A Reminder That I Am Very Emo

It's not my fault.

BrooklynVegan’s notoriously emo Andrew Sacher recently gave me a reason to spend my Monday revisiting Balance and Composure’s Separation, La Dispute’s Wildlife, and Basement’s I Wish I Could Stay Here. I hadn’t forgotten these albums, trust me—I could never. Just a couple of weeks ago, I put that Basement record on when I was on Long Island. There’s nothing quite like that explosive opener—“Fading”—and going 80 on the Northern State Parkway and pretending I’m still in high school and just skipping math class to go for a drive.

The reason Andrew wrote about these albums is because they’re turning 10 this year, along with a surplus of others within that same genre. That genre as in: the Emo that’s a bit Too Loud to be emo so let’s say it has a Post-Hardcore Edge but also it has its Pop-Punk moments. Is that fair?

It’s complicated, which Andrew discusses. Everyone knows this. It’s subjective anyway.

To me, I just called it emo, if I ever had to call it anything. The first record from this era I got into was Citizen’s Youth. It came out in 2013, and I got into it when I was entering high school the following year. Slowly, the Citizen-adjacent bands unfolded before me. I stumbled upon La Dispute and immediately fell in love with their noisy slam poetry songs. My friends all hated it, thought it was so weird. And it is! It is so niche, especially for a 14- or 15-year-old. And where I attended school on Long Island, it was not as emo as you’d think; my only emo friend was my guidance counselor who showed me Thursday and Glassjaw. (In return, I once burned him a CD with this new generations of bands on it)

And so this was my next phase. The predecessor to this phase was my Fall Out Boy/My Chemical Romance/Panic! At the Disco phase. Right? So let me just say: early 2000s commercially-successful emo/pop-punk, and then this 2011-2014 post-hardcore-infused-emo became my first impressions of alternative/rock music. I didn’t know shit about Sunny Day Real Estate. I didn’t know shit about Lifetime. I didn’t know shit about American Football. I didn’t know shit about Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis, any bands that were at all influential. And I didn’t know any of the bands that inspired the bands I liked.

I was blissful in this cluelessness, thinking that B&C’s The Things We Think We’re Missing was a one-of-a-kind, brilliant expression of aggression just so years later, when I’m older and showing this band to someone 10 years older than me, he can say: “This is just cock-rock trying to sound like emo.” Or I’ll read Ian Cohen’s review of it, where he describes it as “unapologetically old-school alt-rock.” I was like, What!? It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. I didn’t understand any of its criticism because my view of it was purely emotional, platonic. There was no context I was perceiving it through.

And Andrew’s article just made me think about this—about the importance of starting points, about the albums that help you find yourself. Seeing Title Fight live for the first time was like discovering who I was. These bands became my way of identifying myself. This era—despite my lateness to it—was my home. That was clear to me. I couldn’t wait to dig around to listen to more bands from that era; I collected them all like pairs of jeans. To attempt to chronicle it: Citizen, La Dispute, Basement, Tigers Jaw, Joyce Manor, Balance and Composure, Title Fight. I hoarded their vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes, posters, T-shirts, whatever I could get my hands on. I used to show up to school in black jeans, a black B&C hoodie, black eyeliner on my lids, and I’d go into the bathroom to apply my black lipstick (so my mom wouldn’t know). I fantasized about getting the B&C Separation art tattooed—the symbol of the sun on a girl’s body. I was so deep in it that I didn’t care if they were technically shitty; I didn’t care if they were ripping off other bands; I didn’t care if this was a weird starting point. All I knew was that the guitar solo in “In The Army Now” by Joyce Manor made me realize that I just like music that shreds. I found out more about myself the more I listened to this music.

When I got my first car at 17, I named it Cody after the Joyce Manor album and drove it to every possible show. When Balance and Composure broke up, I drove it to Brooklyn, Boston, and Philadelphia for their farewell shows. I cried when they performed “Stonehands.”

My friends all told me I was depressed because I listened to depressing music. And, OK, maybe injecting a majority of your teenage years with music that is heavy both lyrically and sonically isn’t great for you. BUT it was an essential part of me. Going out to shows by myself and screaming my head off was necessary for my mental health. Having vulnerable lyrics that I could relate to and identify with was comforting. It was an inexplicable connection that couldn’t be easily broken. It wasn’t something where I could be like: Fine, I’ll try listening to something else. I legitimately only listened to these bands from the ages 14 to 18. I still owe my first boyfriend an apology.

I made my best friends through these bands. My friend and I still plan on getting matching Hyperview tattoos. Memories of her and I stagediving at a Basement show in 2018—years after the release of I Wish I Could Stay Here—keep that album special to me. And when it comes to those records that came out before I was a fan, part of the charm is that usually those are the loudest. The grittiest. I got into Basement when Promise Everything came out in 2015, but the energy of I Wish I Could Stay Here is so alive and unhinged that I feel as if I was a fan when it came out. I feel its urgency as if I was there. And everyone I knew felt the same way; we all cherished the band’s beginnings, even if they’d gotten better since then. We all wished we were there since the beginning—watching them perform in basements for $5, or going to a release show for an album that would become a staple for the genre.

And so I would constantly lament the fact that I missed that era. I missed the Title Fight/La Dispute/The Hotelier tour. I missed the Title Fight/Balance and Composure tour. I missed a bunch of tours, OK? And so collecting those records was my way of making up for it. I wanted to catch up on what I’d missed. I watched videos from the tours I missed and probably cried. I tried to go to as many shows as possible to redeem myself, and most of the bands played old shit anyway. I was able to see B&C a bunch of times before they broke up, and I was able to attend Title Fight’s last show. I am lucky in a lot of ways.

It is interesting to listen to this music now, after I finally dug myself out of that hole and listened to other types of music. I’m like… I can kind of hear cock-rock in B&C and I am going to do my best to ignore it. I don’t know. It hasn’t totally lost its magic for me, because, like I said, starting points are always special. I am always grateful for these bands—they are my weakness. I think Tigers Jaw’s self-titled is flawless. I still listen to Title Fight all the time. And I love to see these bands’ influences on new bands, which Andrew mentions—listing Record Setter, Koyo, and One Step Closer as some of Title Fight’s spawn. I want to point out Modern Color’s record from last year, From the Leaves of Your Garden, because I hear a lot of Title Fight in it and I haven’t been able to stop listening.

Someone once told me that the music you listen to in high school is the music you listen to your whole life. And as a music journalist, I’ve had to expand my taste, and I love to expand my taste. But returning to these bands is like coming home. Sometimes it feels like I never left.