confusing, simultaneous defense and condemnation of Chris Carrabba), the much-maligned and misunderstood punk subgenre of “emo” is probably not what you think it is. If the term brings up images of fourteen year old kids fucking around on an escalator after adding to their Tim Burton-goth wardrobe at Hot Topic and listening to what sounds like the Backstreet Boys collaborating with Lil Jon, that’s not your fault either, the label was both invented and hijacked by record companies and over-the-hill music journalists in 2005. Those kids don’t really fit the “sad crowd” demographic that the “real emo” inherited from the original runs of goth and shoegaze. The “real” heyday, actually the genre’s second wave after spinning off from hardcore punk in the mid-80s, was in the mid-to-late 90s with bands like Mineral, Hot Water Music, The Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, At the Drive-In, and Cursive with an aesthetic better described as “muted thrift store bus commuter chic.” Fans were probably more into “The Omaha Sound” than the repackaged, corporate-pushed fuck-you-dad goth-by-way-of-Natural Born Killers of My Chemical Romance or Blood on the Dance Floor, the latter of whom were in it to molest preteens with asymmetrical haircuts.
Notable for the genre, most of the bands enjoyed moderate underground success before disbanding and being far more appreciated down the line primarily by white kids born between 1987 and 1995 who really identified with Kevin Arnold when they were growing up and weren’t old enough to ever see any of the mostly obscure bands characterizing their tastes in arguably their most formative years. This has brought a sort of revival in the genre in recent years, characterized by a flurry of reunion tours from the original progenitors of that late 90’s sound as well as new acts that have finely tuned the sound and tropes, including a noticable tuning down from the “fuck that stupid bitch” teenage misogyny characterized by some of the earlier, lesser known acts. It’s like emo made in a lab now, after 15 years of obsessive study, designed specifically to just make you both regrettably sad or nostalgic in a manner that’s so effective you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to it on public transit.
One of my favorite characteristics of many of the revival bands, the membership of which I share an age range with, is a reoccurring graphic design motif of using childhood photos from the early 90s as album covers. They almost all do it at some point, and I’ve been really curious as to whether or not this is some kind of planned meme from bands that have toured together. I’ve collected several of my favorites, as well as give a quick rundown review of the band, just in case you too have entered your late twenties still not quite able to get out of the sad crowd.