Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba Reviews the Emo Revival

We had the emo pioneer listen to 11 bands like Balance and Composure, Into It. Over It., The Hotelier, and La Dispute and tell us what he thought of the direction the genre has taken.

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Jun 24 2015, 3:20pm

I had just gotten back to my desk at work and had an email from Dashboard Confessional’s publicist waiting for me: “What did you show him? He won’t stop talking about it and wants to hear more.” I had a feeling this was going to happen. Earlier that day, I interviewed the emo pioneer for my Washed Up Emo podcast. Chris was touring to promote his new album with his folk project Twin Forks at the time and at the end of the interview, we had a little extra time. I decided to show him a video from the up and coming emotionally driven band, Foxing. He was absolutely captivated by it. When the song hit the first chorus, Chris’ eyes lit up with intrigue and amazement and he said, staring right into my eyes, “Wait, this kind of music is back?”

Emo, as a genre, has taken steps over the last few years to move far away from the sheen and gleen of polished pop punk for the masses served up with a convenient word for marketing. Those steps were the “revival” that started in earnest around 2010. To many involved in the independent scene, the revival was right in our faces. But one of the forefathers of our scene was largely unaware. After Foxing, that changed.

I agreed to send him a playlist of bands to listen to so he could catch up on what was going on. What I got back was unexpected and inspiring. Chris was completely excited and re-energized about the independent scene. These new bands reminded Chris of the past and actually inspired him to write new songs himself. “My god, it was like an epiphany.”

Words by Chris Carrabba.

Algernon Cadwallader - "Spit Fountain"

“Spit Fountain” begins with a trashy loop of percussion with the clean but strained guitar sound that, in my own short-hand, is referred to as stringy. When I heard the stringy guitar I was expecting something like early Promise Ring circa Horse Latitudes, Texas Is The Reason, or Recess Theory. While I hear all of those bands’ spirit in the song, “Spit Fountain" kicks in and I am left reminded of the unrestrained and masterfully youth-spirited band Commander Venus. "Spit Fountain" is short and powerful and I feel the need to replay it over and over, louder and louder.

Balance and Composure - "Reflection"

The intro guitars have a Jets To Brazil quality that harkens all the way back to shoegazer bands like Slowdive and The Stone Roses until the band and song kicks into the tradition of one of the best loud quiet loud bands ever, Hum. Great engaging bass and drums to hold the song tightly together. Only the drums and bass seem not to be drenched in reverb, which gives the vocals and guitar an otherworldly sense. This is a rich and lush song with lots of teeth.

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - “How To Make Love Stay"

This guy's got a great sense of melody. And even the lilt of his lyrics, rhythmically and melodically, fall into that sense of melody. They're almost a slave to it. I liked the juxtaposition of choosing the opposing path for the instrumentation. It could be an acoustic guitar behind this and I would be riveted. I'm more riveted because of the frankly chaotic nature of the song, with the instrumentation. While borderline chaotic, it's restrained enough that you can tell what the parts are. It's not just mayhem. I really enjoyed that. This song is not delicate, which is a triumph of small decisions because it is built around a lulling and beautiful melody and lyrical foundation. The incongruity between the bombast and the repeating melodic devices is very powerful.

Everyone Everywhere - "The Future"

This song begins with drums and bass and beautiful but angular guitars. The singer grabs my interest and holds it for the rest of the song with the power of the first two words, “displaced dreams,” his voice is so casual with strength and presence without showing any need to tear the listener’s head off to prove it. The song builds in a slow arch, which pulls me further in with every turn. They embrace the guitar solo without it being ironic and though it has hints of Sonic Youth, it owns its right to be melodic. It ends after the solo section leaving me wanting more of the singer’s voice.

Into It. Over It. - "Discretion & Depressing People"

Into It. Over It. seem to have all the things I love in songs of any era. Masterful lyrics, a little snide in its delivery but the kind of snide that inspires thinking, not the kind to be waived off out of hand. His voice is too good for that. The structures within each section seem to be aware that they are meant to drive a crowd over a barricade. I see the parallels with Into It. Over it, for sure. Maybe that's why I root for him so much, maybe that's why I became such a big fan. But the way he's choosing to do it isn't what makes me a fan, it's that he's fucking awesome.

La Dispute - "Such Small Hands"

Sounds desperate. There is something comforting about that to me. For the same reason I love Small Brown Bike, Cursive, and mewithoutYou. It does feel like something's going to go wrong at any time. In kind of a glorious way. They struck that chord. It's hard to find. So La Dispute's got a new big fan in me.

Snowing - "So I Shotgunned a Beer and Went to Bed”

Great looping drums and progression that isn't traditional. It's slightly off center and is fantastic. The singer has a timbre in his voice that is right there with some of my favorite singers, namely Davey from The Promise Ring, and not only that, he quickly gives me a line that gives me an ache that writers all know. The "my god, that is so simple and a perfect turn of phrase... I wish I'd written that" feeling. The line here in the song is "...a minor case; major depression.” This song made me stop listening to the playlist and pick up my guitar for a while. Snowing is inspiring.

The Front Bottoms - "Twin Size Mattress"

I have taken these guys out with me and they are my friends so I know my objectivity is suspect here, but let’s all calm down about it, OK? The Front Bottoms are the best band in the history of the world. Go see them tonight and buy all of their merch.

The Hotelier - "The Scope of All of This Rebuilding”

This song made my hair stand straight up (I am aware that it grows that way anyhow). "The Scope of All of This Rebuilding" is a harmony and eventually gang vocal masterpiece of power, which in moments drops down to just one singer and becomes compelling in a new way. I had a visceral reaction to this song. It's undeniable. I remember when I heard Saves the Day’s Can’t Slow Down, and I was like, well, I'm going to start this over and I'm going to listen again and again. It's that feeling. The structure of this one is inside out. I like that a lot. Like, when there's all the harmony in the first verse, that's usually not the way. Then there's the gang vocals. Then later it's down to one voice. But this band, right from the start, it's like, hey, we're all singing it. Start fucking singing it. It's hard to pick a favorite, but this is pretty high on this list of songs.

The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - "Heartbeat In The Brain"

This song is an instant favorite for me. Strange and glorious. Odd and endearing. I love the fearlessness of the melding of at least five sub-genres of the scene that I could count in the first listen. Piebald was incredible at this as well. It seems to me like this band loves so many styles of music and sees no reason why they should have to pick just one... and they are right. The standout lyric to me: "When you hold me, I feel held.” I had to stop the song and think about the strength of this lyric and the multitude of meanings I could derive from it. I am honestly blown away by this song.

You Blew It! - “Match & Tinder”

This song is alive with the spirit of the post-hardcore scene. I just love the grit of the vocals and the lyrics. The band is balanced well between hardcore and pop punk without being either, while being way more. There is something about the way the band owns the groove that makes me think of New Found Glory who get a lot of credit for a lot of things, but never enough for being a very groove-based band (not in a lame way, but in the way where the song becomes your heartbeat).

This whole list is asking, how does this relate back to things that meant something to me? It shaped my career, my music fandom, and ultimately my career, but moreover I think it's about moving forward. I walked away feeling so inspired that I had to write a song. As all music is, from something that came before. But it is moving forward at a clip that is as fast as I've seen, since the original iteration of emo that I was a part of.

I almost want it to slow down. The generation right after mine went too fast. It became derivative, became less potent. I will say there were bands that came right after me like Fall Out Boy that were more potent. And then there were bands that came after that were carbon copies of carbon copies. This, I hope, doesn’t happen again. It might but it feels less likely this time.

Tom Mullen hosts the podcast Washed Up Emo. Follow him on Twitter.