Emo’s New Wave is No Revival

Thursday at New Brookland Tavern
By Patrick Wall
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Touche Amore

A few years back, it was hard for an emo band.

“The scene wasn’t self-sufficient,” says John Bradley of the Michigan duo Dads, which plays New Brookland Tavern on Thursday. “It wasn’t strong enough for people to tour and keep putting out records. I think the difference now is that — and I don’t know who started it or if it’s a team effort of bands in our scene — people are saying, ‘Well, we’re going to keep touring, and we’re going to keep pushing. And eventually, more and more people are going to be listening.’”

What: Touché Amoré, Tigers Jaw, Dads
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Thursday, July 10, 6 p.m.
Price: $15 ($13 advance)
More Info: newbrooklandtavern.com

Eventually, more and more people did. Emo — the “broadly defined, male-dominated, compositionally complicated, often pained offshoot of American punk rock,” says NPR — is back to a position of strength, reinvigorated by new bands and new labels. Once largely forgotten to all but America’s basement-tour circuit, emo’s had a banner resurgence in the past two years. What had been a slow-simmering grassroots scene boiled over into a media orgy.

Each of the bands on Thursday’s triple bill feature prominently in the myriad lists dotting the Internet that denote the must-listen bands from emo’s current wave. Headliner Touché Amoré was tabbed in Stereogum’s list of “12 Bands to Know from the Emo Revival”; Buzzfeed’s list, seemingly a response to Stereogum’s, spotlighted tourmates Dads and Tigers Jaw. A Rhapsody playlist — coupled to a post titled “Why the ‘Emo Revival’ is a Sham” — features all three.

Why does Rhapsody call the emo revival a sham? Because it assumes these bands didn’t exist in the decade-long gap since emo’s mallcore movement moved millions of units.

“I think to some extent [the] indie music press stopped paying attention,” says Will Miller, who co-owns Charlotte record label Tiny Engines, which this year released critically acclaimed records by current-wave emo bands The Hotelier and Dikembe. “And maybe that is understandable to a degree considering all the nonsense that got wrongfully tagged as ‘emo’ in the early 2000s. But, no, it’s never gone away, just evolved.”

Part of the issue of the emo revival is that no one seems to agree on how to define it.

“If you said ‘emo revival’ to a kid who’s probably at this point 17 years old, he’s probably going to think it’s a rehash of classic Fall Out Boy, which is like, naaaaah,” says Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm. “Nah, you know? We’re all fans of Mineral. And that’s totally different. And that’s the problem with buzzwords — no one collectively all understands.”

“It’s a branding term,” demurs Dads’ Bradley. “I think there are a lot of bands that are coming out now that are not at all emo that are being thrown into the emo bucket.”

Two cases in point are slotted into Thursday’s triple bill. Bolm, in conversation, refers to Touché Amoré as a punk band or a hardcore band; its spindly, sinewy music owes as much to the merciless pummel of Converge as it does Mineral. Tigers Jaw’s Charmer, a critically acclaimed 2014 record, hews close to indie rock and classic pop; it’s as much Afghan Whigs and Fleetwood Mac as it is Get Up Kids.

“I’m still wrapping my head around the whole emo revival concept,” says Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw. “[But] I guess I can see why we’re lumped in with that. It’s better being called emo revival than being called a pop-punk band.”

Among Thursday’s marquee, Dads is the band most commonly representative of emo. Consider “But,” the advance single from I’ll Be the Tornado, due out in October. Its knotty, intersecting guitar lines and plainspoken vocals point to American Football, a key influence in emo’s new wave. But the drums pound with the virulent force of hardcore, and when “But” explodes near its end, it exudes the grace and power of post-rock.

“I think the diversity of listening habits and influences that a lot of the newer bands are working off is one big thing,” says Tiny Engines’ Miller. “A lot of these newer bands have moved further away from just singing about heartbreak and relationships.”

By appearances, emo isn’t in a period of revival but resurgence, and possible reinvention. Any talk of an “emo revival” should come tempered by LL Cool J’s oft-quoted directive: “Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years.”

“People talking about the emo revival right now will get bored and move on to the next thing,” says Tiny Engines’ Miller. “That’s just the trend cycle of indie music in general.”

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