Ever since discovering Snowing a while back, emo has become one of my favorite genres. I like the twinkly guitars, I like the vocal style, I like the riffs, and I like the songwriting overall. It was truly the best surprise genre for me in 2013. At the moment, I’ve gone through a lot of 90’s and 00’s emo, and today I’ll be focusing on some of my favorite tracks.
Penfold – I’ll Take You Everywhere. This is a quintessential emo track in many ways (upper-fret guitarwork, poetic lyrics, engaging bass playing), but what stands out to me is the excellent breakdown – or what could perhaps be called an extended prechorus – at the middle of the track. Hearing that for the first time was one of those instances where I had to immediately perform a “what did I just hear?” check on the song.
It isn’t often that I rate the live version of a track above the album version, but Penfold’s secret, basement “Elf Pond” performance of I’ll Take You Everywhere is truly one of the great moments in modern music. The atmosphere during the build-up to the chorus, and the fans all crowding in for the chorus itself, bring a smile to my face. This kind of intimacy is a staple of emo music, and I have seen it in other live shows, but this one is my personal favorite.
Mineral – &Serenading. Mineral is really the band I came to talk about, today. In all of the emo I’ve heard so far, they have proven to be an irreplaceable beacon of the genre, even amidst many very-talented contemporaries. They only have two full length albums, and both are not to be missed. I’ve spoken briefly about The Power of Failing, and I would like to reiterate that Slower and Gloria are some of the finest songs in emo, if not rock music altogether. I have occasionally expressed a persistent fear of mine that groups I enjoy will fall off on future albums, but Endserenading exceeded my expectations. My bias toward the big tracks on Power of Failing aside, Endserenading is a powerful, expressive album in which all of the tracks stand out in their own way. The aforementioned &Serenading is one, ALetter is another.
I could keep going on about “twinkly” guitar playing, quality bassists and drummers, and the vocals in this genre that so authentically transition from delicateness to ferocity, but a more insightful characterization can be made for a band like Mineral, since I have spent a particularly large amount of time listening to their music.
Mineral paints an emotional picture, and captures a particular feeling. I said the same kind of thing about Burial: he paints this picture of sitting by yourself at a McDonald’s, or walking down the London streets at night, regretting things you’ve lost — being and feeling alone, strictly speaking. Mineral captures a different emotion: regret. The imagery they conjure up is that of standing on a hill and shouting out all your mistakes and fears to God, or to no one. Their lyrics are rife with self-doubt and longing, and the delivery thereof is exquisite due to that fragile balance between on- and off-key in Chris Simpson’s voice. The instrumentals behind him are what make Mineral something more than just a “good” emo band.
Sunny Day Real Estate – Seven. With that said, it would probably amuse you to know that I was introduced to Sunny Day Real Estate when someone told me that Mineral was a bad Sunny Day Real Estate cover band. I can understand the comparison; a lot of Mineral’s strengths are shared by SDRE, and SDRE predates Mineral. They are undeniably in the same vein of emo. The problem for me is that (admittedly, I have only heard Diary so far) other than Seven and In Circles, their songs are not as enjoyable. Judging by those two tracks’ position on SDRE’s last.fm charts, I am not the only one who feels that way.
If I had to pinpoint the reason for this apathetic reaction, I’d say it is because SDRE systematically follows the verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern, and Mineral does not¹. SDRE’s songwriting is actually very interesting from the riff perspective, but they become repetitive where Mineral more-or-less does everything once.
Foxing – Inuit. The last band of the day is a newcomer to emo called Foxing, who just released their first album, The Albatross, last year. Foxing has a more complex sound than the previous three groups, which is a product of the math rock influences they bring to the table. There is a lot going on in their tracks — a lot of layering, specifically. I think they lose a bit of the emotion that I hear in earlier emo bands because of this, but they are still great, musically. They definitely do not get boring. Bit By A Dead Bee Pt. II is another good one to check out.
Gentlemen, this is the good stuff. I’d been disenchanted with rock music for a long time, but emo has rekindled that interest for me. Here’s to whatever I find in 2014.
¹The extent to which they do technically still have verses and choruses is much more subtle, because they change lyrics in the chorus and have lengthy non-verse sections throughout