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date: 20 November 2019


  • Theo Cateforis


A male-dominated style of rock performance whose origins date back to the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement and specifically to such short-lived groups from Washington, DC, as the Rites of Spring and Embrace, each of which released a single album before disbanding. In its most basic sense, the term “emo” is short for emotional, an indication that the music had left behind punk’s heavily politicized public protest for more private and reflective concerns. Musically, this new emotional sense was best captured in the nostalgic and poetic lyrics of the Rites of Spring singer Guy Picciotto and his cracked, almost distraught, intense vocal style. While these bands from Washington, DC, wielded a large influence within the punk underground, the emo label did not circulate widely until the mid-1990s when a new, geographically diverse wave of indie label groups led by such bands as Sunny Day Real Estate (from Seattle), the Promise Ring (Milwaukee), and Mineral (Austin, TX) developed a strong following. These groups portrayed a sense of emotional volatility in their music by using extended song forms that oscillated between straight and double time and clean guitar timbres and bursts of distortion. Vocalists deliberately avoided punk’s shouted style and sang melodic lines in a breathy head voice, often straining at the top of their range, which contributed to the music’s sense of emotional urgency. Most notably the lyrics assumed a more introverted and personal air of unrequited longing and wounded masculinity, best captured by the title of Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut album, ...

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