Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. We revisit this week as Dashboard Confessional celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, The Swiss Army Romance.
Like any genre, emo is constantly evolving and redefining itself. What most goths refer to as the first taste of emo music dates back to 1984. In DC, Rites of Spring were credited with taking punk, twisting it a little bit, and birthing what we now know as emo. Instead of expressing frustrations and grievances over external factors — the government, the police, the things punks resented and screamed about — Rites of Spring lamented over their internal conflicts. It was just as loud and aggressive, only what lay at the core of it changed. Punks have emotions, too, and, all of a sudden, they were ready to talk about it. Through whines and noisy instrumentals, of course.
That hasn’t necessarily changed. Emo retains this emphasis on vulnerability and openness — about feeling free to express the darkest of emotions. It’s inevitable that this would take form in many different shapes. American Football set these strong feelings against a sonic landscape that is full of strings and softness (or, let’s be real: it’s “twinkly”), whereas bands like Thursday lean more towards post-hardcore by raging with those punk-adjacent chaotic guitars and fast rhythms.
You can hear the Thursday influence in fellow New Jersey rockers My Chemical Romance. There is no element of softness there; it is full-blown mayhem. Emotions are exaggerated, personified, and accentuated to the point where it’s disturbing. MCR have brought one of the most vivid images to emo, especially with The Black Parade alone. They helped crystallize this culture of teenagers clad in black clothing, black nail polish, and black eyeliner, dedicated to externalizing their angst.
Still, modern emo bands cling to the twinkly side of emo, like Charmer or Great Grandpa. Then, there are bands like Joyce Manor or Tigers Jaw who have their fair share of both styles and don’t necessarily fit into either category. Either way, you can cry and mosh to all of them, and, really, that’s the best fuckin’ part.
Click ahead to explore 10 essential emo albums.