Get Ready To Be Miserable: Introducing The Emo Sommelier

Nov 30th, 2006 // 26 Comments

While your Idolators do their best to cover every possible genre of music imaginable–hip-hop, indie, even the occasional Christian-rap jam–there’s one form of music that’s always made us shudder with disdain: Emo. “What are these dudes so miserable about?” we’d ask. “And why do their voices always sound like they just had their deviated septum pinched?” But because we’re naive enough to believe that even the most potentially iffy music movement has its merits, we’ve asked Arye Dworken–a writer who blogs for both Jane Magazine and his own Bring Back Sincerity site–to guide us through this weepy minefield. His first report after the click-through:

With the exception of avant-noise, polka, and acid jazz, I like music. And as both a critic and an avid appreciator, I try to listen to every record while keeping two qualifiers in mind: Is it a) good, or is it b) bad. The good ones are often mined further for potential, sometimes even meeting the criteria of “awesome,” and sometimes waiting to be re-examined at a later date when someone calls the album “underrated.” The bad…well, the bad ones get boxed up and shipped to secondspin.com.

Sadly, though, music fans all over the world will inexplicably evaluate an emo record as bad without having listened to it. And for shame! In some instances, they’re missing out on a good record–one that they’ll never even try out, for fear that it might make their testicles shrink. Granted, there’s a plethora of poop in this genre (see: Red Jumpsuit Apparatus); but there’s also some poop-free wonderfulness to be found.*

Beginning with this post, Idolator has allowed for a thrice-monthly column on the controversial genre. Now whether you’re all “right-on,” or completely WTF, you nonetheless have feelings about emo, as it’s undeniably the most polarizing genre in rock, splitting the masses between haterade drinkers or Hot Topic frequenters. Inevitably, the haters will complain that emo is too whiney, too self-absorbed, and small-minded, but then again, these are also exactly the reasons for its popularity.

Which is why it’s unconscionable when emo wunderkinds Panic! At The Disco’s were quoted in a recent issue of NME as saying that, “emo was bullshit.” As lead singer Brendon Urie noted (rather emotionally, we might add): “If people want to take it for the literal sense of the word, yes we’re an emotional band. We put a lot of thought into what we do. People always try to stereotype us, but we don’t fit the emo stereotype.”

This sort of denial is perplexing. Why would Urie, the current younger sister heartthrob, diss the butter on his bread? After all, would Jay-Z say hip-hop is worthless if his records were selling like chocolate-chip cookies? Would Justin Timberlake swear off recording pop music after realizing that every hetero male in this country feels their sexuality is threatened by his Diaz-baiting almightiness? Of course not. Because this is giving people what they want.

Starting from hereon in, three times-a-month, we’ll be embracing our inner emo. It’s not going to be pretty. Someone may cry, and we’ll probably express things that sound like feelings, but though it all, we’ll hold each other tight. Maybe we’ll even write a song about the experience, record it on four-track, then sign to a major label, and sell millions of records. But no matter what happens, we’ll keep an open mind, because that’s what your younger sister would do.

A random selection as chosen by the Emo Sommelier:

+44 – “When Your Heart Stops Beating (Remix) [MP3, link removed]
When Mark Hoppus announced the formation of his post-blink 182 band, he said it was going to be his electronic project (akin to the Postal Service). He lied. Which is why this remix of his first single “When Your Heart Stops Beating” is so much more satisfying than anything on +44′s debut.

Brand New – Degausser [MP3, link removed]
The Long Island quartet has been very vocal about wanting to outgrow the emo-tag and we all know that nothing says “credibility” like a children’s choir in the chorus.

Young Love – Discotech [MP3, link removed]
With Fall Out Boy’s “Dance, Dance” and Dan Keyes’ (the man behind all the Young Love) inarguably catchy song “Discotech,” there seems to be an emo movement, or emovement, toward bringing that frown onto the dance floor. Finally a justification for wearing those wristbands despite the fact the kids hate sports.

*(Ed. note: “Poop-Free Wonderfulness” is not to be confused with the Gainesville, Fl., emo band of the same name)

  1. SupraCute

    Wine = Whine!

  2. nosebleed

    really?
    this is a for real thing?

    no faux Danzig dialogue?

    wow.

    i….

    i don’t know what to think.

    you guys have a chance to clear the field and explain what the difference between an “Emo” band such as Bleeding-Darkness-Forever-Dawning-Whoever-The-Fuck

    and

    one found in D.C. during the “Revolution Summer” ie: Embrace, Rites Of Spring

    ( maybe you kids are too young for that though )

  3. RodimusPrime

    If you’re looking for emotronic, try hellogoodbye (even though they’re mtv2 darlings these days).

  4. jadedandbored

    You aren’t going unappreciated at this computer! Though I listen to pretty much everything…nothing could be better than blasting some emo in the car and singing along when life goes wrong or when it goes right…good for any day!

  5. SirLoin

    Totally agreed, Ihatethekids, there is a difference between the current mall emo bands a la Panic at the Disco, Thursday, etc., and the bands that were originally termed emo like Sunny Day Real Estate, Promise Ring, Weezer (after Pinkerton), and Jawbreaker.

  6. Ned Raggett

    every hetero male in this country feels their sexuality is threatened by his Diaz-baiting almightiness

    Project much?

  7. jadedandbored

    You are truly appreciated here. My students make fun of me when they see my songlist on my iPod and pictures from the past…but there is nothing like blasting a little emo in the car and singing along. Don’t get me wrong…I love all types of music…but my heart is still bleeding on my sleeve. <3

  8. tankboy

    a. I actually really do like that Young Love track. I assmue the rest of the album is poop, but that single slays.

    b. What are your feeling’s on the use of the children’s choir on The Living End’s “Wake Up” and , sorry Mr. President, this is a two-parter, wiould The Living End actually be considered emo or post-Stroke?

  9. chrisb

    It would be helpful if you kicked off this column by offering an explanation of what emo actually is… perhaps a bit of history.

    I realize that the emo tag is regularly given to whiney, pop bands like Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance. But every indication I’ve read online suggests that emo is actually a subgenre of hardcore punk bands influenced by Fugazi. I’ve also heard the term used to describe a broad range of artists including Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Death Cab, Coheed and Cambria, Chevelle (screamo?), etc, etc, etc…

    I find it all very confusing, and as such just don’t bother using the term at all.

  10. Weezy F Baby

    this dumb “what is emo” argument has been going on for year.

    ihatekids, congrats on knowing rites of spring were once considered emo. you’re old, that rules.

    sirloin, you agree with ihatekids, but then you rattle off names of bands that, at the height of their popularity, people were saying “oh that’s not emo, rites of spring are emo”

    when it comes down to it, who gives a shit? the 15 year olds who are calling their music “emo” now are having a lot more fun than us old bastards debating it on a blog’s comment section.

  11. Ned Raggett

    80s : goth :: 90s : grunge :: 00s : emo (each in terms of ‘music putatively sung by/loved by self-satisfied whiners who have never known real privation’ — I presume the 70s equivalents were fans of Dan Fogelberg or something).

  12. hndinglove

    in what universe is Thursday mall-emo? their last two albums are rather sophisticated, with their newest one having new-wave and other influences. they bear little resemblance to their first few albums at this point.

    right now people slap the word emo on any band that doesn’t fit into one specific genre — punk, ska, etc. it’s meaningless, just like alternative now means nothing.

  13. Bob Loblaw

    Is Weezy’s comment emo?

    It’s whiny and emotional, sure, but there isn’t enough self-loathing or girl-wounds-boy. It dismisses everyone but doesn’t actually say much itself, suggesting slacker-rock. There’s the “I hate the world and everything it represents” mentality, which I guess could be considered metal, but then again, it’s way too shrill to call it that.

    Pop-punk, maybe?

  14. MTS

    i really thought this was going to be about what sort of wines [not wines] emo bands prefer. talk about disappointment! now ill never know if my chemical romance prefers pintoages over syrah/shiraz…

  15. Emo Sommelier

    Ah, the classic Rites of Spring-versus-current emo debate will be addressed in due time.

    Now, Tankboy, regarding the Living End: they’ve been around for ages and they’re actually pretty huge in Australia (but then again so were Hunters & Collectors). Based on their back catalogue though, I would qualify the band as rockabilly punk really.

    Yeah, “Wake Up” is pretty close to being an Alkaline Trio song, but rather, I think it’s trying harder to be a Green Day song.

  16. IvyLeagueMetalhead

    ChrisB: Coheed & Cambria is more neo-prog. They’ve actually got an entire graphic novel series that parallels their albums.

  17. tankboy

    Duly noted, thanks.

  18. SirLoin

    Thursday are the “dangerous” side of mall emo.

    Weezy, I think at the time Rites of Spring was referred to as “emotional hardcore,” or “emo core.” Same thing with another pre-Fugazi project, Embrace. These two bands were emotional pretty much because of their bleeding-heart lyrics, and not necessarily because of their sound, although it was a departure from earlier hardcore.

    I think by the time the bands I mentioned and others became popular, the “core” part had dropped off and emo became a sound of its own.

  19. hndinglove

    i think geoff rickly might have a few issues about being called mall-emo to his face. mall-emo is generally disposable and shallow; thursday’s lyrics address feminism, politics, etc. in quite intelligent ways.

    no, i’m not a street-teamer, either; they just deserve better. it’s not their fault they were on victory first — victory wasn’t the screamo clearinghouse then that it is now.

  20. SirLoin

    Yes! No Knife rock! I should probably mention another great 90′s San Diego emo band, Boilermaker. Check out their best-of, Leucadia.

    And I’m not budging on Thursday, but to each his own.

  21. thepunkguy

    I guess when I was listening to J.E.W., mineral, boy’s life, Atdi, Rites of Spring, ordination of aaron, sense field, embrace and bands like that, NO ONE, would ever admit to being EMO. They hated the term and category. So if Thursday and PATD wants it, they can have.

    and if you want to talk about screamo? I personally don’t like the word but I mean, really check out: Swing Kids, Saetia, Four Hundred Years, Frodus, any early Lovitt release, etc.

    You are only confined by the term that defines you.

  22. hndinglove

    also, the gloria record. had U2 grown up listening to emo instead of, uh, other stuff. like a more epic, ballad-y jimmy eat world.

  23. rackattack

    argument needs to stop. history is here:

    http://www.fourfa.com
    http://www.mesaverde.co.uk/mp3/

  24. kerry

    ChrisB says:

    I realize that the emo tag is regularly given to whiney, pop bands like Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance. But every indication I’ve read online suggests that emo is actually a subgenre of hardcore punk bands influenced by Fugazi.

    This has been bugging me for *years.* Thank you for showing me I wasn’t crazy for thinking emo was not what everyone says it is now. I remember going to my first “emo” show in, like, 1995, after the ska dust had settled and hardcore was making a comeback. Fast forward 10 years and people say emo and this shit isn’t even recognizeable to me.
    Oh, and isn’t the stuff described above as “emo brought to the dance floor” just the stuff we were calling “shoegazer” in 1999? Or is neo-emo-disco not twee enough?

  25. mackro

    Lyrically, they have nothing in common with today’s big-time emo bands, but musically they were pretty much the cornerstone of “that sound” in emo, and they are No Knife.

    I highly recommend Hit Man Dreams and Fire In The City Of Automatons. The singing does have a slightly whiny timbre, and it is momentous lush guitar pop at heart. However, No Knife are never grating.

    The first one, Drunk On The Moon, and the most recent one, Riot For Romance — admittedly a very modern-ermo band name submission — are alright too, but the middle two albums are the best.

  26. KurticusMaximus

    Wow. I think debates about the definition of emo might be even more ridiculous than emo itself.

    Who cares what’s really emo? If you really want to argue, +44 is more pop-punk than emo, and Thursday is generally classified by scene-kids as post-hardcore. But do arguments over genre really matter?

    You can call it emo, screamo, emocore, post-hardcore, screamocore, heartcore, grindcore, or whateverthefuckyouwantcore. All the names have pretty much become meaningless.

    And the new Brand New album is pretty darn emo. It’s like all the slow acoustic crap from Deja Entendu, without any of the good parts.

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