Before the Eyeliner

Years after third-wave emo hit its peak may seem like a strange time to suddenly toss an article about the bastardized word up on a site that has sat dormant for months, but hear me out. I’m not planning on posting a tangent on what “emo” is or what it should be or where it started or how it died. Really, I was just listening to some bands from the 90’s and early 00’s that, at the time, were considered part of a loose category that shared the name. Even though today the word “emo” causes shudders and horrid visions of emaciated, androgynous teenagers cowering in their bedrooms, for many years it was a type of music that was truly awesome and meant something.

I am purposely shying away from using the word “genre” here, because as it stands, emo is not a genre. In a lot of ways, it suffers the same fate as a descriptor as “Indie Rock.” In essence, emo and indie rock are so broad, they are worthless in any type of actual explanation. The term emo has been used for decades and has meant something different every time. The 80’s had first-wave emo and emocore that brought us bands like Embrace and Rites of Spring; bands fueled by the remains of hardcore but with an emotional bent. Second-wave can be traced to the early 90’s, when the word began being used to describe bands using a more rock-oriented, post-hardcore sound, keeping the same lyrical themes but including twinkling breakdowns and a high level of musicianship. Branches began to form on this tree around this time, sprouting out to more specific genres like screamo and emo-violence, although even those styles could still fall under emo as a whole. And then of course the world was treated the third-wave; here came the over-produced MTV pop emo that systematically destroyed anything the term had once stood for.

Personally, I would generally gravitate towards emocore, screamo, and emo-violence, but that doesn’t mean I have overlooked the second-wave emo rock bands. In many ways, the latter hit me where it counts on later listens. Not to make too crazy of an assumption here, but I’m fairly certain a lot of our readers can look back on a time where records by bands like Mineral and SDRE were on heavy rotation. When I hear songs from bands like that from around that era, I can’t help but think of more innocent times before actually being forced to grow up. Those songs have somehow captured my memories in their chords and progressions.

Basically, I feel enough time has passed since the word emo became a cultural taboo, and I’m thinking it might be time for us to take a look back to the albums that gripped us when we were younger, possibly records we once considered soundtracks to our lives. Below this article is a quick playlist I created on Spotify. It covers some of those second-wave emo classics, from the jangly to the driving. Unfortunately, I was constrained by the limits of old Spotty’s library. Either way, why not take a trip down memory lane? After all, we still experience hopes and letdowns just like we did a decade ago, so we might find some of those old songs as pertinent today as we did back then.

Spotify Playlist: Before the Eyeliner

  1. I think people do need some distance from something before looking at it objectively. It’s clear that 3rd-Wave was clearly not in the same arena as its progenators but I still think deserves to be discussed on it’s own merits too…. American Football, Karate, The Anniversary, and a bazillion others deserve to be discussed outside of the dreaded “e” word which they were never really a part of anyway.

  2. I think bands like American Football would end up in that second-wave sound overall. The MTV stuff was what killed it, with bands like My Chemical Romance suddenly taking on the name.

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