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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
23

Taking Back Sunday, ‘Tell All Your Friends’ (2002)

"Back in the Tell All Your Friends days, we both used to always have our little emo notebooks and both of us would have just pages of pages filled with stuff," said guitarist John Nolan about writing Taking Back Sunday lyrics with vocalist Adam Lazzara. Together, they launched their debut with a steely, urgent guitar riff that builds up to singer Lazzara's screaming whine of "So sick, so sick of being tired." That urgency traversed the line that separated punk and screamo, making for an emo LP that sounds like someone's heart being ripped out while still beating. Single "Cute Without the 'E' (Cut From the Team)" is the album's standout, with lyrics made for screaming along to everywhere from a car to a mosh pit – "Why can't I feel anything/From anyone other than you?" B.S.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
22

Say Anything, ‘…Is a Real Boy’ (2004)

"I was having a hard time figuring how to approach making the first album," said Say Anything vocalist and lyricist Max Bemis, "and I was inspired by a lot of Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman stuff, artists who sort of poked fun at the whole artistic process and then it sort of lifted them above the normal masses than the average writer. If you acknowledge it, it sort of makes it funny instead of trying so hard to take yourself really seriously about the whole thing." …Is a Real Boy is a manic masterpiece of rebellion against all expectations of emo and pop-punk – an album unafraid to be simultaneously theatrical and punk in a world before Panic! at the Disco and Green Day's American Idiot made it commercially viable. Bemis is a hopelessly romantic, self-destructive, misanthropic genius from top to bottom on an LP that is as humorous and surreal as it is emotionally potent. B.S.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
21

The Get Up Kids, ‘Four Minute Mile’ (1997)

The audio quality isn't great, the songs aren't polished (the album was recorded over a single weekend so that drummer Ryan Pope wouldn't miss high school) and songs like "Last Place You Look" are so earnest they border on melodramatic. However Four Minute Mile, the debut album by Kansas City's the Get Up Kids is so much more than its shortcomings. Described in 1997 by frontman Matt Pryor as "swinging dance numbers about crying," there's an undeniable magnetism when it comes to these four Midwest kids literally discovering their own sound. It should come as no surprise that acts like Fall Out Boy have admitted they wouldn't exist if it wasn't for them. J.B.

At the Drive-In, 'In/Casino/Out'
20

At the Drive-In, ‘In/Casino/Out’ (1998)

Even today, there are not nearly enough punk bands as eclectic as At the Drive-In. Take the bongo smacks underlining "Chanbara" which transport the band between an El Paso garage and an Afro-Caribbean jazz club; or "Pickpocket," in which Omar Rodríguez-López and Jim Ward churn out quizzical, no-wave-y whimpers of guitar. They twist and turn discordantly at the whims of a shrieking Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who warns against the suburban nuclear family model by equating it to cultural nuclear war. A stirring preface to the more relentless, aural assault of their following LP, Relationship of Command. "We didn't get to execute maybe 30% of the ideas that were initially planned for the record because of lack of time," said Bixler-Zavala. "Being rushed is cool. I mean, we work really good under pressure, I think. It really pushes our buttons." S.E.

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.