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The Most Important Emo Song of Every Year

We’re going from the genre’s roots through the Fifth Wave to break down the best and most popular tracks that have defined the evolution of a hard-to-pin-down genre

Dan Evans

My Chemical Romance is touring again, Paramore and Jimmy Eat World are headlining a major festival this fall, and there’s a skinny, tattooed white dude with a guitar dominating the charts. In case you haven’t heard, emo is back, baby! In honor of its return to prominence—plus the 20th anniversary of the first MCR album—The Ringer is following Emo Wendy’s lead and tapping into that nostalgia. Welcome to Emo Week, where we’ll explore the scene’s roots, its evolution to the modern-day Fifth Wave, and some of the ephemera around the genre. Grab your Telecasters and Manic Panic and join us in the Black Parade.

As the saying goes, “Real emo only consists of the D.C. emotional hardcore and late ’90s screamo scene.” And that may be true about “real emo,” but real emo, well … that’s been an ongoing conversation for nearly 40 years. Perhaps the most fun and frustrating aspect of trying to develop any sort of coherent narrative of emo history is that the definition is almost entirely beholden to the fans rather than the people who actually make it. Nearly every artist on this list has performed emo in protest, preferring to think of themselves as punk, hardcore, post-hardcore, post-punk, folk, pop, indie rock, electronic, or hip-hop. All of which is a testament to the ineffable yet unmistakable quintessence of emo—an underlying yearning for catharsis that transcends sonic parameters to inform nearly every possible form of media.

A 38-song playlist (plus 38 alternates) can’t help but fall shy of being definitive or all-encompassing, and despite the luxuries that we’ve taken that enhance its inclusivity, artists can appear only once. Also, our modernist view of the genre’s sound and sentiment has grandfathered in artists that are more emo in their influence than their output. The inclusions on this list aren’t necessarily the best or most popular song from their respective year, though they often are one or both; there was no intention of including one for the dilettantes and one for the real heads, though that often turned out to be the end result. The ultimate determinant of “importance” came down to how much a song had to say about where the genre was at and also where it was going. Play this in order and a span of years can flow seamlessly, only to have a jarring transition occur seconds later; that’s just how it goes with a style of music in constant conversation with its past, each wave serving as a continuation or a course correction of what came before. Use this as a map for a deeper dive, or hell, throw it in the recycle bin and create an entirely new alternate history based on your specifications. After all, what’s more real emo than fiercely debating what that term really means. —IC

1985: “For Want Of,” Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring are widely credited as the originators of a pop culture movement powerful enough to merit a weeklong celebration here at The Ringer. “For Want Of” is their signature song and it’s 37 years old—it also has nearly 2.7 million streams on Spotify, about four times more than the band’s next-most streamed song and about 10 times more than just about everything else on their only album. Feel free to skip to our selections from the past three years, and you’ll see that they’re pulling about the same numbers. This doesn’t really do much to challenge the stereotype of Rites of Spring as something admired and revered and name-dropped more than it’s actually listened to in 2022. And true, it is a history lesson, in that the entire genre comes alive from the moment you push play. Guy Picciotto’s vocals are as raw and violent as any band from the Revolution Summer, but the aggression is crucially turned inward: “I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat / and then I choked,” “I bled in the arms of a girl I barely met”—nearly every line serving as exemplars for the next four decades of emo lyricism. Like most copypasta memes, there’s a hint of truth in “real emo consists only of the D.C. emotional hardcore scene …” If “For Want Of” is still seen as the platonic ideal of emo, it’s for the lingering belief that it never really got improved upon. —IC

Runner-up: “Words Come Back,” the Hated

1986: “Circles,” Dag Nasty

As with many bands in the first half-decade of emo, Dag Nasty was made up of Dischord and SSD affiliates—Brian Baker of Minor Threat, Dave Smalley of the straight-edge hardcore band DYS—who wanted an angrier, more emotional release after the fated Revolution Summer in 1985. A reaction to the skinhead punks who violently occupied the D.C. scene by the mid-’80s, the bands that formed during that fateful summer were fed up with regressive politics. Or, as Smalley screamed on “Circles”: “I can’t watch and not be heard / The days go by things get worse.” “Circles” was a bridge between the breakneck pace of hardcore and the bleeding heart that would become emo; it pairs lyrical desperation with booming vocals and melodic guitar solos. Produced by Ian MacKaye, Dag Nasty’s Can I Say declared that actually, it was kind of sick to sound good and play your instruments well. “I had all the rage of a hardcore singer,” Smalley said decades after the album’s release. “But by the way, I know how to sing.” —AG

Runner-up: “Burn No Bridges,” Gray Matter

1987: “Building,” Embrace

Though understandably memorialized as Ian MacKaye’s band between Minor Threat and Fugazi, Embrace warrants inclusion on this list if only for inspiring his most infamous piece of stage banter: “‘Emo-core’ must be the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” This was in response to a recent Thrasher article that found a common thread among the bands in D.C.’s hardcore scene turning more introspective. By the time they released their first and only album (see a theme here?), Embrace didn’t have to compete with the prevailing, perverted conception of the genre. Rather, MacKaye’s argument was that hardcore was already emotional to begin with. Fair enough, and maybe we’d be in a different place right now had “emo-core” been replaced by a term that could capture the type of feelings expressed by songs like “Building” rather than their mere existence. Emotional hardcore or just hardcore emotional? The argument persists to this day. —IC

Runner-up: “Pearl to Stone,” Soul Side

1988: “Previous,” Ignition

Drink—for Ian MacKaye’s sake, a shot of apple juice—every time Dischord or Washington, D.C., come up in a history of First-Wave emo, and you’ll be looking down the bottom of the bottle in no time. Case in point, Ignition was not only a D.C. Dischord band, but one that featured a MacKaye—Alec MacKaye, younger brother of Ian, who sang in the legendary hardcore bands Untouchables and the Faith before forming veritable D.C. supergroup Ignition with ex-Faith member Chris Bald, Dante Ferrando of Gray Matter, and Chris Thompson of Soulside.

Ignition have the dubious honor of playing what might be the “shortest set ever played by a D.C. band” (it ended before they finished their first song after Bald smashed his guitar in frustration), and their chaotic energy is on full display on “Previous.” MacKaye sing-screams on and off-beat, vacillating between deafening roars and mumbled phrases, as if he can’t even commit to singing into the mic. But catch a glimpse of his lyrics and his seething, self-aware wrath comes into view: “Why do I keep jumping into the fire/ When I know it always burns?” Self-immolation, self-doubt, self-hatred: To MacKaye, they’re one and the same. “Here I go again!” he screams; by the end, it’s hard to tell whether he’s excited or just exhausted. —AG

Runner-up: “Cake,” Fire Party

Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye performs at the Hollywood Palladium on April 25, 1993.
Photo by Lindsay Brice/Getty Images

1989: “Margin Walker,” Fugazi

Given what he said about the genre as the frontman for Embrace, I imagine we might get an Ian MacKaye nastygram in our inbox on account of including him twice. And truthfully, Fugazi is perhaps the most important “are they or aren’t they?” argument for emo taxonomists—the framing of the next decade looks a lot different depending on your answer. But compared to the more political and cryptic lyricism that they’d favor going forward (even on songs literally titled “Do You Like Me?”), “Margin Walker” focuses on intimate, personal interaction in quintessential hyperbolic fashion: Someone is so beautiful, it makes you want to set yourself on fire or track them down like an assassin, because that’s far easier than expressing it in words. A compromise: Fugazi was definitely not emo after 1990, only possibly so when they made their second EP, Margin Walker, their first with Picciotto on both guitar and vocals, setting up the give-and-go vocal and jagged jigsaw instrumental interplay that emo would spend the next 30-plus years trying to own after Fugazi were done with it. —IC

Runner-up: “Swann Street,” 3

1990: “Tired of Waiting,” Samiam

There must be something in the water at 924 Gilman, the legendary Berkeley DIY venue, that catapulted its pop-leaning punk rockers into stardom: Green Day and the Offspring used the sweat-and-spray-paint-soaked venue as an unlikely springboard to platinum records and global recognition (famously, Gilman banned Billie Joe Armstrong from the venue after Green Day released their major-label debut, Dookie). Samiam never quite reached that level of success, but by the mid-1990s, they had released records on Atlantic and Ignition, no small feat for some punks from the East Bay.

But on their 1990 EP I Am, they were still trying to prove themselves; on “Tired of Waiting,” you can palpably feel their impatience: “You said that you would be here!” singer Jason Beebout cries out. “Tired of Waiting” might not be the song that landed Samiam on MTV, but it did lay the groundwork for emo to come: The slow, circuitous guitar intro sounds like Def Leppard on antidepressants; the gang vocals feel closer to an aggressive group hug than a battle cry; the absolutely desperate whine that Beebout lets out before the song’s last gasp. Part of emo’s differentiation from hardcore was its comfort with showing fragility; by the time the opening guitar riff comes back, slower, Samiam feels like it’s about to fully break down. —AG

Runner-up: “Cue to You,” Fuel

1991: “Caress,” Drive Like Jehu

Whether we’re talking emo or alt-country or grunge or college rock, most of the independent rock scenes in the last pre-internet decade were interpreted as sensible extensions of their geography: Of course that style of music would take shape in that city. So what to make of post-hardcore and screamo taking shape in sunny, sedate San Diego? Many of the talking heads in It’s Gonna Blow!!! try to make sense of it—is there an inverse effect where any sense of alienation or countercultural impulse is intensified by living in a place that calls itself America’s Finest City? It’s not entirely clear what Drive Like Jehu were so worked up about on their self-titled debut, which exists literally at the dead center of the It’s Gonna Blow!!! timeline. Though overshadowed by their major-label blowout Yank Crime (and currently not on streaming services), “Caress” is a document of a band with ill intentions and something less than full control of their powers, a makeshift nail bomb of a song. Sick Deftones cover, too. —IC

Runner-up: “Tools and Chrome,” Jawbox

1992: “Chesterfield King,” Jawbreaker

There has long been a debate about how to classify a band like Jawbreaker. Though they met in Southern California and recorded dozens of singles while attending college in New York, the band cut their teeth in the hallowed Bay Area punk scene. But by their second album, Bivouac, they had begun incorporating brighter vocal melodies and slower guitar progressions in place of their chugging riffs; were they perhaps one of the earliest “pop punk” bands? “Chesterfield King” certainly has hallmarks of the genre—a simple four-chord intro, a yelping frontman, a shout-along chorus.

The lyrics tell another story, one that feels too self-aware and sweet for the Jackass antics of Blink-182 and Co.: “I could smell your thoughts and thought / Do you want to touch, a lot like me?” frontman Blake Schwarzenbach sings. Jawbreaker is the reigning champion of love songs, and “Chesterfield King” is a prime example. Boy meets girl, boy misses his chance, boy complains to a toothless woman over a Chesterfield cigarette, boy drives all the way to girl and they kiss. There’s something so purely intimate about Jawbreaker’s narrative arcs, so uninterested with seeming cool or composed. By that metric, they’re undeniably emo. —AG

Runner-up: “1/4 Mile Thunder,” Engine Kid

1993: “Woolworm,” Indian Summer

Adam Nanaa was profoundly shaped by the sound and strident DIY ethics of Dischord Records but he did not share the label’s antagonism toward the concept of “emo-core.” He named one of his first bands after an Ignition single and described it as “Emotional revolution. Fucking pain.” Indian Summer took those concepts to an unprecedented extreme on “Woolworm,” which came for a bad time and a long time. Alternately titled “Angry Son,” “Sleeping,” a hieroglyph, or nothing at all, this seven-and-a-half-minute colossus towers over not just Indian Summer’s tiny discography but early ’90s emo in general—a couple of broke-as-fuck Oakland punks who saw as much of their struggle in thrift store Bessie Smith vinyls as they did Fugazi. It wasn’t the first word in parricidal rage—Indian Summer was named after a Doors song, after all—but “Woolworm” aspired to be the final one. —IC

Runner-up: “I’m Back Sleeping…,” Moss Icon

1994: “In Circles,” Sunny Day Real Estate

Sunny Day Real Estate is often considered the forefather of “Midwest emo”—a genre loosely defined by the chiming, arpeggiated riff lead guitarist Dan Hoerner plucks out on the verses of “In Circles”—but the band proudly hails from Seattle. How Seattle is Sunny Day Real Estate? Their 1994 debut full-length, Diary, was released by the city’s famed Sub Pop Records. How Seattle is Sunny Day Real Estate? By the end of the following year, two of the members—bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith—had joined the Foo Fighters. How Seattle? OK, in 2014, two decades after Diary’s release, Hoerner revived the Big Dipper, a 250-cap music venue in Spokane, Washington. They do private parties.

Needless to say, Seattle—and more specifically, grunge—permeated Sunny Day Real Estate’s first record. The searing two-chord riff that opens “In Circles” could be an obsessive-compulsive Alice in Chains, an anxious repetition of the same screeching notes until Mendel’s bass enters as a counterweight. Then, there’s Jeremy Enigk’s voice: a remarkably clear whimper barely sleepwalking through the verses—“Where words are not / Feeling remains,” a strikingly apt observation for a band that initially intended to be fully instrumental. But words are everything on the chorus, when Enigk breaks into a pitched scream. Just like the song’s core riff, he’s running (down) in circles. While the band influenced a generation of guitar-noodling emo, its members were—and still are—averse to the label. “​​I’m not sure what emo was then, or now,” Enigk told Spin in 2009. Self-identifying or not, the band moved the genre toward the melodic, emotional vulnerability that still defines it today. —AG

Runner-up: “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” Slant 6

1995: “Little League,” Cap’n Jazz

In my experience, when people work backward toward discovering emo’s First Wave, the biggest barrier isn’t the no-fi production values or the screaming or the obscurity; these are foundational elements, from the genre’s primordial mid-’80s rumblings to whatever Sixth Wave is taking shape in the bowels of Bandcamp. Rather … man, these bands were so fucking serious. At what point did emo pivot from associations with Revolution Summer and youth crews and straight edge to the province of googly-eyed goofballs? It all starts right here, where a gang of teens from the outskirts of Chicagoland mixed Rimbaud, acid, just enough musical chops, and way more than enough repressed suburban angst to create Midwestern emo’s big bang. “Little League” would still be the starting point of the genre’s next wave even if the offshoots of Cap’n Jazz didn’t dominate the next five years of the genre. —IC

Runner-up: “Rodeo Clown,” Lifetime

1996: “Johnny on the Spot,” Texas Is the Reason

It’s always a good idea to start your debut album with a drum solo. Texas Is the Reason—the rare New York City–based emo band—wasn’t long for this world, but on their singular record, Do You Know Who You Are?, they made every second count. The brainchild of Norman Brannon and Chris Daly, two Krishna devotees from the hardcore scene, the band had only a three-track demo to their name when they were courted (with limos, with free groceries) by multiple labels, including Atlantic Records, before choosing to sign with the much smaller indie Revelation. In interviews, Brannon will occasionally refer to this as the “bidding wars era.” Ah, the halcyon pre-torrenting days of the music industry.

On their J. Robbins–produced full length, Texas Is the Reason covered the burgeoning emo scene, from the quiet meandering guitars of “Nickel Wound” to the pummeling riffs of “Back and to the Left,” but nothing captured the diaristic spirit of the genre better than their opening track. “I’m going to need your time to slow down and waste some time again,” Brannon sings on “Johnny on the Spot,” stretching every vowel on the opening verse. It’s a major departure from the rigid, religious, and political preaching of their previous groups; instead, it’s a deeply personal plea to shoot the shit—and what could be more emo than that? —AG

Runner-up: “Fire Engine Red,” Boys Life

The Promise Ring’s Davey von Bohlen performs in Cologne, Germany, in 2002.
Getty Images

1997: “Red & Blue Jeans,” the Promise Ring

Channel the nervous energy of an entire Big Ten freshman dorm during orientation week into a half hour and you’ve got the Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good: Think of the kids crushing Red Bulls over a course catalog, the ones experiencing an earth-shattering crush on someone they’ve known for a week, the ones who’ve left their tiny Midwest hometown for the first time, all of them barely containing their excitement about being at the precipice of something bigger than they can possibly conceive. Nothing Feels Good bolts from the starting gun, propelled by a heart working too fast for the rest of its body. “Red & Blue Jeans” is the point where everything catches up with itself—it’s a bashful, blissfully lisped mash note that, for all of its unabashed awkwardness, is perhaps the song that has aged the most gracefully of any on this list. —IC

Runner-up: “Tinfoil,” Rainer Maria

1998: “Chinatown,” Jets to Brazil

The gruff, gravelly voice on Jets to Brazil’s debut record, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, may sound familiar if you’ve been paying attention to our list: Frontman Blake Schwarzenbach formed the band with bassist Jeremy Chatelain and Texas Is the Reason drummer Chris Daly after Jawbreaker disbanded and he relocated to Brooklyn. True heads might also point out the subtle differences between his vocals on Bivouac and Orange—Schwarzenbach underwent surgery on his vocal cords to remove a polyp before the latter was recorded.

His voice is softer around the edges here, more somber and understandably reined in after battles with his health. Instead, the crushing guitar solos shred where his vocals once did. The rubbery guitar motif that opens the song sounds like the existential longing of walking alone at 4 a.m. in downtown Manhattan, searching wearily for meaning. “Chinatown” is emo’s Second Wave reaching its middle age. They’re “waking up old,” they’re “ordering in,” they’re exhausted: “I’m tired of fighting,” he sings over the song’s final breakdown. It’s a white flag waving at the end of a decade of recording and touring, a retreat from punk into something more polished and professional. —AG

Runner-up: “Beguiling,” Sarge

1999: “Never Meant,” American Football

Imagine how hard it would be to make this choice in 1999: Clarity, Something to Write Home About, Through Being Cool, Look Now Look Again, Chaos Is Me, Emergency & I—all instant classics. Perhaps the biggest testament to the astonishing long-tail influence of American Football is that those albums seem a little underrated by comparison. The first American Football’s 15-year odyssey from one-off, senior-year lark to indie rock landmark has been retold many, many times and the impact of “Never Meant” is now best measured in its influence outside of emo. Those wistful, hammer-and-pull guitar runs have expectedly become a primary color for 21st-century post-rock and math-rock, but they’re also the reason “Midwest emo” can be accurately used as a Bandcamp tag for hyperpop, SoundCloud rap, digicore, and flat-out pop. Though the emo revival created in its image has come and gone, the impact of “Never Meant” feels as permanent as that of any indie rock song from its era. —IC

Runner-up: “Action and Action,” The Get Up Kids

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional performs at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on Sept. 5, 2003.
Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic

2000: “Screaming Infidelities,” Dashboard Confessional

Accidentally written in open tuning and recorded while Chris Carrabba was living in his van, “Screaming Infidelities” was an unlikely megahit, giving Dashboard Confessional and an entire wave of heart-on-sleeve, self-effacing emo songwriters the mainstream recognition they had evaded for more than a decade. The original recording of the song, released as the first track on the band’s first album, The Swiss Army Romance, wasn’t the version that catapulted Carrabba into every home with MTV in the early 2000s; that would be the song’s re-recording for 2002’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, an album quirk resulting from a label dispute with Drive-Thru Records.

But even more than the 2002 version that won him an MTV Unplugged session and a Moonman, the original aches with the adolescent angst of unrequited love. Carrabba’s acoustic guitar made him an outlier in his own scene—Further Seems Forever, which he sang in before going solo, was far more in line with the dense guitars that dominated emo at the time. But his unadorned strumming was the perfect pairing for his openly despondent lyrics: “Well as for now I’m gonna hear the saddest songs / And sit alone and wonder / How you’re making out,” he sings, so earnest that he seems genuinely unaware of the double entendre in the last line. He’d soon be playing to audiences singing his words right back to him. It was a sliding-door moment for the genre—rather than dig into the punk-driven self-seriousness of bands like Jets to Brazil, emo’s next wave would double down on their most dramatic and unfiltered emotions. —AG

Runner-up: “I Am Nietzche,” Orchid

2001: “The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World

Major labels had been trying to break emo since the mid-’90s, with Jimmy Eat World’s first two albums being prime evidence of their resounding failure. But by the turn of the century, Vagrant Records acts like Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day were getting traction on alt-rock radio and drafting off the success of peripherally related acts like Blink-182 and Green Album Weezer. The bidding war for a 10-song version of Bleed American might not have been as intense when Jimmy Eat World were free agents post-Clarity, but it would’ve happened nonetheless. If “The Middle” was such an obvious slam dunk, why not have that as the lead single rather than the title track?

Then again, it wasn’t “Bleed American” or “Sweetness” or “A Praise Chorus” getting covered by Taylor Swift and Prince. Only a few years removed from sharing splits with Christie Front Drive and Jebediah, Jimmy Eat World had achieved a pure, power-pop perfection heretofore unimaginable from emo’s Second Wave. Indeed, the disparity in streaming numbers between “The Middle” and Jimmy Eat World’s second-biggest hit implies that, for many, their relationship with the band and maybe emo as a whole begins and ends with this song. But no amount of revisionist history or overexposure has reduced the seismic impact of “The Middle,” a song that created a chasm between the humble origins of Jimmy Eat World—and emo as a whole—and its future. There was no going back after this. —IC

Runner-up: “At Your Funeral,” Saves the Day

Taking Back Sunday at Fuse’s IMX Studios in New York City on Dec. 3, 2003.
Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

2002: “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” Taking Back Sunday

As a Long Islander myself, I personally think it’s absurd that Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara relocated from North Carolina to the sleepy suburbs of Bellmore, New York, in order to join Taking Back Sunday. But that’s just how hot the Long Island scene was at the time—bands like the Movielife, Glassjaw, and From Autumn to Ashes helped put the local emo and hardcore community on the map, and by 2002, Taking Back Sunday was primed to turn the hype into a breakthrough hit.

The lyrics to “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)” began as so many questionable nights in the 516 do: at a local diner, where the band swapped lines scribbled in notebooks. You can see the fragmented poetry coming together in real time on the first verse: “Your lipstick/His collar/Don’t bother, angel”—in less than 10 words, we know “exactly what goes on.” The song’s instrumentation is similarly brilliant in its restraint: The opening four chords on “Cute Without the ‘E’” reverberate like the rolling thunder of an incoming storm, establishing the dramatics that defined Taking Back Sunday. Those notes are aural catnip for aging millennials at this point; the song is slowly becoming an unlikely wedding banger. What better way to celebrate the eternal bonds of marriage than Lazzara’s tales of betrayal, misogyny, and femicide? —AG

Runner-up: “Taste of Ink,” the Used

2003: “Signals Over the Air,” Thursday

Newly flush with unprecedented pop culture and major-label capital, emo was nearly impossible to contain within a single narrative in 2003. An honest accounting of this year could have resulted in, say, Yellowcard or the Ataris or the Story of the Year taking this space as a reflection of the genre’s transition into harmless Clear Channel fodder. Fall Out Boy and Motion City Soundtrack were taking more unique and verbose approaches to pop that would fully flourish on their next albums. Or, we could honor formative works from Funeral for a Friend, From Autumn to Ashes, or Saosin or Silverstein—the sort of metallic, wildly uncool variants of post-hardcore that spent the 21st century filling Houses of Blues and will never, ever, ever get an honest appraisal in critical spaces. Then there were the veterans from emo and its broader “scene” who got called up to the big leagues and responded in kind with newly heightened ambitions to match: Sing the Sorrow, De-Loused in the Comatorium, In Reverie, The Artist in the Ambulance, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, Deja Entendu … hell, even Blink-182 made their artiste album in 2003.

Thursday’s War All the Time might not be the most successful of this lot, but in a way, it was the common denominator amidst these conflicting trends. 2001’s Full Collapse sold 800 copies in its first week of release, but less than a year later, Geoff Rickly went from fighting with a shady punk label about promotional whoopee cushions to being likened to Kurt Cobain and having Jay-Z geek out over his band’s drummer. War All the Time’s first single, “Signals Over the Air,” is a jet-black diamond pressurized from all sides—from purist hardcore heads ready to shun Thursday out of principle, to Island bean counters trying to coax sales from a thoroughly uncommercial band, and to Rickly’s desire to create a single true to his ever-subversive ideals. (“I like[d] the idea of a song about the exploitation of sexuality being on major media outlets like radio and television.”) War All the Time has yet to go gold and Rickly thinks it’s their fourth-best album, but “Signals Over the Air” stands as a symbolic victory, proof that ambition and integrity would not have to be mutually exclusive for the next Thursday to follow in their path. —IC

Runner-up: “A Favor House Atlantic,” Coheed and Cambria

2004: “Helena,” My Chemical Romance

The members of My Chemical Romance didn’t spend their childhoods dreaming of being in a rock band. Frontman Gerard Way grew up on the sounds of his native New Jersey—Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and crucially, the horror-punk of the Misfits—but he set his sights on the visual arts, pursuing a career in comics and cartooning. Guitarist Ray Toro thought he might pursue a career in film: “I never thought that being in a touring band was a possibility,” he said later. But after Way witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers from his New Jersey ferry ride to Manhattan, the creeping pace of animation and illustration no longer suited his newfound anger and fear, and he sought out more visceral forms of expression in the brooding New Jersey hardcore scene. Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is, fittingly, a slasher flick disguised as an emo album; peel back another layer, and it’s also a deeply personal story of loss.

Fear is paramount in “Helena,” the explosive opener from Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Compared to their first single, the campy and almost rockabilly “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” “Helena” is genuinely menacing. Way’s voice starts out distorted and warbled, as if singing from beyond the grave. His jump-scare vocal on the third line (“Burning on!”) is the audio equivalent of a zombie hand breaking through the earth and grabbing you by the throat. But beyond the elaborate plotline about a vigilante assassin, “Helena” was an ode to Gerard and Mikey Way’s late grandmother Elena, who passed away before they began recording the album. My Chemical Romance used the theatrics and cheap thrills of B-movie horror to grab your attention, but once they got it, they weaved in more quotidian anxieties—feeling like an outcast, fearing death, and waxing existential about the horrors of everyday life. —AG

Runner-up: “Ohio is For Lovers,” Hawthorne Heights

2005: “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” Fall Out Boy

Has there ever been a more unlikely song to break the Billboard Top 10 than “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” Fall Out Boy’s lead single from their second (or really, third) album? Crammed with more syllables than moments to breathe, “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” is almost as famous for its misheard lyrics as the song itself. Vocalist Patrick Stump used words as mere suggestions, connecting long vowel sounds with reckless abandon: “Am I more than you bah-geh-foh-eht?” (translation: bargained for yet) was one hell of a way to introduce themselves to the world at large, but Fall Out Boy always swung for the fences.

De facto frontman, bassist, and lyricist Pete Wentz had no qualms about his bald ambition: “You’re going to eat, sleep and breathe [Fall Out Boy]. I want it to be a way you think about the world,” he told Rolling Stone while touring From Under the Cork Tree. By the time the song reached no. 8 on the Billboard charts and went platinum four times over in the U.S., it was obvious that Wentz had achieved his goal. Beyond the success of the single, “Sugar We’re Goin Down” opened the floodgates to a sea of verbose, overly literary emo—some of it directly A&R’d by Wentz, like Panic! At the Disco—that would dominate Warped Tours for years to come. —AG

Runner-up: “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage,” Panic! At the Disco

2006: ”Here (In Your Arms),” Hellogoodbye

There have been only two platinum recordings in the 22-year history of storied pop-punk and emo label Drive-Thru Records: New Found Glory’s 2002 album Sticks and Stones and the glitch-pop sugar high of Hellogoodbye’s “Here (In Your Arms).” Drive-Thru was hoping the band, whose frontman Forrest Kline had worked for the label as a web-designer as a teenager, would be their secret weapon after several years of false starts that ended with the dissolution of their contract with MCA/Geffen in 2003. Drive-Thru wanted a band on its roster that wouldn’t leap to a major at the first opportunity; the scrawny, SoCal suburban kids of Hellogoodbye were a safe bet.

It doesn’t take a genius to rhyme “are” with “car,” but with Kline’s amateur software synths, the song’s straightforward lyrics ascend to a kind of digital euphoria. In the same way that Cher’s “Believe” took pop into a cyborgian supernatural realm with its Auto-Tuned vocal runs, “Here (In Your Arms)” was a slightly ridiculous breath of fresh air in an era of overwrought lyrics and dense conceptual records. (This was, after all, the year of My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade.) In the hyperpop era of 100 Gecs and Jane Remover, the chaotic spirit of Hellogoodbye’s one-hit wonder improbably lives on. —AG

Runner-up: “Curse of Curves,” Cute Is What We Aim For

Paramore performs at the Fillmore in Detroit on Dec. 17, 2007.
Photo by Paul Warner/WireImage

2007: “Misery Business,” Paramore

Vengeful breakup songs written by men for an audience increasingly made up of teenage girls—emo’s prevailing, pernicious stereotype in this era was rife with dissonance that would later reveal its ugly, underlying truth. Paramore’s supernova second album, Riot!, was necessary and damn-near revolutionary in this context for simply existing, though its most popular and impactful song complicates its legacy. The narrative of “Misery Business” would not have been out of place on a Rihanna or Miranda Lambert album at that time—a woman in frightening command of her own powers of persuasion is going to steal your man because, y’know, if it feels sooooo good, do it. In the process of becoming the most creatively rewarding artist from this time as well as a revered moral barometer, Hayley Williams has retired “Misery Business” from Paramore’s live setlist, the most prominent of the unforced self-cancellations in a genre that has spent the past decade reevaluating its problematic gender politics. Of course, there’s not much Williams can do to keep “Misery Business” out of Spotify playlists and radio rotation, and it’s there when anyone feels like they need it. So it goes with a genre unmatched in dredging up the dark matter one can spend the rest of their life trying to forget. —IC

Runner-up: “Check Yes Juliet,” We The Kings

2008: “Some Kind of Cadwallader,” Algernon Cadwallader

Algernon Cadwallader were both too early and too late to experience their own success. The unbridled screams and nimble, offbeat guitars of “Some Kind of Cadwallader” feel straight out of the math-rock Jade Tree catalog from a decade earlier. They rarely self-identified as emo at the time; their references to Cap’n Jazz and American Football were at odds with a genre in the throes of its Hot Topic teenage years. And like any emo band worth a fanatic obsession, they disbanded only a few years after their 2008 release, before they could participate in the ’90s-inspired “emo revival” that they almost single-handedly, well, revived. If there’s a noticeable pivot away from major-label theatrics in the remainder of this list, Algernon Cadwallader is to thank. Their playfulness and DIY approach to music production freed emo from the pitch-perfect, pretty-boy aesthetics of the previous decade. Like the Velvet Underground for the Topshelf Records roster, Algernon Cadwallader played only a few years in their original form, but seemingly every punk kid who came out to see them started a twinkling emo band. —AG

Runner-up: “I Saw Water,” Tigers Jaw

2009: “Honest Sleep,” Touché Amoré

“The new wave of post-hardcore” that took shape during the end of the 2000s was often seen as a counterbalance to the concurrent “emo revival.” On one side, you had your Cap’n Jazz worship, slide whistles, and oversized pizzas. And on the other side was the unofficial collective of bands that included La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth, Defeater, Make Do and Mend, and Touché Amoré that escalated the incandescent intensity of post-hardcore with the aspirational airs of post-rock or Russian literature—Pushkin meets push pit.

Led by a straight-edge record-store clerk and a CalArts student who would go on to design Britney Spears album covers, Touché Amoré were the most populist of the Wavers—though it might have been tough to tell based on the title of their 2009 debut: … To the Beat of a Dead Horse. Thing is, frontman Jeremy Bolm admitted that “The Wave” was “an inside joke that got taken too far,” underscoring how the people who both made and consumed this music understood the grim humor in dedicating oneself to music this deadly serious. “I speak in sarcasm to relate to all the things I appreciate,” he yells during “Honest Sleep,” a veritable epic at 2:32 compared to the 90-second spasms that make up most of Dead Horse, and one that tries to discern the meaning of a hardcore life—making the hopes, dreams, and deepest fears of the guy on stage relatable to those of the people on the floor. Depending on the situation, the last verse might be repeated three or four times: “I’m losing sleep, I’m losing friends/I’ve got a love-hate-love with the city I’m in/I’ll count the hours, having just one wish/If I’m doing fine there’s no point to this.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bolm actually sing all of them himself. By that point, he’s held the mic to the crowd, knowing full well his words are no longer his alone. —IC

Runner-up: “Keep What You’ve Built Up Here,” EE!IWALE

2010: “Pile! No Pile! Pile!,” Brave Little Abacus

On their last album before they disbanded in 2012, Brave Little Abacus asks the question, “Why can’t we rock out with xylophones and pianos in tow?” Lead singer Adam Demirjian screams over a cacophony of glockenspiels, church organs, and synths, not so much competing with his band as manifesting his messy emotions through their layered instruments. “Pile! No Pile! Pile!” is as contradictory and verbose as its title—there’s “over-analytic demeanors,” “fabricated boundaries,” and, aptly, “songs’ polyphony,” but you don’t have to parse the individual lyrics to pick up on the restlessness in his voice. Long before “Fifth-Wave” emo expanded the possibilities of what the genre could sound like, Brave Little Abacus’s sound collage and experimentation set a benchmark for boundary-pushing rock that still managed to share its predecessors’ catharsis. —AG

Runner-up: “So I Shotgunned a Beer and Went Back to Bed,” Snowing

Tiger Jaw’s Ben Walsh performs at the Hollywood Palladium on Aug. 20, 2021.
Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images

2011: “Constant Headache,” Joyce Manor

The emo revival may have repudiated most of the aesthetic qualities of its preceding “hair metal” period, but the inextricable relationship with social media was kept intact. MySpace remained a crucial hub for networking and touring information, while makeshift punk blogs, message boards, and Tumblr served as mp3 trading stations and hype incubators. A leak of Joyce Manor’s debut had virtually attained “instant classic” status by the time it was released in January 2011, and frontman Barry Johnson attributed its success to “16-year-old and 17-year-old girls, with septum piercings and green hair”—a demographic fluent in Tumblr and so alienated in high school that they could view the miserable one-night stand outlined so quotably in “Constant Headache” as aspirational. While most of the initial conversations surrounding Joyce Manor have been relegated to the digital dustbin of history, to this day, it stands as the rare time the East Coast hardcore, SoCal pop-punk, Midwest emo, and straight-up internet kids found common ground. —IC

Runner-up: “King Park,” La Dispute

2012: “Tibetan Pop Stars,” Hop Along

Frances Quinlan sings like they’re playing tug of war with their own breath. Their vocal inflections punctuate each verse, their lower register a percussive accompaniment to brother Mark Quinlan’s drums—“How content are the ones,” they ask, “with simple demands?” On Hop Along’s self-released debut album, Get Disowned, the band searches, in personified mattresses and playground sex ed lessons, for some kind of contentment. In a crowded field of overly literary lyricists, Quinlan has perhaps the strongest claim to a title like “emo’s Flannery O’Connor” or maybe “emo’s Virginia Woolf,” a writer who invents tragic characters—like the “seven-fingered man” on “Tibetan Pop Stars”—as avatars for deeper moral excavations.

Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus famously called “Tibetan Pop Stars” “the most painfully beautiful song ever,” but it’s debatable whether he put the adjectives and adverbs in the correct order. It’s painfully beautiful to hear Algernon Cadwallader guitarist Joe Reinhart—who initially signed on to produce the band’s record before joining it himself—play a heartbreaking tremolo-driven arpeggio, sounding a bit like the saddest song on a latter-day Elvis record. But it’s also beautifully painful to hear Quinlan and the rest of the band sing the concluding verse: “My love is average/I obey an average law.” —AG

Runner-up: “Covet,” Basement

2013: “Getting Sodas,” The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Regardless of how you’d describe indie rock in the early 2000s—Blog Rock, the Garden State Era, Peak Pitchfork, etc.—emo was viewed as occupying a completely different space than all of those post-rock dream weavers and wooly Canadian collectives. Bearing a perfectly absurd name and nearly a dozen members (give or take), Connecticut-via–West Virginia’s the World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die might’ve drawn comparisons to Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire or Illinois-era Sufjan or Explosions in the Sky on the strength of numbers alone. But their revolutionary debut, Whenever, If Ever, made it clear that all of these factions were playing the same game, hurtling recklessly toward the most hyperbolic group catharsis possible. I actually had seen a shooting star before 2013, but never people crowd-surfing on stage until this Fest 13 performance of Whenever, If Ever closer “Getting Sodas.” Over the past decade, I’ve dedicated tens of thousands of words to the pursuit of explaining what made TWIABP and its ilk feel like a legitimately life-changing movement, and none of it has come close to those 90-seconds of footage. —IC

Runner-up: “The Medic,” Foxing

2014: “An Introduction to the Album,” the Hotelier

“Apparently we’re emo now,” Christian Holden wrote upon the release of their band’s second album, Home, Like Noplace Is There. They meant it as a warning as much as a label: Home, Like Noplace Is There supplanted the one-horse-town tales of their debut with stories of addiction, cycles of abuse, and unfathomable loss. “Open the curtains,” Holden sings, perhaps a theatrical reference to the start of a long, sordid play, but also as a directive to get out of bed and look at the sun.

There is almost no percussion at all on “An Introduction to the Album,” just Holden and a few guitars weaving in and out of despair, a cycle of redemption and relapse that returns throughout the album. Holden’s verses open with their own glimmers of hope: “You shot from the hip,” “I searched for a way out.” But time and again, they’re undercut: They missed the shot, they didn’t heal. It’s this nuance that makes Home, Like Noplace Is There so viscerally painful and real; it’s an album about people who want to get better but fail in spite of their efforts. Before the drums finally come in, Holden’s voice raises, slowly, then all at once, to a scream: “The pills that you gave didn’t do anything/I just slept for years on end/Fuck!” Holden desperately wants to look out their window, to hear the birds; if only they could shake off the easy destruction of endless sleep. There aren’t perfect heroes and villains on Home, Like Noplace Is There—just regular people, trying to construct something beautiful. —AG

Runner-up: “Your Graduation,” Modern Baseball

2015: “Cutting My Fingers Off,” Turnover

With streaming and social media utterly decimating whatever boundaries existed between genres, emo’s survival in the mid-2010s was contingent upon its synergy. And the Boston-based Run for Cover Records was home to nearly all of the most popular cross-breeds: alt-country (Pinegrove), stoner metal (Cloakroom), chiptune (Crying), shoegaze (Pity Sex), grunge (Citizen), lo-fi singer-songwriter (Alex G), glitch (Katie Dey), and even SoundCloud rap (Wicca Phase Springs Eternal). And then there’s Turnover’s wildly successful Peripheral Vision, which unified emo and the kind of terminally chill indie rock to which emo was frequently seen as an antidote in 2015, a synthesis that felt entirely sensible and revolutionary at the same time. The interlocking guitars and cocooning reverb of opener “Cutting My Fingers Off” were familiar enough to anyone who heard a single Real Estate or Wild Nothing song, but those guys never opened for New Found Glory. There’s just the right amount of Turnover’s roots peeking out in the song’s propulsive melodies, crushed-out lyrics, pulse-quickening drum rolls, and Will Yip’s brilliantly blushing production, mirroring the exact growth spurt occurring in a fan base aging out of pop-punk to discover dream-pop, shoegaze, and indie-rock publications in real time. —IC

Runner-up: “That Kind of Girl,” All Dogs

2016: “Tamago,” Forests

It was hard to feel optimistic about anything in America toward the end of 2016, and the emo revival was no different. Key festivals like Broken World and Wrecking Ball and Fest were on the verge of downsizing or being phased out completely. “Emo Night” used to mean a humble bar event soundtracked by Braid deep cuts, whereas by 2016, CAA assistants were dropping hundreds of dollars on trademarked “Sad as Fuck” merch at Emo Night L.A. pop-up shops. The Hotelier, Pity Sex, Modern Baseball, and You Blew It! (amongst others) released mature and ambitious albums that were granted a chillier reception than their more strident predecessors and it was the last we’d hear from any of them. Into this void, the self-explanatory weed-emo or, yeesh, “meme-o,” stood as the next big thing.

I suppose it’s fitting that you had to look to the other side of the globe to find a ray of hope. Here we had kids from all over Asia rocking 5-inch in-seam shorts, dad hats, and Crocs with their Telecasters. Hell, there was even a Chinese Football. It’s hard to say whether Singaporean trio Forests was the first Asian emo band to catch the attention of the Western hemisphere, but they were certainly the best. The spirit of 2008 Philly is unmistakable in their breakthrough “Tamago,” especially that of the “fuck your emotional bullshit” relationship those bands had with their own genre (“fuck these songs from the Midwest!”). Yet rather than being diluted by the passage of time and space, every element from that now-classic sound had been enthusiastically amplified: more off-kilter shouts, more endearingly corny wordplay, and way more chops, as if Topshelf’s early catalog had been fused with the dizzying proficiency of Asian math-rock bands like toe, Tricot, and Elephant Gym that would also pop up on the label. “Tamago” didn’t spark a revolution in critical circles, as bands from their continent are still largely overlooked if they’re acknowledged at all. Still, “Tamago” serves as a reminder that any time you’re feeling bored with American emo, there’s an entire world out there. —IC

Runner-up: “I Forgot to Take My Meds,” Prince Daddy and the Hyena

Lil Peep walks the runway during Paris Fashion Week on June 23, 2017.
Photo by Jacopo Raule/WireImage

2017: “Save That Shit,” Lil Peep

In 2016, Pitchfork called Lil Peep “the future of emo,” though it appeared to be more a case of history repeating: the fizzy, collegiate pop of Jade Tree, Polyvinyl, and early Vagrant had been completely overtaken by the slicker and more lyrically aggressive likes of the Starting Line, Brand New, and Taking Back Sunday. After years of emo rehabilitating its image for a more considerate and inclusive age, here was yet another bad-boy heartthrob from Long Island doling out candy-coated poison pills. When Peep got heat for rapping over an uncleared Mineral sample, his collaborator Gab3 explained that it was all a misunderstanding and that it was never meant for sale on streaming platforms. But the symbolism mattered: “Hollywood Dreaming” currently has 15 million views on YouTube. I doubt every Mineral video in existence combined can come close.

Witness “Save That Shit,” the centerpiece of Peep’s quasi-major-label debut Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 and a tidy summation of a generational shift. Peep’s quintessential playground melodies and toxic worldview were certainly repulsive and also far more attractive to a generation of kids and fellow artists who heard dudes with face tattoos rapping over twinkly guitars and had no qualms about calling it real emo. “I can take you there, but baby, you won’t make it back,” he sang. And really, who could resist? But as would be the case with his future emo-rap peers XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, there was a lurid, voyeuristic thrill in encountering Peep’s music, like handling live ammunition. And indeed, the video for “Save That Shit” debuted one month after Peep died from an accidental overdose in November 2017, underscoring the complexity of its conversational hook. He’s not telling his girl to save that shit in the more common definition, i.e., spare me your whining, or that it’s the girl herself that can’t be saved, à la Project Pat or Ty Dolla $ign. Rather, it’s the comma in “can’t save that, girl” doing the heavy lifting—Lil Peep was talking about his own life. In retrospect, “the future of emo” sold Lil Peep short: Already one of the most influential artists of the 21st century, Peep still feels like the present of pop, with all of the beautiful and grim things that entails. —IC

Runner-up: “Teen Challenge,” Great Grandpa

2018: “The Opener,” Camp Cope

Some lyrics feel so venomous, so laced with anger that they must have been ripped straight from lived experience. On the first song on the second album from Melbourne’s Camp Cope, Georgia Maq writes about her firsthand experience of misogyny and sexism in the music industry with such contempt that at points, she almost seems to laugh in spite of herself.

Camp Cope wrote “The Opener” over the course of a few months in 2017, after they were booked to play Australia’s massive Falls Festival alongside only a few other non-male artists, most of whom were booked in early slots. Their lyrics morphed into a specific callout of the festival—“It’s another fucking festival booking only nine women!—and before long, Falls had no chance but to answer for its booking blunders. The festival’s response—essentially, that there aren’t enough female musicians at “that headline level,” that they should “start their own events”—sounded almost identical to the lyrics Maq sneers on “The Opener”: “It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room/It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue.” “The Opener” is a clever double entendre—yes, it’s the opening track, but it’s also a screed against the default billing for an all-non-male band: an opener, a token early spot on the lineup. It sounds extra bitter, and extra sweet, to hear Maq scream those lyrics—usually as their closer—in the midst of Camp Cope’s headlining tour. —AG

Runner-up: “life,” awakebutstillinbed

2019: “Bedroom Community,” glass beach

Most of the bands on this list were known quantities at the time of these songs’ release—bands emerging from an established scene, perfecting ideas that had been bubbling up in the ether over the past couple of years. glass beach, on the other hand, came out of nowhere (or, more specifically, North Hollywood). Initially self-released in 2019, the first glass beach album arrived bearing ProTools–crashing compositional sophistication, a limitless musical vocabulary, and almost no internet footprint; the quartet had played maybe five shows to that point and the impact of frontperson J. McClendon’s previous act Casio Dad was mostly felt by their current band members. Yet, as “Bedroom Community” proved, glass beach was a band made up of very online individuals, taking an empathetic and unsparing look at what has become glass beach’s target demographic: people who can’t imagine a life without social media, both blessed and cursed with the ability to monetize their sadness in a way that might make sullen teens of the pre-internet age feel kinda jealous. It’s prog-rock, power-pop, musical theater, jazz, ambient, and showtune—only a fraction of what the first glass beach album brought to a scene that frankly seemed out of new ideas after weed emo and emo-rap petered out. It’s a synthesis so inspiring that an entirely new wave was created in its image. —IC

Runner-up: “Doctor Whomst,” Origami Angel

2020: “In October of 2019 …” Your Arms Are My Cocoon

What do we talk about when we talk about “Fifth-Wave emo”? The subgenre, if you can call it that, is usually mentioned at a distance, with scare quotes and a whiff of Twitter-scented irony. It’s a bit like trying to describe contemporary art—it’s, uh, everything that happened after the ’60s, I guess?—in that it’s more a description of the time (roughly post-2018) and place (usually online) of a band’s rise to popularity than a reference to any concrete musical unifiers.

Your Arms Are My Cocoon, the solo project of Tyler Odom, feels as close as anything to a definitive marker of the movement, a band to hold others up against to see if they fit the ethos of the Fifth Wave. An unlikely combination of dusty bedroom pop and unbridled screamo, his debut self-titled album is strangely hypnotizing in its contradictions. “In October of 2019 i called the suicide hotline for the first time in my life” is a 97-second highlight of the short record, with twinkling guitars, drum machines, chiming glockenspiel, and of course, Odom’s voice, muted as if he’s screaming into a pillow. Recorded in his bedroom (and sometimes his car) across 2019 and 2020, it feels spiritually like the early days of the pandemic, when most of us were similarly confined to our cars and our bedrooms—strangely cozy, yet undeniably terrified. —AG

Runner-up: “Silt,” Stay Inside

2021: “Search Party,” Jane Remover

The artist formerly known as dltzk (and also leroy) initially made their name in the extremely online spaces of digicore, hyperpop, or their preferred nomenclature “Dariacore” —movements that sound intended to make any music listener over the age of 35 see their life flash before their eyes. Jane didn’t initially seem as reliant as their more accessible peers on Midwest emo as a primary source for riffs and lyrical inspiration, at least until they released Frailty in late 2021. It’s a nearly hour-long, honest-to-god album in a style that once seemed fundamentally unwilling to adhere to that format. Early single “Search Party” tipped off the synergistic mastery to come: The “Dariacore” tag is no joke, as Jane’s vocals are as deadpan as their words are hyperbolic (“I’m just praying I don’t lose my heads/I’ll end up dead/And I’ll promise I’ll be back by 10”). During the closing breakdown, which imagines a Mineral CD bursting into flames, Jane lets out a scream that leaves no doubt as to which genre this belongs. It’s unclear whether the mercurial Jane Remover will continue making music like this, but I imagine most forward-thinking emo artists will. —IC

Runner-up: “Assisted Harakiri,” Home Is Where

2022: “In April,” Anxious

Anxious feels like the perfect ending to a recap of emo’s history. The Connecticut band, whose straight-edge members are barely old enough to legally drink, were teenagers during the mid-2010 peak of emo revival, and like sad sponges absorbed everything the genre offered. Their harsh-clean vocal dynamics recall Touché Amoré and even early Fall Out Boy; their layered guitar hooks could be mistaken for a Jimmy Eat World cover band. The acoustic love song “Wayne” feels like a contemporary, less-self-loathing update on Dashboard Confessional. They even reference bands that broke up before they were born: The slanted rhythms of “You When You’re Gone” are a send-up of First-Wave giants like Texas Is the Reason and Penfold. But they’re not simply regurgitating their influences. On “In April,” they combine them into a song that’s greater than its parts: twinkling guitar melodies, dense rhythms, sing-screamed vocal harmonies, a quintessentially Third-Wave instrumental buildup to the final chorus. It sums to a band that sounds at once nostalgic and like a harbinger of emo to come. —AG

Runner-up: “Ego Death,” Foxtails

Ian Cohen is a writer and registered dietitian living in San Diego. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Spin, Stereogum, and Grantland.

Arielle Gordon is a writer and software engineer based in Brooklyn. Her work can be found at Pitchfork, Bandcamp, Stereogum, and on her grandmother’s fridge.

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