the emo iceberg: part 1
I said I was going to start watching the simpsons but I started watching this video:
which is a deep dive (pun intended) on Garfield media made by a girl from New Zealand who is amazing. It got me thinking about the emo iceberg tierlist posted originally on Instagram.
Now. I know nothing about anything so my previous knowledge mostly puts me around like.. somewhere between dedicated and knowledgeable. But, for all the outrage from people who know much more than I do, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I think it’s so charming to imagine who is behind @emo_encyclopedia (or wherever this was found and posted there) that this was created.
Now, when I decided to do this I forgot just how many bands are crammed in here so I’m gonna break it up into a few. I don’t think I’ll do them all in order because I’m far too impatient and have to finish my end of year posts, too. This is sort of a primer, I guess. It’s on the first two sections and mostly ends up being me listening to skramz shit for the first time and working through some of my opinions on the way we discuss emo and genre and some silly interviews I’ve read through. It’s not mega serious.
If you really give a shit about screamo please keep in mind I don’t know much and this is more about the iceberg and not some kind of true deep dive into the inner workings of the genre, though I do raise a lot of questions that I think are very interesting to consider. It’s also an extension of what this newsletter sometimes is: exploring music that came out a while back which people love that I’ve never listened to. Which is cool.
Fan of Emo:
In our first tier we find many of the usual suspects. You’ve got your Rites of Spring, Mineral, Cap n’ Jazz alongside Tigers Jaw and Touche Amore. Most of it makes sense. It’s kicked off by Brand New, establishing the list out of the gate as unconcerned with status of cancellation. We here at The Something Old Newsletter don’t vibe with that but for the sake of this deep dive I’ll let it slide. I do wonder why obvious alternate choice Taking Back Sunday makes no appearance. Strange but not the strangest thing we see on this tier.
Directly below Brand New we find Orchid. Now, this is a screamo band with 17,000 Spotify monthly listeners. I realize they’re a very important band to some. One of the more important in the genre. I get it. I’m not saying Orchid isn’t a relevant or beloved band, after all they do have a thread on r/emo dedicated to discussing if they’re overrated or not, but directly below Brand New? Really? Baffling choice!
In googling around for further info on Orchid I found them on plenty of “Essential Screamo” articles and I came across a bio on Skramz Wiki which only had this comment:
And who am I to argue with that.
The other odd thing found here is Old Gray. Now, again, the list remains unconcerned with the status of cancellation as this is a defunct Cam Boucher project, but not even the big one which makes no appearance on the iceberg at all. (I acknowledge that they fit more of the screamo vibe of the list of bands here but I have it on good authority people don’t even consider old gray real screamo anyway so my criticism stands.) However, I was an aggressively suicidal 16 year old in 2013 when An Autobiography was released so I did listen to them. My main memory is of a post that read “more often than not i listen to their music in my closet while drinking shitty gas station coffee in a styrofoam cup” and I’ve never forgotten it. It one of those posts that haunts me like the toe necklace or any number of sixpenceee posts.
Anyway, no way in HELL does the (generally) lesser liked project of anybody deserve that spot. And how truly bizarre to even consider them especially notable! The art did numbers on tumblr, sure, but come on. Top tier? Hell no. Directly above Hot Water Music? Off the rails decision. The other choices at least seem to be beloved and heralded as like classic stuff on theatrically titled Rate Your Music lists.
And then there’s the fact that Cloud Nothings are on there. I’d debate if that’s emo because I’m right to say it’s not. I won’t argue about the idea of an emo list which is 85% screamo because that’s far more nuance than I’d ever be able to develop on hardcore and screamo. I recognize the origin of emo, I’ve read the r/emo info panel, I respect David Anthony deeply, I am just a tiny moron when it comes to the intersection of emo and hardcore. However, I feel like Cloud Nothings would say they’re not emo so I’m gonna say they’re not emo which is the worst offense represented in this top tier.
Well, worst non-criminal offense at least. Moving on.
This section is funny because Foxing is there and so is my beloved Everyone Everywhere. You’ve got Dag Nasty, Snowing, Pg. 99, Dogleg, Christie Front Drive.. But it’s a lot of stuff I don’t know anything about. Mostly 2008-2012 emo revival stuff I was just a little too young to listen to in real time that would get lost in a sea of names by the time I’d be into them and a load of screamo of seemingly decent importance.
I’m especially intrigued about how the bands on the borders were chosen as that seems to imply there was debate like someone sat down and thought, “okay so Orchid is for SURE almost as ubiquitous as Brand New but Hot Water Music? I can’t decide.”
I’m deeply afraid of caterpillars so I started with City of Caterpillar who I guess shared members with Pg. 99. This is what I meant by the lesser known alternate project not deserving to be top tier, folks! However, Pg.99 is also in this tier. Not sure if being lower really means anything but Pg.99 is definitely the band name I know better so, again, bizarre choices! I won’t talk about that band much here because I just don’t really want to or feel like I should because if I’m familiar with the band it’s not interesting to hear me talk about them. I do like that their instagram bio states “love your friends, die laughing” which, as a pop punk teen first and foremost, I laughed at and then came across this stunning meme:
Lots of fun old show fliers on their instagram too. Nobody yell at me for spelling it pg. 99 not pageninetynine.
Anyway, there’s a really nice retrospective on CoC on Vice from 2016 that also acknowledges the visceral appeal of a name. It also compares it more to the atmospheric ambient music of the very early 2000s than screamo. There was a reissue of their only record in 2016 and they seem to be heralded at least by some as the best screamo act ever. I also personally am very fond of it despite my general distaste for long songs and most music that could be deemed heavy. Maybe they are the best. Certainly better than Old Gray, but if they took that spot then we’d really be in trouble with placement of pg. 99 and I simply cannot be responsible.
Putting this band first in this tier really feels like I’m learning about the person who made it. This person would absolutely put Orchid directly below Brand New and leave off Taking Back Sunday. They just would. I’m on their team. This person probably also personally prefers CoC to pg. 99! We are living and learning, folks. Moving along.
There’s a farewell interview with Funeral Diner from 2007 posted on a very currently active website called diyconspiracy.net which, as a name, absolutely rules. I’m sure some of you have explored diyconspiracy dot net. I am not one of you. Anyway, I’m a big fan of this very 2007 quote from their drummer, Matthew Bajda:
Genuinely charming. Screamo, to me, has a specifically interesting development in the way it’s discussed. Or at least it seems to have the most retrospective structuring within emo. Like, we developed terms and later shoved certain things away from general hardcore into emo. There’s tangible dissonance in the way screamo is talked about by fans on forums and the way artists talked about it. I’m not sure that matters, as genre description and contextualizing is less about how an artist wants to be perceived and more about fan discussion/marketing/writing in my opinion, but the size of that gap between them is worth noting.
Funeral Diner sounds very mid-2000s in a way that feels familiar to me like something my sister’s boyfriend or an older cousin would have on their iPod. Especially compared to a band of many shared members (and a shared tier on the emo ice berg tier list), Portraits of Past which at points evoke an almost Hotelier-esque feeling in me (which also gives you a look into where my point of reference sits). Very mid-90s heavy emo, Portraits of Past. I personally prefer them, but it’s hard to gauge bands against each other. This isn’t me reviewing these bands. We’re just trying to understand the iceberg. Both these bands seem to deserve their place.
You should read that aggressively teenage interview though. Dude gets asked about everything from animal rights, the state of DIY, whether he thinks we can prevent climate disaster, the importance of love in human life (!!!), the consumerist mental prison… It’s incredible teenage punk zine stuff. Beyond charming. Moving on.
Crash of Rhinos is a band from England. Maybe you guys remember that being true. I certainly do not remember that. It’s just emo revival stuff so I like it and they made it onto some high school spotify playlists of mine, but I just didn’t know their country of origin. We look back and we learn, folks. Onto the next.
I was speaking to someone much deeper in on screamo and they expressed that the emo iceberg really ignores contemporary screamo altogether and that a lot of people do just focus on the old bands when discussing screamo. We get Portrayal of Guilt to rep contemporary screamo and Dogleg to represent current, uh, other emo, I guess, but this list really reeks of valorizing the past the way forum communities seem to. It’s like if you learned of emo through Rate Your Music screamo and emoviolence lists only. Which makes the beginning all the more confusing. Why make it a general emo iceberg? Why even acknowledge Tigers Jaw or Foxing? There’s so much to unpack in the way we discuss genre.
Do we need umbrella terms? What’s the point? When does a genre encompass too much where we can’t talk about it effectively? This project is fraught with so many questions and going back to a band originating in the 80s won’t help but that’s where we’re headed.
Moss Icon. I’m big into this band name. Their reissue of their discography got best new reissue on Pitchfork in 2012 ahead of a reunion. The more I go through tier 2 the less tier 1 makes sense.
Is emo also sometimes post-hardcore? What is post-hardcore, really? Is it anything? More questions arise.
William Bonney raises two questions. First, why would you name your band after the real name of Billy the Kid? Two, and more pertinent, why are Midwest Pen Pals and Merchant Ships in tier 1 while William Bonney is relegated to tier 2? Merchant Ships, whatever. But Midwest Pen Pals had 1 (one) EP. Sure, it seems to be one people kinda give a shit about, but William Bonney is a band with art I recognize. They’re also referenced as a notable example of screamo in the r/emo sidebar. While we hover in tier 2 I think recognizability is relevant. That’s the whole point of the iceberg format. I guess I just feel like we’re overvaluing the reach and influence of Midwest Pen Pals by equating them with Rites of Spring. Maybe I’m wrong, feel free to let me know, but for a group of minor bands with similar members to be stratified this way is.. confusing.. it’s upsetting. I want answers.
Did this person live in Indiana? Who made this? Should we ever know? The hubris to assert a desire to know as if to know would be to understand…
Next up, Everyone Asked About You. We enter the first band whose google search results return only fan generated content, discogs, and Sophie’s Floorboard apart from a short sputnik music review from 2012. The obvious connection is to Football, etc. Female singer, twee leaning, twinkle guitars. I like it a lot. That said, the sputnik review ends with “Everyone Asked About You are nothing special” and they’re right. It’s 90s emo. It’s enjoyable, but I question this band’s place in tier 2 more than any other. Were we striving for women? Just needing to include some twinkle? But when we look down into the next tier down you immediately see Majority Rule and boysetsfire and you have to wonder why this obscure band is here. I’m drawn to this band name because it shares a word with Everyone Everywhere. If you’re someone who views Merchant Ships as general knowledge on the level of The Promise Ring or American Football, maybe you also really liked EE and listened to this band because it drew you in with a similarity.
That’s how I choose music to listen to. Entirely out of context. Driven by aesthetic appeal of art and names only. Which brings us to the band next to it. The only band so far which has been abbreviated. TITR. Texas is the Reason.
Why, in a list of gratuitous awful band names, does Texas is the Reason get abbreviated? Because people would recognize them immediately, maybe? Then why are they this low? The questions keep coming, but instead I will bring up that I bought a Texas is the Reason 7 inch in the year of our lord 2020 at Reckless Records. Do you listen to your 7 inches? I don’t. It just feels nice to have things.
If you google search “Heroin band,” you will get the hardcore band’s wikipedia, but mostly you just get interviews with musicians about addiction. Shouldn’t have been surprised to find that. Heroin the band probably wasn’t considering 2020 search engine optimization. On page one: The Band, Thin Lizzy, and The Strokes. Anyway, like any band from the 80s on this list, they’re heralded as a pioneer of the genre. Mostly posthumously called screamo. Mostly posthumously appreciated. Singer started Gravity Records. Some members of this band are in Tap and Die presently.
I think we talk about influence and pioneers in a strange, detached way. Sure, you can say, “this sound influenced this other, often more popular band” but when you’re making music that gets huge posthumous context, I wonder what that says for the band itself.
Boys Life is another tier 2 band with a Wikipedia page specifically noting they influenced another band. Taking Back Sunday. (I’ll remind you, notably absent from the list!) Topshelf released a 2015 album from them, but the first thing we see? They influenced Taking Back Sunday.
Are Heroin and Boys Life impressive bands? Is importance synonymous with impressive? Or do we remember them because of an obsession with deifying the acts that seemed to do something “first” and a few big, younger bands listened to them?
I don’t know the answers. Well, the answer is probably “it depends” which is fair. Moving on.
Raein are Italian which marks the first non-native English speaking country I’m discussing! Even before anything Japanese, color me shocked! This band shares members with La Quiete who also share members with Daitro. Everything is charmingly interconnected. It’s interesting to me Raein has been put higher than La Quiete who, while not more important necessarily, do seem to be on the same level within European screamo. I suppose Raein has more facebook likes. Maybe that puts them a tier above.
i wrote haikus about cannibalism in your yearbook is a terrible band name I would have thought was well interesting to tell my friends about in high school. Someone has a tattoo related to this band though so solid tier 2 material. Carry on.
Jerome’s Dream is also a bad name in the way it’s clear this could only be an emo band. Do all genres have this many bad band names? Is emo a genre, really? Do you think you can tell the genre of a band based on name alone? I do.
Much of the rest of this tier is bands like Circle Takes the Square and Loma Prieta and Indian Summer. Off Minor initially raised an interesting question for me of putting lots of weight on bands with shared members to important bands, in their case Saetia. Though in this interview the Saetia Bassist and Off Minor drummer, Steve Roche, says that Off Minor played like 400 shows in a relatively short lifespan and pushed him creatively. The color choices on the site seem to be designed to create eye strain, but the interview is expansive and goes in depth on some early Saetia record packaging which I love. I’d recommend you read it regardless of heavy interest in the bands or bands like them. It’s interesting to hear how band members interplay and records got made in a very DIY fashion. It also goes into some light beef which I love:
The only real lingering wart, in my remembering this band is that despite the fact that Jamie wrote all the music and Billy wrote all the lyrics, Greg has pocketed every cent from the discography sales -at least to my knowledge. The last official word I had in 2005 or so was that it he had profited over $20k. I am not saying I am due much of that - I only played bass on the last seven inch and on most of the tours, but to have Greg reap all the rewards is pretty ridiculous.
The interviewer references Jamie Behar’s blog about Off Minor, though. In said blog, Jamie explains that band ended with Steve telling him he never wanted to speak to Jamie again so they didn’t. Oof.
He also did a blog called Ruining Saetia which I expect many of you are familiar with just because that seems like something you would be. I’m not bringing it up like, “aha have you seen THIS!” I just think it’s interesting and this is my newsletter. He made 3 blog posts about Saetia (though one is just saying he was done) and 1 about Off Minor. It’s less writing than is probably being penned right this moment by some dork on Rate Your Music about Saetia. I wonder what kind of doctor he is.
Now I’m going to round this out because it is very long. There’s two bands on the border of dedicated and knowledgeable. As I stated earlier, the border is the interesting part. The first one is TNIIC. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out this band’s name. At one point I found myself reading a Vice article about emo revival I remember reading when it was originally published. This whole newsletter has made me feel both a million years old and twelve all at the same time.
Anyway, it stands for The Newfound Interest In Connecticut. Emo sucks at naming shit, but it might be the most relevant thing about Connecticut. However, this was a band from Toronto that lasted 3 years and has no significant writing about them online, not even a bio. Now, again, Majority Rule is in the tier below them. This is just showing off that you’ve heard of a band.
The other on the border is Lync. In stark contrast to TNIIC, Lync is beloved in the same way most of these bands are. Short lived, but remembered well and fondly. Encompassing members who would go on to be in Built to Spill and a singer who went on to do Love as Laughter (and a brief stint in Modest Mouse). Last week it was reported that singer/guitarist, Sam Jayne, passed away.
I didn’t intend for this newsletter to end on the very recent death of a member of a band, but if you’re not familiar with Sam Jayne, the comments on a blog post are a good place to start.
I started this as kind of a meme to joke around on twitter but also as an excuse to use my time off from school to maybe learn something new? Listen to music in less “everyone is talking about this band online today” way? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a nice way to return to focusing on “new to me” type stuff. I really am unfamiliar with screamo and never really took the time to look into shorter lived twinkly stuff so it’s been a fun ride to explore it without input from (almost) any other people. My personal favorite “new to me” choices in this section of bands are City of Caterpillar, Everyone Asked About You, and Portraits of Past. It is 3:30 in the morning while I write this. I’m not sure if anybody will read this. It doesn’t really matter.
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like an internal debate on good and bad animals: @mirandareinert. I also just opened up a paid tier of this newsletter which for $5 a month (or $40 a year! what a deal!) you’ll get free zines as I make them and one upon sign up! Wow! But as always, thanks for reading!