Emotional Hardcore

Top 20 Emo Albums in History: Complete List

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Thu, Oct 10, 2013 at 4:00 AM
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  • Jimmy Eat World

Few music genres inspire as many eye rolls as emo. But so-called "emotional hardcore" was an inevitable outgrowth of hardcore, which was itself a response to the commercialization of punk. Emo kicked off in the mid-1980s, when D.C. acts wanted to express themselves a bit more, shall we say, tenderly. The genre reached an aesthetic peak in the early-to-mid-1990s, as a second wave of emo spread through the Midwest. (Its mall-core nadir would come later, in the aughts, though the less said about that the better.) In any case, the through-line is a sensibility based on uncompromising worldviews, alternately melodic and explosive guitars, and lungs eviscerated in the name of earnestness. Here are the 20 best albums of the genre. -Patrick James

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20. Jawbreaker

Dear You


Dear You was almost universally hated by longtime Jawbreaker fans upon its release. But after the San Francisco-based trio broke up in 1996, they somehow got a whole bunch of new fans, who didn't care that the work was a glossy record on a major label. Instead, they (rightfully) appreciated maudlin pop-punk songs like "I Love You So Much It's Killing Us Both," "Sluttering (May 4th)," and "Million," the beauty of which still resonates today. -Eric Grubbs

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19. Cursive



On Cursive's Domestica, singer Tim Kasher and crew tell the story of a marriage unraveling amid excoriating emotional violence that leaves literal holes in the walls. That the record came on the heels of Kasher's own divorce, as well as his vocal delivery, which is a guttural mess of bloody-throated candor, is probably why the work sounds so authentic. Domestica is easily the band's most cohesive record, not just thematically, but also musically, with a chorus-eschewing aesthetic closer to emo's forefathers in D.C. than Cursive's indie-folk brethren of Omaha. They were always Saddle Creek's "heavy" band, and Domestica is a about as heavy as it gets. -Patrick James

See also: Top 20 Punk Albums in History

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18. The Anniversary

Designing a Nervous Breakdown


The debut record from Lawrence, Kansas's The Anniversary sounds a lot more twee today than it did in 2000 -- certain choruses evoke images of sparkly clouds of Pixy Stix blasting out of Moog synths. But between the keyboards, the back-up vocals of Adrianne Verhoeven, and the lo-fi orchestral crescendos, there's a lot to love here. The work's best tracks ("D in Detroit," "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter") balance their frenetic earnestness with adolescent melancholy and the essence of timeless pop -- unforgettable hooks and choruses. -Patrick James

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