Two years ago, it felt like we left the emo revival behind. New taxonomies were being created that led to some of the most annoying times to be online in my years as a person interested in the genre. You were seeing conversations and contestations happen at hyper speed. People who didn’t even have an interest in them were subjected to these niche conversations. But at the same time, 2021 was exciting. It felt like I was experiencing a moment on par with 2013 and emo’s big moment a decade ago. The context had changed, and the participants, instead of the music press, were driving the conversation.
Eventually, we got some kind of framework to talk about the new stuff coming out as the fifth wave, seeking to move beyond the narrow parameters that emo had confined itself to by the end of the 2010s. But for whatever reason, last year felt more like a cooldown period. I still feel this way to a certain extent. Maybe it’s just that I am getting older, and emo is not resonating with me as it once did. It would be troubling if I still found myself relating to the lyrics of someone ten years younger than me. It takes a lot to floor me at this point. I either need something to be sticky in its hooks (snow ellet, Magazine Beach) or cerebral (Home is Where).
In the absence of the fifth wave, I saw something much different. I jokingly have called it emo-revival-revival. Many of the beloved records coming out were lower stakes and felt more familiar to my ears. They felt indebted to 2008–2013, which is a particular sweet spot for me. Labels like Really Rad Records and Thumbs Up Records have become places for this loose movement of bands popping up. It makes sense that a shift would happen. Emo exist in tiny movements that are imperceptible as they are happening. There is only so far you can go with the more post-modern stuff inspired by Your Arms are My Cocoon and Brave Little Abacus. And a lot of it is unlistenable to me. As I scoured Bandcamp, the bedroom screamo stuff began to feel stale. Pop songwriting will win out every time for me. My introduction to emo was Motion City Soundtrack; The more esoteric parts, like Joan of Arc, only made sense to me as I got older.
One of the leaders of this emo-revival-revival (sorry, I know it’s silly) has to be Ben Quad. Their record from last year was a quiet hit that seemed to build momentum through word of mouth. They are representative of this trend of looking back at emo from a decade before. In an interview I did with Ben Quad, the vocalist relayed getting into emo through the Modern Baseball/Marietta split. Their background was informed by pop-punk, and that flows through in what you hear from Ben Quad. It makes sure that songcraft is valued over everything else. That fact can get lost, especially in twinkly emo. Edgar Viverous, the guitarist, is a sponge of all things emo, and that pours through in many of the riffs he supplies. When he posted a mood board of their debut record, he included CSTVT’s Echo and The Light and Grown Ups album More Songs. It was at that moment that I knew he was interested in an era of the emo that appealed directly to people my age.
Looking back at last year, you can look towards the Algernon Cadwallader reunion as a hint as to what was to come. When I saw them, the room wasn’t full of aging emos as I would expect. The crowd was as energetic as any hardcore show I have seen recently. The reunion served as an opportunity for many to see a band that they never got to experience. And we are now far enough removed from its moment where twinkly emo now feels like a novelty rather than ubiquitous. I can only imagine how many bands are now gestating because of that tour. But even without Algernon’s reunion, it would make sense that people would reach for emo of a decade ago. 2013 gave us several monumental records, and we’ve seen anniversary tours because of it, whether it was The World Is or Citizen. The nostalgia cycle is shortening every year, it seems, and this phenomenon of new emo is only another example of it.