100 Best Punk & Emo Albums of the 2010s
For more decade lists, see 100 Best Rap and R&B Albums of the 2010s.
Like most decades since the 1970s, the 2010s were a great decade for punk rock and its many offshoots. Some of the decade’s best punk records were very visible on a large scale, and many of the others took a little more digging, but they were there. It was the decade of the “emo revival,” the decade of anti-Trump punk, and the decade where indie rock was often just as inspired by pop punk and emo as it was by other indie rock. New bands tend to catch on when the members are in their late teens and early twenties, and that age group is the one who often discovered underground rock through bands like blink-182, Green Day, Weezer, and their peers, so it makes sense that you heard those bands’ sounds resonating throughout the past ten years of underground rock.
The artists on this list come from all across the punk spectrum, including bands that fall under punk, emo, hardcore, post-hardcore, screamo, metalcore, pop punk, noise punk, garage punk, ska-punk, and more. Some are clearly punk or emo, others might also fall neatly into anything from indie rock to folk to metal to alternative rock to pop. Some artists on this list have other albums that wouldn’t count as punk or emo, and some albums on this list clearly defy the genre but come from an artist whose impact on the genre(s) is strong enough that they will always be part of The Conversation. You could probably debate all day about whether or not every artist on this list should be considered eligible for a list documenting punk and emo. Sometimes I discuss that within the individual album blurb below, but I’d rather not spend too much time harping on it. Punk rock is a feeling, and it can’t be determined by what bands you tour with or what record label you’re on. If an album is on this list, I think it was either part of the punk/emo/etc world or significantly impacted it.
Lastly, I think it’s worth remembering that 100 albums is actually a very small sample size. There were probably at least 100 great punk/emo/etc albums each year during the 2010s. This is just one person’s stab at putting together a list of the ones I felt still resonate the most. As with any list like this, it’s hard to compare classics from ten years ago to albums that came out last month, but I did my best.
Read on for the full 100 (with blurbs starting at #50)…
100. Weatherbox – Flies In All Directions (Triple Crown, 2014)
99. Destruction Unit – Deep Trip (Sacred Bones, 2013)
98. awakebutstillinbed – what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you (Tiny Engines, 2018)
97. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph, 2016)
96. The Armed – Only Love (Throat Ruiner, 2016)
95. State Faults – Resonate / Desperate (No Sleep, 2013)
94. Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien (Warner/Reprise, 2014)
93. Glassjaw – Material Control (Century Media, 2017)
92. Quicksand – Interiors (Epitaph, 2017)
91. Rainer Maria – S/T (Polyvinyl, 2017)
90. Defeater – Empty Days & Sleepless Nights (Bridge Nine, 2011)
89. Drug Church – Cheer (Pure Noise, 2018)
88. Birds In Row – We Already Lost the World (Deathwish, 2018)
87. American Nightmare – American Nightmare (Rise, 2018)
86. Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Stay Home (Toxic State, 2014)
85. Ex Hex – Rips (Merge, 2014)
84. Bully – Feels Like (Columbia, 2013)
83. You Blew It – Abendrot (Triple Crown, 2016)
82. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador, 2011)
81. Single Mothers – Single Mothers EP (Secret Voice, 2011)
80. Fury – Failed Entertainment (Run For Cover, 2019)
79. La Dispute – Wildlife (No Sleep, 2011)
78. Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge, 2011)
77. Conor Oberst – Ruminations (Nonesuch, 2016)
76. Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph, 2017)
75. Vein – Errorzone (Closed Casket Activities, 2018)
74. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights (Matador, 2017)
73. Touché Amoré – Stage Four (Epitaph, 2016)
72. Citizen – Everybody Is Going To Heaven (Run For Cover, 2015)
71. Superheaven – Ours Is Chrome (SideOneDummy, 2015)
70. Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Asian Man, 2012)
69. Portrayal of Guilt – Let Pain Be Your Guide (Gilead Media, 2018)
68. Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar (Deathwish, 2018)
67. Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY. (SideOneDummy, 2016)
66. The Appleseed Cast – The Fleeting Light of Impermanence (Graveface, 2019)
65. Code Orange – Forever (Roadrunner, 2017)
64. Wavves – King of the Beach (Fat Possum, 2010)
63. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues (RCA, 2016)
62. PUP – The Dream Is Over (SideOneDummy, 2016)
61. Everyone Everywhere – Everyone Everywhere (2012) (self-released, 2012)
60. A Great Big Pile of Leaves – You’re Always on My Mind (Topshelf, 2013)
59. Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovanni, 2015)
58. Into It. Over It. – Standards (Triple Crown, 2016)
57. Turnover – Peripheral Vision (Run For Cover, 2015)
56. The Interrupters – Fight the Good Fight (Epitaph, 2018)
55. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again (Epitaph, 2015)
54. Minus the Bear – OMNI (Dangerbird, 2010)
53. Caravels – Lacuna (Topshelf, 2013)
52. Desaparecidos – Payola (Epitaph, 2015)
51. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue (Pure Noise, 2019)
50. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run For Cover, 2014)
History repeats itself, and the story of Modern Baseball’s discography is one of the oldest emo stories ever told. They started with the scrappy and imperfect yet charming debut that quickly won a lot of people over (2012’s Sports), then they worked out the kinks and put out an endlessly quotable, singalong-ready followup that tapped directly into the feelings of being a teenager and became an instant emo classic (2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All), and then they made the more “mature” followup that was followed by a hiatus (2016’s Holy Ghost). Now, one of their singers has a prolific solo-project-turned-band (Jake Ewald’s Slaughter Beach, Dog, which also counts MoBo bassist Ian Farmer as a member) and the other is elusive (Brendan Lukens). If history keeps repeating itself, they’ll probably reunite one of these days, and maybe they’ll even write another album. Going by the darker vibes of the last Slaughter Beach, Dog album, I wouldn’t be surprised if Modern Baseball come back to perfect the maturation they began on Holy Ghost, but I also suspect that You’re Gonna Miss It All is gonna be the album that their their fans crave the most. Like forebears The Get Up Kids and The Promise Ring, later-career maturations were great but never captured the hearts of the emo community at large the way the punchy classic album did. But also, You’re Gonna Miss It All actually feels less like the emo revival’s Nothing Feels Good or Something To Write Home About, and more like its Tell All Your Friends. It’s the kind of album that makes people clutch their hearts and scream every lyric anytime a song from it comes on. Musically, Modern Baseball weren’t really taking notes from any of those bands (they sounded more like The Weakerthans or The Mountain Goats), but the feelings were as classic emo as it gets. And this album deserves to be latched onto the way so many fans have over the years. It’s effortlessly catchy, and it perfectly captured the feelings and anxieties of a person coming of age in the early/mid 2010s. It’s the kind of album that cynics will expect you to “grow out of,” but I think if there’s anything we learned from this whole emo revival thing, it’s that you never really do grow out of this stuff.
49. Thursday – No Devolucion (Epitaph, 2011)
Thursday have spent the past year on a 20th anniversary album where they performed their albums Full Collapse (2001) and War All the Time (2003) in full. It’s easy to see why Thursday would choose those albums, as there’s a large portion of their fanbase who will forever consider those two albums to be their best. They’re definitely the most indicative of Thursday’s most classic sound, but Thursday are one of those bands who never stopped growing and expanding their sound, and there are still days where I think Thursday’s studio output left off on its best note. For 2006’s A City by the Light Divided, they ended their relationship with producer Sal Villanueva (who helmed their first three albums) and started one with Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann. Fridmann helped Thursday take their sound in a more atmospheric, more art rock direction, which began on A City by the Light Divided and was completed on 2011’s No Devolución, the last album they released before their initial breakup (and still their last album at this point). The more atmospheric vibe was hinted at on A City by the Light Divided (and, to a lesser extent, on 2009’s Common Existence), but this was the album that saw them fully embracing post-rock, industrial, art rock, and other sounds that marked a clear progression from the band’s post-hardcore roots. It almost sounded more like early 2000s Deftones than early 2000s Thursday, but it was still unmistakably the work of no other band. Geoff Rickly’s singing voice was never better than it was on this album, and the band’s arrangements — which made more prominent use of Andrew Everding’s keyboards than any previous album — were at their most ambitious and at their most precise. The album came almost exactly a decade after Full Collapse (ten years and two days, to be exact), and it’s a real trip to compare the band’s breakthrough to their swan song. A lot of their peers started to fizzle out by the time their breakthrough albums hit the ten-year mark, but Thursday were approaching a level of creativity and artistry that wasn’t really heard on Full Collapse or any other record from the early 2000s emo/post-hardcore boom. They pushed the envelope, even as the genre waned in popularity, and released their best work at a time when the scene that birthed them had all but splintered.
48. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines, 2014)
For all the flak that mid-2000s emo gets, the one thing you can’t deny is that when you do want that sound, nothing else works. Nothing else gives you that heart-racing feeling of a singer scream-singing in the upper register to the point of nearly cracking their voice, while the band’s rhythm section furiously pounds away. And that’s just what The Hotelier spend this album’s lengthy, now-iconic intro song building towards. And then they do it again, even louder this time, at the very beginning of the very next song. It almost nears “guilty pleasure” territory — if you believe in such a thing — but The Hotelier prove throughout the rest of Home, Like Noplace Is There that they’re so much more than just another mid-2000s-style emo band. From the folk punk-ish “In Framing” to the atmospheric slow-burn of “Among the Wildflowers” to the ’90s screamo revival of “Life In Drag,” Home proved The Hotelier could try just about anything and not only master it, but turn it into their own. Home is a less focused album than its even better followup Goodness, but even on this album, Christian Holden and the rest of the band successfully found a strong, unique voice. When lesser bands approach something like this, critics call it “scattered.” When The Hotelier did it, it was a revelation.
47. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever, If Ever (Topshelf, 2013)
It’s hard to say who the best band to come out of the emo revival is, but The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die are definitely the most unique. There isn’t really any other band around like this one in any genre, let alone emo. They’re just as much an indie rock or a post-rock band, and they’re likely to dabble in anything from folk to metal to hardcore to chamber pop to spoken word to “covering” John Cage. Their revolving-door lineup changes all the time, and the one on their 2013 debut album Whenever, If Ever looks almost nothing like the one they have today, yet somehow they always manage to maintain a strong identity. TWIABP were already an established band in the emo scene before making this album, thanks to some well-received EPs and splits, and though it’s technically their first full-length, it feels weird to refer to it as a “debut” of something. It’s perhaps more accurately described as the last release with co-founder and original lead singer Tom Diaz (who sadly and unexpectedly passed away in 2018, six years after leaving the band). Tom’s voice was a big appeal of early TWIABP, though they managed to further perfect their sound and grow in popularity with new lead singer David Bello (who joined in 2012 and helped finish Whenever, If Ever), which is tough for a lot of bands to pull off but TWIABP did it. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Before any of that happened, they released Whenever, If Ever, a clear progression from their early EPs but still more flawed than the two albums that would follow. It has some parts that feel like unfinished ideas, and some songs I skip when I return to the album, but the highs far outweigh the lows and they make this album one of the most crucial documents of the emo revival. It’s home to “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay,” one of the band’s earliest (and still best) examples of their ability to fit like seven subgenres of rock music into one song and still come out with something people want to sing along to. It’s home to the singer/songwriter-y “Gig Life,” which is not only one of the most beautiful songs in the band’s discography (and gets extra points for making references to Rival Schools and mewithoutYou in the second chorus). But the album’s best moment is its very last song, the seven-minute “Getting Sodas.” It’s the first of several lengthy, late-album songs where TWIABP would explore their post-rocky side and combine it with some of their most uplifting vocal melodies/lyrics (“I Can Be Afraid of Anything,” “Mount Hum,” “Marine Tigers,” and “Infinite Steve” all followed suit). That tactic became one of TWIABP’s signature moves, and one of the many things that made them stand out from their peers. They took that kind of song to new heights over the years, but even with everything they’ve accomplished since 2013, “Getting Sodas” remains one of the band’s most breathtaking songs every time you hear it.
46. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (6131, 2015)
The first time we saw Julien Baker play, she was opening first of three for The National side project EL VY, and she was added to the show long after it sold out, so it was safe to say no one had bought their tickets to see her. Her debut album Sprained Ankle had just come out a few weeks earlier, and when Julien performed her then-little-known songs from that album, with nothing but her own guitar and voice, she silenced the crowd for her entire set, including hundreds of people who were likely hearing her for the very first time. It was instantly clear at that show that Julien and Sprained Ankle had a bright future ahead of them, and that’s exactly how things turned out. By the time Julien signed to the larger Matador Records and released the even more widely acclaimed Turn Out the Lights, Sprained Ankle already felt like a classic. Now, Julien regularly headlines bigger rooms than the one we saw her open for EL VY in (as a solo artist and as a member of boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus), and it’s all because of the doors Sprained Ankle opened. With her many covers and collaborations, she’s helped bridge the gap between ’90s emo, classic folk and country, modern indie, and more, and she has become a force of her own in the process. We’re already starting to see new artists emerge that cite Julien as an influence, and it’s not surprising at all. Julien’s music, especially on Sprained Ankle, has felt like a breath of fresh air within all of the aforementioned styles of music and beyond.
45. Jeff Rosenstock – POST- (Polyvinyl, 2018)
It’s not everyday you hear a story like Jeff Rosenstock’s. As the frontman of ska-punk bands The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry! — among other things — Jeff has released established music dating back to the ’90s and he has consistently had a truly diehard fanbase. Then he started focusing on his solo career full-time in the mid 2010s, and released three albums that were contenders for this list (two of which made it), each one better than the last. The solo albums were less ska and more indie rock, so naturally that helped gain Jeff a little more attention from music critics than he had ever gotten before, but I don’t think any of that matters much to Jeff, his band, or his core fanbase. He and his bandmates are true lifers who would be playing in one band or another no matter how many people were paying attention; it just so happens Jeff’s solo career really started to skyrocket. He’s regularly mentioned in the same breath as a lot of the much newer artists on this list (like PUP, whose members all contributed to POST-), and that’s pretty impressive for a guy who has been putting music out for over 20 years. Following the highly ambitious 2016 album WORRY., which mixed the sound of indie-punk with the ambition of Smile-era Beach Boys, Jeff put out POST-, which channelled a similar type of fury into a more compact LP. Like WORRY., POST- is ridiculously catchy but never polished, and it takes on the exhausting times it was released into without being overly preachy or political. WORRY. is the kind of career-best album that a lot artists take a long hiatus after, and never return to its heights. But Jeff Rosenstock returned just 14 months later with a harder, better, faster, stronger followup. It was the latest unexpected move in a career that has been full of them.
44. Jeremy Enigk – Ghosts (self-released, 2017)
The 2010s “emo revival” coaxed just about every major ’90s emo band out of hibernation, though one of the most influential of them all, Sunny Day Real Estate, only scratched the surface of a comeback. They reunited to tour in 2009 before the whole revival really took off, and they haven’t played again since 2010. They had planned a new album, but it never materialized, save for one song from those sessions that came out on a 2014 split with Circa Survive. (SDRE drummer William Goldsmith claims the album exists in the vaults, though bassist Nate Mendel denies the claims.) Instead of a proper SDRE comeback, elusive frontman Jeremy Enigk quietly focused on his solo career, playing solo acoustic shows — often in people’s living rooms — without the media attention that, say, Jawbreaker or American Football got. He then finally quietly self-released his first solo album since 2009, Ghosts, and it was a lush-sounding full-band record that felt like the spiritual sequel to Sunny Day Real Estate’s 1998 classic How It Feels To Be Something On. It didn’t have the name recognition that a Sunny Day Real Estate album would’ve had, or the push that a label (like Sub Pop, who reissued Jeremy’s 1996 solo debut Return of the Frog Queen in 2018) could’ve given it, but that didn’t stop it from being on par with most of SDRE’s finest work. It’s the hidden gem of his discography, and the best thing he had released in years.
43. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE (Barsuk, 2014)
There are still some Cymbals Eat Guitars fans who think they were a one-album wonder for their buzzed-about, ’90s indie rock-indebted 2009 debut Why There Are Mountains, but as interest in the mainstream indie rock world shifted away from bands like Cymbals Eat Guitars, they started to get really, really fucking good. They’ve bested Why There Are Mountains more than once, and the peak of it all was 2014’s LOSE. After the more experimental sophomore album (2011’s Lenses Alien), LOSE saw Cymbals Eat Guitars going all in on the big, soaring choruses that got people slapping the “emo” tag on them (“Warning,” “Chambers”), while also flexing their prog muscles (“Laramie”) and diving into some real-deal punk too (“XR”). The indie hype machine may have stopped paying attention, but veteran emo musicians like Kevin Devine and Say Anything took notice, and it wasn’t hard to see why they gravitated to this after LOSE came out. (And then, once the emo kids finally caught on, CEG threw a curveball yet again with the Springsteenian Pretty Years.) Cymbals Eat Guitars may have been one of the most consistently misunderstood rock bands of the 2010s, but damn if they weren’t also one of the most brilliant.
42. Screaming Females – Ugly (Don Giovanni, 2012)
Screaming Females were one of the decade’s most consistently great and consistently underrated punk bands, and really every album they put out in the past ten years could’ve landed on this list. There’s really no one else who sounds like them, very few people who shred like Marissa Paternoster, and probably zero people who sing like her. Screaming Females’ live show has always been the best way to experience them, but the closest they ever came to replicating the intensity of their show in the studio was 2012’s Ugly. It was recorded by Steve Albini, who knows a thing or two about making hard-hitting, no-frills rock records, and that’s exactly the kind of record that best suits Screaming Females. Ugly has some of their best hooks, some of their heaviest riffs, and some of their most fiery guitar solos. It’s Screaming Females at their most vital, holding absolutely nothing back.
41. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark, 2014)
Cloud Nothings transitioned from a buzzy lo-fi band to one of the decade’s most powerful post-hardcore bands on 2012’s Attack on Memory. It was a risky move to change things up so drastically, but it worked, and by the time they got around to following that album with Here and Nowhere Else, they had fully settled into their new sound. On Attack on Memory, you can hear the hunger and intent of a band who knows they’re about to shake up their whole career; Here and Nowhere Else was like a victory lap for how well it worked out. It follows a very similar formula to its predecessor, with a lean eight tracks, one lengthy noise rock song (“Pattern Walks”), and songs that bounce between sugary hooks and gritty aggression. Here and Nowhere Else had its differences too, though. Cloud Nothings had spent the last two years playing their more aggressive new songs live, and by the time they got in the studio for Here and Nowhere Else, they were playing faster, Dylan Baldi was screaming more spontaneously, and secret-weapon Jayson Gerycz was drumming even more furiously. They were gelling more as a band, and they were able to rely on the fact that they had become such a tight-knit unit, not just a vessel for Dylan’s songwriting. That said, the songwriting did get better too, and though Attack on Memory remains Cloud Nothings’ all-around best album, Here and Nowhere Else has their best song: “I’m Not Part of Me.” It’s like a more fleshed-out version of “Stay Useless” or “Fall In” from the previous record, a perfect pop song driven by punk energy but not quite “pop punk.” It’s the kind of song that, years after this whole indie-punk movement is far in the rearview, people will still be singing.
40. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk (Bar/None, 2013)
Similar to Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms employed enough acoustic guitars and nasally, wordy lyrics to get their fair share of Weakerthans and Mountain Goats comparisons. But while Modern Baseball tapped into youthful anxieties, The Front Bottoms — who had already been around for a while and released a few albums before their breakthrough — had more of a wink in their songs, and seemed more like they were looking back on youth than living it in real time. Along with bands like Japandroids, Beach Slang, and The Menzingers, they managed to ask “remember when we felt this way?” and “remember when our favorite music sounded like this?” at the same time. But while those bands always stuck to loud, roaring, distorted guitars, The Front Bottoms’ music kind of answered: “what if Tom DeLonge got into Neutral Milk Hotel instead of U2?” As the lines between indie rock and pop punk blurred throughout the past decade, The Front Bottoms were able to appeal to fans of both, with indie-folk instrumentation but with a nasal sneer and melodies that were pure pop punk. Talon of the Hawk came after some rawer earlier albums, but before some more polished later albums, and it occupied the perfect middle ground. Their production was never better than it was on this album, and their songwriting was never stronger. It’s one of those albums that was hard to dislike even if you tried. The melodies drilled their way into your subconscious with just one or two listens, and the lyrics struck a balance between funny, conversational, and serious, while usually also being widely relatable. As you might guess from their band name, you kinda have to approach The Front Bottoms with a sense of humor — and the band themselves definitely have one — but while Talon of the Hawk does crack some jokes, it’s lasted this long because it has a much greater depth than it seems on the surface.
39. Joyce Manor – Cody (Epitaph, 2016)
Joyce Manor’s 2011 debut album was one of those near-perfect, instant-classic debuts that may never be topped in cult status or in legacy, but Joyce Manor made clear artistic progressions time and time again since its release. And, as of right now, that artistic progression peaked on 2016’s Cody. Most of Joyce Manor’s music prior was rippin’, no-frills melodic punk/emo, but for Cody they slowed down, teamed with Elliott Smith producer Rob Schnapf, brought in backing vocals from Nate Ruess and a pre-fame Phoebe Bridgers, and made their most downright gorgeous album to date. The debut’s youthful energy was as apparent in the lyrics as it was in the fast-paced power chords, but Cody saw Barry Johnson stretching his lyrical wings. He could be funny, witty, introspective, and poignant all at once, and he packed in just as many quotable one-liners as he did on the earlier material. The more fine-tuned lyricism was the perfect fit for Cody‘s warm production, jangling guitars, and forays outside of punk like on the Phoebe Bridgers-aided acoustic song “Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?” (Joyce Manor had cool acoustic songs on their underrated sophomore record Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired too, but they really perfected it on Cody.) Cody was a clear departure from the classic Joyce Manor sound, which is usually a necessary move for bands like Joyce Manor — straight-ahead punk gets stagnant quickly. They of course weren’t the first punk band to ever try out cleaner sounds and slower tempos, but what’s so impressive about Cody is that Joyce Manor managed to branch out from their signature sound while still sounding entirely like themselves.
38. Wavves – Afraid of Heights (Ghost Ramp/Warner/Mom + Pop, 2013)
Wavves always sounded a little more pop punk than their peers of the late 2000s/early 2010s lo-fi boom, and after releasing a modern lo-fi surf punk classic with 2010’s King of the Beach, they began to embrace hi-fi production and they made an album that actually counts as pop punk, Afraid of Heights. It was (and still is) their best sounding album, and its songwriting remains their best too. Not only did Nathan Williams fully embrace his inner Tom Delonge and Billie Joe Armstrong on this one, he embraced Kurt Cobain and the dark side of Rivers Cuomo too. It’s Wavves’ shiniest LP on the outside, but it’s got a dark interior. Songs about lazy beach days were out, and songs about inner demons were in. Nathan bared it all, while writing his best hooks to date and nabbing a guest appearance from Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, and the result was an album that proved Wavves were here to stay.
37. Brutus – Nest (Sargent House, 2019)
All three members of Brutus had been playing in the Belgian music scene for over a decade before forming this band, but Brutus has quickly become the best and most ambitious project any of them have been in. Drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts has said in interviews that they went into Brutus with the intent of starting a more complex band (she and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden had previously played stripped-down garage punk in Starfucker), and after making their ambitions clear on their 2017 debut album Burst, they fully perfected their sound on their 2019 sophomore album Nest. It’s got musical ingredients from all over the place — whiplash-inducing punk, expansive post-hardcore, atmospheric post-metal, glossy pop, and more — and Brutus bring it all together with addictive songwriting and breathtaking musicianship. Every member of this band is a total pro. Stefanie’s bone-rattling drumming is matched by her soaring voice, Stijn shreds without overtaking the song, and he and bassist Peter Mulders create widescreen soundscapes with just their two instruments. On a technical level, the album is as impressive as great technical death metal, but the choruses make Brutus as accessible as anything on rock radio. They toured in 2018 with Thrice, and Nest scratches a similar itch for me that Thrice scratched around the time of 2003’s The Artist In The Ambulance. That album allowed them to fit in with the emo-pop boom of the time, but their adventurous songwriting and technical proficiency allowed them to far outlast the bulk of their peers. And that type of melodic yet heavy post-hardcore lives on through Nest.
36. mewithoutYou – [Untitled] (Run For Cover, 2018)
The shapeshifting mewithoutYou have made a lot of great music throughout their career, from the Fugazi-esque post-hardcore of their 2002 debut [A→B] Life to the Neutral Milk Hotel-esque indie folk of 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, and beyond, but the peak of their career long remained 2004’s Catch For Us The Foxes and 2006’s Brother, Sister, two albums that blended art rock and post-hardcore in a way that we really haven’t ever heard before or since. They’re cult classics, and for good reason. After taking a sharp left turn with the folky It’s All Crazy… in 2009, mewithoutYou started to explore all kinds of other music, and then they slowly circled back to art rock/post-hardcore, beginning with 2015’s Pale Horses and peaking once again with 2018’s [Untitled], which was the biggest leap mewithoutYou had taken since they transitioned from [A→B] Life to CFUTF. [Untitled] wasn’t a return to form, though. On the surface, it was a return to their most-loved sound, but it went much deeper than that. [Untitled] is a record that the mewithoutYou of 2006 couldn’t have made. They needed to go through all the musical changes they went through and have all the life experiences they had in the 12 years since Brother, Sister to make an album like that. [Untitled] to Brother, Sister is sort of like Sonic Youth’s Murray Street to Goo. Murray Street also came 12 years after Goo, and it saw Sonic Youth re-approaching a lot of the elements that fans loved most about them, but it didn’t actually sound like anything they’d done before. It was another step forward, a new beginning. It also put SY on a creative streak that lasted nearly a decade. Let’s hope [Untitled] does that for mewithoutYou too. (Edit: this was written before mewithoutYou announced that 2020 would be their last year as an active band.)
35. La Dispute – Rooms of the House (Better Living, 2014)
La Dispute first won a lot of us over with their 2008 debut album Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, a genre-hopping post-hardcore/prog rock album that sounded like mewithoutYou and Circles Takes The Square formed one massive supergroup and wrote an album that managed to be part epic folktale, part diary entry. Its 2011 folllowup Wildlife was somehow even more genre-defying and more ambitious, and its most-loved song was a seven-minute epic told from the perspective of a gang member who accidentally shot and killed a child. La Dispute are a band that are known for really going for it, and often hitting grand slams when they swing for the fences. That’s why it’s so interesting that they made an even better album when they dialed all that back. Rooms of the House is the closest La Dispute have ever come to indie rock. They left the flashy prog rock tendencies behind and favored a more simplistic, rhythm guitar-based approach and more conventional song structures. Jordan Dreyer toned his scream down and focused more on singing and spoken word. And instead of telling edge-of-your seat stories of desperation, Jordan wrote a mostly-fictional concept album that looks at people and places and objects and finds significance in the little things. It’s less intense than the two albums that came before it, but in its own way, even more gripping.
34. Comadre – Comadre (Vitriol, 2013)
Before Jack Shirley became known as one of the most in-demand underground rock producers of the 2010s thanks to his work with Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor, and several other bands, he was the guitarist of the underrated screamo band Comadre, who called it quits in 2013 just a few months after releasing the best, most ambitious, and most unique record of their career. They had previously been a relatively straightforward screamo band (and a very good one at that), but their 2013 self-titled record saw them bringing in a Murder City Devils-style punk n’ roll stomp, a clean goth-rock baritone, and jangly guitars, warped keyboards, and trumpet lines that often sound more like Neutral Milk Hotel than like screamo. Even in the six years since, there’s hardly been anything like this gem of a record, which still remains criminally overlooked despite Jack Shirley becoming a household name in the punk scene. The arrangements aren’t like much of anything you’d expect to hear on a screamo record, but Juan Gabe’s throat-shredding vocals keep the album firmly planted in that world, even during the parts that get genuinely catchy.
33. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation (Hopeless, 2013)
When pop punk exploded into the mainstream in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it was often derided by punk fans as a bastardized form of punk music, too far removed from the genre’s roots to even deserve the word “punk” in its name. But pop punk encouraged a lot of people to pick up guitars, and a new crop of bands started to emerge in the late 2000s and early 2010s who loved pop punk for what it was, and saw it as an entirely valid way to write heartfelt, communal music. The best of these bands was The Wonder Years, and their finest moment as a true-blue pop punk band was 2013’s The Greatest Generation. It’s not just The Wonder Years’ best pop punk album, but the best pop punk album of the last decade, so it’s not surprising that — after perfecting the genre — The Wonder Years started to go in other directions on later albums. Their crowning achievement thus far, in my humble opinion, is 2015’s No Closer to Heaven, but if you want an album that’s pop punk through and through, it doesn’t get better than The Greatest Generation.
Pop punk’s haters weren’t entirely wrong about the genre; it had its flaws, lyrically, production-wise, etc. But The Greatest Generation avoids the genre’s stereotypical flaws, and hones in on the thrills that you just can’t get from any other type of music. The Greatest Generation is well-polished like good pop punk should be, but it’s never overproduced or drowning in auto-tune like a lot of pop punk is. The production, courtesy of Steve Evetts (who worked on pop punk-ish classics by Lifetime, Saves The Day, and more), is as human-sounding as Dan Campbell’s lyrics, which are devastatingly honest, personal tales about the fears and anxieties of entering the real world (not whiny, bitter ex-boyfriend songs like many of TWY’s peers and forebears wrote). “Jesus Christ, I’m 26 / All the people I graduated with all have kids, all have wives, all have people who care if they come home at night / Well Jesus Christ… did I fuck up?”, Campbell sings, soundtracking thousands of quarterlife crises with each breath.
32. Foxing – Dealer (Triple Crown, 2015)
After Foxing released their crowdpleasing 2013 debut The Albatross but before they released 2018’s genre-defying art rock magnum opus Nearer My God, they put out Dealer, the most meditative album in their discography thus far. Instead of building to explosive catharses like the two albums it’s bookended by, Dealer saw Foxing exploring post-rock and atmospheric singer/songwriter material, and coming out with music that gradually draws you in rather than hitting you in the face. Nearer My God is Foxing’s most experimental album, but Dealer is probably their most “difficult” — so to speak — and it’s definitely their most consistently gorgeous. The album is as lush as the greenery on the artwork, and without the in-your-face parts of the other two albums, it relies on pure sonic beauty and Conor Murphy’s storytelling to keep you hooked, which it has no trouble doing. Dealer made it clear that Foxing were not going to be pigeonholed, and it helped open the doors for them to eventually make an album like Nearer My God. It’s so much more significant than just a stepping stone on the path to Nearer My God, though. Half a decade later, and there still hasn’t really been album in or outside of the emo scene that sounds like it.
31. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends (Run For Cover, 2018)
From the moment you hear Georgia Maq sing, you know it’s something special. Between her unflinching lyricism and the unique quality of her voice, she’s the kind of artist whose work sucks you in immediately and lingers around in your brain long after the record has finished playing. And with Camp Cope, Georgia has applied that voice and her guitar to Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich’s spidery basslines and Sarah Thompson’s sturdy drumming to create one of the most singular, powerful punk bands of a generation. Their self-titled 2016 debut is great, and its even better 2018 followup How to Socialise & Make Friends shows a band who are still clearly on the upward swing. Whether Georgia is battling sexism on the #MeToo-era anthems “The Opener” and “The Face of God,” or mourning the death of her father on the stunning acoustic album closer “I’ve Got You,” she leaves the listener hanging on her every word.
30. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Double Double Whammy, 2014)
Before Mitski became one of the most iconic, definitive indie rock artists of the 2010s, she self-released a couple then-little-known albums and then had her first breakthrough with Bury Me At Makeout Creek, which came out on LVL UP’s Double Double Whammy label and quickly led to Mitski becoming a regular in indie/punk circles. By time she released 2016’s Puberty 2 and its even more universally loved 2018 followup Be the Cowboy, you couldn’t really call Mitski punk or emo anymore, but Bury Me at Makeout Creek remains as much a classic of this scene as albums by Mitski’s former billmates Against Me! and Joyce Manor. And I would sort of understand if someone argued that even Bury Me at Makeout Creek isn’t really emo, but with its driving guitars and heart-clenching lines like “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony” and “If your hands need to break more than trinkets in your room / You can lean on my arm as you break my heart,” it totally is.
29. White Lung – Sorry (Deranged, 2012)
Before White Lung signed to Domino, embraced cleaner production, and got widespread hipster cred, they were regulars on the DIY punk/hardcore scene, and they put out a record bursting with so much songcraft and ambition that it’s no wonder the punk scene couldn’t contain them much longer. As fantastic as their later, better-produced records are, it was clear that they had already figured out everything about their sound on their rawer 2012 sophomore record Sorry. The album arrived complete with unfiltered, incisive rage, guitar work that rivaled orchestras in its complexity, and choruses that were big enough for arenas but still perfectly suited for tiny punk shows. The whole thing is just ten songs that clock in at under 20 minutes, with one whiplash-inducing song crashing right into the next, and even after seven and a half years, it never feels predictable or gets old. It offers up the short, loud, and fast thrills that you can only get from punk, but with ambitious guitar work and monstrous hooks that you rarely find in punk this true to form.
28. Beach Slang – Who Could Ever Want Anything So Broken? EP (Dead Broke, 2014)
Some bands get off to a rough start, but Beach Slang captured lightning in a bottle for their first four-song EP, and it’s still the best thing they’ve ever done. Main member James Alex had been in ’90s pop punk band Weston, who had a small brush with fame before breaking up just as their peers were really starting to take off, but he had been quiet for a while, before picking up a guitar in 2013 and banging out the best songs he’d ever written. He recruited drummer JP Flexner (Ex Friends) and bassist Ed McNulty (Crybaby, NONA) to record them, and Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? was born. It came out on Iron Chic guitarist Mike Bruno’s small Dead Broke Rekerds, and it didn’t really get any typical industry buzz at first, but word spread like crazy on the punk underground and they had people screaming along like crazy at their very first, tiny shows. It was immediately clear that something very special was happening, and it was all because of how perfect these four songs are. James tapped into his love of punk rock, reckless youth, and living every night like it’s your last on earth, and he combined those feelings with Replacements and Jawbreaker worship that sounded instantly familiar yet as fresh as can be. Like with the actual Replacements, it was hard for Beach Slang to last forever writing beer-soaked rock and roll songs. They’ve gone through tons of lineup changes (James is the only remaining original member), and their last album was a mostly-solo album where James did stripped-down versions of past Beach Slang songs. Maybe the classic lineup will reunite one day (like The Replacements’ finally did), but until then, all you need to do is throw on “Filthy Luck,” “Kids,” “Get Lost,” and “Punk or Lust” to transport yourself right back to the drunk, sweat-drenched mosh pits that these guys incited at every show.
27. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love (Sub Pop, 2015)
A lot of ’90s-era punk bands made long-awaited comebacks in the 2010s, but none went as smoothly as Sleater-Kinney’s. Right off the bat, Sleater-Kinney announced a reunion tour and a new album the same day. Their reunion was never going to be about nostalgia, and they didn’t even do one round of dates dedicated to the classics. By the time the tour began, No Cities To Love had been released, and their setlists were as dedicated to that album as their 2005 setlists were to The Woods. Not a lot of bands can pull off something like that, but Sleater-Kinney could because No Cities To Love was on par with any of their best albums. It’s stacked with so many great songs, which all have the same strong hooks and same sense of purpose as Sleater-Kinney’s classic songs (and even more guitar heroism). It’s the rare reunion album that you quickly forget is a “reunion album,” because it so naturally and quickly became an essential part of this band’s already-fruitful discography.
26. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL, 2010)
It’s not everyday that a band even tries to make an album like The Monitor, so when one attempts it and succeeds with flying colors — like Titus Andronicus did — you really just have to take a moment and treasure it. A huge leap forward from the band’s more lo-fi 2008 debut The Airing of Grievances, The Monitor saw Titus embracing hard-hitting punk, Springsteenian heartland rock, and ambitious song cycles, and coming out with a punk concept record that tied the civil war to modern-day life and also really fucking rocked. It had guest singers, bagpipes, strings, horns — the works — and the musical ambition was matched by fiery guitar solos and roaring choruses where Patrick Stickles was shouting for the people in the cheap seats. The indie rock scene that Titus grew out of is often known for practicing restraint, but The Monitor had less inhibitions than even most of the 2010s’ actual arena rock records. It’s immaculately produced, it sounds like every single word and note was obsessed over, and it’s really catchy too. It should have made Titus Andronicus huge, and even though it didn’t, it’s at least become a cult classic. It’s become a touchstone for pretty much any punk-ish band in the last ten years that wanted to write an ambitious concept album that didn’t sound like American Idiot. But even as it’s grown to be loved and influential, no one — not even Titus Andronicus themselves — have really made an album that sounds like it.
25. Best Coast – Crazy For You (Mexican Summer, 2010)
When Crazy For You came out, it was part of the trendy, surfy lo-fi boom and not really connected at all to the pop punk bands of the time, but it was clear from the songwriting that Bethany Cosentino — whose pre-Best Coast solo project had a PureVolume page — was a pop punk fan and they went on to cover blink-182 and tour with Green Day and Paramore, so I think we can just admit they’ve always sort of been a pop punk band at heart. More important than any of that, though, is how influential this album has become and how well it’s held up. Obviously there were tons of women who played punk and indie rock before Best Coast, but Crazy For You tapped into coming-of-age female anxiety with the same deceptive simplicity that blink-182 and Green Day did for coming-of-age male anxiety in the ’90s, and helped open the doors for an era where critics could declare rock isn’t dead, it’s ruled by women. The melodies and chord progressions were in the Ramones-style tradition of recalling ’50s/’60s rock n’ roll and girl groups, but the album also treated things like waiting for a call from a partner or not being as attractive as the person your crush is dating as these monumental things, and that’s pretty fucking emo. And on top of it all, it had these ridiculously catchy hooks that you probably still can’t get out of your head a decade later. Every song on the album feels like it could’ve been a hit, and even if the production makes this album much more indie rock than a lot of the decade’s indie/punk crossover, I’d be willing to bet Billie Joe Armstrong and Mark Hoppus wish they wrote choruses this perfect this decade.
24. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph, 2012)
It doesn’t always work out this neatly, but with Converge, each decade of their career has been a separate chapter. In the ’90s, they were going through lineup changes and still figuring out their sound (and striking gold a few times in the process). In the 2000s, they cemented the lineup of Jacob Bannon, Kurt Ballou, Nate Newton, and Ben Koller, and released classic after classic, from 2001’s generation-defining Jane Doe up through 2009’s wildly ambitious Axe to Fall. This decade, they’ve slowed their output down a bit (but members have also been very prolific with a number of side projects), and the two albums they put out will probably always be known as the “after the classics” albums. That doesn’t mean they’re of lesser quality though; Converge just sound a little more settled-in. They’re at a similar point in their career to, say, The National. For both bands, it seems like they’re less concerned with topping their last album and writing a new classic, and more concerned with just operating in their own world, doing what they do best. It’s made Converge seem a little more relaxed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the music itself is slower or less aggressive. Sometimes it is, like on “Coral Blue,” which might be the most pure pop moment in the band’s career — but All We Love We Leave Behind is still an intense, extremely heavy album. From the math-punk of fiery album opener “Aimless Arrow,” to the tech-y, riff-forward standout “Sadness Comes Home,” to the heavy-as-bricks closer “Predatory Glow,” All We Love only strengthens Converge’s reputation as one of punk and metal’s most powerful bands. They’re elder statesmen at this point, but they’re still as creative and forward-thinking as the younger bands who are hungry to prove themselves.
23. PUP – Morbid Stuff (Little Dipper/Rise, 2019)
With these decade lists, it’s always hard to try to put albums that came out just a few months ago against ten-year-old albums that already feel like classics, but sometimes you get an album as instant-classic as Morbid Stuff and you just know it already measures up. PUP had already been one of the leading voices in 2010s indie-pop-punk thanks to their first two albums, but Morbid Stuff came out in April 2019 and blew both of its predecessors out of the water upon arrival. It delivers pretty much the same kind of fist-raising punk anthems as those two albums, just in a way that’s bigger, better, tighter, and smarter. PUP don’t really try to be the most startlingly original band in the world, but they put enough of their own spin on tried-and-true pop punk formulas that they end up sounding like no one else. And they’re one of those bands who create a sound and keep honing it from album to album, getting exponentially better each time. If they keep going at this rate, they’ll top Morbid Stuff eventually too, but right now, they’re about as close to the top as it gets. The 2010s have given us a lot of good punk records, and Morbid Stuff can already go power chord for power chord with the best of them.
22. Tigers Jaw – Charmer (Run For Cover, 2014)
Charmer could’ve ended up as Tigers Jaw’s last album, but instead it proved to be a new beginning. It was the last album recorded with the classic lineup of Ben Walsh, Brianna Collins, Adam McIlwee, Dennis Mishko, and Pat Brier — the latter three of which left the band before its release — but it opened the doors for Tigers Jaw to reach a bigger audience than ever before. After Charmer came out, Tigers Jaw were no longer the niche indie-punk band that they were during the era that birthed their first three albums. They started to get widespread critical acclaim, play bigger venues than ever before, and eventually they signed to an imprint of a major label. (All the while, former co-frontman Adam McIlwee started to gain traction for his emo-rap project Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.) And the reason it all happened, is because Charmer contains the best songs Tigers Jaw ever wrote. Their 2008 self-titled sophomore album is already a classic in certain circles, but it’s a scrappy, flawed classic that’s probably destined to remain as niche as it was the day it came out. Charmer saw Tigers Jaw sounding like pros. They were writing melodies and lyrics that earned them a spot in the same lineage of morose pop music as bands like The Cure and The Smiths. They’re the kind of instant-classic songs that would silence a room if they were performed on nothing but an acoustic guitar (as Tigers Jaw have done), but which sounded even better when they were arranged and produced (by Will Yip) the way they were on Charmer. Tigers Jaw took a similar approach with 2017’s very good Spin, but with Adam, Ben, Brianna, and Pat all singing on Charmer, it remains the definitive document of this band’s career (so far, at least). Their voices never sounded better than they did on this record, and their songs never felt more powerful. It’s hard to believe more than half the band already knew they’d be on their way out when they were making it.
21. Touché Amoré – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me (Deathwish, 2011)
For an album with a mouthful of a title like Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, you might be surprised how much these songs rely on brevity. The first half (“~” through “Method Act”) qualifies as a song cycle, with each under-two-minute song segueing directly into the next with hardly a moment for lead shouter Jeremy Bolm to take a breath. Some of these songs are so short that they don’t even bother with verses and choruses; they just move from point A to point B and then it’s on to the next one. But don’t mistake “short” with “simple.” As these mini epics come together, they create a whole that covers a shockingly huge amount of ground. Atmospheric, slow-burning post-rock and high-speed punk both have a place on this album, sometimes in the same song. And though Parting the Sea sometimes threatens to become too ambitious for its own good, it never does. Since releasing this album, Touche have never stopped pushing forward and covering more and more ground, but even if Parting the Sea isn’t their absolute best, it may always remain their most classic. Every line Jeremy screams on this album feels like it belongs to him as much it belongs to the thousands of kids who yell these songs back in his face at shows. Parting the Sea is relentless in the way it offers up classic song after classic song; on one hand, it feels like just yesterday that this album dropped, on the other, I can’t believe it’s only been eight years. These songs feel embedded into post-hardcore’s DNA as much as songs that are twice or three times as old. Like all Touche Amore albums, Parting the Sea is overwhelmingly personal, but more so on this one than any other, Jeremy tapped into feelings of desperation that feel near-universally relatable.
20. The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven (Hopeless, 2015)
What do you do after you’ve written the best true-blue pop punk record of the last ten years? Write an even better record that entirely defies the genre without abandoning what people already love about your band. That’s what The Wonder Years did with No Closer To Heaven, the followup to The Greatest Generation, which pretty much closed the book on the whole “defend pop punk” thing two years prior. No Closer To Heaven hits all those same pleasure points that The Greatest Generation (and any good pop punk album) does. It’s still got an adrenaline-fueled rhythm section and crisp power chords that feel like a shot to the heart, it’s still got Dan Campbell straining his voice to the point of cracking while still sounding crystal clear, but it’s got more than that too. It’s more dynamic, more atmospheric, and more musically diverse than its predecessor, and it’s a much grander sounding album. It’s the album where The Wonder Years seem like they’re taking the most amount of risks, and for that reason, it has its flaws too. But after a perfect record like The Greatest Generation, sometimes you want flaws. In a way, the flaws make The Wonder Years better. It makes them sound more raw, more real, and more human, and, on an emotional level, this album is nothing but. When Dan mourns his dead friend on “Cigarettes & Saints,” it’ll tug at the heartstrings of even the most cynical music listener.
19. The Hotelier – Goodness (Tiny Engines, 2016)
Because emo is often a youth-oriented genre, a lot of these bands get attention when they’re very young, and we end up seeing the good ones drastically evolve before our eyes. (Emo 101: Just because a band’s debut album is whiny pop punk, doesn’t mean they won’t release some tremendous art rock record in like five years.) And The Hotelier are one of those bands; each album was a gigantic leap from the past. Their debut was the generic emo-ish pop punk of 2011’s It Never Goes Out, which was followed by the much stronger and much more unique Home, Like Noplace Is There in 2014. And their masterpiece thus far is 2016’s Goodness, an album that transcends any specific subgenre and feels like a monumental album for underground rock overall. It’s a warm, atmospheric record with folk/post-rock interludes, vivid imagery, and the best songwriting and production of the band’s career. They already learned how to write soaring hooks on their debut, but on Goodness, they wove those hooks in with intricate arrangements and inventive song structures. It’s the age-old approach that’s been winning music nerds over since Pet Sounds — experimentalism with an underlying pop song, making for something that’s too weird for the radio to ever touch but as catchy as anything they do play. The Hotelier figured out how to take that art pop mindset, and apply it to the driving catharsis of punk and emo, and it resulted in a record that hits you in the mind, heart, and gut all at once.
18. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni, 2013)
When the beloved indie-pop-punk band P.S. Eliot reunited and released a discography compilation in 2016, Don Giovanni Records’ Joe Steinhardt called them “this generation’s Cap’n Jazz.” If they are, then that would probably make Waxahatchee some combination of our Owen and our American Football. P.S. Eliot singer Katie Crutchfield started Waxhatchee as a solo project just as P.S. Eliot were breaking up (and her twin sister/P.S. Eliot bandmate Allison started Swearin’), and after releasing her bedroom-folk debut American Weekend in 2012, she put out the slightly-more-band-oriented Cerulean Salt, which remains the most unique and most heart-wrenching album she has ever made. Katie made it with three members of Swearin’ (Allison, Kyle Gilbride, and former member Keith Spencer) and Radiator Hospital’s Sam Cook-Parrott, but it was still much more bare-bones than the two fleshed-out albums Waxahatchee would release next. It wasn’t “full band” so much as it was “sort of band,” with songs like “Brother Bryan” that was fueled by a simple bassline, a kick drum, and a snare, and yet was more impactful than tons of other fuller-sounding records. Waxahatchee went into more musically ambitious territory later on, but the feelings on this record remain the most powerful. It’s the kind of record you bury yourself in when you’re going through a rough patch and you need to feel like someone else understands (like Owen records were for a previous generation). Both sonically and lyrically it is about as honest and imperfect as finding a page ripped out of someone’s diary. And I think it’s already safe to say it inspired a lot of people throughout the last seven years to make raw, honest, DIY-minded records of their own.
17. American Football – LP3 (Polyvinyl, 2019)
When American Football broke up in 2000, their 1999 debut album had hardly left any kind of noticeable dent at all, but today it is maybe the single most influential album on 2010s emo. Hundreds of bands copied it, though none could truly capture its charm… until American Football themselves. Their cult status grew until they finally reunited for live shows in 2014, polished the rust off with 2016’s LP2, and then made the best album of their career with 2019’s LP3. American Football helped pioneer a blend of math rock, post-rock, and emo that was a huge feat instrumentation-wise, but it wasn’t until starting his solo project Owen that frontman Mike Kinsella really learned how to sing and write lyrics and choruses that left the same impact on the heart that his noodly guitar playing left on the brain. When American Football reunited, he and the rest of the band (including new bassist Nate Kinsella, Mike’s cousin and longtime collaborator) began putting those two things together and they perfected it on LP3. The album still has the math rock signifiers that made American Football so unique and so influential, but LP3 succeeds because it isn’t trying to recreate any previous American Football album. American Football have now been a band in the 2010s for longer than they were in the ’90s, and they’ve really figured out who they are now; they’re not just living off the nostalgia for who they were 20 years ago. LP3 is just as much a dream pop album as it is a post-rock/math rock/emo album. It’s the best-produced and most gorgeous sounding album the band ever made, and it sets no limits for what it means to be an “American Football album.” It brings in glockenspiel, a children’s choir, and high-profile guest vocalists from members of Paramore, Slowdive, and Land of Talk, whose voices are as essential to these songs as Mike Kinsella’s. LP3 may never hold the same cultural significance as LP1, but, artistically speaking, it’s a massive leap forward.
16. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You (Epitaph, 2014)
Whenever a hardcore band stops screaming, they risk saying goodbye to a large chunk of their fans, but the risk was worth it for Pianos Become the Teeth, who left their screamo roots behind on 2014’s Keep You and came out with the best album of their career. As revealed a year earlier on “Hiding” from PBTT’s essential 2013 split 7″ with Touche Amore, lead screamer Kyle Durfey had been, uh, hiding a great singing voice all along. And when the cleaner vocals put Kyle’s lyrics more in the forefront than ever, it also made it even more clear how strong a lyricist he had become. Much of the album is about the death of Kyle’s father, and he conveyed that emotional weight through the tiniest, everyday details. “I got your picture sitting on the sink / You were so young, so skinny, so quick to laugh,” he sings, and it manages to hit even harder than a more direct rumination on grief. Kyle had written some of the best hooks and the best lyricism of his life, and the rest of PBTT had perfected the style of heavy post-rock that they had begun honing on their first two albums (aided by not-so-secret weapon David Haik, one of the most gifted drummers in modern-day post-hardcore). The instrumentation is as dramatic as the songs’ content, but not overly so. It’s impassioned, cathartic, and flawless in its execution. It captures true human emotion in its purest form, and it’s really not everyday that an album successfully bares it all the way this one does.
15. War On Women – Capture The Flag (Bridge Nine, 2018)
“There’s actually very few people who do what War on Women do, to be honest,” said Kathleen Hanna, who sings guest vocals on “YDTMHTL” off War On Women’s sophomore album Capture the Flag, and if that kind of praise from a true feminist punk legend isn’t enough to sell you on this band, I don’t know what will. Members of War On Women had been in a handful of noteworthy bands in the past, but since forming this one, they emerged as one of the strongest feminist punk bands that the 2010s had to offer. Their politics are uncompromising, both in their lyrics and in the activist work they do, and it’s hard not to get chills as Shawna Potter scream-sings about injustices that date all the way back to the 1800s up through ones we still experience today. And War On Women back up their very strong messages with very strong writing. They’ve got a rock-solid rhythm section, searing guitar solos, and radio-ready hooks that might’ve made War On Women famous if the radio actually played punk bands. As far as loud, in-your-face, middle-fingers-up punk in the 2010s went, it rarely got better than Capture The Flag.
14. Turnstile – Time & Space (Roadrunner, 2018)
History repeats itself, and just like hardcore bands in the early ’90s started experimenting with slower tempos, flashes of metal, and pop choruses, hardcore bands about two and a half decades later started doing the same thing. Turnstile emerged on the hardcore scene with a 2010 demo, and by their 2018 sophomore album Time & Space, they’d written their best songs yet by doing all of the aforementioned things and more. Time & Space often sounds like those ’90s bands who made similar creative decisions, but Turnstile figured out how to do it while sounding entirely fresh. They kept their hardcore roots intact while writing songs you could sing along to, shredding guitar solos you could play air guitar along to, and pummeling riffs you could bang your head to. They also worked in bits of psychedelia, R&B, and more, and somehow even got Diplo on the record in a way that totally worked. They are still hardcore through and through, but when they put this genre-defying record in February 2018 they sounded like the genre’s future. Now, almost two years later, they still do.
13. Hop Along – Get Disowned (Hot Green, 2012)
Before becoming one of the decade’s most beloved indie rock bands, Hop Along grinded their way through the punk and DIY scene, playing tons of tiny rooms and opening for seemingly any band who asked. They aren’t openers anymore — now they headline decent sized venues on the regular — but back in the first half of this decade, Hop Along were a well-kept secret. They hadn’t really gotten much indie hype machine buzz yet, but they spread like wildfire thanks to good old word of mouth. Even when they’d be on first of three at a big venue, there’d always be a group of people near the front yelling every word. It was always obvious this band was destined for a breakthrough, and that was because of how damn near perfect the songs on Get Disowned were. The opposite of an overnight success, Hop Along had been around as Frances Quinlan’s solo project since the mid 2000s (initially known as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis), and though she released the 2005 solo album Freshman Year as a teenager and some EPs, 2012’s Get Disowned was their full-band debut album and the album that truly started it all. They’d eventually sign to Saddle Creek, have their long-overdue breakthrough, and earn a great amount of acclaim for Get Disowned when the label reissued it in 2016. But initially, Get Disowned came out on Algernon Cadwallader’s tiny, seemingly now-defunct label Hot Green Records, and it was the kind of album that was just too good to stay underground forever. When you hear Frances yell “nobody deserves you the way that I do” on album standout “Tibetan Pop Stars,” you’re reminded why this band was once considered emo, but Get Disowned also has a Neutral Milk Hotel-esque folk side that gives it more of a shambolic, earthy edge than their later albums. They tightened up their sound on 2015’s Painted Shut and successfully navigated more ambitious territory than ever on 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog, but the raw, humble charm of Get Disowned makes this album remain just as much a gem as it was the day it was quietly released.
12. Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled By Ramen, 2017)
Polished, super mainstream pop punk in the mid to late 2000s did not get a very good reputation, but Paramore were always a cut above the rest. And with their fifth album After Laughter, which dipped its toes into synthpop and new wave while still sounding like no other band in the world, they hit such a creative peak that even the most pop punk-averse music fans and critics had to admit they did something great. The album’s more “hip” signifiers made it more easily digestible for people who wince at the mention of “pop punk,” but After Laughter isn’t Paramore’s best record yet just because it’s quote-unquote “cooler.” Hayley Williams became a more compelling vocalist than ever on this record, and it’s got the band’s strongest songwriting yet. Hayley’s depressing lyrics were masked with bright, sugary melodies and infectious rhythms, which is often a trick that helps secure longevity, as it did for this album. The songs hook you on first listen, and the lyrical depth keeps you hanging around to further explore the emotional weight that they carry. Especially when you come out of nowhere and get super popular with your debut, as Paramore did back in 2005, the cliché is that you’re likely to fall off quick. But Paramore made their best album (so far!) 12 years later. It feels like they’re only beginning.
11. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble/Xtra Mile, 2014)
Transgender Dysphoria Blues wasn’t so much a comeback, as it was the beginning of Against Me!’s second life. After starting out in the early 2000s as a beloved underground folk punk band, they went through a divisive major-label period in the late ’00s and early ’10s, and then took a bit of a hiatus from music as singer Laura Jane Grace became one of the most high-profile rock singers to come out as transgender. Around the same time, the major label deal ended, lineup changes ensued (and Against Me! secured drum wiz Atom Willard), and then the new-and-improved Against Me! wrote the best album they ever made, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It often tackles Laura’s coming-out and gender transition head on, while also working in an ode to a dead friend (“Dead Friend”) and one of the greatest punk rock fuck-yous of the decade (“Black Me Out”). It can’t be easy to write about this kind of stuff, but Laura did so incisively, and came out with a handful of definitive trans punk anthems in the process. Its subject matter is of course a large part of what makes it so significant, but it’s not the only reason; the message is matched by the best songwriting and production of Against Me!’s career.
10. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past (Epitaph, 2012)
Not unlike The Gaslight Anthem before them, The Menzingers’ formula was simple: take the melodic punk of bands like The Bouncing Souls and Rancid, throw in a dash of Springsteen’s blue collar heartland rock, and tell the stories you know. And with On the Impossible Past, The Menzingers wrote a record so instantly classic that it rivaled all of those aforementioned forebears, and it still does. On the Impossible Past takes place in diners, parking lots, muscle cars, rooftops in Brooklyn that were covered in bad graffiti, and at parties thrown by some guy named Chris. It’s steeped in nostalgia, and full of highly specific stories, like an old photograph. Like with any memories, some of those details are probably a little romanticized — especially when you’re singing about the kinds of nights you’ll never remember — but On the Impossible Past doesn’t feel fake or dishonest. Even if you can’t relate to the depictions of small town American life, the feelings are nearly universal. From self-doubt to self-medication, from young love to broken hearts, On the Impossible Past taps into life experiences than can happen just about anywhere, and it does so in such a way where your brain starts to blend your own fuzzy past with the vivid settings in The Menzingers’ songs. These are the kinds of songs that can really mean a lot if they find you at a rough point in your life. But even if they don’t, they’ll likely linger in the back of your head anyway, just because they’re so damn catchy.
9. Title Fight – Floral Green (SideOneDummy, 2012)
Title Fight emerged as a melodic hardcore band indebted to Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, etc, and they ended up as leaders of the punk/shoegaze crossover movement that a lot of fellow punk bands latched onto in the mid-to-late 2010s. And right in between came their magnum opus, Floral Green, which hinted at the shoegaze and alternative rock influences that would eventually define latter Title Fight but which still fully embraced the band’s hard-hitting punk roots. Not to mention they wrote the best batch of songs of their career. Experimenting with slower tempos and a greater interest in atmosphere also gave Title Fight the ability to let some of the most powerful songwriting of their career shine. When Ned Russin sings “I never wanted sympathy / Just wanted to be something,” somehow gutturally screaming and sighing at the same time, he tugs at the heartstrings about as hard as the best emo bands ever did. And when Title Fight diverged from their punk past for arty songs like “Numb, But I Still Feel It,” “Lefty,” and the album’s Hum-like centerpiece “Head in the Ceiling Fan,” it became overwhelmingly clear that this was a band who had already transcended the boundaries of punk and emo. They essentially made what was one of the best indie rock albums in recent memory, and helped create a sea change within the entire world of punk and emo. Whether the influence was direct or not, when punk/emo bands in the 2010s started making indie, art rock, post-rock, and shoegaze records, they owed at least some of it to Floral Green.
8. Joyce Manor – Joyce Manor (6131, 2011)
It took Joyce Manor a little while to catch on outside of niche punk and emo circles, but quality wise, they came out of the gate swinging on their 2011 self-titled debut. They’d go on to become of the most consistently rewarding rock bands of the ’10s, and they continued to hone and expand their sound in interesting ways on each album, but the main idea was already there on their debut, an 18-minute-and-48-second barrage of near-perfect punk. Borrowing the melodies and quotable lyricism of ’90s pop punk and emo and the lo-fi brevity of Guided by Voices, Joyce Manor’s debut helped write the blueprint for the entire past decade of indie/punk crossover. Blurring the lines between pop punk, emo, and indie rock is now commonplace, but when Joyce Manor did it on their debut album, it felt revolutionary. I’m still not entirely sure which of those genres most accurately describes Joyce Manor, but it doesn’t really matter and that’s kind of the point. Like other casually groundbreaking bands before them, Joyce Manor were just channelling all the music they loved at once and the results ended up being something entirely fresh. Their style has already been replicated hundreds of times, but their substance has not. Underneath the genre-blurring exterior was a natural knack for songwriting that tons of bands only dream of. The fast-paced Joyce Manor is just one fan fave after another; if Joyce Manor ever release a best-of, they could probably include every song on this LP without turning any heads. And it all leads up to “Constant Headache,” the first stone-cold classic they ever wrote and possibly still their finest moment as a band. At 3 minutes, it’s about twice as long as most other songs on this album. It’s a little slower, really giving Barry Johnson’s words room to breathe, and it peaks with a stripped-back bridge, where everything drops out except bass and vocals, as Barry delivers one of the best one-liners ever sung about the emptiness of a one night stand. As long as kids are getting drunk and breaking each other’s hearts, there will be a need for songs like this one, and “Constant Headache” remains one of the best.
7. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph, 2015)
Before Harmlessness, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die had released some promising EPs, a great but very imperfect full-length, a not-so-enjoyable spoken word EP, and underwent a few lineup changes including the departure of lead vocalist Tom Diaz. They were not exactly a band who seemed on the verge of releasing an all-time classic record, which is why it’s so interesting that that’s exactly what they did. Harmlessness was TWIABP’s first album for the larger Epitaph Records, but TWIABP took the same DIY approach as they took for everything else they did (with their own Chris Teti producing, mixing, and engineering), and still they came out with better songs and a greater sense of ambition than ever before. New lead vocalist David Bello fit in with the band’s sound perfectly, and he successfully tackled heavy topics like struggles with physical and mental health, while keyboardist/vocalist Katie Dvorak duetted with him on one of the emo revival’s greatest anti-sexual assault anthems, “January 10th, 2014.” Matching the emotional complexity was a musical backdrop that pulled from folk, post-rock, metal, indie rock, punk, emo, post-hardcore, and more, and made it look effortless as they bounced between all these different sounds. The album never really lulls, but like its predecessor, it peaks at the end. Whenever, If Ever had one long post-rocky song at the end; Harmlessness has two. Both are majorly affecting, though the best is “I Can Be Afraid of Anything.” When the music brightens up, and TWIABP yell “I really did dig my own hole / I’m climbing out,” we felt that.
6. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By (Deathwish, 2013)
Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me remains the favorite Touche Amore album of many fans, probably in part because it’s one of their most personal. It’s the kind of album you write when you’re going through a rough patch, and the kind of album that thousands of fans will connect to when they’re going through their own rough patches. But what do you do when you’ve already written that record, and now you’re happy, and you’re worried about hurting your legacy? In Touche Amore’s case, you write a record about how hard it is to write when you’re happy, and about worrying what your legacy will be in the future. And, in Touche Amore’s case, you end up making an album that cements your legacy in the process. It’s a little reductive to say the album is only about those things — there are also more personal songs like “DNA” where Jeremy Bolm sings about the fear of becoming his father — but it is definitely a dominant theme. And it turns out his writing can be just as powerful when he breaks the fourth wall as when he’s caught up in his own inner turmoil. And musically, Is Survived By was a clear maturation from Parting the Sea. The production is gorgeous (thanks to Brad Wood, who’s also worked with Sunny Day Real Estate, mewithoutYou, and more), the melodies are stronger than they ever were before, and the band played tighter than they ever did before. Even more so than on Parting the Sea, Touche Amore blurred the line between hardcore and post-rock on Is Survived By, coming out with songs that are fast like the former but ebb and flow like the latter. (It was an album that paired especially well with Deafheaven’s Sunbather, which came out on the same label the same year, and had similarly watercolor-y artwork to Is Survived By, both of which were designed by Touche’s Nick Steinhardt. Deafheaven may be black metal and Touche may be hardcore, but both combined melody and aggression in ways that were similar more often than they were different.) Is Survived By came out six years ago at this point, and because there’s so much music out there, I don’t listen to it these days as much as I did in 2013. But as soon as I hear that opening drum fill on album opener “Just Exist,” I’m transported right back to the place I was the very first time I clicked play on this masterpiece.
5. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans, 2017)
This year, Phoebe Bridgers has been busy with Better Oblivion Community Center, a new collaborative project with Conor Oberst, and that’s a great fit, as Phoebe is kind of the Conor Oberst of her generation. With Bright Eyes, Conor gave young people around the world hushed singer/songwriter songs that captured all of the uncontrollable emotions they were dealing with, and with her 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps (which Conor also guests on), Phoebe did the same. Phoebe just has that ability to write songs where the words find clever ways to mirror universal feelings, and the melancholic melodies are the perfect vessel to deliver them with. When Phoebe sang “I have emotional motion sickness / Somebody roll the windows down,” she came out with a line as iconic as anything any of the Away Message-era emo bands wrote in the previous decade. And that’s far from the only quotable one-liner that Stranger has to offer. It’s one of those albums where almost every song was my favorite at one point or another, and I imagine I’m not alone in feeling this. It established her as a masterful songwriter and a masterful interpreter — when she covers Mark Kozelek’s “You Missed My Heart” as the penultimate track, she not only entirely makes it her own, she may have bested the original. Though this list unsurprisingly has more bands than solo artists, emo needs that quiet singer/songwriter, that heartbreaker who gets thousands of people singing every word as if they were their own. In the 2010s, that singer/songwriter was Phoebe Bridgers.
4. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Carpark, 2012)
In some ways, Attack On Memory still feels like the catalyst for the decade’s critical acceptance of a whole slew of punk, emo, and post-hardcore albums, genres that were typically trashed or completely ignored by critics in the previous decade. They weren’t the first critical indie darling band of the late ’00s/early ’10s with a record under the punk umbrella, and the emo revival (which Cloud Nothings never really fit into) was on the verge of a breakthrough anyway, but Attack On Memory felt like the moment when it became overwhelmingly clear that a large number of indie rock fans and critics were craving a hard-hitting, cathartic record like this. Cloud Nothings emerged out of the buzzed-about lo-fi boom of the late ’00s, but with Attack On Memory, they ditched all of their trendy traits and came out with the best and most widely-loved record of their career. It ditched the lo-fi indie pop of their early work in favor of abrasive post-hardcore, and it tied together elements of various ’90s rock bands — from Nirvana to Sonic Youth to Weezer to Sunny Day Real Estate — in a way that felt both like the nostalgia dose you didn’t know you needed and the freshest new rock record around. They made it with Steve Albini, whose raw, bare-bones style and killer snare sound was the perfect fit for a record that bounced seamlessly between punchy hooks (“Fall In,” “Stay Useless”), entrancing noise rock (“Wasted Days”), dark post-hardcore (“No Future/No Past”), angst-ridden grunge (“No Sentiment”), and more. It helped bring all of this music back into the indie rock zeitgeist, but Attack On Memory doesn’t succeed just because it helped kickstart a sea change within the genre. It holds up today as one of the most brilliant, impassioned, and endlessly listenable rock records released this decade.
3. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl, 2012)
There might not be a more accurately titled album on this list than Celebration Rock. It’s exactly what this album does; it celebrates the pure thrill that you can only get from rock and roll. Every song (except the initially underrated album closer “Continuous Thunder”) is turned up to 11 and played like the two members of Japandroids are challenging each other to play just a little bit faster. They’ve said they included all the “whoa”s because they were trying to think of how fans would sing along at shows. They stuffed the album with fist-raising heartland punk anthems that sounded like The Replacements with a literal fire lit under their asses, and they included such classic rock-isms as “Hearts from hell collide on fire’s highway tonight” and “hitchhiked to hell and back, riding the wind / waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin.” These eight songs sound like all the most fun parts of rock, stripped of all the pretension. It felt like a breath of fresh air in 2012, when stuff like art rock and psych-pop was still dominating indie rock, and — along with Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory — it helped open the doors for modern indie rock to embrace music that actually rocked. It holds up after all these years not just because it rocks so hard, though, but because underneath all the ruckus, Japandroids conveyed enough raw emotion to shake the hearts of anyone who listened to the core. “It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give / but you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live,” Brian King shouts as the drums drop out of penultimate song “The House That Heaven Built,” and it’s among the most life-affirming sendoffs put to tape this decade.
2. Foxing – Nearer My God (Triple Crown, 2018)
When the “emo revival” started in the late 2000s, it was a way for a new wave of bands to take emo back to the underground and pull influence from bands like American Football, Cap’n Jazz, and Braid, rather than the pop rock bands who brought the genre to arenas in the mid 2000s. Eventually, though, a handful of bands in this new wave of underground emo bands started offering up a much more original take on the genre that looked forward rather than backwards. No one’s really given it a name yet — maybe “post-emo” will take off, but the word “revival” shouldn’t be anywhere near it. Whatever you want to call it, it produced a lot of great music throughout this past decade, peaking — so far, at least — with Foxing’s stunning third album Nearer My God. Like most great albums, Nearer My God transcends its genre; in fact, there’s a good case to be made that this album shouldn’t qualify as “emo” at all. Nearer My God is to “emo revival” what OK Computer is to Britpop and grunge; the roots are there, but it takes those roots into nearly-undefinable territory. Like OK Computer did, Nearer My God pulls from all across the musical spectrum, and it brings tons of seemingly incongruous styles of music together in a way that somehow feels natural. And as much as you can draw comparisons to anything from M83 to TV on the Radio to The Blood Brothers to Frank Ocean, Nearer My God doesn’t sound like any band other than Foxing. They started out in a scene of bands who proudly wore their influences on their sleeves, but grew and came out with a sound that they can truly call their own. It is strikingly original, deeply experimental, and yet somehow it goes down like fine wine. It’s one of those albums where, no matter how many times I listen to it, I still can’t fully wrap my head around the idea that it was created by humans who walk the same earth as you and I.
1. White Lung – Deep Fantasy (Domino, 2014)
The thing about The Shape of Punk to Come is that it wasn’t the shape of punk to come. Punk got a lot more popular in its wake, but none of it really sounded like that album. Back in 2014, when White Lung released their third album and Domino debut Deep Fantasy, I wondered if maybe this would be the shape of punk to come. Well, it turned out this wasn’t either. It sounded like the future of punk in 2014, and it still sounds like the future of punk in 2019, because nobody’s had the guts to try and copy it. Deep Fantasy did everything that its excellent 2012 predecessor Sorry did but with better production and even nastier songs. Sorry was nasty as all hell, but when “Drown with the Monster” opens Deep Fantasy with its low, thundering power chord riff, you know you’re in for a different beast entirely. As on Sorry, the White Lung of Deep Fantasy figured out how to apply gigantic hooks and face-melting fretwork to the tried-and-true formula of short-fast-and-loud punk, managing to defy the genre and strictly adhere to it all at once. The songs on Deep Fantasy are just as intense as Sorry, but the production really helps bring out the best in them and it’s no surprise that this album — which is ever so slightly easier on the ears — helped gain White Lung a bigger fanbase. And like the great hardcore and punk bands of the past, White Lung used their platform to amplify necessary messages in direct opposition to the status quo. A few years before the #MeToo and #BelieveWomen hashtags went viral, White Lung captured the essence of both on Deep Fantasy highlight “I Believe You,” a takedown of rape culture that could’ve been an anthem for the #MeToo movement if it had been released a few years later. Deep Fantasy is a pre-Trump album that only became (sadly) more relevant in the Trump era, and the absolute finest example of real-deal punk music released this decade. It might never be the future of punk, but it still sounds better than whatever punk became in its wake.
For more decade lists, see 100 Best Rap and R&B Albums of the 2010s.