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10 Classic Emo Albums for Alternative Music Fans

Your friendly neighborhood slacker. Chill Clinton likes to write about film, music, collectibles, and more.

An image of the popular emo band American Football in 1998.

An image of the popular emo band American Football in 1998.

You may have heard the word "emo" thrown about over the past 20 years. Though over time, the term has grown to represent many forms of media, fashion, and culture, it first represented a genre of alternative rock that exploded in popularity through the 1990's and early 2000's, blending elements of punk, hardcore, math rock, funk, jazz, and folk.

Below, you'll find a list of ten essential emo albums to introduce you to a diverse array of tunes offered by the genre.

1. Boys Life- Boys Life (1995, Crank! Records)

This self titled release is one of only two albums from seminal emo band Boys Life from Kansas City, Missouri. Formed in 1993, the band disbanded by 1997, but undoubtedly left its mark on the genre with its genre blending, twinkling melodies and raw recording quality.

2. Braid- Frame & Canvas (1998, Polyvinyl Records)

Though it was their third album, Braid's Frame & Canvas was the album that introduced many listeners to the band's bright and aggressive style of emo with its release on the major alternative label: Polyvinyl Records.

3. American Football- American Football (1999, Polyvinyl Records)

This is the only studio album from mid-west emo trio American Football's initial run from 1997-2000. However, this self-titled album was so beloved among emo fanatics that the band decided to reform in 2014 and has since resumed recording music. In fact, in 2018, the song "Never Meant" broke ten million views on Spotify, which is an incredible number for an alternative rock song released in 1999.

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4. Cap'n Jazz- Analphabetapoloptology (1998, Jade Tree Records)

Analphabetapoloptology might be a mouthful to say, but it's a ton of fun to listen to. This album is a near complete discography of the band, which only had one minor label release before breaking up in 1995, and later gaining a cult following as all of its members went on to form various popular alternative bands, including American Football, The Promise Ring, Joan of Arc, Owls, and Their/ They're/ There.

5. Benton Falls- Fighting Starlight (2001, Deep Elm Records)

Fighting Starlight is the first studio album from California emo band Benton Falls. If you're a fan of twinkly guitar riffs and raw vocals, you'll enjoy this album's dynamic mix of bright, often uplifting melodies, and melancholy lyrics.

6. Penfold- Amateurs and Professionals (1999, Milligram Records)

Amateurs and Professionals is the first full length release from New Jersey emo band Penfold, and features one of the band's most popular songs, "I'll Take You Everywhere". Though Penfold never saw the same attention that other more prominent bands in the genre, many emo fans site this album as among their personal favorites.

7. Owls- Owls (2001, Jade Tree Records)

This self titled album is the first and only studio release from the experimental emo/ math rock band Owls, made up of ex-members of Cap'n Jazz. Though Owls would quickly disband as its members went on to form other bands, Owls officially reunited in 2012 after gaining a cult following through the 2000's.

8. Texas is the Reason- Do You Know Who You Are? (1996, Revelation Records)

Texas is the Reason was an emo project started by former members of the New York Hare Krishna hardcore scene. Though it was the only full length release from the band during their short initial run from 1994-1997, their brand of pop-punk soaked emo music paved the way for a ton of other fantastic bands such as Thursday, Balance & Composure, and other.

9. Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary (1994, Sub Pop)

Sunny Day Real Estate is one of the bands that helped bring the emo sub-genre to a wider market with their debut album Diary. Though the band would go on to break-up and reform multiple times throughout the decades, its members would go on to perform in other popular Seattle based bands including Foo Fighters and The Fire Theft.

10. Karate- Karate (1995, Southern Records)

This self titled album was the first studio release from genre bending emo band Karate. With heavy funk and jazz influences, Karate was truly one of the more unique bands in the genre through the late 90's and early 2000's, gaining a far more prominent following across Europe than in America.

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