on five years since the death of the revival
emo revival's been dead for five years and now we have fifth wave emo so what's been going on?
Allegedly, fifth wave emo is in full swing. I’m the kind of dreadfully boring person who has spent way too much time in my relatively short life considering what is or isn’t emo and how to talk about those things so this new, artist led definition of a distinctly separate emo wave has been fascinating to me. Brandon of Home Is Where, an emo band name if I’ve ever seen one, made a really interesting set of graphics defining the 5th wave. I am, again, insufferable so I disagree that some of this stuff should be considered emo. (Young Jesus is the one I’ll make public. That band doesn’t say emo to me at all even in a broad sense. But it’s not important.) It’s interesting, especially in a world without shows, to try to forge an idea of community and association together through an identifying genre. That’s what’s important. Here’s the tweet if somehow you haven’t seen it:
It’s also just a nice little resource of like “if you like this, check this out” ya know? So that’s cool. I can’t judge too hard. I am more than happy to cop to not having listened to a lot of these bands. To prove my cred, I do have a favorite Home Is Where song and it’s this one:
But I think it was inevitable that emo was gonna get some new defining terminology. Defining what you mean by emo is as much of a part of the culture as anything else. That’s the real thread tying all forms of emo together. For as long as I’ve been talking about emo online, self defining through obsessively defining what you do and don’t mean by emo or defining what kind of emo a band is and their influences has been a part of it. I don’t know when the wave system was exactly devised, but it does make talking about emo a little easier even if it’s clunky.
I have to assume if you clicked on this you know already, but I’m referring to emo waves in their most basic form. If you want an obsessive breakdown of the waves, this is not the place. (Ellie Kovach if you’re reading this.. just look away.)
Here’s how I perceive the Waves Of Emo as defined by Key Bands:
First wave — Rites of Spring.
Second wave — Braid. The Promise Ring.
Third wave — Dashboard Confessional. Taking Back Sunday.
Fourth wave — Algernon Cadwallader. The Hotelier. Everyone Everywhere.
Now, all of my formative music memories are set firmly in the fourth wave and I’m no historian. That’s why you get one band for first wave and three for fourth. Write what you know. What I am interested in is what I see as the end of the revival and what’s happened since then and the ways emo’s obsession with defining eras can leave bands in limbo.
This is brilliantly exemplified by Hugo Reyes’s first entry on Chicago’s emo revival where he talks about proto-revival. He places that starting in 2004. There’s a reason people would say “Don’t Call It A Revival”, emo of all kinds is always around. Though saying that always did sound like dorks in 2013 trying to prove their interest in emo was more genuine than someone else’s.
I think being a teenager when that discourse was happening has permanently damaged the way I think and is probably the reason I’m writing this now. If you define Emo Revival as, say, starting in 2009 then you miss a lot of cool stuff. So much gets lost. So much never reached me when I was in high school looking for that stuff.
And now that Emo Revival has been dead for 5 years, we can see a whole new class of lost bands that live between that death and the hype around present bands.
Recently I’ve been listening to some of the more beloved albums of 2018 and was thinking to myself, “why did I never listen to this?” but the answer is that in 2017/2018 the only music I was listening to was Martha.
I place the end of The Revival in 2016, but I also think a lot of the other emo-adjacent genres I got into through tumblr also shifted and would either result in some career defining work or not much of a response at all. You had Harmlessness by TWIABP in 2016, which is as much a great indie rock album as much as it’s a great emo album. You had Stage Four by Touche Amore. Incredible, vital album. The Hotelier would put out Goodness, a critical darling of an album (as far as emo goes) that would still never allow them to shake the passion people have for Home, Like NoPlace Is There.
But you also had albums like Cody by Joyce Manor, an album people still don’t resonate with. Foxing put out Dealer in 2015 to much disappointment as they tried to do something new for an audience that wanted more Rory. Neither of those bands broke up and would both put out a top tier album in 2018, but the reaction to their 2015 and 2016 releases were not generous.
And at the same time, there were bands like You Blew It! and Modern Baseball that would both publicly succumb to a depressing 2017 end. Abendrot, while having one of my favorite YBI! songs on it, didn’t really resonate or get discussed the way Keep Doing What You’re Doing did.
Modern Baseball is a little harder to discuss because I’m aware that people love their last album and that my disinterest in it is pure personal preference. However, I think it was pretty clear how unstable they were when you listen to the album now or remember the announcement posts they’d make.
2016 also brought the very end of Chumped (though in 2017 we would get Cowgirl Blues by Katie Ellen, one of my favorite albums of all time). Little Big League ended and Michelle Zauner would bring us Japanese Breakfast’s first album. Tigers Jaw was in flux with the loss of a bunch of members following their 2014 release. The writing was on the wall for Balance and Composure. Title Fight would put out Hyperview, tour it, then disappear. Turnover put out Peripheral Vision to great success and divisiveness and forever cement their place as a rare “they were better as a pop punk band” talking point.
The two bands I viewed (and still somewhat view) as The Most Important to actual emo revival, Everyone Everywhere and Algernon Cadwallader, both hadn’t been active in a while. Almost every Chicago emo band I really liked was broken up or had started putting out albums that didn’t get much hype. Property of Zack had shut down. Tumblr as a platform, where I found almost all of the bands I loved, was all but dead. Impossible to ignore, a bunch of bands would come crashing down in the wake of sexual assault allegations between 2016 and 2018. Jank is an important note as sonically I think they influenced a lot of younger bands that are active now, but Sorority Noise, too. My actual favorite band of many years, Into It. Over It., would go on some form of hiatus in the wake of allegations against his manager.
When I was first thinking about this article I wasn’t sure if this was just a sort of personal perspective because I was 19 and in a very transitional time, but the phenomenon of the end of Emo Revival wasn’t a retrospective thing. Ian Cohen wrote at the end of 2016 about how the scene was decaying despite some really great albums. Not a year later he’d do an interview with Tanner Jones about You Blew It! breaking up that is pretty bleak, but I think defines an attitude toward The Revival that I still see. Emo stopped being a buzzy descriptor and instead was a confined space that people couldn’t break out of. Stuff that would have done well in 2014 wouldn’t be able to penetrate two years later. I think that means Tanner was right in that interview to say The Revival was winding down by 2014.
As a fun anecdote in this bleak reflection on my teenage favorite music, on Valentine’s Day in 2014 I went to see You Blew It!, Rozwell Kid, and Tiny Moving Parts at Beat Kitchen in Chicago. I think Rozwell Kid is one of just the best bands to this day and I loved YBI! so I loved the gig, but at the end I was waiting for my high school boyfriend to be ready to leave just standing with my poster and record. Then, a few girls near me were asking Tanner Jones (in my memory it’s him, but it could have been someone else in the band) to sign their posters so he asked me if I wanted mine signed. I was too awkward to be like, “nah I’m good” so now it’s signed by a bunch of people in bands that were moderately popular at best which is, like, fine I guess. Just funny. I was never much for talking to the bands. Based on this newsletter content I’m still not… Anyway, here’s the poster since I still have it.
In 2016, there was sort of two tracks of emo that were getting hype. First, Mom Jeans put out Best Buds. A little later Counter Intuitive Records, who I initially knew from ordering the Bay Faction album in a mono induced haze my freshman year of college, would become a defining force in tastemaking for kids younger than me. A green Prince Daddy hoodie would become the same signal of an emo search for belonging that a burgundy Basement hoodie or any defend pop punk hoodie had indicated for teenagers a few years before.
Then, in 2017, it’s impossible to ignore that the cultural discussion of emo would instead turn into talking about Phoebe Bridgers because Phoebe Bridgers talks about emo! She sang on that 2016 Joyce Manor album nobody but me liked! Julien Baker toured a lot with emo and emo-adjacent bands because of her previous music and 6131 association.
In a lot of ways those two developments in the world around emo are diametrically opposed. For a depressed college aged me, though, it was all just stuff I didn’t like. I’d turn instead to a lot of UK indie punk and bands like Remember Sports or Charly Bliss or The Menzingers who put out albums in 2017 that I loved. I also ended up spending a lot more time with older emo bands that I’d listened to before, but didn’t go that deep on.
It was sort of alienating to deeply not get the hype on the new bands. It always kind of is, but I was in a weird place emotionally for a lot of college and regretted getting a music and media business degree by the time I was graduating. For most of 2017 and 2018, when I wasn’t listening to Martha, I’d just sink hours into podcasts about movies I’d never end up seeing.
It sucked. Maybe I sucked. But I guess I kind of didn’t know what I liked or wanted to like. I feel like since then I’ve been playing some kind of catch up. Now looking back I really like albums like Oso Oso’s Yunahon Mixtape and Marely Barch by Barely March. I remember them being talked about, but…
The press hype machine was mostly over emo and the teenagers liked weed emo I never was able to handle. Barely March got a positive Pitchfork review that references Jeff Rosenstock enough that I’m taking it as confirmation the name is referencing Campaign for a Better Next Weekend (if that’s confirmed lmk). This is all important to at least a couple subsections of that 5th Wave chart. Especially the growth of Jeff Rosenstock power pop. I, obviously, am not the person to articulate full lineage or whatever, but I think that’s right. Fight me in the comments.
This 5 year in between of the end of the Emo Revival and what we’re calling 5th wave emo is full of lost bands. The wave system is useful as a shorthand, but it’s not designed to catch everything. Ellie Kovach has proposed a characteristically more in depth 7 wave system, but that’s kind of impenetrable even to me.
Music just doesn’t really work in eras the way we want it to. Everything is fluid and works together to shift over time. A lot of my favorite emo from a few years ago is stuff that now is mostly overlooked and owes a lot to The Revival. It isn’t really it’s own whole new thing or a whole new movement, it’s just that the press hype left. I think in the discussion of 5th wave there are bands with distinct stylistic differences that are genuinely a departure from what was going on in The Revival, but I don’t think that’s always the case.
With that, I think it’s important to recognize that the people making emo now do look different than people doing it in the past. There’s so much more representation and so many more voices and perspectives now. There’s work to be done, but emo does look different than the shows I was going to as a teenager. The new wave of bands deserves to self define and have defined communities. I guess I just bristle against super hard lines being drawn when it comes to looking at genre development as a whole. I know it doesn’t really matter what bands call themselves, but this is obviously an emo writer dork essay so we’re getting emo writer dork talking points.
Whether I think 5th Wave as it’s been laid out is how I’d separate things doesn’t matter because I think regardless of what it’s called there’s still a bunch of very good, kind of lost bands between the end of the revival and now.
In somewhat of a response to my questioning if there was a difference between Emo Revival and Fourth Wave Emo, David from Gulfer proposed a 4.5 Wave that their band fits into and I’ve been thinking a lot about that bridge.
Gulfer certainly pulls from other stuff, but are definitely indebted to Emo Revival. I love that band so much. Maybe I should put a newer song but damn Be Father is such a sick song. Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold holds onto the punctuation laden emo revival naming convention and remains mathy and exciting. There’s all kinds of these bands bridging what felt like a death of a movement to where we are now. There are tons of bands that came on the scene a couple years either too late or too early to really hit a hype sweet spot.
In very late 2017, Special Explosion put out To Infinity, an album that I firmly believe deserves so much more than just the 7.5 emo purgatory Pitchfork review it got. I don’t know it would have fared better in the collective conscience earlier, but I think if this record came out a little later it might have. Or maybe if it just wasn’t born of the Pacific Northwest. It’s hard to say. I just want to talk about Special Explosion. Fire is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever heard. Pained and urgent and important.
It’s hard for me to hear Dogleg and not think about Blis. Those bands feel like they’re coming from so much of the same place, but I simply don’t think we talk about Blis. enough. It’s emo pulling equally from indie rock and post hardcore. Huge riffs, fun songs, different year, certainly different online presence.
To me, a band like Retirement Party bridges this gap, too, and I’d love to see them play with bands I think feel more like them. Maybe that’s just because of associations I have between them and Chicago emo bands. I’m not saying that because of personal preference and I don’t mean to make a value judgment on the bands they have toured with, but sometimes implicit associations of tours or labels serve bands well in certain ways and poorly in others.
Tanner Jones, in that interview I talked about earlier, brought up how so much of their career, like the term emo and touring with bands like The Wonder Years, were all blessings and curses on their career. It’s never good to feel pigeonholed. He also specifically called out The Hotelier and Foxing as great emo bands who would hate being called emo bands. I don’t know that it matters if emo is seen a four letter word, it’s just music and emos aren’t oppressed because they like emo, but I think it’s interesting to look at the way different people react to how they’re described. There is some material impact in that. I think emo’s only real era markers might be if bands are embarrassed to call themselves emo or not.
Now the emo bands of the moment who have defined 5th Wave Emo, or who have decided to engage with the discussion around it, have kind of decided they’re emo bands. I think it’s really important to note that the designation wasn’t made by the press or observers, it was made by a band. Forging an association and something to unify all on their own. To me, that feels super in line with a shift in how much hype and success (or perceived success) relies on social media.
It often matters more for someone with a lot of followers to tweet about a band or for a decent size TikToker makes a video mentioning a band. It matters when a band is able to stay in a collective consciousness by behaving online in a certain way. That stuff matters to streaming numbers way more than anything I could write here or a standard review. So maybe it makes sense for the people making the music to define their community and build those networks.
I don’t know that a band would be able to truly self define a movement like this before now. Not that they had to, necessarily. Touring and having the same label or living in the same city would end up doing that for you. I think this is a product of a moment and that’s something cool.
Anyway, I guess maybe I’m saying Don’t Call It A Revival in different words. That’s an annoying ending, but I don’t choose how these things go.
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Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like when there’s new episodes of the Endless Scroll Podcast: @mirandareinert. I also have a paid tier of this newsletter which for $5 a month (or $40 a year! what a deal!) you’ll get free zines as I make them and one upon sign up! Wow! Click the button below to get in on that! But as always, thanks for reading!