Beer and Pavement

Emo is dead.

Posted in Records by SM on January 30, 2010

OK. So, I’m like eight or so years behind on this declaration, but at least I’m right.

Emo was actually pretty dead before it even started for me1. I came of age in the nineties when we had one, maybe two labels for what we listened to2. I blame electronica and the internets for the proliferation of unneeded and, frankly, unwanted music genres. I heard the term “emo” for the first time in the late nineties to describe anything from Modest Mouse to Jawbreaker to Sunny Day Real Estate3. I really didn’t care for the term as it simply divided up my record collection even more. Emo meant very little to me.

It meant even less when it hit MTV. Every other band was labeled as “emo” whether they were or not, sort of like what they did to grunge or hardcore back in the day4. I watched and cringed as it spiraled from a somewhat annoying musical aesthetic to a downright obnoxious fashion trend found on the racks at Hot Topic.

Anyway, one of the originators from the emo scene was Chicagoan post-rock outfit Joan of Arc5. They were as emo-tional as the next band, but they were way more arty and esoteric than those emos with stars in their eyes. They screamed and whispered, freaked out and quietly minimalized the effect, but somehow they pulled together coherent albums from bits and pieces of indie rock genius. Their songs may not have been complete, but their albums felt as album-like as anything anyone else has released in the last 15 years.

That said, Joan of Arc Presents: Don’t Mind Control is a cacophony of an album not likely to help you understand the conundrum that is Joan of Arc or the idea of emo any more than when you started reading this post. The brothers Kinsella enlisted the help of like 1036 Chicago musicians who have previously played in JoA to help them fill two pieces of circular vinyl with whatever they had lying around to make one of the more interesting compilations I’ve heard in a while7. The difference here is that it’s a select group of bands connected to one band, none of them very well-known outside of this circle.

Thankfully, this is not an emo record. If this is what emo could have become, I would like emo. Of course, this is not emo, so I still don’t like that. The album is good though. It’s as pleasant a surprise as the engrossing JoA project Presents Guitar Duets. Kinsellas hang with some cool and very talented musicians for reals. The gambit of possibilities are all here as folks play some garage rock, ambient, math rock, white boy soul, etc.

New8 kids on the dead emo block are Los Campesinos! with their scream/sing-songy, boy/girl, pop manifestos of sexuality and longing for some American rock ‘n roll. At first listen, one might not hear the emo on their sleeves, but as the record plays, you pick up on sudden start/stop action and some pretty gut-wrenching vocal performances. The largest difference between Los Campesinos! and most traditional emo bands is that they have a girl. That and one can tell by their lyrics that they may very well have had sex with one or more girls9. To boot, the instrumentation is large, varied, and intense.

This music is what emo would sound like with horns, a sense of humor, and some pop sensibilities. Emo could have evolved into Los Campesinos!, but it didn’t. They are certainly no emo band, but you can hear the connection. Either way, their latest LP Romance Is Boring is a fantastically big record, worthy of the path blazed by labelmates Broken Social Scene and Stars.

When a traditional band of a genre and youngin of similar ilk release records on the same day that do nothing but obliterate said genre, that genre is dead. Emo is dead. I don’t care how late I am with this declaration, but it’s dead as dead. No more wisps of jet-black hair over a distraught teenager’s right eye will be tolerated. No more screams over guitar anthems about the girl who left you at the mall. Nope. It’s time to move on. Joan of Arc and Los Campesinos! have. Won’t you join them?

1OK. Really, emo was never a viable genre and certainly hasn’t been around for a long, long time. I’m using it as my only way to connect these two seemingly different albums for a review. I realize that this is lame, but I wanted to write a blog post about the records that came in the mail and this is all I could think of.
2Alternative was the label for the early 90’s, but that became rather lame pretty quick. “Alternative to what?” The other label is the one I use today: indie. It’s maybe worse than alternative, but it has always sounded cooler and less corporate than alternative. I also realize that this also fails to mention math rock, post rock,, lo-fi, etc., etc. Just let me make my point.
3The funny thing is that Sunny Day Real Estate is generally considered the godfather of emo…That is until emo became not-cool. Since emo’s demise, no one ever mentions Sunny Day Real Estate as an emo band, but that’s what they were. There were probably the emo band.
4Sonic Youth is a perfect illustration of both of these misnomers. In the eighties, they were called a hardcore band. When grunge rolled around, they were lumped in with that lot due to their connections to Nirvana and Mudhoney. Sonic Youth is as much a hardcore or grunge band as they are an emo band.
5Actually, Joan of Arc rose from the ashes of emo-originators Cap’n Jazz. The other band that developed from Cap’n Jazz was The Promise Ring, an emo-trailblazer for sure.
6The number listed on the album’s packaging claims 41. They also included a poster of all the players. I didn’t count them, but I bet it’s closer to 41 than 103.
7Well, since last year’s brilliant Dark Was the Night was released. That was a great record.
8Not really that new.
9This is not to say that virginity means that they are not manly enough for more aggressive forms of music or that not having girlfriend makes them a lesser life form. What I’m getting at here is that emo lyrics often address the absence of a girl in the singer’s life. Just sayin’.

8 Responses

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  1. Carrie said, on January 30, 2010 at 4:40 am

    I think in the late 90s/early 2000s emo meant a lot of things. I definitely cut some early indie teeth on the Lawrence, KS scene (get up kids, anniversary, reggie and the full effect, etc), because these were legit “emo” bands, and (I may catch some flack for this) pretty good at the time (now I mostly listen for the nostalgia trips). Weezer was once lumped with the emos, as was joke-band keyboardist Atom and His Package (with great songs like “Anarchy means that you litter” and “Punk Rock Academy”). Shit, I don’t care, I still listen to Sunny Day Real Estate (I did it the other morning) because it’s good. It’s not obnoxious.
    but the evolution into a weird personal brand of girl’s pants, flatironed hair, and eyeliner just mystifies me…because it used to be just wimpy indie dudes in t-shirts. not screaming. not saying “retarded” “retyarded.” but maybe it had something to do with chris carabba or tim kasher that it all morphed into screaming and atreyu and finch and thursday and bleeding tears of death or whatever (I came up with that on the spot!).
    For some reason the timbre of the singer for Los Camp just hits me the wrong way, and I think its how his voice is too akin to New Found Glory, which is a band I have never had ANY fondness for (even during that 3 year pop-punk phase that I desperately want to put behind me).
    I think there are definitely good bands like Joan of Arc that hearken back to the “good ole days” of emo (and maybe that’s what we’re currently approaching in the indie scene, where we start reflecting on the “good ole days” before vampy weekend debuted on the billboard charts). I dunno…

    • builderofcoalitions said, on January 30, 2010 at 5:57 am

      This is good stuff. I sort of missed a lot of that. I mean, ‘Pinkerton’ was just the second album from Weezer that didn’t sell very well. It wasn’t like this origin of emo thing or whatever. And Sunny Day Real Estate is great, no matter what label is placed upon their foreheads.

      Funny how you equated the singer’s voice from Los Camp (Is that what the kids are calling them?) to the guy from New Found Glory, a band I was either too old or too busy for to ever give any attention.

      “…maybe that’s what we’re currently approaching in the indie scene, where we start reflecting on the “good ole days” before vampy weekend debuted on the billboard charts…” That sounds really Hipster Runoff-y and I approve. I love how there’s this sense that music started this decade. Anyone who’s anyone agrees that music started to matter in 1990.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Carrie. Now, shouldn’t you be out gallivanting around on a Friday night?

  2. carrie said, on January 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    1. “Funny how you equated the singer’s voice from Los Camp (Is that what the kids are calling them?) to the guy from New Found Glory, a band I was either too old or too busy for to ever give any attention.”
    lucky. you didn’t have to go to high school when their popularity peaked.

    2.”Anyone who’s anyone agrees that music started to matter in 1990″
    Hasn’t music always “mattered”? I guess I somehow subconsciously made that sound hipster runoff-y (I’ve been reading it too much, it soaks in and becomes a part of you.), I kind of feel that with the extremeist direction that hipster culture is heading (there are now surges of “hipster-brand specific” clothing outlets [sure, Urban has been around for awhile, but look at am appy taking the internet biz into a nationwide chain]), its taking shape of the emo scene as it evolves into some disgusting beast of personal branding.

    3.”Now, shouldn’t you be out gallivanting around on a Friday night?”
    I can’t afford to gallivant, so I just bum around on the internet/listen to Nico. I think I might be going out this evening though.

  3. girlscoutheroin said, on February 15, 2010 at 1:01 am

    not to be a disagreeable dick or anything…

    if you want to go back to the ~very~ beginning of emo, search out some heroin, mohinder, indian summer, antioch arrow, jenny piccolo, makara

    this first wave of emo was actually pretty entertaining (and original)

    tight pants that were way too short
    spock haircuts

    and fucking BRUTAL detuned grindcore-speed with “sensitive” lyrical content

    as is the case with all things truly new and original, these bands were hated by their peers (and, typically, audiences)

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 15, 2010 at 3:05 am

      Thanks, Tom. I did no research for this post but was vaguely familiar of the bands you mentioned. I mostly posted from my own experiences with the intention of pulling together a coherent record review.

  4. girlscoutheroin said, on March 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

    good topic for a post: you know the band name for 10 years, then you finally hear the music and go “oh!”

    to wit: i ~just~ saw kinski do a song live on a comp DVD; sweet baby jesus they rock.

  5. […] Los Campesinos!’s Romance Is Boring is pretty fun and probably deserves a spot next to Let’s Wrestle. It’s good that the Brits[16] are listening to our indie rock and doing all they can to replicate it. This has worked out well for them (the British) in the past (see The Beatles, Rolling Stones). […]

  6. […] Emo is dead. January 2010 7 comments 3 […]

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