Before delving into the actual content, it is important to first overrule the unfortunate connotations that any album title containing the word “emo” initially provokes. ‘The Emo Diaries’ (although this was and never will be part of the intention) draw a line through the crude mental image of Myspace’s glory days, when hairstyles were prioritised over optical dexterity. That image is too fake, too intentional and self aware to be shared by a musical genre that, at its core, is primarily about channelling raw, exposed emotion.
Since 1997, ‘The Emo Diaries’ have introduced, promoted, and captured the best of bands that, in the words of Deep Elm, “possess the ability to stir emotion like no other”. Among the track listings you can find otherwise unreleased songs by bands such as Jimmy Eat World, Penfold, and The Movielife, and it was this exclusivity and knack for picking up new talent which helped establish the compilation as the best of its kind.
The idea behind it all, says Deep Elm owner/founder Josh Suzch was to “create a story with songs instead of words or images”. Each compilation adds another chapter to the narrative, but as a coherent sequence of releases, they also act as a timeline of genre as a whole; documenting its growths and alterations, compiled by one of its most avid followers. However, with only two instalments since 2004’s unofficial full stop ‘Chapter 10: The Hope I Hide Inside’, the timeline seems to be moving gradually towards its end. With each chapter speaking for itself, what does 2011 have to say?
The opening track by Dedicated To Dedications has the poppy song structure of Lemuria, and impressive female vocals similar to Florence and the Machine or an indie Adele. If this were the opening paragraph to a novel you began to flick through in Waterstones, you would definitely keep reading. From there on, however, things tend to be quite hit and miss. Each song is structured to hit as many emotional nerves as possible, which is really what you would expect from ‘The Emo Diaries’, but listening to one track after another, you can hear the formula repeat itself and it begins to sound too deliberate. The side-effect of that, of course, is that each song is immediately satisfying and catchy, so it really depends on how much musical diversity you want from a compilation album.
Although the basic formula is the same for most of the songs, there is a lot accounting for the variety of manners in which it is approached. From the moody and slurring Southern American guitars of Arms Around The Stereo to the pining falsetto vocals of The Dandelion War, each artist in this chapter has adaptated the genre to fit their own ends, so to speak, leaving the “emo” of 2011 without classification, without the common stylistic thread that put Penfold, Cross My Heart, and Benton Falls under the same umbrella.
On the one hand, it could be said that the experimentation and lack of stylistic thread among these new bands also means a lack of “scene”, but it is also what makes the compilation so exciting. Strangely, it seems as if the most affecting tracks on the album have taken an instrumental approach more in line with artists such as Explosions In The Sky, relying more on the communication between instruments to set a particular mood. The intricate poppy styling’s of Those Galloping Hordes and the patient, tension teasing arrangements of Collapse Under The Empire and Goonies Never Say Die are definite highlights on the album – taking the heartfelt, melodic jams of 90’s “emo” and eliminating the need for lyrics (a concept which may be surprising for many who, not incorrectly, identify the genre by its earnest exploration of relationships).
As for the vocal tracks, the best of them appear to be dominated by female singers – Dedicated To Dedications, Everlyn, and Summer Hours, the former and latter of which have been selected to open and close the release. Perhaps the twelfth chapter projects the female voice of “emo”, who knows.
‘The Emo Diaries’, along with the bands they promote, have always had a very personal and meaningful relationship with the listener. They will continue to be important even if today’s “finest of emo” isn’t as fine as it once was – it seems to still be finding its footing on fresh ground. But, although the golden age of emo may be over, the embers still have warmth left in them yet.
'The Emo Diaries - Chapter 12: I Love You But In The End I Will Destroy You' is available now through Deep Elm Records.