Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The New Wave of Emo

November 8, 2004

So who started the new wave of emo, anyway? Was it Brand New who inspired the masses? Did Thursday kick it off with Full Collapse? Was it Cursive’s work? Or was it a more obscure band? The world will never agree.

Nevertheless, there is a new wave of emo floating around- and like any new, popular genre, it’s being branded the “new grunge”. We at the IC don’t want you supporting the bad stuff and instead of the good stuff, so we set here a list of the fifteen best independent emo songs of the last few years.

15. “The Lights On”- Starflyer 59. The mind-numbing guitar drone of this song works wonderfully against the purposely drab vocals to create an enveloping aural experience. The odd guitar ideas of SF59 do nothing but help this mood.

14. “Vanessa’s Night Sky” – Drawing Down the Sun. The trick to this one is in the intro- an excellently used sample of a girl breaking up with a guy is punctuated by a shiver-inducing scream of anguish. The acoustic guitar riff that this was happening over (!) is then transmuted to an electric guitar, and the song takes off from there. The vocals are warbling and insecure here, setting the mood perfectly.

13. “Resolution” – Bright Line Spectrum. The drums pump this song on at a blistering rate- it’s the most subtle, effective use of a double bass pedal that I’ve ever heard. Each and every guitar riff is stunningly accented by the drums- it seems like the guitar and drums are one instrument. Some excellent songwriting and a catchy vocal hook (“Better days, come tomorrow!”) contribute to the song, but it’s really the drummer’s show here.

12. “Twenty-Four Minus Eighteen”- Before Braille. Lyrical brilliance and dramatic delivery ensure Before Braille’s spot on this list. The vocals never stop on this song, continuing straight through the abnormal songwriting scheme. There’s no verses or chorus, just a long amount of different parts thrown together.

11. “Another Russian Romance Novel”- Avila. It includes a violin/viola (I can’t tell which one), but don’t you dare call this a Yellowcard rip. The interplay between the heavily distorted guitars and the stringed instrument is perfectly performed and mixed. The group vocals here also work well- giving this a sense of urgency even in the midst of a slower song. Beautiful arrangement here, but still hard.

10. “Without You”- The Tokyo Smash. Kinetic, flailing, and frenetic, The Tokyo Smash combine hardcore and punk the right way- hardcore screaming over charging, hardcore/punk hybrid riffs. The passionate screams give way to level-headed singing; the contrast between the two is stellar and clearly done on purpose.

9. “Double Edged Sword” – Maverick. This song builds from a sparse electric guitar hum to a double barrel assault on your ears in less than 5 minutes. All the pieces are here to make a great song- punishing bass, confident vocals, unique guitar sounds, intricate songwriting ideas, and undeniable passion. When the vocals soar over the top of the all-out flail towards the end of the song, it’s pure beauty.

8. “That’s No Moon- It’s a Space Station.”- Say From Charms. This expansive, meandering track plays out like an opera- a complex amalgam of delicate ditties, intricate passages, dissonant diatribes, and thumping rock. The extremely emotive guitars here are stunning- the dual guitars feed off each other better than any other band I’ve ever heard. The vocals here are amazingly inspired as well.

7. “Rara Avis”- .Cavil.At.Rest. This song is mixed atrociously- all the instruments are out of proportion with each other, creating this mix: super-distorted guitars, heavy bass, hollow drums, and cymbals as loud as a freaking massacre. It’s like a knife to your ear- but it’s such a good pain. The intro sounds like knives shearing metal- it’s tied for the coolest intro on this list (The other being number 14).

6. “Refrain” – Glori-H. Juxtaposition is used effectively in most of these songs- it’s part of what makes a good song into a great song. It’s especially used in “Refrain,” as the intro includes a hushed singer, barely strummed chords, and creepy minimalist drums before exploding into a wash of crunchy feedback, yelped vocals, and powerful, punchy drums. It’s unexpected, yet it’s oh-so-satisfying. This happens three or four times in the song, with the vocalist getting angrier and angrier each time, until his voice is on the verge of dissolving into a scream. But it never quite gets there- an example of tension at its greatest.

5. “The Train”- Noise Ratchet. Hollow, foreboding, haunting, and endearing don’t do this song justice. The best moments of this song feature personal vocals singing a song of yearning over a reverberating single-note melody. The hard sections are great too, as the vocals stand up excellently against them, but it’s just so much more impacting when he sings against such an insecure backdrop. The drums here pummel.

4. “Gentlemen” – MewithoutYou. This is pure post-hardcore. Not-as-hard-as-hardcore music set against whispered/spoken/ranted/raved/yelled vocals- no real screaming at all, although the delivery is just as passionate. The music is blistering, as a militaristic guitar beat ominously thumps until a vocal hook unleashes a wave of anguished guitars and bass that will stick in your mind. The vocals will catch you by the throat- don’t try to resist it. You will love this track.

3. “Right Now, Today, I Don’t Believe in Hell” – Red Animal War. The opening guitar riff is chunky, dissonant, and inviting, as the verses fill in the empty spaces that you want to hear perfectly. The story told here is extremely interesting, and if I wasn’t so interested in the fantastic bass work, I would tell you something about it- but the bass work here is just too good. As a perfect accent to the guitars, the bass fills in the spaces of their sound perfectly, as well as carrying it at 2:25- the guitars drop out and the bass plays a sick riff. It’s motion-intensive, really fast, and brilliantly performed. Hearing the song strictly for the bass riff is a perfectly acceptable reason to hear this- it’s that good.

2. “Fake Your Death” – Woke Up Falling. Spastic is a good way to categorize this. The song doesn’t feel like a recording- it feels like you’re in a room as Woke Up Falling just improvises away. Every time. This is due mostly to the chaotic vocal delivery- changing from a rapid-fire scream to a sing to a yell (often all in one line), they provide an unmatched potential energy for this song. The bombastic drums and riveting guitars release this energy, as the passion in this just bleeds out. There is nothing more exciting than feeling what the artist feels, and as you hear “Fake Your Death”, you will understand exactly what Woke Up Falling feels (even if you don’t understand the lyrics).

1. “Ravishing Matt Ruth” – The Chiodos Bros. How many songs start out with a xylophone solo? Not enough, apparently, because the Chiodos Bros have kicked off the most amazing emo song I’ve heard with one heck of a xylophone. The songmanship here is just fantastic, with dueling vocal lines between two equally frantic vocalists, a piano solo, vocal solos, simply flooring guitar antics, and other complexities that make this song just too good for words. You will want to repeat this song multiple times- there’s about four different tempos, and it concludes with such finality that you can’t help but want to scream along. Your ears will thank you for this later….

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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