A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar

Maybe because now, at 30, I’m just so far removed from it, but I have a super hard time comprehending the simple fact that emo bands still exist.

Emo has taken many shapes and forms throughout its much-maligned lifespan as a theoretical genre. And as embarrassing as it is to admit, ten years ago, you could catch me wearing a Juliana Theory t-shirt, and tearing up at the lyrics to a Jimmy Eat World song.

God I was so emo.

I think I’ve probably touched on this concept before in other pieces I’ve written for this blog, but there are really, when you think about it, two kinds of music—the kind that is temporary; and the kind that you can take with you as you age. Not everything is meant to travel with you into adulthood. Some of it, well, you can leave it behind; write it off as a phase, or as your attempt to hop on the bandwagon of a trend.

Green Day will always have an audience because there will always be junior high kids, and emo bands are no different—they will always have an audience because there will always be misunderstood teenagers who shop at Hot Topic.

Because I grew up in a rural area, and because we had dial up, AOL internet access until I went to college in the halcyon days of 2001, I was oblivious to emo as a genre. This is funny, actually, because two records I immensely enjoyed when I was 16 or 17 were Nothing Feels Good by The Promise Ring, and Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids—both of those bands were, at the time, considered to be emo. I just thought they were “alternative rock,” because I had watched their videos on “120 Minutes.”

When I was in college, I was introduced to a whole new, emotional world of music.

I distinctly remember burning copies of Clarity and Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World, Emotion is Dead by The Juliana Theory, and being introduced to the song “LoveLetterTypewriter,” by Mineral. Later on, it was emo poster boy Chris Carrabba and Dashboard Confessional, The Early November, Brand New, Something Corporate, and Copeland.

But when you are no longer a child, you leave behind childish things. And when I was no longer a misunderstood and emotional teenager, this music no longer spoke to me. Never you mind the fact that I was more than likely a misunderstood and emotional young person in their early 20’s. Once you’re 21 or 22, it’s best to move on, and try to see about the trade in value on all of your emo albums.

Because I’m always looking for music to write about for this blog—including music that takes me out of my comfort zone, or things that I more than likely shouldn’t be listening to with a critical ear, or attempting to talk about with any kind of intelligence because I know nothing about it… so, because I’m always looking for music to write about for this blog, I went on Metacritic to see what some of the highest rated releases of the year were. The one that had the highest rating (granted, it’s based out of 4 legit critical reviews) was The Greatest Generation, by the band The Wonder Years. I started previewing some of the record on YouTube, because that’s the best way to listen to music in 2013, and I was like, “Oh holy shit, these guys are so emo.” And it was like I was magically transported back to 2002, being 19, and being emo as fuck.

So this opened up not so much a black hole, but a somewhat ironic renewed interest in the genre of music I so identified with a decade ago, that I have since disowned.  And then more emo bands kept popping up on my radar, and it’s not like I was going out of my way to find them—Pitchfork strangely reviewed, and gave a 8.1 to, an album by British emo kids Crash of Rhinos—well if Ian Cohen can shit out a poorly written review of it and give it a high rating, IT MUST BE GOOD, RIGHT? AND I SHOULD CHECK IT OUT, RIGHT?

And just the other day, in looking at the new releases scrolling by in the iTunes marketplace, I saw an album cover that seemed to be making a tip of the cap to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Yeah, more than likely no one else will see that. But so here I am, checking out The Dangerous Summer—yet another from the ever growing crop of contemporary emo bands.

All of these band names are kind of unfortunate right? I mean, “The Dangerous Summer?” Oh, wow you guys. It’s taken from a fucking Hemmingway novel. “The Wonder Years?” The band’s Wikipedia entry claims the name has no connection to the television show—but the knee jerk reaction to hearing those words together is to think of a little Fred Savage. “Crash of Rhinos?” What does that even mean? It’s about as bad as the band Cage The Elephant. Here’s a fun way to pick a band name—do something to the fill in the blank with the animal of your choice.

I’m making just a huge, sweeping generalization here, but it’s safe to say that every lead singer in every emo band sounds the same. Like if I put these three albums I’m focusing on here on shuffle, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one band from the other.

Specifically, two of three make sure their lead singer has that “edge” to his voice—while all three are in the same-ish range, and there are some pretty tight harmonies happening here (a must in an emo band), but both Crash of Rhinos and The Dangerous Summer showcase vocal stylings that occasionally teeter into “unhinged” delivery—a trait that was exemplified very well in the year 2000 by the NYC post-hardcore/emo band Glassjaw.

Of course, none of these guys can pull it off as well.

Emo bands sure have a “sound,” don’t they? The same crunchy kind of guitars, very unassuming bass, big drums, high energy—every song is destined to be some teenager’s personal anthem. It’s just funny that the sound hasn’t progressed very far in the last decade plus—bands like The Dangerous Summer and The Wonder Years formed in 2007 and 2005, respectively, so the big emo boom of 2002-3 was long gone. So who were these bands being influenced by? Or as junior high students, did they spend hours online, looking for the tabs to “Just Watch The Fireworks?”

And oh how these bands emote. There is so much emotion going on here that I was actually taken aback by it at first. Every song is super dramatic, and even the 30 year old me couldn’t help by dive into the lyrics to analyze them. Take “Passing Through a Screen Door,” by The Wonder Years—

Jesus Christ
I’m 26
All the people I graduated with
All have kids
All have wives
All have people who care if they come home at night
Well Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?

And honestly, I totally identify with this lyric for many reasons. Sure I am married, and I don’t have kids, but I have companion rabbits, and they are WAY better. But it’s the same as a Ryan Adams lyric from the song “29” that I always come back to—“Most of my friend are married and making them babies. To most of them, I’ve already died.”

I think I went into this concept a little on the piece I wrote about turning 30, but it’s still difficult for me to grasp people that I went to high school with having kids—and not even just one kid. Some of them have many children. The same goes for people I knew in college. I just can’t wrap my head around it—it still seems like we are all entirely too young for responsibility like that.

Ten years ago, almost exactly ten years ago, actually, Dashboard Confessional released their very commercially successful album A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. It’s an album that I remember buying, at a Best Buy, on the day it came out, and it’s an album that can be viewed as a turning point—for me, for Dashboard, and for emo as a genre, I think.

For me, it was a somewhat underwhelming album, and it was then that I could start to see my interest waning. For Dashboard—I think it was one of their last two attempts at true relevancy at the time—the second being the song from Spider Man 2—“Vindicated.” It took Chris Carrabba and company three years to put out a follow up, and by 2006, emo had retreated back to being an underground genre—only really understood by the misunderstood.

Even the name of the album reads like a eulogy to the genre—from what it started as, what it became, and then finally, how it was something you tried to hide.

While many of the countless and forgetful bands of the early 2000 boom have faded into obscurity, where they certainly belong, veteran acts like Jimmy Eat World are still at it, and still consistently put out a new record every three years. Their most recent came out earlier in 2013—and even though the members are all pushing 40 by now, their sound still has yet to mature with them. And even when compared to the seemingly grown up Clarity from 1999, it would appear that at times, they’ve taken many steps back, rather than forward.

I’ve been listening to Crash of Rhinos, The Dangerous Summer, and The Wonder Years, off and on, while writing this piece. These records are pretty bad. Like really, when you think about it, there is really no substance to any of this. Every song sounds nearly identical, the lyrics, save for that gem I mentioned earlier, are all presumably melodramatic and vapid, the kind of things you’d scribble in your diary or post on your Live Journal. And the more I think about it, I don’t understand how these bands are meant to be taken seriously—and how the members of the bands themselves think they are meant to be taken seriously.

The Greatest Generation debuted at #20 on the Billboard 200 charts the week of its release, selling nearly 20,000 copies. So, there is obviously still an audience for such a specific genre that markets itself almost exclusively to a specific demographic. We were all once a member of that specific demographic. What listening to these albums, as well as revisiting some songs I haven’t thought about it over a decade, has taught me is that it’s fine to run from your musical past, but eventually, it’s best to lighten up and embrace it.

I could never see myself seriously listening to any of this—I mean, in browsing around old bands and songs from my formative emo years, I came across “August in Bethany” by The Juliana Theory. Holy shit. This song is so emotional. I forgot all about it. And while it’s a little too earnest to be believed now, you know what? It’s an okay song.

I know most of you won’t fess up to it, but at one point or another, I’m confident that most of us all had a copy of Significant Other by Limp Bizkit in our c.d. collection. And maybe you won’t admit to it, but probably, there’s at least one Dashboard Confessional song that brought you to tears for reasons you can’t even fathom now.

Everybody who grows out of emo music completes the aforementioned cycle of a mark, a mission, a brand, and finally, a scar. Some choose to cover their scars up. Some will display them proudly.  And no matter what you choose to do with it, you should know that like a legit scar on your skin, it’s always going to be a part of you.

PS- I really went above and beyond here. Rather than posting individual links to 10 individual mp3s, I have MADE YOU A MIX TAPE. Aren't I the best? You can download it here. I labeled the files so it should form the suggested track listing, but just in case it doesn't...

PPS- A bunch of those songs are You Tube rips. So sorry in advance 'bout the quality of the mp3s.


  1. Hey man,

    Just to fill in a gap there, 'crash' is the collective noun for a group of rhinos. So that's what that means. The rest is subjective stuff so that's fine.

    Richard (from Crash of Rhinos)


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