A decade ago was a magical time in emo. Pianos found a home among the poppier acts while powerful, classical vocalists paired their strained throats with crushing post-hardcore guitars, and the obvious and intentional use of autotune started showing up for the first time in indie rock albums. All of these wonderful things commingled atop the stages of Warped Tour and within the iPod Minis of teens across the land. Take a trip back with us (and listen along with the playlist at the bottom of the post.)
1. Mae – The Everglow
No band of the era integrated piano, synths and guitars as effectively as Mae. The Everglow is a complete and satisfying mix of soft, slow-burn tracks like "The Sun and the Moon," and melodic, hyperactive anthems like "Painless." Plus this album has creepy intro and outro narration that goes along with a storybook insert that kids will never get to appreciate again because CDs don't exist anymore.
2. Jack's Mannequin – Everything in Transit
Andrew McMahon established himself as a standout pop writer during his years with Something Corporate and put that experience to good use in the first album under his solo moniker Jack's Mannequin. Thoroughly enjoyable from end to end, Everything in Transit captured an era of California pop rock that transcended social boundaries as emo kids and jocks alike sang along to "Dark Blue."
3. Coheed & Cambria – Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
Coheed & Cambria fans are a different breed, deeply invested in the mythological stories told through the band's highly conceptual albums. But even if you don't care that Good Apollo IV is the third chapter of a tetralogy of albums (with accompanying graphic novels!) it's easy to understand, when you hear the infectious opening riff, why "Welcome Home" is the most played Coheed track on Spotify (and why this is their most commercially successful album.) Deeper into the record, "Wake Up" stands out for its haunting sincerity.
4. Emery – The Question
Widely considered the most complete album from one of the most iconic and influential screamo bands of the era, The Question combined the raw, driving power of the band's first record with some much-needed structure and punctuation. Emery's signature habit of pairing singer Toby Morrell's near-operatic vocals with well-placed screams is on full display in tracks like "Playing with Fire" and "Listening to Freddie Mercury."
5. Cartel – Chroma
Cartel doesn't get its proper due for being one of the most well-balanced pop punk bands of the era. Showing a direct lineage from early 2000s icons like The Starting Line, Cartel's first full length album Chroma is a near-perfect record, swaying easily from short, fast genre standards about staying out and drinking, to piano-driven sad songs, to an entirely unique and badass 9-minute medley complete with well-placed autotune flourishes.
6. The Academy Is... – Almost Here
The Academy Is… built an audience as the opening act for larger acts like Fall Out Boy and Something Corporate, never receiving the attention their best album Almost Here truly deserved. Tracks like "Season" and "Down and Out" are perfect examples of the type of understated, vocal-driven jams that made the band beloved by a passionate few.
7. Motion City Soundtrack –Commit This to Memory
Some argue Motion City Soundtrack isn't really emo, and they definitely had more of an indie-punk spirit, but when your music gets a whole party of teenagers to sing "Let's Get Fucked Up and Die" in unison, you get thrown into the emo pantheon. Commit This To Memory is the type of record your ex left in your car and you pull it from beneath the seat a year later and listen as a flood of memories punches you in the lungs.
8. Bayside – Bayside
Bayside is beloved, though their sound was maybe the most standard of any of the bands on this list. The self-titled record is generally accepted as their best, and standouts like "Devotion and Desire" got your blood pumping.
"Anthony Raneri's voice is was so badass," says a co-worker who wished to remain nameless. "Goddamn he's so full of sexy rage."
9. The Rocket Summer – Hello, Good Friend.
Bryce Avery aka The Rocket Summer is, admittedly, peak-whiny even in the sphere of emo vocalists, but his dedication to writing, producing and playing all the instruments on his albums, along with his intimate, singalong live shows have earned him a passionate and cultish fan base. Hello, Good Friend was most people's first introduction to The Rocket Summer, and tracks like "Never Knew" and "Brat Pack" will forever have a place in our hearts.
10. The Fall of Troy – Doppelganger
The Fall of Troy's heavy, frenetic energy was perfect moshing music. Doppelganer,and the album's most popular track "F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X.," endures as an offbeat mid-2000s favorite.
11. Acceptance – Phantoms
Phantoms is the only full-length release from Acceptance, which may be the reason it is one of the most underrated albums of the era. Tracks like "Take Cover," "Over You," and "So Contagious" are as tight and catchy as the best of the genre.
12. Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Digital Ash in a Digital Urn came out as a double album with a second part titled I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, but Digital Ash stands out more for its foray into electronic production, which was at the time a pretty stark departure for Bright Eyes. Though the instrumentaiton is beat-heavier than the rest of Conor Oberst's catalog, the singer's immediately identifiable, scratchy, immature voice brings the emo atop standout tracks like "Arc Of Time (Timecode)" and "I Believe in Symmetry."
13. Paramore – All We Know is Falling
The world's first introduction to Hayley William's incredible voice just happens to be Paramore's best, punkiest record. "All We Know," "Pressure," and "Emergency" are all bangers, but really we wish 2015 Hayley would scream like she does on "My Heart."
14. The Spill Canvas – One Fell Swoop
The Spill Canvas is perhaps the most emo band on this list. Nick Thomas' quivering voice pairs almost too well with the band's signaturely gut-wrenching lyrics (especially on tracks like "Staplegunned" and "This is for Keeps.")
15. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Death Cab for Cutie is perhaps the most famous band on this list, but 2005's Plans was most people's introduction to the band's darker side. Tracks about loss and death like "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and "What Sarah Said," are balanced by Death Cab's solid pop sensibilities on songs like "Soul Meets Body" and the standout "Crooked Teeth."
16. Thrice —Vheissu
Vheissu was somewhat of a turning point for Thrice, ushering in an artier but no-less heavy era for the band. Some who loved the earlier, punk-ier Thrice albums were disappointed in Vheissu but the album — anchored by heavy hitters like "Hold Fast Hope" and more contemplative tracks like "Stand and Feel Your Worth" — was indicative of what the future held for Thrice, one of the few bands who have managed to evolve over the decade without losing their fire.
17. Anberlin – Never Take Friendship Personal
Never Take Friendship Personal is a perfectly emo title, but the glory of Anberlin has always been in lead singer Stephen Christian's mature vocals which balance the high-energy riffs of bangers like "Paperthin Hymn" and the album's title track.