Home Music Music Lists

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
3

The Promise Ring, ‘Nothing Feels Good’ (1997)

A month before the Promise Ring released their career-defining Nothing Feels Good, singer and guitarist Davey von Bohlen summarized the band's second album for the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal: "The basic idea is that you think you know things, but really you never know." With Nothing Feels Good the Promise Ring barreled into the unknown with ecstatic poise, and in the process pulled emo towards its pop future. The Promise Ring played pop like a hardcore band with a fondness for doo-wop – or maybe they played punk like a pop group led by an adrenaline junkie. Meanwhile von Bohlen's lyrics captured the indefinable dilemmas of a 20-something better than most mumblecore films. L.G.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
2

Rites of Spring, ‘Rites of Spring’ (1985)

The term "emo" itself started life as an insult hurled at this Washington, D.C. quartet – a barb used by punks who scoffed at Rites of Spring's convention-defying hardcore. The band's eponymous debut album evoked love, sadness, longing, confusion – none of the alpha-male absolutism that had made Eighties hardcore the province of jocks and thugs. Minor chords, dramatic pauses, vocals that sounded terminally on the verge of tears (and, live, sometimes coming to them): Yeah, this was emotional, all right. And, as the musical movement dubbed "Revolution Summer" swept D.C. in 1985, other punks saw Rites of Spring as inspiration for their own emotional liberty. But to the band members – two of which, singer Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty, would later form the equally revolutionary Fugazi – codifying a new sound was purely coincidental. "I've never recognized 'emo' as a genre of music," Picciotto told Mark Prindle in 2002. "What, like the Bad Brains weren't emotional? What – they were robots or something? It just doesn't make any sense to me." A.B.

EMO 40; Thursday; Rites of Spring; Rainer Maria; My Chemical Romance; Embrace
1

Sunny Day Real Estate, ‘Diary’ (1994)

In the early Nineties, Seattle was synonymous with grunge, but Sunny Day Real Estate didn't bother reading the memo. Formed by a trio of hardcore lifers in 1992 the group found their secret weapon in Jeremy Enigk, an 18-year-old with a supernatural falsetto. Channeling the Dischord catalog's melodic ferocity and U2's arena spirituality, SDRE mapped out Diary during a series of lengthy jam sessions. Recorded after their first national tour in 1993, Diary captures the vague inner-turmoil of Enigk's lyrics and propels those turbulent emotions to the heavens. In the ensuing years hundreds of bands have tried to replicate the magic of "In Circles" and "Seven," though few albums had the same tectonic effect. L.G.

Show Comments