There are many genres of music that people do not typically enjoy on a first listen, and I think we can all agree that screamo is one of those genres. And like its mild-mannered sibling, emo, screamo suffers from a disconnect between what people consider the genre to be, and what the genre actually is.
The bands that come to mind to the average listener when “screamo” gets brought up are bands like Alexisonfire, Alesana, or Silverstein. Technically, these bands are screamo. However, they constitute the pop-punk side of the genre, as bands like Dashboard Confessional or Taking Back Sunday do for emo. Their sound is saccharine and often generic, resulting in boredom on the part of the listener in a much shorter listening-span than is ideal.
I am not normally a fan of analogies, but I believe there is a good one to be had here. Pop-punk screamo bands are the milk chocolate to the dark chocolate of “proper” screamo. Let’s call it the “Chocolate Theory.” The merits of pop-punk are obvious, and for many people, it is sufficient indefinitely. However, for those who are interested, there remains a vast, unexplored territory of screamo bands that require a more sophisticated palate to enjoy. I will discuss a few of my favorites today.
These guys strike me as a very solid, straight-forward screamo group. I’ve listened to one of their albums, All is apologized for. All is forgiven, and I don’t have any complaints. In fact, their song The Sixth Golden Ticket is a great example of what the genre is all about. I earnestly look forward to the reactions of anyone who gives it a listen. It lulls you into a false sense of security, then gives a rather rude awakening into the wonderful world of violent emo.
What I hear in good screamo are strong instrumentals, which includes things like: audible bass-playing that does more than just mirroring the guitar parts; melodic, but not completely “pretty” guitar-playing; precise, energetic drumming. I also have a personal preference (for this genre) toward more screaming and minimal clean vocals, which most “proper” screamo tends to do anyway. Another good example song is The Weight Of The World And Every Dress You Ever Wore (note that this youtube upload has like 4 minutes of unnecessary silence at the end that is not part of the track itself).
As I say for a lot of the music I enjoy, the result of this technical complexity in the music is that there is a certain degree of unpredictability from song to song, and indeed within any individual song. Music like this requires more than one listen to fully appreciate, because you’ll constantly be hearing something new that you didn’t hear the last time. The poppier a song gets, the less likely this is to be true, as the music-writing tends to be more formulaic by necessity.
Raein are from Italy, and several of their songs are in Italian¹. I first heard these guys while I was driving to Downtown Disney — an appropriate time for a screamo radio station. While the car is not an ideal listening environment, Endless Tourlife still stood out to me as a remarkable song. A lot of screamo bands do these “epics,” where the song has different phases of loud and pensive, with buildups and explosive segments. Raein has more of them than any band I’ve listened to so far. Endless Tourlife is one such song; it reminds me of post-rock, especially toward the end. I think it is actually a great introductory track to the genre, due to it being sufficiently heavy to really get the emotion out, but not so downright brutal as to scare the listener away.
The band’s albums feel experimental, to me. The obnoxiously-named Sulla Linea D’Orizzonte Tra Questa Mia Vita E Quella Di Tutti is a very interesting album, which I highly recommend. They try some weird things like Oggi Ho Deciso Di Diventare Oro, which sounds like it has psychedelic rock influences, or Come Materia Infinita, which ends the album with a very pleasant three-minute-long outro. I actually thought it was a well-put-together album. They have a compilation album, Ah, As If, which actually has two electronic tracks at the end. They’re a pretty diverse-sounding group, for sure.
Loma Prieta is named after a devastating earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1989. It is an appropriate name, because they are the most violent-sounding screamo band I’ve heard as of yet. Their albums are furious, reminiscent of black metal, and barely give you time to breath. This fury is really the essence of screamo: it’s the reason you’d listen to it instead of emo or some other genre.
They’re one of my favorite bands at the moment, and I actually struggle to name a particular song or a particular album that I prefer over the others. Due to the nature of their music, all of their albums are only roughly 20 minutes long each. I see no reason not to start with their first album, Last City, and just listen to the whole thing. I’d actually suggest it is more rewarding to listen to their music in album format, so as to better experience the heavy segments interspersed with brief calm periods as it was designed.
Perhaps it is a myopic characterization on my part, but it seems like there are some genres of music that obtain niche followings in Japan. Some examples include their jazz-hop scene, their post-rock scene, and screamo. When I was exploring the genre, looking up bands, I found that outside the US, there appeared to be a disproportionate concentration of screamo bands in Japan. Again, I don’t know if this is statistically true.
Some genres (I am hesitant to say “all”) require being in a certain state of mind in order to appreciate them. That is not to say you need to be depressed to enjoy screamo. I am not depressed, but I don’t think I would have liked it even as recently as a year or two ago. I had to come to a certain level of mental preparedness, and now I think it is great.
This is why I liken it to acquiring the taste for dark chocolate. It requires maturity and patience, when the sweeter milk chocolate is always available and always tastes good. Hell, I choose milk chocolate over dark chocolate frequently. But that is because I am a peasant when it comes to food. Are you a peasant when it comes to music?
¹But that’s ok, because no one can tell what the lyrics are in screamo, anyway