Desert Island Albums

Here are the first couple of entries in Jukebox Breakdown’s first collective project. It asks music aficionados to list their five essential “desert island albums,” explain why they chose each album, and/or speak about its personal significance and the impact it has had on their lives.

If this project sparks your interest and you’d like to participate/submit a list, feel free to send it to michaelbmann@gmail.com.

Michael Mann

It’s always hard to choose just 5 albums that you would take with you if you somehow managed to become stranded on that proverbial desert island, especially when you’re a huge music geek like me. So I thought long and hard about these selections, making lists and crossing things out until I finally came up with a near perfect mix of albums that have made a lasting impression on me over the years and are varied enough to ensure that I’d never be bored or overwhelmed by just one musical style or set of emotions while essentially listening to them on repeat.

1.) Saves The Day- Stay What You Are

Saves_the_Day_-_Stay_What_You_Are_cover

Saves The Day are my all time favorite band, and this 2001 release is arguably my favorite album of theirs. I was going to go with 2006’s Sound The Alarm, but its overarchingly dark, bleak themes and wrenchingly personal, intense lyrics might drive me to drown myself in the ocean, were I to actually listen to this on the island several times a week. So I went with something just a little more lighthearted. Stay What You Are is my quintessential “high school anthem” type of album, but it’s one that has stood the test of time and resonated with me into adulthood. Its songs alternately make me want to cry into my pillow, write teenage poetry in my journal, go for a drive with the windows down and sunroof open while singing along at the top of my lungs, jump around and do handstands in my kitchen, and sprint that extra quarter mile just when I thought I had nothing left to give. All in all, it’s a fantastic 33 minute voyage through an entire spectrum of sounds and emotions that never ceases to amaze me and most certainly never gets old.

2.) Moving Mountains- Waves

tumblr_lh3ciejYhe1qzxlbn

With this sophomore album, Moving Mountains evolved beyond their decidedly post-rock foundations to create a more driving, vocally-focused sound that incorporates the sweeping, majestic post-hardcore stylings of bands like Thrice and The Appleseed Cast. Waves is a dynamic, emotionally searing album that always cuts me to the core with its downcast, heart wrenching anthems, impressively affective vocals, and flawless instrumentation. Give it just one listen and you’ll realize that the title could not be more appropriate or fitting; experiencing the album in full is much like riding a series of waves, some are calming and gentle, others have a stronger impact, suddenly cascading in an intense, almost violent rush. Be sure to seek out the deluxe version of the album, which, with its beautifully stripped down alternate versions of “Furnace Woods” and “Tired Tiger,” provides an even more sublime, poignant closing chapter to this breathtaking work of art.

3.) The Early November- The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path

220px-Ten_Original-1

This triple LP concept album was a huge stylistic leap for The Early November, as it saw the band incorporating elements of different genres, such as folk, alt-country, and 90’s style pop-rock into their signature energetic, poppy emo rock style. They managed to pull off this more nuanced, varied sound, while also ambitiously mapping out a well crafted lyrical journey of a boy at odds with his domineering father, who runs away from home, but despite his best intentions to transcend his family, ends up repeating the same mistakes his father made when he has a child of his own. It’s a pretty ambitious project for a young band, and while it may not have been a huge commercial success and led to the band taking a long hiatus the following year, it’s a record that I can always depend upon to satiate my oftentimes odd, eclectic musical appetite.

While I prefer to listen to the album in full (but admittedly rarely make it to the third LP, The Path. I find its intriguing, but perhaps overambitious mix of spoken word dialogue and short songs to be somewhat jarring), I’ll sometimes put on The Mother (LP 2) when I’m in the mood for mostly acoustic based folk/rock that’s in turns introspective, meandering, and sprawling. Or I’ll just rock out to the tightly constructed mix of emo rock and power pop that drives the first LP, The Mechanic, when I’m in a more upbeat mood. The first two LPs have been my soundtrack to many road trips and lazy Sundays, and I’m sure that their compelling stories, catchy melodies, and the range of emotion and honesty contained in frontman Ace Enders’ voice would keep me satisfied and happy on a desert island.

4.) Thursday- War All The Time

tumblr_m99v02XYdx1qztax3o1_1280

I don’t think I will ever come across another band as powerful, visceral, or as influential in my life as Thursday. I found them at a pivotal time in my late teens as they rose to popularity through word of mouth and message boards, and while their seminal debut LP, Full Collapse is often hailed as their best work and considered a favorite by many fans, it’s their sophomore release, War All The Time, that has stood the test of time for me in a more poignant way. The instrumentation is carefully crafted and refined, but messy and explosive at the same time, and the songwriting is deeply rooted in darkness and tragedy, born not just from personal experiences, but from a collective consciousness and political landscape that had been crying out in anguish at the time of the album’s 2003 release. Each song encapsulates emotions, ideas, and images that span a spectrum of darkness, running from cynical and scathing to despondent and desolate, with a glimmer of hope that you’ll hear if you listen intently enough. War All The Time is an album that’s best experienced alone in a dark room or during a late night drive. So open up your senses, turn up the volume, and be prepared to feel many things as you listen from start to finish.

5.) Owen- (Self-Titled)

$(KGrHqNHJFIFHm))q-+vBR7qPhD0mw~~60_35

Owen is an artist who more people need to know about. The songs he writes are sincere, expressive, conversational glimpses into his easily relatable inner landscape and his experiences with love, loss, and personal growth. While he has certainly matured quite a bit as a musician and as a lyricist over the years, I’ve always loved his self-titled debut album the best. It’s a simple, but lushly orchestrated, acoustic experience unlike anything else I’ve heard. The dreamlike beauty contained within its nine songs is unparalleled, and it has remained in heavy rotation since I borrowed and burned the CD from an older neighborhood friend who exposed me to many a new band during my teenage years. Owen is one of my go-to albums for soothing, late night listening, and it has been a constant companion, following me from place to place through the last several years of my life, from late nights spent writing poems or last minute papers in high school to jobs I’ve had at cafes and bookstores, and most recently, to the yoga classes I teach, where he is usually on the soundtrack. The accessibility and mass appeal of the album have always pleasantly surprised me; I got frequent questions about the music I was playing when this album served as the background music in the cafes and bookstores where I worked, and my yoga students of all ages will comment on how they love the playlist when it’s Owen-themed. Also, my mom, who hardly ever enjoyed, much less tolerated, the music I played around the house throughout my teenage years and beyond, kind of liked this album, which is really saying something. Owen is an album so full of deep, personal connections and memories for me; it will always occupy a prominent place on my record shelf, and its songs will follow me well into my later adult years.

Linda Spolidoro

If you have ever been to a Spolidoro family gathering and stayed past midnight, then you know that inevitably the question will be raised “If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 albums would you choose?”

I have participated in this well-worn experience with my brothers and sisters dozens of times over the years and yet everyone still loves to pick, choose, replace, refine, and defend their albums. Scoffing at and arguing about other people’s selections is permitted.

While my choices have changed over the years (with some perennial favorites), my current list of albums are as follows:

1. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus
2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Let Love In
3. Nina Simone- The Blues
4. The Beatles- The White Album
5. Elliot Smith- Figure 8 or Either/Or (I know I have to decide)

unnamed

The number 5 spot is always the hardest and is the album most in danger of being replaced…this is usually the time my brother suggests we come up with an ‘honorable mention” category, because it is almost unbearable to think about the possibility of never hearing all the great music that is out there ever again. I come from a family of musicians and music lovers so this is serious business!

Nick Cave is my musical, lyrical, satirical, linguistic, and writing hero and if you haven’t heard him, I would suggest you start with ‘Henry’s Dream” or “Tender Prey”. He can be a bit of an acquired taste and I find that it is the literary sorts with a penchant for melancholia who seem to like him.

As for Nina Simone, she has a voice and a soul that reaches directly into my chest. Listening to Nina is like a fearless punch to the heart.

You could lose your Spolidoro membership card if you were to omit a Beatles album from your list as it is pretty much mandatory in the Spolidoro family, and which Beatles album to chose is almost it’s own category. My brother Kevin can play a number of Beatles albums in their entirety, first chord to last, on his guitar and has done so on many occasions while the rest of us sing along. Any outsider that has been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, as the case may be), to be present during one of these marathon sing-alongs will attest to the serious nature that loving The Beatles is to our family. It is just a given.

My dear, sweet, depressive, Elliot Smith finds himself in the revolving number 5 spot, previously held by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Nellie McKay, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake…and so many other honorable mentions. He is in danger of falling off the list the next time I find myself at a family party, late at night, glass of wine in hand and a guitar at the ready when the inevitable happens…

What would be your 5?

If I Die, I Wanna Die In The Suburbs: Pop Punk, Suburban Angst and Quarter Life Crises

suburbs-300-77059846

The suburbs are a breeding ground for angst and disillusionment, and no other genre of music has captured these feelings or mythologized the suburbs in quite the same way that pop punk has. Given that this style of music has typically been most popular among teens and early twenty-somethings and that the bands themselves often begin as suburban teens, this thematic trend makes perfect sense. From pioneers of the genre like The Descendents to current day pop punk bands like The Wonder Years and Light Years, lyrical themes of alienation, disenchantment and even nostalgia surrounding the suburbs continue to abound. Though I’ve gone through various musical phases in my mostly suburban life, I always seem to cycle back to pop punk in some form or other. It has been a staple in my musical diet from my early teen years all the way through recent quarter-life crises, and it has been inextricably tied to alternating feelings of disenchantment and nostalgia that have surrounded my suburban existence.

My early experiences with pop punk began when I discovered the more “old school” bands that I grew up on and fell in love with in middle school like The Descendents, Blink-182, MxPx, Green Day, and early Saves The Day. I came across these bands at a time when, like most young adolescents, I felt disenfranchised by my hometown and by being somewhat of a misfit in a high achieving, upper-middle class-dominated educational environment. School sucked, kids could be pretty mean, friends were fickle, and times were generally tough. So pop punk bands (as well as 90’s rock greats like Weezer, Nirvana, and the Foo Fighters) provided a much needed refuge from the uncertain and unwelcoming terrain that I was forced to navigate at school.

I grew up in a slightly more working class neighborhood of a very affluent Boston suburb, and the D.I.Y. ethic and sense of camaraderie that characterized the kids in my little enclave went hand in hand with the themes and sentiments commonly expressed in the various sub genres of punk rock. So it was natural that some of my neighborhood friends and I would come to embrace this kind of music in our middle and high school years. In some ways, punk rock, pop punk, and later on, emo, numbed the pain that accompanied my life as a confused, underachieving outcast lost in a sea of privileged overachievers. While they were most likely listening to radio friendly hip hop and mainstream acts like the Dave Matthews Band, I was holed up in my room listening to punk rock records supplemented by a healthy dose of Morrissey.

Fast forward several years, and I’m back in the same suburban town, living with my parents temporarily while I sort out this latest quarter-life crisis and return to grad school. A whole new breed of pop punk bands have emerged and the genre has seen quite a rebirth since my middle school days. While I’m a little pickier about my pop punk than I used to be, bands like The Wonder Years and Light Years have occupied an important niche in my eclectic listening habits. And while my high school escapist habits of occasionally raiding the liquor cabinet, sneaking a cigarette, or smoking pot in the alley behind the coffee shop where I used to work have been replaced mostly by distance running, I feel like I’m still running from my suburban roots, running to escape the town I was born and raised in, running toward an uncertain but still promising and alluring future of living somewhere that feels more like home and finding my life’s purpose after taking all these fascinating detours. As I ran through the streets of my hometown today, three pop punk songs stood out on my playlist, each evoking a quarter life crisis-fueled sense of either angst, disillusionment, or nostalgia as the lyrics came blasting through my headphones:

1.) The Wonder Years- “We Could Die Like This”

Memories flood back like photographs
All bright and out of focus, all drab with muted colors…

Operator, take me home
I don’t know where else to go
I wanna die in the suburbs
A heart attack shoveling snow all alone
If I die, I wanna die in the suburbs

2.) Light Years- “Parking Lots”

Before my past comes crawling back through my front door
I’ll spend the rest of my days and nights
Just hoping for something more

Do you ever miss
the parking lots
we hung out
in the town that we grew up
Not being held responsible
for all of the shit
we used to do

3.) The Swellers- “Parkview”

It’s been four years
And I still don’t know what I’m doing here
My friends settled down
And all I do when I’m home is sleep in

Until then you can watch me shoveling snow
Clearing a path so I’m not walked on anymore
I guess tomorrow it could melt
But I’m not sure
Maybe I’m paralyzed
Haven’t stood up for myself in a long time

I’m not used to the soundtrack of my neighborhood at all…

While each of these songs offers a unique reflection on the suburbs, they all capture a sense of aimlessness and angst that often accompanies suburban life. Each lyricist wrestles with his twenty something suburban existential crisis in his own way. Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years seems to romanticize the suburbs of his youth while simultaneously envisioning his own tragic demise that will someday take place right there. Pat Kennedy of Light Years evokes a more carefree time in his youth as a nostalgic escape from the harsher realities and disappointments that come with adulthood. And Nick Diener of The Swellers describes a situation marked by lethargy and confusion, sleeping in as he remains frozen in the same place, but clearing a path perhaps to make his way toward something better.

As I run past the landscaping trucks parked in front of neatly manicured lawns, schools I once attended that are now being demolished or converted, and once modest ranch homes that are being torn down to make way for huge McMansions, I’m overwhelmed by the sounds of these constant suburban embellishments, and the lyrics “I’m not used to the soundtrack of my neighborhood at all” feel especially relevant. In many ways the place where I grew up has changed dramatically since the 90’s/’00s, as one would expect, but now that I’m living back at home all these years later, I’m experiencing some of the same apathy and angst that I felt in high school. Maybe these “grown up” pop punk bands I’m listening to now will provide me with a little comfort or a brief escape as I run, flooding me with childhood memories and nostalgia for the places I used to hang out. Maybe a year from now the six miles I typically log through these streets as The Swellers stream through my headphones will be just another fond memory, and I will have cleared a path to find a place that fits me better. I’m almost certain it won’t be the suburbs, but I’m pretty sure wherever life takes me, you’ll find me shoveling snow. Let’s just hope that won’t be how I die…

Taking the “guilt” out of “guilty pleasures”

unnamed-1

What do All Time Low, Yellowcard, Ke$ha, Chingy, and Taylor Swift all have in common? Before you start formulating a bunch of judgy, sarcarstic answers, I’ll just go ahead and say that they’re all artists I’ve typically considered to be “guilty pleasures,” a term I’ve recently begun to deconstruct and reevaluate. What leads us to define a band or an artist as a “guilty pleasure,” and why do we attach a sense of guilt to music that we sincerely enjoy? As someone with an especially eclectic taste in music, I’ve come to accept that my preferences encompass everything from emo, post-hardcore, and indie-folk, to hip hop one hit wonders and even a few irresistibly catchy pop songs that eventually climb their way into the iTunes top 10. And while I wouldn’t have included Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz” on my “Top 10 Albums of 2013” list, I don’t feel guilty about having enjoyed listening to the entire album multiple times when it came out last fall.

We all have songs in our iTunes or Spotify libraries that we feel slightly embarrassed about, just as we all own music that we consider a little more “cutting edge,” which gives us a certain “indie cred” or makes us feel as though we have more refined tastes. This same description could also be applied to our Netflix queues or our bookshelves; most of us enjoy supplementing our typical cinematic and literary diets with at least a few rom-coms and beach books. Our tastes and desires are often unpredictable; a song will catch our ear or a movie or book will appeal to our senses “just because,” and it’s a bit ludicrous that we feel the need to justify our reasons for liking it and attach so much meaning to something that gives us a certain pleasure.

I certainly have different reasons for liking bands such as The Smiths or From Indian Lakes as compared to bands like All Time Low or New Found Glory. The former are bands I appreciate for their strong musicianship, unique songwriting and lyrical depth, whereas the latter are bands that feel fun and carefree to listen to and usually find their way onto my running or road trip playlists. It wouldn’t feel fair for me to say that From Indian Lakes are a “better” or “more talented” band than All Time Low; they’re just different bands who appeal to different audiences and sensibilities. I’ll admit that the more nuanced, intricately constructed songs that From Indian Lakes write tend to appeal more to my general tastes and senses, but I’ll also admit that All Time Low’s tightly crafted melodies and soaring choruses are total ear candy to me, and I admire the way in which they’re able to deliver such consistently strong, catchy pop punk songs.

I derive a great deal pleasure from listening to pop punk bands and pop singers, and even though I have friends and colleagues who give me shit for listening to them, I don’t attach any guilt or shame to these pleasures. I probably listen to “poppy” bands and artists just as much as I listen to artists in the “indie rock/emo/post hardcore” vein, and I don’t see one grouping of artists as “less than” the other. Rather, I feel like both groups complement each other and lend a nice sense of balance to my listening habits. I mean, I gotta have a little Miley alongside my Morrissey…

Maybe we should consider replacing the term “guilty pleasure” with “just for fun.” It still provides an accurate description of bands and artists who you might not take too seriously or whose lyrics don’t necessarily make you pause and reflect, but it sounds way more positive and accepting. If we reframe our language in this way, it might free us up from feeling that silly sort of guilt and embarrassment that sometimes comes with admitting to your friends that you’re kind of a huge Britney fan (even though you mostly listen to indie rock…) We all have a wide array of preferences and things that appeal to our senses, and sometimes they have no real rhyme or reason. So let’s embrace them all, whether we think they serve to enhance our intellectual prowess or whether they’re “just for fun.”

“Say It Ain’t So”: The 20th Anniversary of Weezer’s “Blue Album” & the Dying Art of Listening to Albums

$(KGrHqV,!k8FJi7p+UL!BSZKI4)ykw~~60_35

This past week was marked by a celebration of two hugely influential albums from my youth that have had a continued impact on me as a music aficionado/geek: Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” and Weezer’s self-titled debut, most commonly referred to as “The Blue Album.” While the former is mostly revered among smaller circles of avid indie rock and “emo” fans who came of age in the 90’s, the latter has had a continued massive influence among many listeners from all walks of life and has spanned a few generations. Case in point: I work with a kid in third grade who is developing an appreciation for older rock music and whose father recently introduced him to “The Blue Album,” which I think is beyond cool. Weezer and Nirvana were kind of like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles for my generation; I started listening to them in fifth grade when I first really started to develop my own musical identity, much in the same way my parents started listening to the Beatles and the Stones when they were that same age. When I started to reflect on the Blue Album’s 20th anniversary and the defining artists and albums of generations past, I had to stop and wonder, what (if any) are the defining albums and artists of the generations younger than me? And is the idea of listening to an album or appreciating an artist’s body of work even relevant anymore?

We can all agree that the huge shifts in technology in the past twenty years have had a profound impact on how we listen to music. CDs were still a relatively new thing when I was in fourth and fifth grade and just starting to buy music. My first musical purchases were cassette singles from 1993-94, and I can remember browsing through racks of vinyl with my parents at the local record store as a very young child. Up until the very late 90s, there was no such thing as downloading songs. The first noticeable shift for me in terms of my music listening habits came in high school when I was introduced to the world of Napster and had instant access to all of the music from bands who absolutely rocked my world as a high school kid who was disenchanted with mainstream 90s/alt rock. These bands I discovered in high school through online file sharing still currently rank among my favorites: Saves The Day, The Get Up Kids, The Anniversary, The Promise Ring, Death Cab For Cutie, Piebald, Pinback, and Sunny Day Real Estate, to name just a handful. The years 1999-2001 marked the beginning of my more ADD-style music listening habits. While I would usually try to download full albums from Napster or other file sharing services, I would often stop at just a few songs by an artist and listen to just that short list followed by a few other songs from another artist right from my computer. I definitely still listened to full albums in high school and college, but because of these relatively new advances in technology and the existence of free music, I found myself making mix CDs and listening to song lists from my computer a bit more often.

After Napster, Kaazaa and all those other sites ran their course, iTunes became the next big thing in music, and it made the idea of playlists much more accessible and intriguing. When I started using iTunes I found myself downloading just a song or two by a new band I had just discovered and putting these songs on “new music” playlists. I would also make my own “best of” playlists of artists like David Bowie, The Smiths, or New Order. I still bought CDs more often than I downloaded songs because there was still something sacred about getting my hands on the actual physical copy of the disc and the liner notes and reading the lyrics as I listened for the first time. But the accessibility I now had to obtaining a single song or making a playlist of select songs in a heartbeat (as opposed to taping songs off the radio like I had to do in fourth and fifth grade), made sitting through a full album take a bit of a backseat to a more instant gratification, ADD style of music listening that I was quickly growing accustomed to.

Fast forward a few years and now practically nobody is buying music. Most listeners enjoy the majority of the music they hear through spotify or other streaming services, or they rip songs off youtube, and most don’t really seem to care enough or have enough of an attention span to sit through an entire album. I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but I’m not sure if most high school or college students today have any sense of appreciation for albums at all. Why bother when you have literally the entire world of music at your fingertips at any moment of the day, wherever you go. As long as you have a smartphone, you can listen to any song in the history of music wherever and whenever you want. In 1994, we had to either go to the record store to buy an album like “The Blue Album,” borrow it from a friend, or tape a song like “The Sweater Song” off the radio. So naturally we would devour albums as one complete work of art, maybe skipping over songs we didn’t really prefer, but we would sit and listen. I remember a time when I had a shelf of 10 CDs in my bedroom and that was all I had to listen to. So you can bet I knew every single word to every single song on albums like The Breeders’ “Last Splash” or Sonic Youth’s “Washing Machine.” I can’t say that I know every word to all the songs on many of the albums I stream today. There’s just way too much music out there that I keep discovering, and I can instantly access any song I want for whatever mood I’m in. It’s kind of surreal for those of us who were kids when those landmark 90s albums came out.

Getting back to my original questions, I think the answers are “I don’t know” and “Probably not.” I don’t think there are any newer, slightly mainstream but still edgy rock acts like Weezer who have that same universal appeal among today’s youth. There are several popular postmilennial indie rock bands who have crossed over into the mainstream, like Arcade Fire, The Shins, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys, but none of their albums seem to possess that same je ne sais quoi as “Blue Album” that made it so widely revered among such a huge crossection of kids and young adults. And I think the reason for this is simply the easier, more instant access we have to a broader variety of music. When people have fewer musical options, they tend to agree on or appreciate similar bands and hold a few bands and artists among their most favorite and sacred, but when they have endless options the sense of community and reverence that can develop around a band or an artist kind of goes out the window. I don’t think there will be a “Blue Album” that the current group of nine and ten year olds I work with will be able to look back upon with such nostalgia and deep appreciation 20 years from now. While this admittedly makes me a little sad, it also helps me put things into perspective and accept the current musical landscape we’re living in.

Listen More, Label Less: a look at musical genres and sub genres

85924844-music-genres

We derive a certain comfort from putting things into categories, and we can get a sense of our preferences and our identity by doing so. I can tell you that I like indie rock, independent films and literary thrillers, and you might develop a rough sketch of who I am just by knowing that I prefer those genres. You might be able to refine that sketch if I told you I liked post-hardcore, mockumentaries, and supernatural thrillers. There is an astounding amount of sub genres popping up these days in the music world and an almost obsessive compulsive need for fans and critics to define a band’s sound in terms of one neat category or to invent a ridiculous sounding new genre just for them. I actually found myself using the term “chill trap” last week in an attempt to describe a remix, and I stopped myself before I could hashtag it in a tweet. #chilltrap to me is kinda synonymous with #musicdouche…

I wrote a short piece a few months back on La Dispute’s stunning new album “Rooms of the House” and how it defied categorization. It’s challenging to try to fit this band into even a specific sub genre like post-hardcore. While their unique sound does include elements of post hardcore, it also encompasses spoken word, jazz, and various other styles and elements. It would sound ludicrous if I tried to coin a new genre name like “progressive emo jazzcore,” just to satisfy my need to label this band and make them fit somewhere in the genres that I use to define my tastes and my identity as a music lover. It might be more effective to describe La Dispute as a post-hardcore band with a unique hybrid sound that’s challenging to categorize. Do we have to put our preconceived ideas and labels into listener’s heads before they’ve had a chance to hear the music and decide for themselves what it means to them and whether it speaks to their sensibilities? Why not just let fans listen to the record and let the music speak for itself?

La Dispute are just one example of this current music genre madness. There’s apparently a whole “emo revival” going on (who said “emo” ever really died anyway?), and I’ve discovered several new favorite artists over the past couple of years that do remind me a little of the emo music that defined my teenage years and my early 20s. I can certainly hear hints of bands like Saves the Day, Thursday, Bright Eyes, The Early November, The Appleseed Cast, etc. in some of the younger bands that are getting more attention and gaining more popularity today, but I don’t think I’d necessarily call these bands “emo” or “emo revival.” I also don’t think I need to invent a douchey sounding new category for these bands like “nu emo” or “post emo.” It’s fine to acknowledge a band’s influences, but again, it’s more powerful and personal for listeners when we can let categorization take a bit of a backseat and allow the music to speak for itself.

Music scenes will always evolve and expand to encompass various nuances in sound and style, and bands that we have fit into a predetermined genre or sub genre will most certainly change their sound and defy that genre at certain points in their career. Saves the Day are a perfect example of a band who have gone through remarkable changes in their sound and lineup over the 15+ years they’ve been around. One could say they started out as more of a pop-punk band, evolved into what would be called “emo”, then brought in elements of power pop, and just kept growing and changing in such a beautiful way. Now I’d be hard pressed to try to fit them into a category and I wouldn’t want to. Saves The Day come up frequently in conversation due to the fact that they’re my favorite band of all time, and when people who haven’t heard them ask me about their music and what they sound like, I don’t even attempt to use genre labels. I simply say that they’re an amazing rock band whose sound has evolved a lot over the years and that each album in their catalog is so different from the next, so go listen and see for yourself.

I try to listen to new music with an open mind and to disregard my preconceived notions about genres and how I’ve defined my particular tastes and identity, but I do still find myself seeking the comforts of categorization and comparison. I guess it’s just something that human beings have always done and will always continue to do. I like hearing that a new band or artist someone is recommending to me sounds a bit like the XX or is “emo tinged.” Describing music in terms of genre or influence is definitely an effective marketing tool and will draw skeptical listeners, including myself, right in. But I think there needs to be more of a balance and mindfulness in the way we categorize and compare artists. Offering up a broad category and maybe a comparison or two to a similar artist and letting go of the need to slap on all these narrow sub genre labels might be one way to go. I think we all need to categorize less and just listen more.