2001 is the year emo entered the mainstream, and Chris Carrabba was no small part of why. In March of that year, he released his second Dashboard Confessional album (and first for Vagrant), The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, home of the version of "Screaming Infidelities" that would eventually chart. Later that year, he put out the So Impossible EP, which introduced the world to "Hands Down," a song that would eventually become an even bigger breakthrough for Dashboard. In between those two records, Thursday began bringing mainstream attention to darker post-hardcore with the release of Full Collapse, and Jimmy Eat World put out "The Middle," bringing emo to the Top 40.

One week after Chris put out The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, his former band Further Seems Forever released their first album, The Moon Is Down. Carrabba had already officially left FSF before they hit the studio, but he agreed to record vocals with them, and what came out of those sessions was a crucial record that bridged the gap between emo's second and third waves. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this Saturday (3/27), and even two decades later it remains one of the strongest records Chris Carrabba was ever part of, and a total outlier in his career.

Like a lot of bands in the early emo/post-hardcore days, Further Seems Forever had a DIY punk attitude but they were full of ambition for something more. From the music to the emo minimalism of the album artwork, they took obvious notes from earlier '90s emo bands like Mineral and Christie Front Drive, but they also brought a more forceful approach from their days in the Florida hardcore scene -- everyone but Chris had been in the hardcore band Strongarm, and drummer Steve Kleisath also did time in Shai Hulud -- and Chris avoided emo's usual strained, slightly-off-key vocal style in favor of something much more soaring. (It makes sense that it was people like Chris Carrabba and Jim Adkins who took emo out of the underground; they were two of the artists who could actually sing.) The Moon Is Down had the rawer, looser feel of mid '90s emo, but it also helped guide the genre in the louder, more dramatic direction it would go in as bands like Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance became superstars.

Right from the one-two punch of the title track into "The Bradley" -- which is one of the strongest openings to any emo album from the era -- it's obvious that The Moon Is Down is a force to be reckoned with, and the album doesn't let up from there. It finds time to hint at emo's darker, heavier post-hardcore side ("A New Desert Life," "Pictures of Shorelines"), its more driving, pop punk-adjacent side ("Madison Prep"), its slower, longing side ("New Year's Project," "Just Until Sundown"), and one song that sounded tender and delicate enough to work in Dashboard Confessional ("Snowbirds and Townies"). Even on that song though, though, FSF and Dashboard remained distinctly different projects. FSF's lyrics were less direct and personal than Dashboard and more poetic and vague. They did ostensibly touch on romantic relationships at times, but they also -- like many bands signed to the Christian label Tooth & Nail -- touched on religion, and they did so in a way that you didn't have to be Christian to relate to. FSF also always functioned as a collaborative unit, never as a backing band for Chris Carrabba. The lineup on this album (Chris Carrabba, Steve Kleisath, guitarists Nick Dominguez and Josh Colbert, and bassist Chad Neptune) had an overwhelming amount of chemistry, every member brought something crucial to the table, and every member sounded like they were vying for the spotlight.

"We’re all in competition for two things: to make each other laugh really hard and to make each other react with astonishment to music," Chris told Diffuser.fm in 2012. "It’s like a constant goal and a one-upmanship that we’re all trying to do. [...] We all want to write the part that makes everybody else go 'Holy shit!'". Even if he didn't say it, you can hear it in the music. The guitars and bass always sound like they're partially fighting each other, partially bringing out the best in each other, and secret weapon Steve Kleisath is constantly pushing the band forward, fueling these songs with atypical rhythms and uniquely timed fills and transitions that kept Further Seems Forever from ever sounding like run-of-the-mill emo. And even if Chris Carrabba was at odds with his technically-former bandmates and more focused on Dashboard Confessional at the time, you wouldn't have guessed it from listening. Some of the most impassioned performances he ever laid to tape are on this album, and when he raises his voice to a distorted scream (as he does on the heart-stopping "Monachetti"), it's just as spine-tingling as when he whispers on his early Dashboard records.

The band's competitiveness is part of what makes The Moon Is Down such a thrilling record, but it's also probably what caused this lineup to implode. After Chris turned his attention towards Dashboard, Nick Dominguez split from the group too, and FSF continued on with new vocalist Jason Gleason of Affinity (on 2003's How to Start A Fire) and then with the late Jon Bunch of Sense Field (on 2004's Hide Nothing), before calling it quits. They eventually reunited the entire Moon Is Down lineup for 2012's solid Penny Black, but nothing ever captured the unique magic of The Moon Is Down again.

"I think the five of us left a big wide-open door when we made The Moon Is Down," Chris said in that Diffuser.fm interview. "We all had visions for what the next record would be. [...] We had this intention of making more music together, and it never happened. As a matter of fact I think that the last three songs that we wrote for The Moon Is Down are sort of indicative of where the band might go, and we were really excited about that. They were the most different on the record. I’m referring to the title track and 'A New Desert Life.' They pointed to where we were going but never went there because we weren’t a band anymore."

What could've been if Chris Carrabba didn't leave Further Seems Forever in 2000 is one of music's big what-ifs. The course of Chris' career and emo as a genre could've been entirely different. Regardless, Further Seems Forever left behind a stone cold classic, a definitive statement of the era that emo transitioned from the underground to the mainstream, and an album that only gets better with age.


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