Emo’s not dead, but despite what a certain cruise may have you think, it’s not because the once-popular emo and pop punk bands are still around and still playing the nostalgia-inducing hits. No disrespect to those bands (many of them are very good!), but emo’s alive and well because of the entirely new generation of bands taking the genre and doing something refreshingly new with it. When you look at the newer crop of bands leading emo in the present day, you can hear echoes from all throughout the genre’s nearly-40-year history, from first-wave ’80s emocore to the screamo and mathy Midwest bands of the ’90s to the 2000s emo-pop boom to the 2010s “revival” era and so much more, and the best bands are offering up fresh perspectives that separate them from their forebears.
There are a lot of great bands around right now that fall somewhere under emo’s very wide umbrella, and if you’re looking for some new stuff in this realm to dive into, here’s a list of 10 bands that we think need to be on your radar. Read on for the list, in no particular order.
There’s been a chorus of voices singing Pool Kids’ praises for a minute now, but 2023 has been their biggest year yet, and if you haven’t already jumped in, change that now. After releasing one of the best albums of 2022 with their self-titled sophomore LP, the Florida band hit the ground running with countless support tours, and just wrapped up their first major headlining run earlier this summer. We caught the sold-out stop at Brooklyn’s Sultan Room in July, and it was clearer than ever that Pool Kids elicit such a strong reaction from people–the place was packed with loving fans who knew every word. Having expanded into a four-piece band since recording their 2018 debut LP Music to Practice Safe Sex To as the duo of singer/guitarist Christine Goodwyne and drummer Caden Clinton, Pool Kids have developed an equally great knack for tappy math rock riffage and big pop choruses, and they’re truly a force to be reckoned with both on stage and in the studio. They kept LP2’s momentum going with a recent split EP with their hardcore alter-egos POOL, and they mentioned on stage in Brooklyn and on the BV podcast that they’re getting ready to write a new record after this tour wraps up. So catch them at Riot Fest and The Fest and stay tuned for what they do next.
Home Is Where
home is where? oh you mean neutral milk hotelier??
— Home Is Where (@homeiswhereband) July 26, 2023
In the world of Home Is Where, everything from folk and country music to harsh screamo to catchy indie rock to twinkly emo is fair game. They owe just as much to Neutral Milk Hotel as they do to the emo scene, and their own jokes about it (see above) are more clever than anything I can come up with. Led by two trans women–singer/songwriter Brandon MacDonald and guitarist Tilley Komorny–Home Is Where’s audiences are filled with openly trans and queer people, making for a refreshing contrast to the cishet-dominated emo crowds of yesteryear, and the level of diehardness that Home Is Where’s fanbase already has is so inspiring. Presented as a “concept record about getting used to things getting worse,” their excellent new album The Whaler is not just one of the most widely relatable albums of 2023, it’s also one of the most musically innovative records I’ve heard this year in any style of music.
There’s been some mutual admiration and collaboration between Sweet Pill and Pool Kids lately, and Pool Kids’ Christine Goodwyne even noted that she first found Sweet Pill after seeing someone compare them to Pool Kids. Both bands have also gotten the coveted Hayley Williams co-sign, and they’ve definitely got some shared DNA (mind-melting math rock riffs, big soaring hooks), but Sweet Pill also have a total vibe of their own. Their debut album Where The Heart Is came out in 2022 on Topshelf Records, and it feels like an entirely fresh update on the math rock-leaning emo that frequently populated Topshelf’s roster in the late 2000s and early 2010s. As descendants of the “emo revival” era, they were perfect fits when they were recently tapped to open La Dispute’s Wildlife anniversary tour and do a co-headlining run with Evan Weiss’ (of Into It. Over It.) band Their / They’re / There, and they’ll also be perfect when they open The Wonder Year’s upcoming The Greatest Generation 10th anniversary tour. (That tour’s other openers are hardcore-infused emo band Anxious and pop punk torch-carriers Action/Adventure, and those bands should be on your radar too. The Wonder Years are really good at putting on for exciting new bands.)
DC duo Origami Angel’s music truly knows no bounds. Their foundation is mathy Midwest emo and quirky emo-pop, but they also experiment with everything from indie pop to metallic hardcore to bossa nova, and they always do everything in their own unique way. Their records are increasingly adventurous, and their live show feels massive–I couldn’t believe how big and loud this band sounded when I saw them play for nearly 700 raucous fans in Brooklyn last fall as just a two-piece. This year’s The Brightest Days mixtape is the latest in a line of stunningly good releases, and it’s hard to imagine their creative hot streak ending any time soon.
We’ve also got an exclusive clear-with-green vinyl variant of the new mixtape, limited to 300 copies.
Like (past tourmates) The Wonder Years before them, Hot Mulligan completely blur the line between pop punk and emo. Their excellent new album Why Would I Watch is like a handshake meme between New Found Glory and American Football fans, but subgenre nitpicking aside, this is just one of the most impassioned, undeniable albums released in 2023 from anywhere under the greater “punk” umbrella. It’s their third full-length album since 2018, and it’s one of the most drastic leveling-ups I’ve heard from any band in this realm all year. Appropriately, they’re supporting it with a pretty big headlining tour, and they’ve put together a support lineup with some of the best possible matches I can think of. They’ll be joined by the makers of two of 2023’s other best melodic punk albums, Heart Attack Man and Spanish Love Songs, and a small-but-rising emo band called Ben Quad…
Coming off the strength of last year’s I’m Scared That’s All There Is and “You’re Part of It” single, Ben Quad very much deserve the opening slot on that Hot Mulligan tour, and it’s very worth getting there early to see them. Across their brief but very promising discography, the Oklahoma band seamlessly weaves between intricate math rock, hook-fueled emo-pop, and abrasive screamo without missing a beat. The ingredients are familiar, but the end result feels new, and these songs really stick.
This is the only band on this list that’s long-established have enough to have just done a 10th anniversary tour for their debut album, but the music they’re making right now is even better than their now-classic Youth, so it feels worth highlighting that the new stuff should not be overshadowed by the nostalgia. Citizen’s dance-punk-infused 2021 album Life In Your Glass World and their garage-punky 2022 single “Bash Out” was some of their best material yet, and after years of reinventing themselves with every album, it seemed like Citizen’s M.O. was finally becoming clear: with this band, you have to expect the unexpected. Their upcoming LP Calling The Dogs takes yet another turn. It was produced by Elliott Smith collaborator Rob Schnapf, who has a history of helping punk/emo bands make prettier-sounding records (Saves The Day, Joyce Manor, Angel Du$t, etc), and new single “If You’re Lonely” is one of Citizen’s prettiest-sounding songs yet. It’s new territory for the band, but sometimes it also feels like a culmination of almost everything they’ve done from Youth onwards. It feels like a really good meeting ground for longtime fans and newcomers.
Having formed as the emo-leaning side project of hardcore kids that also played in Hangman, Typecaste, Rain of Salvation, and other heavier bands, Koyo turned into a force of their own across three EPs, and their upcoming debut full-length Would You Miss It? is by far their strongest effort yet. The Long Island emo band are clearly influenced by hometown heroes like Silent Majority, Taking Back Sunday, and The Movielife (and the upcoming album features guest vocals from The Movielife’s Vinnie Caruana and Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo), and I think anyone who sees them opening Thursday’s War All the Time 20th anniversary shows will find that Koyo scratches the same early 2000s itch as War All the Time itself. Koyo’s music clearly taps back into a bygone era, but Would You Miss It? goes beyond idol worship. This is an album that’s on par with Koyo’s heroes.
Pick up our exclusive variant of the new album on tri-color vinyl, limited to 250 copies.
Following some demos/EPs/singles dating back to 2019, DC/Philly band Magazine Beach released their debut full-length Constant Springtime on Take This To Heart Records this year, and it feels like a grand statement. From the blastbeat-infused melodic hardcore of album opener “Bitter Sun” to the ambient pop of centerpiece “Window,” this is not an album you can judge from just one song. It’s got Midwest emo noodling, fast-paced punk, folky acoustic guitars, sugar-sweet harmonies, and shoutalong-ready gang vocals. They have the humble sound of a DIY basement band, but Magazine Beach feel like they’re reaching for something much greater. It’s one of those remarkable, fully-formed debut albums that’s just too good to ignore.
Kerosene Heights call themselves “emo revival revival,” and they sound like a trip back to the revival’s 2008-2012 era. They cite bands like Snowing, Glocca Morra, Joyce Manor, Algernon Cadwallader, You Blew It!, Dikembe, and CSTVT; they’re signed to one of the key record labels of that era (No Sleep); and you can really tell how their debut album Southeast of Somewhere recalls that era even more specifically than it recalls the OG ’90s bands. They connect certain dots that even bands in 2012 weren’t connecting, and they’re clearly concerned with songcraft, not just mathy guitar work. If you miss the days when you could actually see bands like Joyce Manor and Algernon Cadwallader in tiny venues, go catch Kerosene Heights’ upcoming tour so you can say you did before they’re headlining Central Park in 10 years.
Browse the In Defense of the Genre archives for more lists, features, news, and reviews from the wide world of punk-derived music.