The evolution of a cultural phenomenon is a funny thing. Emo, like a snowball rolling down the side of a scowling, guyliner'd mountain, has ballooned into much more than a musical genre. It's an exclamation, it's the butt of jokes, it's an identity. The way things are going, by this time next year it may evolve into an election-year stump issue. But it started with the music.
If you've ever wondered how we got from the relative obscurity of Rites of Spring* to the ubiquity of Fall Out Boy and cautionary news segments, part of the answer is Princeton, NJ's Saves the Day. And the pinnacle of Saves the Day's output to date is unquestionably their 2001 release Stay What You Are, recorded not long after the band members had graduated high school.
As far as emo goes, Stay What You Are has it all. I'll-gloat-when-you-die songs, I-am-powerless-against-you songs, fast songs, slow songs, bloody metaphors, whiny vocals. Not to mention the fact that "At Your Funeral" might be the greatest opening track to ever appear on an pop-punk-emo record:
Taken out of historical context, Stay What You Are plays like a more enjoyable version of the same old same old. But the context here matters. In 2001, everyone wasn't doing this yet. Saves the Day paved the road down which countless emo copycats would carry the torch. And whether you think that's a blessing or a blight on the world of music, you gotta admit it's worth mentioning.
[myspace.com/savestheday] (Download "At Your Funeral" there.)
Note: The only constant member of Saves the Day throughout their career (which is now approaching a decade long) is singer Chris Conley. The picture at the top is the current lineup, not the lineup responsible for Stay What You Are.
* Probably not an official site