15 Albums That Turned 15 This Year (Part 1 of 2)

1.) Piebald- If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For Us All

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The odd time signatures and creative song compositions that characterize this album make it one of the more memorable, compelling releases from the late 90’s emo era. Piebald were always different than other bands who got lumped into that amorphous “emo” category in that they never seemed to take themselves too seriously. Although they definitely did show us their serious, emotive side at times, their lyricism and delivery were generally more playful and humorous than that of their “heart on your sleeve” confessional emo peers, which provided a refreshing counterbalance to the emotionally heavy stuff I tended to listen to in my high school years.

2.) Saves The Day- Through Being Cool

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Full of incredibly catchy riffs, soaring choruses, and impassioned teenage poetry-style lyrics, no other album captures that angsty, youthful essence quite like Through Being Cool. From the power chords that kick off the album’s opening track “All Star Me,” to the “Whoa!”s of “Banned From The Back Porch” that bring the album to a dramatic, crash-and-burn close, this is an album that relentlessly rocks out all the way to the finish line. With this legendary LP, Saves The Day provided a blueprint for the waves of of pop punk and emo bands that would follow in its wake.

3.) The Get Up Kids- Something To Write Home About

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Combining irresistibly catchy melodies with powerful, pensive lyrics and sprinkling in some sweet, synthy ear candy to boot, Matt Pryor and company came up with a winning formula that made this album truly live up to its title. It seamlessly transitions between emo anthems that rock out with a gloriously bouncy fervor and tender ballads that leave an even more poignant imprint on teenage hearts everywhere. I challenge you to resist tapping out the opening drum beats to “Ten Minutes” and “I’m A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel,” and to keep a dry eye throughout the closing track, “I’ll Catch You.”

4.) Jimmy Eat World- Clarity

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Revered by longtime fans from the band’s late 90’s heyday as well as a whole host of younger fans and countless bands who emerged during emo’s “third wave” and beyond, the influence of Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity spans wide and far. This is somewhat odd for an album that was considered a commercial failure upon its release and which led to the band getting dropped from Capitol Records; it’s a little like Weezer’s Pinkerton in this way. And because I tend to place Jimmy Eat World and Weezer in the same listening category (super catchy, melodic, power pop-style rock), I equate Clarity with Pinkerton and Bleed American with “The Green Album.” The former albums are somewhat more rough around the edges and confessional in nature, whereas the latter offer more polished, straight up power pop with at least one obvious radio hit. I’ll listen to tracks from Bleed American when I want something fun, uplifting, and amped up, but I’ll play on Clarity from start to finish when I’m feeling the need to become completely immersed in a tenderly melodic, melancholic album.

5.) American Football- Self-Titled

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If I were asked to nominate one piece of work as the quintessential melancholic/contemplative emo album, American Football’s self-titled debut (and only full length album) would get my immediate vote. More nuanced and subtle than most of the work being produced by their peers at the time, this album was a bit of a departure in terms of my listening preferences during my high school days. I was accustomed to the more driving power pop and pop punk influenced sounds of all the aforementioned bands in this list, so the more delicate, but still raw and angsty stylings of American Football came as a pleasantly alluring surprise. Their combination of jazzy dissonance, ornately sparkling melodies, and roughly hewn vocals that shifted from sweetly lulling to intensely anguished captivated me like nothing I had heard before. Aside from getting all nostalgic and teary every time I hear the album’s opening tracks, “Never Meant” and “The Summer Ends,” I hear hints of its influence in several “modern emo” bands, from Into It, Over It and You Blew It! to Prawn and The Hotelier.

6.) Dismemberment Plan- Emergency & I

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In many ways, this album changed the way I listen to and think about music. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before, but it recalled elements of the Pixies and Weezer, among other bands. In fact, I think I described them to a friend in high school as “The Pixies meet Weezer, on speed.” As a kid raised almost entirely on pop punk and emo, Emergency & I might have been the first truly “genre defying” album I purchased and subsequently fell in love with. From the oddly intriguing synth bass and falsetto vocals that kick off the opening track, “A Life of Possibilities,” to the beautifully frenetic mess of sounds and rhythms that is “Memory Machine,” to the hypnotically pulsating, Talking Heads-esque closing anthem, “8 1/2 minutes,” this whole album is a relentless tour de force of delightful, otherworldly sonic pleasures. And fifteen years later it still manages to sound surprisingly fresh, relevant, and unrivaled in terms of its quirky innovation.

7.) Pinback- Self-Titled

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I discovered Pinback shortly after I became a huge fan of the Dismemberment Plan. They were another band that appealed to my “emo” sensibilities, but managed to sound different from almost everything else I was listening to at the time. They were like Sunny Day Real Estate’s more lighthearted, playful cousin or a more chill, melancholy counterpart to bands like Modest Mouse and The Dismemberment Plan. And their self-titled debut album was what I would listen to when I needed to chill out during my teenage and college years. Its songs were uniquely structured, layered and compelling enough to be considered catchy, but carefree and breezy enough to also be considered soothing. Much like Emergency & I, this album continues to sound fresh and innovative fifteen years after its release. It manages to draw me so deeply into its bittersweet abyss of darkly soothing vocals and simple but otherworldly beats and hooks that I discover something new to latch onto with every listen.

8.) Modest Mouse- Building Nothing Out Of Something

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Well before Modest Mouse scored a not-so-modest radio hit with “Float On” in 2004, they were putting out messy, angst-ridden gems with cryptic lyrics like “Never Ending Math Equation” and spaced out, sprawling, contemplative indie-rock-punk jams like “Interstate 8,” the first two tracks on Building Nothing Out Of Something. This collection of tracks is less of an album and more of a collection of B-Sides songs from previously released EP’s, but the songs are of such a high caliber and flow so well that I’ve always considered this my favorite Modest Mouse album. The songs span the spectrum from super Lo-Fi and bleak (“Grey Ice Water”) to insanely catchy, repetitive, and sophomoric (“All Nite Diner”). Even the seemingly quieter, more introspective tracks are tempered with the playful, angsty intensity that makes this band so unique. While I have a deep appreciation for the band’s entire catalog and still enjoy listening to their more commercially successful later albums, this wonderfully sloppy collection of earlier tracks has always remained my go-to selection when I’m in the mood for some Mouse.

“Something To Write Home About” still hits “Close to Home” after 15 years

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As soon as the churning cavalcade of guitars and synths that so grandiosely kicks “Holiday” right into full gear hit my headphones, I knew what I wanted for Christmas that year: a Moog synthesizer. Sadly, that wish went unfulfilled, as did my dream of becoming a synth player in a super cool band and getting signed to Vagrant Records. But for a brief moment, when I was finally able to acquire a used synth on eBay a few years later, I turned some random knobs, hit some keys, and could almost hear Matt Pryor encouraging me along as I used my rudimentary knowledge of the piano to clumsily play some of the synthesized notes on my favorite tracks from an album that had made a tremendous impact on me during my teenage years.

Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids has definitely stood the test of time in terms of albums from emo’s “second wave” in the late 90’s, and it’s one of few albums from that era and scene that I still listen to with any sort of regularity (The others that come to mind right away are Through Being Cool by Saves The Day and If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds… by Piebald). Bookended by the punchy, promising, but still rough-around-the-edges Four Minute Mile and the sadly misunderstood foray into alt-country and more contemplative musical realms that was On A Wire, STWHA remains the band’s most cohesive, impactful album to date both lyrically and sonically. Longtime fans who came of age during the height of the scene when that album reigned supreme still reference it with a certain reverence and fondness usually saved for albums that reach a Pinkerton-level legendary status. I was lucky enough to see Matt Pryor perform an intimate acoustic set to about 40 people this past spring, and it was the songs he played from STWHA that instantly changed the energy in the room and united fans ranging in age from early-twenties to maybe mid-thirties in an unspoken bond for a few spellbinding minutes. His solo acoustic versions of “Valentine,” “Out Of Reach,” “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel,” and “I’ll Catch You” sounded just as fresh, passionate, and genuine as they did on the record nearly fifteen years earlier, and he sent them out to this intimate gathering of fans like love letters sealed with a sense of true appreciation for following and supporting the band so faithfully throughout the years.

From the onslaught of swirling guitar and synth-driven sounds that propel the listener headfirst into “Holiday” and powerfully mark the album’s opening with an angsty call to action, all the way to the much softer and more tender closing lines of the final track, “I’ll Catch You,” this album definitely keeps you on your toes. It’s full of shifts and surprises; the ballads and downtempo songs that immediately follow more turbulent, energetic tracks still kind of catch me off guard in a good way, and even the quieter songs that seem like they’ll remain subdued and gentle until the end (“Long Goodnight,” “I’ll Catch You”) take an unexpectedly glorious turn and crescendo with a sudden swell of emotion and noise. As a teenager schooled mostly in punk and post-grunge bands, I was able to develop an appreciation for those quieter, more poignant moments along with the easily accessible, uptempo tracks that were more in my musical comfort zone at that time. In many ways the album became a gateway for maturation and for exciting new musical discoveries that have led me to where I am now. It provided a direct pipeline to other Vagrant bands like The Anniversary and Reggie and The Full Effect, and from there, I was well equipped to navigate this nebulous new territory known as “emo” and would quickly fall head over heels in love with not only the explosive melodies and confessional lyrics that defined it as a musical genre, but the vintage t-shirts, Chuck Taylors, and Rivers Cuomo style glasses that became its accoutrements.

Like pretty much every 90’s kid who owned the album and listened to music that could be labeled as “emo,” I spent countless hours in my room poring over the self-conscious, angst ridden lyrics to songs like “Action & Action” and “Red Letter Day,” which were tinged with a bitterness and dejection that validated my adolescent woes like none other. But petulance and self-pity aside, it was always just plain fun to rock out to the album’s especially driving, tightly crafted, poppy moments. I’d rarely make it through the entire disc without hitting repeat at least once on both “Ten Minutes” and “I’m A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel,” both of which were songs that almost inspired me to actually start taking drum lessons. Those two songs in particular kickstarted my then tenuous sense of appreciation for catchy rock music that I don’t think I had felt since listening to Weezer’s “Blue Album” as a much younger kid. Aside from Weezer and Blink-182, not to mention the onslaught of teen pop stars and boy bands that had become hugely popular in the late 90’s, I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite as infectiously “poppy” as some of my favorite tracks on STWHA. As someone who had always been more drawn to the dark, downcast corners of music, art, and literature (I was also a huge Smiths fan at the time and remain so to this day), it was a rare occurrence for me to become completely captivated by melodies and vocals as spirited and punchy as those in the aforementioned tracks. This newfound love of pop-infused rock and punk led me down a long path of bands and artists I still listen to regularly, from Saves The Day to The Swellers, and after many years of intrepid traveling, I still see no visible end in sight.

Fifteen years later, I can’t help but still hear the influence of the style that The Get Up Kids perfected on STWHA in several of my more recently appointed favorite albums. When I heard The Greatest Generation by The Wonder Years for the first time last year, the lyricism, musicianship and vocals were so strongly evocative of The Get Up Kids circa ’99-‘02 that I described them to a good friend as “The equivalent to The Get Up Kids for kids today.” The album’s influence spans far and wide, from third wave emo bands like The Early November and the synth heavy Motion City Soundtrack that rose up right in its wake, to modern pop punk bands like Driver Friendly and Light Years, and also to the increasingly popular so-called “emo revival” bands like You Blew It! who harken back to that signature late 90’s sound.

So while my halfhearted dreams of becoming a drummer or keyboardist in a Vagrant-era emo band went completely unfulfilled, Something To Write Home About had a powerful, lasting impact on me nonetheless. These twelve songs that Matt Pryor and his bandmates crafted fifteen years ago with such heart-on-sleeve genuineness and passion have also had a long lasting impact on countless kids and young adults who were finding their voice and discovering their purpose right around the same time that I was. Some have kept that inspiration and passion alive by going on to write music that draws from a similar well, and some like me have simply developed a deep, continued appreciation and reverence for music of many genres that can all be traced back to the spark ignited by the awe-inspiring fusion of bright, swelling chords, synth drenched hooks, and thoughtful, relatable lyrics that make Something To Write Home About truly live up to its title.

Gates- “Not My Blood”

Gates are one of few bands that seamlessly blend indie rock, post-rock, and emo to create a unique and captivating sound that makes me feel as though I’m falling in love with music for the first time, all over again. The only other bands who evoke a similar feeling in me are the now defunct Moving Mountains; one of my all time favorites, The Appleseed Cast; and one of my more recently appointed favorites, From Indian Lakes.

Much like the trajectory of Moving Mountains’ catalog, it has been fascinating to watch Gates progress from the diamond in the rough sound of their debut EP The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home to the more finely tuned, intricate stylings and impressive production that made their follow up EP You Are All You Have Left To Fear so stunning. If the lead single, “Not My Blood” is any indication, I’m sure that their upcoming LP Bloom & Breathe will build upon its predecessor’s blueprint to produce an even more spectacularly detailed, cohesive sound. The guitar work calls to mind some of Explosions In The Sky’s most poignant moments, and Kevin Dye’s well-honed vocals have the same kind of almost crystalline, yet still slightly gritty beauty and strong emotional impact as Gregory Dunn of Moving Mountains.

Bands like Gates are a rare find, and their music certainly deserves and will command your full attention. Sit and listen to “Not My Blood” and be prepared for an especially moving experience that might alter the way you think about rock music in general, regardless of the somewhat meaningless genres and sub genres we can be so eager to impose on bands who don’t quite fit the mold.

Stream the song below and pre-order the album here.

Saves The Day and Say Anything cover each other

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Saves The Day and Say Anything, who will embark on a tour in November to celebrate the respective 15th and 10th anniversaries of (arguably) their most popular albums, recorded two acoustic covers of each other’s songs. See the link below to stream Saves The Day covering “Belt” and Say Anything covering “You Vandal,” and also to view tour dates. The two bands will also be supported by Reggie and The Full Effect on tour.

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Ace Enders- Space Jam acoustic session plus a new song teaser

After an acoustic tour this summer, the ever versatile and amazingly prolific Ace Enders is back at it with a new acoustic performance of a classic Early November song and a video teaser for a new song called “Keep Moving.” Longtime Early November fans will remember the acoustic version of “Sunday Drive” that appears on the band’s 2005 release, The Acoustic EP. This latest version of the song certainly recaptures the beauty and power of its predecessor, and it finds Enders in top vocal form. The slightly more stripped down, unpolished nature of this new recording allows the alternating sweetness, anguish, and longing in his voice to come through with a heightened intensity.

The new song, “Keep Moving,” sounds like it would have fit perfectly on The Early November’s 2012 LP, In Currents. It has a lush, reflective, but also driving and visceral feel similar to the general landscape of that album. I will wait with eager anticipation for whatever else Ace has up his sleeve. The man is full of delightful surprises.

Saint Pepsi “Unhappy” (American Football Remix)

This is one of the more intriguing and unique remixes I’ve heard in a while. It takes American Football’s “The Summer Ends,” puts it on speed, distorts the vocals, and ties it all together with a bright, wistful, trappy beat that lends an oddly blissful, otherworldly feeling to the forlorn tale of departure and endings that colors the original song.

It’s interesting that Saint Pepsi chose to call his remix “Unhappy” because, while American Football’s lyrics and delivery were definitely meant to convey a certain sadness, this remix puts me on the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum. And that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a bold move to completely flip a song in this way, but Saint Pepsi pulls it off pretty powerfully, and I think the members of American Football would agree.

Pentimento- Acoustic Sessions

Pentimento are an extremely underrated band who don’t quite seem to “fit in” to either the current pop punk or “emo ” scene, and given my affinity for bands who defy genres, it makes sense that I’ve really grown to love them. Their typically gritty, but still rather poppy and anthemic sound has always made me think of bands like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. Their songs also resonate especially well as acoustic versions, and frontman Jeramiah Pauly’s vocals sound so sweet and earnest in this particular session.

They just recorded three acoustic songs for The Garden Statement during their current co-headlining tour with Have Mercy and Gates, which you can listen to below.

If you like them, check out the acoustic cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” that Jeramiah recorded this spring.