I may be morbidly depressed, but at least I have some good songs to drown myself in.
What emo is, exactly, is hard to pin down, and I don’t know. But here are eleven total downers that I don’t want to stop listening to.
“The Truth About Heaven” – Armor For Sleep
What could possibly be sadder than dying, going to heaven, finding out it never stops raining there, and then haunting your widow to try to tell her it’s not worth it?
“You’re So Last Summer” – Taking Back Sunday
“The truth is you could slit my throat – and with my one last gasping breath, I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt.” A highlight from a very good album (that needs a remaster badly), also home to the classic “Cute Without The E”.
“Hold On” – Good Charlotte
It would be remiss not to mention this song. Where many of these songs revel in depression, this one begs listeners to keep going. It asks the difficult questions: “What are you waiting for? What are you looking for? Do you know what you’re doing to me?” I hope the inclusion of this, one of the most intense music videos I know, gives some perspective for the rest of the list. Additionally, this song has one of the finest bridges in all of rock and roll.
“Sleeping Aides And Razorblades” – The Exploding Hearts
One of the best tracks from a perfect album. I listen to this album, often twice, every time I do the most draggy thing I have to do daily: wash the dishes. It’s a little ritual for me. “Oh, time to do the dishes? Better put on Guitar Romantic to make it bearable.”
“Penetration” – Pedro The Lion
I knew this song was dangerous the first time I heard it. The lyrics are seriously pessimistic.
Have you ever seen an idealist with gray hairs on his head?
Or successful men that keep in touch with unsuccessful friends?
You only think you did – I could have sworn I saw it too
But as it turns out, It was just a clever ad for cigarettes
“All That I’ve Got” – The Used
The best song by one of the most consistent, genre-defining bands of second wave emo. “So deep that it didn’t even bleed” immediately gives us an image of how strongly he feels. The production work of John Feldmann (of Goldfinger) sends this and the rest of their first six albums stratospheric.
“Timing” – Bilmuri
From 2016, this song is a late-comer to the party, but its wailing plead of “Can you give me a chance?” makes it one of the most memorable. Johnny Franck of Bilmuri is formerly a member of Columbus, Ohio’s Attack Attack!
“Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis” – Brand New
One of the most intense songs I know. It follows a guy who goes to a bar, gets a girl drunk, and takes her home. Throughout the narrative, he admits that he knows that what he is doing is wrong (“I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do”) but he seems to write it off as a necessary part of the game. “You can sin, or spend the night all alone.” When allegations of sexual misconduct were brought up by two women who claimed that lead singer Jesse Lacey had sex with them when they were underage, it only made the song feel even more real and intense. It is a warning, and one of the best songs I know.
“Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” – Relient K
Relient K is way more than just a Christian band. On Mmhmm, their fourth album, they barely sing about the guy in the sky, and instead face their insecurities and inadequacies head-on. “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” bravely declares regret for past mistakes. The entire album is excellent, and when pressed for my favorites, it often makes the top 5 or 10.
“Bulls In Brooklyn” – The Academy Is…
The most underrated song in the genre? “Some people have it, and other people don’t” is a favorite lyric, and one I try to keep in mind when I just want to lay in bed. The chorus soars, the bass line marches along, and the campy piano over the screechy bridge keeps it grounded. The album Santi is also underrated, with such earworms as “Seed” and the sterling closer “Unexpected Places”.
“I Miss You” – blink-182
One of the most popular emo songs is also one of the best. The music video helped to establish the shady aesthetic that the rest of the genre would pick up on later. This was an almost complete departure for blink-182, as they previously had to sneak serious songs like “Stay Together For The Kids” and “Adam’s Song” into the middle of albums titled Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, alongside tracks like “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” and “F*** A Dog”. That all changed on their self-titled, where it’s all serious right from the get-go, and even Robert Smith shows up to make sure you know how down Tom DeLonge was feeling. For all of this, it’s one of my favorite albums, one of the most important in the genre, and this song is the jewel in its crown.