Emo is a genre with a checkered history, but the 10 best emo rock bands transcend the label as it stands today, having provided listeners with raw, emotional, punk-based music that hits the head and the heart. Emo, short for "emocore," began in Washington, DC in the mid-eighties as hardcore punk bands began to toy with melody and lyrics more based on relationships and emotions than politics and scene unity. Since that time, emo has gone through many permutations, each of which will be represented in this list of the 10 best emo rock bands:
- Rites of Spring – Generally considered the first emo band, they are also the best, topping our list of the best emo rock bands. Raw energy, straight from hardcore, bled into emotional and evocative songs that transcended any label. Singer Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty would go on to Fugazi later on, bringing their uncontrolled emotion to that later band's controlled post-punk attack.
- Sunny Day Real Estate – The second on our list of the best emo rock bands is the best emo band of the nineties. Building emo anthems on the quiet-loud dynamics of grunge, SDRE changed the game and influenced hundreds of inferior bands.
- Planes Mistaken for Stars – Denver's Planes sound like Rites of Spring gone metal. They are probably the most furious on the list of the best emo rock bands. Also, maybe the most underrated.
- Embrace – Contemporaries of Rites of Spring, Embrace featured Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and later Fugazi. Of the best emo rock bands, they were perhaps the most traditionally melodic.
- Jawbreaker – Heartfelt punk from the Bay area, Jawbreaker proved emo didn't have to be intricate to be effective. Their lyrics alone, twisted poetry from the heart, could have earned them a spot on the list of best emo rock bands; that the music is great is a bonus.
- Hot Water Music - In the vein of Jawbreaker, but with the groove of Fugazi, came Florida's Hot Water Music. Many young punks tattooed their logo and lyrics on their skin. This entry on the list of best emo rock bands wears heart like a badge of pride.
- Jimmy Eat World - Perhaps the most successful on the list of best emo rock bands, Jimmy Eat World became famous with a power-pop sound slightly different than their earlier work. 1999 album "Clarity" is an emo masterpiece.
- Thursday – Another on the list of best emo rock bands to gain mainstream success, Thursday were raw but possessed the same universal appeal as a band like U2. After time on a major label, they are back on independent label Victory Records.
- Rival Schools - Though they only made one album, Rival Schools were an important project, linking emo and New York hardcore through former Gorilla Biscuits member Walter Schreifels. Their intricate music could be considered "emo for grownups."
- One Last Wish – A short-lived project combining members of Rites of Spring and Embrace and eventually resulting in Fugazi, One Last Wish brought some dark new wave into the emo style. This little-known band is the perfect final entry on this list of the ten best emo rock bands.
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