Coheed and Cambria – “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”: If you are unfamiliar with Coheed and Cambria… well, I’m sorry you have lived such an unfulfilled life. But the good news is that now is the time to change that! Coheed and Cambria is hard to classify by genre — they were a square peg into the round hole of “late emo”, but standing them next to shit like Say Anything or Fall Out Boy, you’ll quickly notice they have nothing in common beyond “they use guitars”. These OTHER BANDS whine about being sad and heartbroken and hating their mom, whereas Coheed and Cambria created a huge interlinked story across seven albums (and six comics, and a novel) about an intergalactic federation at war and mutants being called to arms, and then their children carrying this battle onward, and then a different timeline where an astronaut discovers this galaxy generations prior and astral projects into future characters who have dissipated into stars in the past (it makes TOTAL sense (no it doesn’t)), but then there’s a ‘writer’ who is dictating the evolution of the plot who may be God, or schizophrenic, and may have recently buried a girl alive he previously stalked? dated? — Coheed and Cambria gets weird quick if you choose to actually delve into the plot. (I have many IMPORTANT OPINIONS on what it all means if you’re interested, but that’s a silly question because no one wants to read 20,000 words on multi-dimensional, multi-time line sci-fi love story opera with lots of gratuitous violence) Fortunately for you – the music is excellent and you can just show up and enjoy some rock that takes some some ambitious chances!
Coheed lends itself to comparisons to Rush based on the goofy prog premise, but the parallels go well past that. Consider: ridiculous song names inspired by the prog sense of storytelling (“Bytor and the Snow Dog” versus “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness”), leading vocals that many interpret as female the first time through (my mom actually listened to a Coheed and Cambria song and thought it was Rush, and that was how I ended up listening to Rush in seventh grade), and strange off-tempo key and rhythm changes that no one else does. Even better parallel – Rush’s best album is “2112” and Coheed and Cambria has a song on this album called “21:13”.
Lest I go further off topic about how giddy talking about Coheed and Cambria makes me, this actual album is about as “radio friendly” as this band gets with later albums really upping the ante on the strange plot. The single that roped me in during a snow day in seventh grade was “A Favor House Atlantic” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRWjLLpwnOM) – super upbeat and fun and on first listen is a twee song about a pissy high school kid trying to act cool in front a crush but is really more about mutating into a monster and destroying an incoming army (don’t try to convince me this is anything but awesome). The rest of the songs are built with easy-to-sing along to lyrics and exciting guitar work, which is why you may recognize the name, but both of which lend themselves to repeated listenings and further inspection, which is why they have a devoted following still. In short, if you were the type of person who would like Coheed and Cambria, you would already be a fan. They remain one of my favorite bands to this day, and in a month, I will be seeing them for the fifteenth time where I will emphatically sing along to songs about spaceship battles and being buried alive. I refer you again to the title of this article.
Chiodos – “All’s Well That Ends Well”: An album full of overwrought lyrics about being a horny and angry hormonal teenager; I really connected with this album in high school. This album is a closer representation of my choice of music in high school – squealing lyrics that turned into a hoarse bear yelling into a canyon over guitars that sound like Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses B-sides. Definitely not a heavy album, but definitely not garden variety emo either. I had recalled the lyrics as basically “Charles Bukowski for virgins”, but upon a recent listen, they are EXTREMELY problematic (please know how much I hate calling things ‘problematic’ but it’s the only suitable term). Consider: “Her corpse lies lifeless where X marks the spot / at the bottom of the ocean floor”, “We live in fear and danger of them / their delicate cheeks will turn to rotting flesh / one day women will all become monsters”, “I’ll love you until my last breath takes you from me”, “She love me, she loves me not / he repeated to himself over and over / these petals decide what’s next for you and I”, and “I’ll stop stabbing when you stop screaming” YOOOOOOOOOOOO I must have been the dumbest kid ever because I did not pick up all this before, uhhh, yesterday. This is the first FOUR SONGS on the album! It reads like a post on an Incel message board without a moderator. I should probably consider therapy and make sure none of this bullshit rooted itself in my subconscious.
Upon further investigation, the album is “supposed” to be about an obsessive and unhealthy relationship, and is to serve as a guidepost as to what shouldn’t happen. Seems like applying meaning to something with a pretty clear cut meaning after the fact. This is supported by the next album having far tamer lyrics like “In a world where every girl wants to be a model / what’s wrong babe? / did daddy not give you enough attention” yep still weirdly aggressive.
If you haven’t completely tuned out this band yet, check out “There’s No Penguins in Alaska” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPU0V_YQzG0) – another one where it was the first song I heard of theirs and was immediately hooked. The riff is pretty heavy, which eventually funneled me into less violent bands like Slayer or Lamb of God.
Underoath – “They’re Only Chasing Safety”: An album full of overwrought lyrics about being a horny and angry hormonal teenager; I really connected with this album in high school. In a pleasant change of pace, there’s no brutal violence towards women in this one! As a Christian band, they were straight edge, which resonated with me because I, too, was TOO COOL for drugs or alcohol. (NOTE – I’m about to polish off a bottle of wine writing this). Whereas Coheed and Cambria is somewhere between “nonsensical” and “intricate layered storytelling” and Chiodos is “murdering your crush”, Underoath is mainline emo and all about being misunderstood, telling girls how no one GETS them and how this love with last forever — listening to it now and writing about it makes me skin crawl at how corny it all is, but I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED it in high school. People just didn’t GET ME, ya know?
The vocals are screeching and overwhelming and the music is best described as “coordinated noise”. I first saw them in seventh grade (they were opening for Coheed and Cambria!), and I could not fathom how anyone could enjoy this music. It was so loud and indecipherable, but the crowd went nuts, and based on the crowd, I gave it a second chance later. Next thing you know, this is an album I have listened to more than a handful of others, and I will forever love this terribly cheesy album. Listen to “A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black and White” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-Xgxeal328) – about unceremoniously losing your virginity and being all regretful about it. I did not share this viewpoint in high school.
My Chemical Romance – “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge”: An album full of overwrought lyrics about being a horny and angry hormonal teenager; I really connected with this album in high school. This is probably the most mainstream I got – I was TOO COOL for the stuff everyone else liked, but try to tell me you didn’t love this album. Everyone did, because it was great. If I had to describe this band to someone who had never heard of them, I would say it’s like Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter decided to start a Queen tribute band that Freddie Mercury would thumb his nose at. Basically, a LOT of makeup and lyrics that pretty much always circle back to killing yourself. High school me had a lot to work through. I have a hunch Stephanie Meyers listened to this and looked at the band, and figured kids were really into sexy vampires and zombies, and decided that she would stake her literary career on this with “Twilight”. That’s just good market research.
People always assumed emo music was about being upset about not getting the girl you liked or whatever pedantic shit made you sad in high school (I really can’t even remember anymore – anything I was sad about in high school seems adorably twee now. “I have to work until NINE PM and I’m going to miss going to the movie with all my friends!”), but looking back this emo music was more focused on macabre obsessions with death or dying. If your parents ever frown about the music you listen to after hearing about this, remind them they listened the Doors and the Eagles.
Everyone liked “Helena” but my jam was always “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” because I loved the Brian May-inspired riff/solo-if-you-can-call-it-that before the last bridge, but if I was going to recommend one, “Cemetery Drive” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02W8DAnKvlA) mostly because it’s the most morbid song title on an album of morbid song titles, but c’mon, like this song wasn’t the most fun to sing along to in your car. Again, I refer you to the title of this article.
Jimmy Eat World – “Bleed American”: An album full of overwrought lyrics about being a horny and angry hormonal teenager; I really connected with this album in high school. If you hadn’t noticed, I was a very angst-y and conflicted and frustrated teen, surely a phase that I, and only I, am familiar with. No one else ever went through what I went through, and that’s why all these bands were famous and sang these songs to packed venues around the country and had multiple songs that charted off each of these albums. Those other fans didn’t GET the music like I did.
This album was great because it made me nostalgic for a time or era I had never lived through, kind of like how kids of the eighties remember the sixties through the lens of “the Wonder Years”. I remember the eighties and growing up through the lens of Jimmy Eat World’s 2001 album despite being thirteen when it came out and having experienced exactly nothing they sang about. With lyrics like “Are you gonna live your life wonderin’ standing in the back lookin’ around?” and “Are you gonna waste your time thinkin’ how you’ve grown up or how you missed out?”, Pitchfork panned this album (SHOCKING!) for being corny and contrived and strained. Well FUCKIN’ SORRY music-critic-in-his-forties that this did not resonate for you like it did for me. I was in the market for something more serious than TRL, and this was what happened to be around, and I loved it, damnit.
The second half of this album is fantastic, almost as good as the first half. I remember loving the singles everyone knew, like “Sweetness” and “The Middle” but also being very heartbroken about eventually being heartbroken as told by “Hear You Me”, but “A Praise Chorus” was an underappreciated track. My favorite then was, and remains, “Bleed American” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft1lxiWFbDk) because it’s HARD and TELLS IT HOW IT IS with prescient lines like “I’m not alone because the TV’s on” and “I’m not crazy because I take the right pills”. Modern day poets, this Jimmy.
Queens of the Stone Age – “Songs for the Deaf”: UPSET PICK! This album is NOT about being an angry, horny prepubescent! Talk about a shocker! This album is a quasi-concept album where the progression of the album mimics the drive from Los Angeles into Palm Desert, where the band is from, all played out over surfing through the radio dial. Like Coheed and Cambria, I could talk forever about how fucking cool Queens of the Stone Age is. It’s like the devil in a leather jacket. Or a skeleton in sunglasses driving a muscle car, or a zombie stripper. The music is slick and cool and exudes charisma and charm, liking doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing but can’t help because of your self-destructive nature. The riffs and grooves are thick and winding, and fill whatever room they happen to come out on. Lead singer Josh Homme is a modern iteration of Elvis, and croons through most of the songs, a remarkable and welcomed change of pace from the rest of this list and, really, from any other band currently making music. Sometimes he passes lead vocal duty over to bassist Nick Oliveri who provides a gruff snarl to shift the gears on the heavier songs. All of this is over Dave Grohl on drums. It’s an album full of great musicians at their best.
You know earlier when I said I listened to “They’re Only Chasing Safety” more than almost any other album? This is an album I listened to more. You ever sit in your car and skip around trying to find something you want to listen to for a long drive, or something new? Whenever I get to this point, I always settle back to this album. I had at least three physical copies that I perpetually burned out from listening so much. It is perfect. It’s heavy, but not too much so; it’s off-putting, but in a fun way; it’s got an edge that I’ve never heard on another album regardless of the period. To quote Pitchfork’s review of this album: “…sliding into an easy groove, sleazing its way across a dimly-lit bar, half-drunk and reeking of cheap cologne, to put the moves on your girlfriend (or, you know, you, depending). This is four-to-the-floor slime of the highest quality, folks”. How can you NOT want to get into that?
Picking a favorite song is impossible. Could it be “No One Knows”, the first song I heard of theirs that showed me there was a way out of never ending realms of chode rock and nu metal? Or “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire”, the berserk opening that make want to flip a table, even having heard it two thousand times? Or “Six Shooter”, which ups the ante even further? Maybe the sludgy smooth “First It Giveth”, “Sky is Fallin'” or “Go With the Flow”? But listen to “Song for the Dead” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrA2KLtAn1A) – partially for thematic consistency inspired by the name, but mostly because it’s always the song I jump to when I can’t listen to the whole album (but really, listen to the whole album).
Feel free to judge away from my awkward evolution as a music geek, but let me now what equally embarrassing drivel you listened to so I can mock you too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to contact a psychologist and see what these lyrics did to my fragile teenage adolescence and how they evolved into that self-destructive nature.