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40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time

C’mon get sad: the best of punk rock’s moody younger sibling

My Chemical Romance

Sarah Lee/eyevine/Redux

It’s been more than 30 years since punk rock’s confessional, diaristic, heart-on-sleeve offshoot “emo” came screaming from Washington, D.C., and around a decade since its commercial peak. But emo is having a moment in 2016 thanks to Panic! at the Disco scoring their first Number One album, Dashboard Confessional serving as the basis of a Jeopardy! question, and “fourth wave” emo bands like Title Fight and Into It. Over It. becoming the toast of music sites. Here are the best albums from the fragile genre where being sad makes everyone so, so happy.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
19

Brand New, ‘Deja Entendu’ (2003)

Emo took hold of mainstream pop in the early Aughts but one of its brightest acts was veering towards an exit ramp. In a Spin "Trend of the Year" piece on "mainstreamo" for the magazine's 2003 year-end issue Brand New singer and guitarist Jesse Lacey said emo was "becoming like Eighties hair metal all over again. All you can really do is try hard to be one of the bands that does manage to stick." Brand New stuck, thanks in part to that year's Deja Entendu, which ditched the bottled-up energy of their debut for moody, textured, cavernous numbers that augmented Lacey's acidic lyrics. The brooding frontman pushed his charms to their edge, but for all the bile he spews in all directions he shows enough vulnerability to make the anguish connect. L.G.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
18

Saves the Day, ‘Through Being Cool’ (1999)

Through Being Cool paired galloping, hardcore-inflected riffs with Chris Conley's signature caterwaul to create songs that would inspire countless nautical star tattoos. While most frontmen couldn't pull off singing about missing their mom ("Shoulder to the Wheel") and metaphorically digging a crush's eyes out with a rusty spoon ("Rocks Tonic Juice Magic"), Conley's knack for writing Weezer-worthy hooks to express his self-consciousness is what makes Through Being Cool more than just an important album, it's a rite of passage. "We recorded it in 11 days. Nine days and then two half-days. And that includes mixing. … To make a record like that today, people think they're rushing, but we were just having a blast," Conley told Alternative Press "[Drummer] Bryan Newman and I looked at each other at one point … and we just realized, 'Hey, this is going to be really good, and we should just take a year off school and just tour.' So, we decided to just go for it because the songs in the studio just sounded so bitchin'." J.B.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
17

Mineral, ‘The Power of Failing’ (1997)

Plenty of musicians treated Sunny Day Real Estate like a blueprint and sported their fandom like a badge of honor – but the ones who wore it best were these four youngsters in Austin. While SDRE aimed for the sky, Mineral stretched themselves even further. They pushed their musical ability to their breaking point, occasionally falling short of the dramatic crests they hoped to attain – the conviction, however, makes the attempts all the more alluring. Mineral's hero worship sometimes threatens to blot out their voice – "80-37" opens with a downcast melody eerily similar to SDRE's "Seven" – but they had the good sense to mine shoegaze for euphoria. When Mineral crank up the distortion on "Gloria" and "Parking Lot" The Power of Failing feels bigger than the band that created it – and even the group that came before. L.G.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
16

Drive Like Jehu, ‘Yank Crime’ (1994)

Formed by San Diego scene fixtures John Reis and Rick Froberg after the breakup of their band Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu was the antagonistic, abrasive yin to the rollicking, crowd-pleasing yang of Reis' Rocket From the Crypt – which made it all the more inexplicable that Jehu's masterpiece of a sophomore album wound up on a major label. Yank Crime's songs – all dueling guitars, off-kilter beats and ear-bleeding feedback – alternately feel like grudge matches and endurance tests, with Froberg's upper-register yell cutting swaths through the noise. It might not be emo proper, but the album would be hugely influential to the Nineties emo underground, as well as to eventual superstars like At the Drive-In and Thursday. Of course, speaking to the San Diego Reader during Jehu's recent reunion, Froberg said the band's plans were never that ambitious: "We wanted to make loud, ugly noise and get our rocks off – that's it." A.B.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
15

Dag Nasty, ‘Can I Say’ (1986)

Dag Nasty jelled around the maturity of two formerly angry young men: ex-DYS vocalist Dave Smalley and former Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker. Boston transplant Smalley fit right into Washington, D.C.'s budding emo scene, turning out to be far more effective as an introspective singer than he was screaming bloody murder in DYS. And Baker, a childhood guitar prodigy who barely scratched the surface of his abilities in Minor Threat, brought a new canvas of chord shapes that raised the game for all hardcore bands afterward. A.B.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
14

Weezer, ‘Pinkerton’ (1996)

Weezer followed up their power-pop breakthrough with a brilliant sophomore LP that turned out to be one of the finest emo crossovers ever. Though the lyrics were occasionally controversial – see the opening lines of "El Scorcho" – the band went harder and heavier with the riffs, and the confessional songs dove into the psyche of a rock star struggling with sudden fame. Affected by the initially negative critiques of Pinkerton as well as the vulnerability of the subject matter, Rivers Cuomo deemed the LP an "embarrassment" in the early millennium. As both critics and fans have changed their opinions of the album over time, so has Cuomo. "It's super-deep, brave and authentic," he told Pitchfork in 2009. B.S.