Ah, emo. Once held aloft as the savior of disaffected teens everywhere, now shunned as the style of music that brought us Saves the Day and (shudder) Dashboard Confessional. So, with the commercial co-opting of the “emo sound” courtesy of Vagrant Records and their passel of bands that all sound the same, is there any life left in emo? Well, yeah. Not to say that it’s as vital as it once was, but let’s just say that this horse ain’t ready for the glue factory just yet.
If there’s any one label most responsible for popularizing and adhering to the emo aesthetic, it would be North Carolina’s Deep Elm records. Hell, they practically created the term with their “Emo Diaries” compilation CDs, the first installment of which came out way back in ‘97, and featured such seminal bands as Jimmy Eat World, Jejune, Camber, and Samiam. Now, in 2002, the label is on Volume 8 of the series, and the whole thing has, for the most part, been reduced to a parody of itself.
Now, it’s not like My Very Last Breath is devoid of good tunes—in fact, the comp comes charging out of the gate immediately with Kelly8’s blistering “Superstud”, an ass-kicking, neck snapping tune that proves once again that Swedish bands are practically (with a few notable exceptions) the only bands who can make emo work anymore. In fact, the band sounds a good deal like their dearly missed fellow Swedes, Salt, with their powerful female singer and chugging rhythm section. Unfortunately, things take a quick downhill turn from there, with Long Since Forgotten’s paean to mediocrity, “Just Listen”. Big surprise then, that it takes another group of Swedes, the boys in Logh, to pick things up again, with their moody, elegant “Guided Tour of a Dead Man’s House”. This is a tremendously strong track, and perhaps the best on the comp. Of course, it sounds nothing like you’d expect an emo song to, with its mournful slide guitar and breathy vocals.
From there, the comp veers wildly between really bad, pretty good, and merely all right. Hateen (a Brazilian band) weigh in strongly with their “Danger Drive”, which subscribes to practically every emo cliché you can think of, but still manages to succeed. The Day Action Band’s “Regret” is a sweet, simple pop tune, that really has nothing whatsoever to do with emo as we know it, and such, stands out as a highlight. However, there’s also the Solo Project and Down to Earth Approach, who both subscribe to all the same emo cliches as Hateen does, but unfortunately succumb to them rather than managing to transcend them.
In the end, considering that most of the bands on this comp are unheard, unproven acts (which is usually the case with The Emo Diaries comps), the quality is actually fairly high. Out of the 12 songs presented here, at least half of them are pretty good, and only a few are egregiously bad. So, the good news is that there are still new bands from countries all over the world pumping life into what could easily become (and what some folks might say already has become) a moribund genre. The bad news is that those of us who enjoy a good emo band now and then will still have to deal with the sneers and derision of jaded hipsters who can’t be bothered to look past the glossy spreads of Chris Carraba (believe me, the guy makes me want to puke, too) to find the myriad of good, hardworking bands out there still keeping the music fresh and interesting.