Long Island Pop Punk/Emo in Eleven Bands
Silent Majority is the start of what people know as the Long Island melodic hardcore/pop-punk sound. While they never reached the same level as their contemporaries, their imprint on hardcore was just as impactful for the Long Island scene. It showed the next generation of bands that you could move beyond the imagined confines of genre with one simple act: take the framework of hardcore and reshape it by introducing pop songwriting.
Vinnie Caruana of The Movielife lays out Silent Majority’s influence pretty clearly in an interview he did with No Echo as well:
“They stretched every boundary of what I thought was hardcore. The melodic, bouncy, lovely, warm, incredible music blew me away live before I heard the cassette. The crowd would be filled with every Long Island band the world would come to know. Glassjaw, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, The Movielife, Crime in Stereo, and all the bands from my age group, owe a lot to Silent Majority.”
The Movielife’s arrival in 1997 comes at a very opportune time. Lifetime had just broken up and a whole wave of imitators followed. If we were being unkind, we could slot The Movielife’s first record under that description as well. It doesn’t yet feel separated from its influences and is decidedly rawer than what would come. The jump that happens on This Time Next Year is a significant one. They sound more like a pop-punk band than a hardcore one, especially on the title track, which could easily have been on the radio. But the three-year gap between their first two records is noteworthy. By 1999, we had reached an endpoint of Lifetime worship for now. Saves The Day inadvertently delivered this new brand of pop-punk to the masses with Through Being Cool. And in only a few short years The Movielife would break up just as a whole new generation carried the roots left by bands like them to a whole new level of notoriety.
Taking Back Sunday
I find it hard to talk about Talking Back Sunday rationally. They were part of my original CD collection when I would go to Target each week and pick a recommendation that usually came via Steven’s Untitled Rock Show. I can’t listen to some of the songs without the memories of middle school coming back to me.
Even with the touch of nostalgia, Tell All Your Friends is the Long Island sound exploded out a bit. It doesn’t feel as tethered to its influences as some of the other bands of the time. This is mostly due to how singular a vocalist Adam Lazarra is. He doesn’t really have the typical vocal delivery that can be copied, so the rest of the band works in the service of the vocals. The opening track, “You Know How I Do” is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. The opening riff is simple but does a good job of drawing you in, slowly building you towards the crescendo of “we won’t stand for hazy eyes anymore.” And when that chorus hits, you truly get the appeal of early Taking Back Sunday, which is the interplay of Lazarra and John Nolan. Something about Nolan’s juxtaposed screaming vocals with Lazara’s singing was just a winning combination. The band would use this same dynamic countless times on Tell All Your Friends to create hits like “Cute Without The E” and “You’re So Last Summer”.
I went back and forth on whether to include Brand New on this list or not. I don’t want to promote the work of an abuser but leaving them off this list still feels disingenuous. When people think of Long Island emo, they are one of the first names that come to mind. They were ever-present during the aughts, so much so that their album art is embedded in my brain without ever listening to them too much. Ultimately, I think we can hold two separate truths at the same time. You can find a person reprehensible while acknowledging their music was a significant part of your childhood or overall musical journey.
Crime In Stereo
With Crime and Stereo, we have the final addition of the quartet of bands that owe a piece of their existence to Silent Majority. Unlike the other three bands, Crime in Stereo never gained the same notoriety, primarily existing and thriving in the hardcore scene. It may just have been a product of timing like we saw a few years earlier with The Movielife. By the time they released their first record in 2004, their contemporaries had already made the next step outside of the Long Island scene that birthed them.
These circumstances may have ultimately worked in the band’s favor artistically, as the style of melodic hardcore that was once innovative at the turn of the century had turned stagnant by the mid-2000s. Mashing hardcore and pop-punk didn’t feel as novel as it once did. So it would make sense that they would, like the generation before them, try to push past the imagined boundaries of melodic hardcore on Crime In Stereo Is Dead. It sees the band moving closer to the nebulous space of post-hardcore, presaging its boom that would come in a few years.
As mall emo was dominating, there was a movement happening in the basements, and Latterman was one of the figureheads. They were intensely DIY and ideologically opposed to many of the conventions of pop-punk. Mattie Jo Cannino didn’t want to be another lyricist who sings about their relationships. Their goals were wider and had a leftist bent to it, looking at their scene and asking for more. No Matter Where We Go..!, the bands’ second and definitive record, was deeply concerned with how to do better, culminating in the line of “Come on everybody sing along we’re to blame”.
To a listener in 2021, these sentiments may be a given but the pop-punk scene of the aughts was just beginning to reckon with its own failures. The idea of having a track (“Dear Boys”) that essentially calls out all their fans to ally themselves with women’s struggles was somewhat revolutionary. Yes, the ’90s had their fair share of leftist punk bands but each generation needs its own band to bring those same issues to their primarily white audience. And for a generation of punks, Latterman was the band who changed everything and whose influence is too far-reaching for me to encapsulate in a few paragraphs.
The family tree of Latterman splits off into three in 2007, with Guitarist Phil Douglas teaming up with Small Arms Dealer singer Jason Lubrano to form Iron Chic. What you end up getting is an even more sugary pop-focused act, sanding over some of the grit that made their previous bands a tougher sell. Lubrano’s lyrics are much more universal, talking about mental health and diving into some light nihilism at times. Listening to Not Like This never feels dour or defeatist though. Instead, Iron Chic is the soundtrack to singing into the void. It’s the music that turns into a singalong when it comes on at the punk bar. Everyone comes together shoulder to shoulder to belt out those first few words of “Cutesy Little Monster”(“I want to smash my face into the goddamn radio”).
State Lines/Oso Oso (Jade Lilitri)
If I was forced to think of one artist from the last decade to represent the sound of Long Island, the first person I would mention is Jade Lilitri. Even though he is actually from Long Beach, his music feels like a natural succession to the 2000’s Long Island scene. State Lines, his band he started in high school, had the urgency of early Taking Back Sunday, only with lyrics that have aged better. He’s moving beyond the typical conventions of talking about relationships at the early age of 18. It’s still dramatic, albeit in a different way, as all of Lilitri’s friends went off to college and he stayed home. The centerpiece of Hoffman Manor, “Cancer”, imagines pulling the plug on a loved one at the hospital. Even the choice of a retirement home as the album art is a hint at what Liltiri’s talking about thematically on the record.
Of course, I wouldn’t be here talking about Lilitri if it weren’t for The Yunahon Mixtape, his second record under the name of Oso Oso. By 2017, he had mellowed out a bit, pulling back a bit on the urgency of State Lines towards something a bit more restrained. He would at times flex that he could still write a straightforward pop song (“The Walk”). But his music just wasn’t as impulsive and his songwriting was on another level compared to seven years ago. “Reindeer Games” didn’t need to move at a breakneck pace to become a hit. Liltiri had found his own formula to creating the perfect song and people were finally paying attention, bringing the Long Island sound back into emo once again.
We have now arrived at 2021, where we’re seeing the classic Long Island sound come back into vogue. It makes sense that this is happening now, given that the people who were teenagers or children in the 2000s are now in bands and can try to make the music they grew up on. Stand Still is one such example of this phenomenon and was part of the impetus for this piece. Their lead single “Free My Mind” is a great distillation of what makes their scene so special and is also endlessly catchy. A Practice in Patience, their debut EP, is no different and solidifies that Stand Still knows how to make extremely competent pop songs.
Out of all the new bands coming out of Long Island, Somerset Thrower to my ears oozes the aesthetics of the ’90s. Their vocalist is the only person I’ve heard come close to sounding like Blair Sheehan of Knapsack. But the guitars fit under some form of shoegaze-tinged pop-punk, differentiating themselves from every other band on this list. You could play the comparison game for hours and the answer will be different depending on who you are talking to. They are the true embodiment of the cliche of the phrase “it sounds familiar but they make it sound fresh” when describing a band.
Koyo follows the same trajectory as their predecessors, in that they are comprised of members in hardcore bands making an attempt at catchy music. The only difference is that Koyo arrived at a defined sound right away, garnering comparisons to Taking Back Sunday and The Movielife. This is not to say that the band is purely genre pastiche. Instead, their existence is a love letter to Long Island. And with their second EP, Drives Out East, Koyo is continuing to carve out its own lane. “Diamond One” in particular sees the band sharpening their pop sensibilities and creating what is to me is a perfect song. I can still hear the phrase sacrificial pact rattling around my head long after I play the song.
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