10 years ago, the new wave of post-hardcore made its mark
In 2011, the new wave of post-hardcore came into full effect with seminal albums by Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, Defeater, Title Fight, and more. This edition of 'In Defense of the Genre' looks back on those albums for their 10th anniversary, the overall punk landscape of 2011, and today's young bands who are starting their own new wave.
By the end of the decade, the early 2000s post-hardcore boom had waned in popularity and many of its best bands had begun to fizzle out or go in different directions, but the genre was far from dead. A new wave of post-hardcore bands had begun to crop up, jokingly referred to (by themselves) as "The Wave." Touche Amore frontman Jeremy Bolm told Alter The Press! in 2012 that the term was "an inside joke that got taken too far... just an excuse to have a name for our group of friends, like a bullshit kind of crew name. It was us, Pianos Become The Teeth, La Dispute, Make Do And Mend, Defeater… but what I've said a bunch of times is if 'The Wave' were truly a thing, it would incorporate so many other bands, like Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, Balance And Composure, Former Thieves, Into It Over It… just every band that's going on right now that's exciting."
The term "The Wave" didn't stick around but the movement did, and as Jeremy went on to describe in that Alter The Press! interview, the movement was really about any band under the punk/emo/post-hardcore umbrella who rejected the "terrible swoop hair, rock star attitude" bands of late 2000s Myspace and Warped Tour in favor of something more sincere. By the time the "emo revival" earned mainstream attention in 2013, a lot of these bands got lumped in with that descriptor, but in the late 2000s and early 2010s, "emo revival" was only really being used to describe bands like Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing, who were reviving the style of underground '90s emo bands like Cap'n Jazz, Braid, and American Football. The new wave of post-hardcore was similar to but different than the emo revival, and it's not so new anymore. The new wave of post-hardcore started to take shape in the late 2000s, and arrived in full force by 2011, a year that birthed pivotal albums by almost all of the NWOPH's heavy hitters. This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversaries of those albums.
In the span of about nine months, we got Touche Amore's Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, Pianos Become the Teeth's The Lack Long After, La Dispute's Wildlife, Defeater's Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, and Title Fight's Shed, all five of which made good on the promise of those bands' earlier releases and solidified that there really was an entirely new wave of post-hardcore and that it was very worth talking about. (Pretty much the only core "Wave" band to not release an album in 2011 was Make Do and Mend, but they did put out an acoustic EP with a Touche Amore cover on it.) With this much startlingly original, painstakingly honest, boundary-pushing post-hardcore at once, the genre had been given new life.
Touche Amore, who had already shown off a great deal of promise on their 2009, 6131-released debut album ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse, severely leveled up on their 2011 sophomore album Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, which was their first for Converge frontman J. Bannon's Deathwish label and had cleaner production courtesy of Ed Rose (who they chose because of his work with emo vets The Casket Lottery, who reunited in 2011 and released a split with Touche the following year). The bigger label and the esteemed producer helped, but the biggest improvements came from Touche themselves. They'd been touring like crazy and they were a way tighter band on this album (which was recorded live) than they were on Dead Horse. (It was also their first album with their current lineup.) And the songwriting took a massive leap forward. Several tracks on Parting the Sea bleed right into the next, and Jeremy's lyricism was at its most devastatingly personal.
While Touche Amore were channelling their fury into the most concise album of their career, their friends La Dispute were doing the exact opposite. The Michigan band already proved to be maximalists on their 2008 debut album Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair -- a concept album that fused mewithoutYou's spoken-word post-hardcore, Circle Takes The Square's experimental screamo, and progressive rock riffage -- but they pushed even further on Wildlife (released on No Sleep). The debut was a concept album, but this album was lyrically considered a collection of short stories, and that's how it feels musically too. It has everything from post-hardcore ragers to minimal folk songs to Radiohead-esque art rock to soaring post-rock; it's the sound of La Dispute throwing shit at a wall to see what sticks, and everything sticking. Wildlife also birthed what became La Dispute's signature song, "King Park," a song about a shooter who accidentally killed an innocent child during a drive-by, ending with the shooter begging for absolution. No matter how many times you listen, it's never any less suspenseful, or any less chilling.
With 2014's Keep You, Pianos Become the Teeth solidified themselves as a generation-defining melodic emo band, but before Kyle Durfey introduced the world to his soaring pipes, PBTT were primarily a screamo band. At the time, The Lack Long After (Topshelf) sounded like a natural progression from their more aggressive 2010 debut Old Pride, but knowing where they ended up, The Lack Long After hints a lot more at their current sound than it might've seemed like a decade ago. Kyle's still in throat-shredding mode in every song, but he's twisting his screams into melodies, and the rest of the band lean a lot more heavily into gorgeous post-rock climaxes than they did on Old Pride. (The Lack Long After might also be beastly drummer David Haik's finest hour.) Old Pride took obvious notes from '90s screamo, but on The Lack Long After, Pianos Become the Teeth reshaped those influences until they didn't sound like any other band in the world.
Like The Lack Long After, Shed looks a lot different in hindsight than it did in 2011. Title Fight opened up their Walter Schreifels-produced SideOneDummy debut with a double-time punk ripper that recalled the The Last Thing You Forget days, but once you're warmed up, Shed eases you into an album that's closer to the shoegazy punk that came next than to the Lifetime worship that came first. There's nothing as hazy as "Head In The Ceiling Fan" or Hyperview (though "Safe In Your Skin" and album closer "GMT [Greenwich Mean Time]" come pretty damn close), but the album's a lot more focused on atmosphere and celestial string bends than circle-pitting. Highlights like "Shed," "27," "Society," and "Crescent-Shaped Depression" are among the best songs in Title Fight's discography, and they're as musically unique and emotionally resonant as Title Fight's indie crossover albums that followed. And for those who do want to circle pit, "Coxton Yard," "Flood of '72," "You Can't Say Kingston Doesn't Love You," and "Your Screen Door" will get one going every time.
Defeater never ended up going in the more indie rock-friendly direction and achieving the crossover success that most of the other "Wave" bands did, but it'd be rewriting history to leave them out of the narrative of post-hardcore's 2010s resurgence. In 2011, they were leading the charge with their sophomore LP Empty Days & Sleepless Nights (Bridge 9), one of the strongest no-frills melodic hardcore LPs since the early 2000s heyday of bands like Modern Life Is War and American Nightmare. Like those bands, Defeater managed to be "melodic" without actually singing*, making them darker and heavier than the emo and pop punk-adjacent bands of the era but more approachable than straight-up hardcore. It's an appealing middle ground when it's done right, and Empty Days & Sleepless Nights is about as "right" as it gets. It's the kind of impassioned, heart-on-sleeve hardcore that leaves you hanging on every single word, and screaming them right back in the bands' faces. Empty Days is as anthemic as Title Fight, as direct and emotive as Touche Amore, and as lyrically conceptual as La Dispute, all while sounding distinctly different than those bands. These bands all worked so well together because they shared so many values but all brought something different to the table. Defeater were no exception. (*They did sing on the last four songs, but those weren't hardcore; they marked the band's brief foray into alt-country.)
Those five aforementioned albums alone would've been enough to make 2011 the year that the new wave of post-hardcore made its mark, but it didn't stop there. Doylestown, PA's Balance and Composure followed up their scene-classic 2010 split with Tigers Jaw with their first full-length album, Separation (No Sleep), cementing themselves as one of the genre's most promising bands. The album split the difference between Long Island post-hardcore and Seattle grunge, setting the tone for a whole new batch of grungy emo bands who would crop up over the next few years. Across the pond, Suffolk's Basement released their debut LP I Wish I Could Stay Here on Run For Cover, kind of sounding like the UK answer to onetime RFC band Title Fight. They put out their sophomore LP Colourmeinkindness the following year before going on hiatus, but when they returned in 2014, the whole emo revival/post-hardcore thing had fully taken off and Basement made one of the most triumphant comebacks that this corner of the punk universe had seen.
One last 2011 album that really solidified the arrival of post-hardcore's new wave came from a band who had defined the genre's previous wave, Thursday. They released what is still their final album, No Devolución, two days after the tenth anniversary of their era-defining 2001 album Full Collapse. Thursday were big champions of post-hardcore's new wave (and collaborators; frontman Geoff Rickly guested on Touche Amore's debut LP, and Pianos Become the Teeth drummer David Haik ended up joining Geoff's screamo band United Nations), and on the final song of No Devolución, "Stay True," they explicitly handed the torch over to the new wave. "'Stay True' was about wishing I could talk to my younger self, and in particular what made me think about that was a band called Touché Amoré," Geoff told Rock Sound in 2011. "Those kids remind me of us when we started out playing basements. In thinking about what I wish for them, their band and all the mistakes I hope they don’t make I recalled all the mistakes I had made." The first time they played it live (at one of their last pre-hiatus shows at NJ's Starland Ballroom), they dedicated it to Touche Amore as well as to Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, Make Do and Mend, and Aficionado (the latter two of whom opened the show).
Now, the "Wave" bands' classic albums are as old as Full Collapse was in 2011, and we're seeing them become as influential on a new generation of bands as Full Collapse was on "The Wave." They've all gotten bigger and progressed their sound -- Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, and Defeater all signed to Epitaph, Title Fight signed to Epitaph sister label ANTI-, and all five went on to work with Will Yip, whose production style has become as crucial to the last decade of punk as the bands themselves -- but they've never abandoned what they stood for or compromised their vision. They've all stayed true.
As Jeremy Bolm said in that Alter The Press! interview, "The Wave" didn't really mean anything too serious, and it also didn't even necessarily mean post-hardcore, just any band under the punk umbrella making honest music. Outside of post-hardcore, 2011 had tons of punk bands making honest music and releasing crucial albums that turn 10 this year. In one corner of the punk universe, you had Joyce Manor's seminal self-titled debut, which helped usher in a lo-fi, indie rock-style spin on classic pop punk alongside albums like Lemuria's Pebble, Good Luck's Without Hesitation, Big Eyes' Hard Life, Spraynard's Funtitled, and Summer Vacation's Condition. You also had albums making the case for poppy pop punk as a valid subgenre and not just a watered-down bastardization of punk like The Story So Far's Under Soil and Dirt, Man Overboard's self-titled, Fireworks' Gospel, The Swellers' Good For Me, and of course, The Wonder Years' Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing. A few years later, The Wonder Years would transcend pop punk and become one of the most distinct and important bands of any punk subgenre, but in 2011, nobody was doing true-blue pop punk better than The Wonder Years were on Suburbia.
Elsewhere in 2011, you had revered hardcore albums from Trapped Under Ice (Big Kiss Goodnight), Backtrack (Darker Half), and Foundation (When the Smoke Clears). The emo revival hadn't been picked up by major press outlets yet, but it was in full swing, with albums from Algernon Cadwallader (Parrot Flies), Into It. Over It. (Proper), Crash of Rhinos (Distal), Prawn (You Can Just Have It All), and more, and the debut album by a band named The Hotel Year, who would change their name to The Hotelier and go on to become one of the most critically acclaimed emo bands of the 2010s. Most of this stuff was still ignored by critics at the time, but 2011 birthed one majorly critically acclaimed album, Fucked Up's hardcore punk rock opera David Comes To Life, with breakthroughs from The Men (Leave Home) and Iceage (New Brigade) repping punk on critic lists too.
2011 gave us the debut album by Deafheaven (Roads to Judah), who would eventually popularize "blackgaze" in America but who had as many ties to the post-hardcore/screamo world as their friends/labelmates Touche Amore. It was the year of heartland/emo/post-rock band Restorations' LP1, folk punk band AJJ's beloved fourth album Knife Man, Mansions' anthemic indie-emo LP Dig Up The Dead, and punk-adjacent singer/songwriter Laura Stevenson and the Cans' Sit Resist. You also had the impossible-to-pin-down Vacation, the final album from Bomb the Music Industry! before Jeff Rosenstock pursued the solo career that helped turn him into one of the most widely respected punk musicians of the past decade.
With the tenth anniversaries of these albums upon us, we're seeing them go from being the "new" wave to being as influential as the bands who inspired them, and there are just as many exciting new post-hardcore bands today as there were in 2011. Just as "The Wave" was an in-joke nickname for a group of bands with shared values and slightly different sounds, 2021 has "Wild Hogs," an in-joke nickname for the theatrical Botch-meets-Every Time I Die mathcore of Atlanta's The Callous Daoboys, the impassioned screamo/post-hardcore of Ohio's For Your Health, the reimagined deathcore of Pittsburgh's Hazing Over (who were previously a screamo band called Shin Guard), the metallic post-hardcore of Philly's Kaonashi, the hardcore-infused tech-death of New York's Cryptodira, and the driving, catchy indie-punk of Alabama's Insigificant Other, plus San Diego white-belt revivalists SeeYouSpaceCowboy probably count, and maybe even other bands too.
On top of all that, Denton, Texas' Record Setter went from Title Fight-style emo to impassioned screamo in the vein of early Pianos Become the Teeth/Touche Amore on I Owe You Nothing, one of the best albums of 2020. I Owe You Nothing came out on PBTT's former home of Topshelf Records, while La Dispute's former home No Sleep released another of the year's best post-hardcore/emo albums, Stay Inside's Viewing. There's also Infant Island, Respire, Soul Glo (who recently signed to Jeremy Bolm's Secret Voice label), Portrayal of Guilt, awakebutstillinbed, Boneflower, Nuvolascura, Frail Hands, Frail Body, Massa Nera, Foxtails, Closedown, Dreamwell, and many more holding it down in the screamo/post-hardcore realm, and great bands like One Step Closer, Anxious, and Koyo carrying the torch for Title Fight. Once again, post-hardcore is in good hands.