Published Jan 06, 2011Our heads are still spinning from the nonsensical new-millennial misappropriation of the name of this genre. Emo -- it started out as a sincere movement with roots in early Dischord Records bands, then went through an awkward adolescent phase in the mid-'90s, which produced some embarrassingly heart-on-sleeve moments but also a ton of almost-forgotten second-gen emo bands, like Still Life, Owltian Mia and Frail. Think Fall Out Boy, Anberlin and Jimmy Eat World are emo? Do yourself a favour and check out these five bands, whose material stands the test of time and still causes emoting as much today as it did back then. (Oh, and let's make that six: you HAVE to check out Cerberus Shoal's self-titled debut for a taste of how sweet emo can really be.)
Head to the next page to begin Exclaim!'s Top 5 Underrated Emo Bands list: 5. Hoover
Often considered a "mini-Fugazi" at their outset, this DC foursome ended up inspiring bands to aspire to the emo slowburn of tracks like the seven-minute-plus "Electrolux," or the more immediate scream therapy of "Distant," with its sad refrains of "I've got my cat back / You've got those glasses." To this day, we have no idea what they were talking about, but it sure sounded important at the time. Spawning a whole slew of like-minded, arty emo bands (a bunch of which featured their ex-members), Hoover's footprint is forever stamped on the forehead of emo.
Lifespan: 1992-1994 (with short reformations in 1997 and 2004)
Hometown: Washington, DC
Must-have album: The Lurid Traversal of Route 7
Members went on to: Radio Flyer, Regular Watts, the Crownhate Ruin and a dozen other bands featuring bassist/vocalist Frederick Erksine. 4. Mineral
Sure, they made a somewhat successful career in emo-rockdom by completely aping another band (Sunny Day Real Estate, who are in the emo hall of fame), but they did it so good it was impossible to not get sucked into their melodic tunes. Perfecting emo rock's ebb and flow, and sometimes coasting on the power of Chris Simpson angelic wail, Mineral were atop the emo scene (okay, right behind Sunny Day) for a scant four years.
Hometown: Austin, TX
Must-have album: EndSerenading
Members went on to: The Gloria Record, Pop Unknown, Zookeeper 3. Indian Summer
Good cop/bad cop? You have no idea. Back when emo was in its infancy, these dudes would -- literally -- be crying while playing and hugging each other after their sets. Okay, so that's kind of lame, but check out "Angry Son," arguably the best emo song ever written. (Even more emo, the band never actually had song titles; the songs became known as whatever the band's fans called them.) Indian Summer epitomized the loud/quiet dynamic that became one of the genre's main tenets better than any band of the era.
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Must-have album: Album? The band never did one. Get the self-titled seven-inch or the anthology CD.
Members went on to: Her Space Holiday, Mohinder 2. Christie Front Drive
You know on Jimmy Eat World's Static Prevails there's that one song that has some dude laying down awesome guest vocals? Well, that golden-throated angel of emo just happens to be Eric Richter of Christie Front Drive. When other bands of the era were falling on the floor screaming, CFD were playing simple, melodic rock songs. Jimmy Eat World were great, but it's a shame that Christie Front Drive didn't grow right alongside them because they deserve way more attention than they ever got.
Hometown: Denver, CO
Must-have album: Self-titled (note this is the self-titled LP that is referred to as Stereo amongst fans, not the self-titled anthology LP)
Members went on to: Antarctica, the Blue Ontario, Golden City 1. Ethel Meserve
No band balanced technical playing with emotional heft like the obscenely underrated Ethel Meserve. Check out the tune "Belated Blues" or dive into their way-too-scant catalogue, the bulk of which is a six-song LP. Hey, it was always quality over quantity with these early emo bands, and when it comes to quality, Ethel Meserve cannot be topped. Approach the material with an open mind and a willingness to balance technical playing with emoting and this band can take you places.
Lifespan: Early to mid-'90s-1998
Hometown: State College, PA
Must-have album: The Milton Abandonment
Members went on to: Benton Falls, Bald Eagle