Boys' Night Out

Melancholy, Misogyny, and Vocal Polyphony in Emo’s Third Wave

David Hollingshead

The music video for Long Island emo band Taking Back Sunday’s 2002 single, “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” is an homage to David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club, a decision that no doubt stemmed, in part, from the uncanny resemblances of lead singer Adam Lazzara and guitarist/vocalist John Nolan to stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. The video, which has 11.5 million views on Youtube, intercuts shots of the band performing with reenactments of famous scenes from the film. Jack’s tearful hug with Bob in group therapy (Fig 1); Jack’s first fight with Tyler Durden in the alley behind the bar (Fig 2); Jack giving himself a black eye at the office; these are all more or less faithfully reproduced with Nolan and Lazzara in the lead roles. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

The music video alters one key detail of the film, however. The underground “fight club” where the men of Project Mayhem come to recreationally beat the shit out of each other is, in the Taking Back Sunday version, populated entirely by young women, who gleefully batter the band members bloody, all in time to the song’s frenetic polyphonic outro of overlapping vocal lines (Fig 3):

Figure 3

Whereas Fincher’s film seeks an allegory for the alienation of middle class white men under capitalism in the trope of psychotic projection—Jack temporarily transcends the malaise of his white-collar existence by displacing his violent, revolutionary impulses onto his alter-ego id-vessel, Durden—“Cute Without the ‘E’” offers a somewhat different diagnosis. The “wreckage” of white men, in the music video, is represented as the symptom of having internalized the abuses of women. I just need to keep you in mind/as something larger than life, sings Lazzara, an admission to which Nolan cautions she shall destroy us all before she’s through. Whereas Fight Club makes the psychic externalization of male aggression look cathartic and emancipatory, Taking Back Sunday’s single makes the internalization of woman’s anger look pathological and humiliating. 

Here, though, the two texts’ theses coincide, as the music video renders explicit the misogyny already folded into Fincher’s film: women’s exclusion brings men together. The song’s polyphonic outro is framed explicitly as a revitalizing commiseration between bros. Both vocal parts are sung in 4/4 time, but Nolan’s lyrics unfold more slowly, the syllabic emphases falling on the half-note beats, while Lazzara’s unfold faster, the emphases falling on the quarter. Because Nolan’s lines contain fewer syllables per measure than Lazzara’s, the sonic effect is that the former’s words enclose the latter’s, and because Nolan’s lyrics offer a diagnostic counterpoint to Lazzara’s frantic, self-loathing confessional, the cumulative effect is one of dissonant harmony between confessor and priest, analyst and analysand. The song’s use of vocal polyphony formally enacts the communion it cannot visually or linguistically represent. As in Fight Club, the trials of heterosexuality depicted in the music video are a ruse for the true site of libidinal investment: the homosocial pleasures of the concord between men.

What follows is an argument about the relationship between form and content in third-wave emo music, an argument about the relationship between the movement’s innovative use of vocal polyphony and its obsessional, misogynist traffic in women. But the essay also hazards a hypothesis about what it means to address the personal, embodied histories we share with the objects of our inquiry—the pleasures, pains, and disappointments that lie calcified on the things we study as the record of all our past embraces. Often, we’re encouraged to ignore the scrapes and scratches these pebbles of our former selves leave on the skin as we brush up against the thing for a closer look. Often, we’re taught that those abrasions are an impediment to rigorous thought. But what if the very opposite is true?  What if the risk of encountering a history that hurts is part of every interpretive act—is, in fact, the condition of its possibility? What if thinking is getting cut?

*** 

 

It’s difficult for me to overstate how vital the sound and aesthetic of third-wave emo were to me as a young man. I first heard Tell All Your Friends as a senior in high school and can still remember the visceral whoosh of sensorial freefall—like parachuting through a forest’s canopy and hitting every third branch on the way down—that the album’s opening track, “You Know How I Do,” would conjure in me. The late toms hit alternately between the third and fourth count, creating a kind of delayed, out-of-time breathlessness that seemed to perfectly mirror the stumbling, awkward urgency of being seventeen, and I remember how the song’s at-the-time inscrutable chorus—we won’t stand for hazy eyes anymore (which I later discovered was a reference to Ishmael’s opening lines in Moby-Dick, “I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes”)—seemed to contain exactly such an entreaty: a rallying call from the wind-swept shores of the mid-Atlantic coast to the landlocked plains of Edmonton, Alberta. 

 

But by far the most affecting element of that album was its use of vocal polyphony—those independent and equally-prominent vocal lines sung overtop one another that would come,

The Author, an Emo, circa 2004

in many ways, to define emo’s third wave. Goddamn, I had never heard anything like it; it was as if I had discovered the neurochemical trigger for an entirely new kind of reward center in my body. To call the sound virtuosic isn’t right, because neither Nolan nor Lazzara were “good” singers in any technical sense; Nolan’s voice was gravely and off-pitch, Lazzara’s was nasally and affected, and their counterpoints were messy and misaligned. Yet it was exactly that enthusiastic roughness—that paradigmatically punk ethos of “holy shit, even I could do

this”—that was so appealing, and which the band pulled off so effortlessly. Over the course of a single song, Nolan and Lazzara could ventriloquize the intimate whispers of a late-night telephone call, the tangled voices of a cigarette-smoking circle behind the bleachers, and the din of a crowded house party. Vocal polyphony sounded, to me, like friendship, like camaraderie, like packing your best buddies into a car and driving into the sky. It wasn’t virtuosity—it was electricity.

 

When we were in our late teens, my friends and I used to play a cover of “Cute Without the ‘E’” in a friend’s mom’s basement in South Edmonton. We learned the guitar riffs and chord progressions from the internet, purchased a second microphone for the dual vocals, and carefully dissected the song’s structure in the hopes of bringing it back to life with our own skin and bones. Few moments in my life match the euphoria of trying to recreate those sounds in that humid space. I still remember the grey cement floors and low, unfinished ceilings. I remember my t-shirt damp with sweat, the performative sway of our guitars at our hips (something we’d picked up from music videos and live shows), and the echo of the kick drum in the dark. I remember the sound of our cheap amps, the way they’d crackle and feedback, and all our fumbled finger placements and picking rhythms. I remember my friend Chris and I singing Nolan and Lazzara’s parts in the outro, when the drums go double time, and I remember the moment our howls coalesced into a sound we recognized from our bedrooms and car stereos, and it felt so unbearably beautiful I wished I could stay there forever, playing guitar with my friends in the dark on a warm summer night. I remember thinking at the time that this feeling would become a recurring feature of adulthood—the pleasures of collective work, of creating something together—but which, in fact, has never returned to my life, and likely never will.

***

That same basement comes into focus again now as I consider the history of men making music together in small rooms. To inhabit space in particular ways; to produce particular affective atmospheres; to carve out time and direct the movement of bodies: these actions are embedded in concrete histories that cannot be abstracted out of existence. The genre that came to be called emo (nominally short for “emotional hardcore”) was fashioned in just those kinds of male-dominated spaces during the DC hardcore scene of the 1980s, when bands like Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, and Dag Nasty were writing fast, messy, and brooding music for a generation of kids acclimatizing to the material and existential free-fall of the de-industrializing late capitalist United States. Ian Mackaye, Guy Picciotto, and others wrote songs in which, “[s]omewhat perversely, […] self-mutilation became a rallying cry for a community” as Andy Greenwald puts it. And yet, the scene could never disentangle its politicized aesthetics from an ethos of wounded masculinity that proved a kind of gravitational force, sending the tropes and practices that would come to define the genre into an endless orbit of eternal returns. Even from its early days, emo’s treatment of women oscillated between a kind of guilt-ridden puritanism (where they are sources of shame and humiliation) and narcissistic self-regard (where they are simply absent or anonymous objects). 

 

While emo’s gender politics have always been fraught, the misogyny of the movement’s millennium years is especially well-documented. Jessica Hopper’s 2003 essay, “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t” (republished later in Rookie), announced unequivocally what every woman fan already knew about the scene: “I’ve been going to three shows a week for the last decade,” she writes, “and the number of times I’ve heard women’s reality acknowledged or portrayed in a song sung by a male-fronted band was at zero and holding.” The near-invisibility of women onstage was linked to the makeup of the industry itself, which, with very few exceptions, was dominated by men. 

 

More recently, the #metoo movement has drawn additional scrutiny to emo’s past. As former genre luminaries, Brand New, appeared to have crossed over into the mainstream indie canon with the release of their 2018 album, Science Fiction, Pitchfork published an article linking recent allegations against singer Jesse Lacey of sexual assault and predation upon underage fans to lyrics from the band’s 2003 album, Deja Entendu. In that release, Lacey transitions seamlessly between describing a woman’s castrating sexual aggression on “Sic Transit Gloria” (he is the lamb, she is the slaughter/she’s moving way too fast and all he wanted was to hold her) to detailing his intentions for what is clearly date rape on “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis” (I got desperate desires and malevolent plans/my tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent). (Lacey released a statement on Facebook apologizing for having “hurt people, mistreated them, lied, and cheated,” but denied that the song lyrics are autobiographical or an admission of intent). In the years of its mass market popularization, emo’s toxic masculinity was practically its stock in trade.

The case of Taking Back Sunday, though, raises new questions about the formal dimensions of the movement’s gender politics. In “Cute Without the ‘E,’” it’s not only that the melancholic man-child sublimates the loss of his desired object through an internalized violence, it’s that this sublimation is underwritten by the promise of male fellowship instantiated by the song’s use of vocal polyphony. What is the  relationship, then, between emo’s misogynist imagination and its use of specific vocal textures? Why are certain structures of sexist resentment—for example, the spiteful narcissism of the melancholic Sad Boy—conveyed more efficiently through some formal devices over others? 


These questions acquire more urgency when we consider just how rare true vocal polyphony actually is in contemporary guitar-based music—a surprising absence given the form’s illustrious history. Although polyphony is an ancient device likely ubiquitous across musical traditions, Western historians would likely locate its locus classicus in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance because of the controversial role it played in the evolution of the Catholic mass. Pope John XXII banned polyphony from the Liturgy in 1324 for being too sexy, arguing that “instead of promoting devotion” it creates “a sensuous and indecent atmosphere.” Polyphony, on its path to secularity, was associated with misdirection and obfuscation; it was deemed to operate through deflections and detours, misalignments and frictions between phonic superimpositions rather than harmonious coincidence. Its dramatic structure, as Church leaders understood, derived from its centering of the voice as an erotic, dialogic instrument that multiplied significations and resisted conscription into a single didactic unity.

Perhaps because of its close historical relationship with the testimonial mode of the blues, rock and its offshoots, including punk, metal, and hardcore, tend to favor monophony, single-voiced lines, or homophony, which features a primary vocal line supported by additional vocal textures. (Think, for example, of the “WOAH-OHs” in an AFI or Pennywise song, the gang vocals in Say Anything, or the rockabilly-style “BA-BAs” of The Gaslight Anthem). Gang vocals and call-and-response style are common homophonic devices in punk music; they’re forged in the smithy of the live performance and explicitly encourage audience participation. True polyphony, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to sing along with. Its mode is neither didactic nor democratic but dialogic—it turns our attention to a drama playing out onstage between men. The opening lines of Boys Night Out’s “The Anatomy of the Journey,” the outro of Brand New’s “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” or Thursday’s “Understanding in a Car Crash” are dizzying, polyphonic spectacles of homosocial catharsis. Whether you love it (unlikely) or hate it (more likely), turn-of-the-millennium emo is arguably the only period of sustained experimentation with vocal polyphony in modern rock music.

 

What explains this convergence? Given polyphony’s historical role in the secularization of western popular music, it’s tempting to draw a link between the resurgence of the form in the early 2000s and the religious upbringings of the young men—including Nolan, Lazzara, and Lacey—who would come to represent emo’s mid-Atlantic vanguard. A deep-rooted Catholic impulse runs through emo’s third wave. It’s explicit in songs like Taking Back Sunday’s “Catholic Knees” and Brand New’s “Jesus Christ” or “Seventy Times Seven,” where papal and Biblical imagery accentuate adolescent narratives of shame and revenge. But it’s also implied in a great deal of emo’s suburban scene-setting (passed out on the overpass/Sunday best and broken glass, sings Lacey in “Soco Amaretto Lime”) as well as the genre’s marketing material (Figs. 4 & 5), where the plaid skirts and ruffled collars of the Catholic school outfit come to signify one of emo’s central conceits: simmering below this starched, buttoned-up exterior is a roiling sea of emotion. The Catholic vibe is there, too, of course, in the name Taking Back Sunday, as well as the gospel-y imperative of an album called Tell All Your Friends, not to mention the use of the liturgical chant form—in Brand New’s beloved album-closers on Deja or Your New Favorite Weapon, and throughout the discographies of fellow Long Islanders, Crime in Stereo, where the religious registers of vocal polyphony become undeniable. 

Figure 4

Album Cover, Alexisonfire (S/T)

Figure 5

Music video, Jesse Lacey in “Sic Transit Gloria”

But this quasi-biographical reading doesn’t go far enough. The Church’s rhetorical and aesthetic appeal, for these bands, lies predominantly in its value as a cipher, allowing them to rewrite the messy, idiotic, and deeply embarrassing attachments and disavowals of heteromasculinity into the mythopoetic language of existential battle. At the same moment Jesse Lacey was on the road soliciting nude photos from underage fans, he was writing an album called The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Emo’s Catholic inheritances don’t fully explain the formal work of vocal polyphony.

 

The more accurate account, I think, lies in the structural logic of melancholy that has so often been identified as one of the defining characteristics of emo music. Sigmund Freud’s great insight about melancholics was to recognize in their outsized displays of dejection and self-recrimination the unconscious workings of a deeply narcissistic and sadistic form of pleasure. Unlike the “normal” process of mourning—whereby the mourner successfully renounces their attachment to the lost love-object and redirects their libidinal energies toward more conventionally “productive” ends (e.g. work, art, new relationships, etc.)—the “pathological” transition into melancholia results when, in the wake of a loss, the libido fails to find a new object and instead directs itself inwards, establishing an identification between the lost love-object and the ego itself. An outward failure to possess or achieve becomes an inward failure to possess or achieve. “Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego,” as Freud memorably put it, “so that the latter could henceforth be criticized by a special mental faculty like an object, like the forsaken object.” In melancholia, the ego cleaves in two, becoming both the criticizing subject and criticized object. All the scorn and resentment the melancholic wishes to direct upon the lost thing they instead direct upon themselves.

What Freud describes here is of course exactly the logic of Taking Back Sunday’s music video, in which battling oneself is indistinguishable from battling a lover. But Freud’s theory also provides a remarkably accurate description of vocal polyphony’s role in the song, which is to enact at the level of form the cleavage of the ego into its criticizing and criticized faculties. Lazzara and Nolan, from this perspective, together instantiate the fork-tongued duplicity of the melancholic’s discourse; Lazzara’s introspective self-loathing counterpoints and complements Nolan’s fatalistic rage externalized at the scorned object. The ambivalence of addresser and addressee, desire and repulsion—the double-voicedness of polyphonic texture—is precisely the melancholic’s ruse. It allows him to have the cake of wounded masculinity and eat it, too, in a private clubhouse where the girls are not allowed.

 

Emo’s polyphonic song structures exist in what Dick Hebdige might call a homological relationship to the song’s lyrical content; they function as attempts to organize, disguise, and work through its libidinal impulses at the level of form. The most revealing example of this strange synthesis occurs in the bridge of Taking Back Sunday’s most notorious track, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” also from Tell All Your Friends. Nolan’s vocal track is doubled, and I’ve mapped out the polyphonic structure below:

For fans of the band, the song’s infamy derives from the mythos surrounding its genesis, which the track alludes to through intertextual references in the lyrics. As the story goes, Nolan, Lazzara, and Lacey were high school pals in Levittown, New York, where they formed the first incarnation of Taking Back Sunday (Lacey would soon leave the band to form Brand New). Then something transpired between Nolan and Lacey’s at-the-time girlfriend that caused a rift in the men’s friendship. The ambiguity of that “something” is important, of course, because emo’s ur-myths depend upon the threat of an inchoate and dangerous female sexuality. While the woman’s perspective has never been offered or made public, Lacey wrote about Nolan’s alleged betrayal in “Seventy Times Seven,” on Brand New’s 2001 album Your Favorite Weapon. Some of the lyrics are printed below; notice how Taking Back Sunday cite these lyrics in “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” (in italics above).

So, is that what you call a getaway?

Tell me what you got away with
‘Cause I've seen more spine in jellyfish
I've seen more guts in eleven-year-old kids
Have another drink and drive yourself home
I hope there's ice on all the roads
And you can think of me when you forget your seatbelt
And again when your head goes through the windshield

 

“There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” then, is Taking Back Sunday’s rebuttal to Lacey’s initial riposte in “Seventy Times Seven,” a project the song undertakes by incorporating Lacey’s accusations into its structure. Here, again, polyphony establishes the conditions for a fantasmatic intimacy between men, as Nolan takes on the roles of both accuser and accused, ventriloquizing Lacey’s revenge fantasy (You can think of me when you forget your seatbelt/and again when your head goes through the windshield) at the same time offering a justification for his alleged cuckoldry (the jealousy that got me thinking/that you always had it way too easy). Nolan parrots Lacey fantasizing about imagining Nolan thinking about Lacey right before Nolan dies in a car crash. Here, Freud’s “forsaken object” is not the unnamed woman—who, in this scenario, is nothing but an anonymous token passed between the players—but rather Lacey himself, whose voice is introjected as the criticizing faculty of Nolan’s own ego. “By taking flight into the ego love escapes annihilation,” writes Freud. The love lost between men is retroactively preserved in the form of Nolan’s self-reproach.

It’s important that at the center of the Brand New/Taking Back Sunday feud is a voiceless and anonymous woman. “Women are given in marriage, taken in battle, exchanged for favors, sent as tribute, traded, bought and sold,” wrote Gayle Rubin in 1975, but “[t]he result of a gift of women is more profound than the result of other gift transactions, because the relationship thus established is not just one of reciprocity, but one of kinship.” Vocal polyphony formalizes emo’s traffic in women while simultaneously mystifying it as a confrontation between men, or between a man and himself, his shameful, guilty conscience. And in doing so, what vocal polyphony both enacts and effaces is the production of male discourse/power networks. At one point in “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” Lazzara and Nolan finish each other’s sentences, singing, “I made long-term plans based on these mistakes.” This idea—borne out by the close relationship between Taking Back Sunday and Brand New throughout the early aughts—is that the melancholic passage of forsaken and introjected objects between men acts, in fact, as a kind of brand strategy. There is a speculative investment to be made on the traffic in women. Not only would the bands continue their beef via intertextual references and musical motifs across three albums, the Nolan/Lacey betrayal narrative would become its own marketing tool (Fig. 6), with Brand New mocking Lazzara’s dexterous performances on their merchandise (“mics are for singing not swinging), and Taking Back Sunday responding in turn. At a show in Boulder, Colorado in 2002, Lacey actually joined Taking Back Sunday onstage to perform Nolan’s role singing his own lyrics. Layers upon layers of men systematically transforming mistakes into long-term plans.

Figure 6

The point, as Rubin well knew, is that the kinship structures enacted and maintained through the traffic in women are not just social but economic and political as well. The enforcement of gender difference—whereby women are trafficked and men are traffickers—is crucial for the transformation into value differential, which serves the aims of capital accumulation. (It is no surprise that third-wave emo is also the heyday of punk’s gender tokenism, wherein “having one girl in the group” singing backup vocals became its own marketing strategy). It’s necessary, then, to see third-wave emo’s commitment to the polyphonic vocal form as a recursive gesture that perpetually obscures the movement’s relationship to its own material conditions. Vocal polyphony, like Freud’s dreamwork, works over the song’s latent content, displacing its true aims (the consolidation of male kinship networks at the exclusion of women) onto a variety of duplicitous stand-in objects; simultaneously, however, vocal polyphony metonymizes the movement’s sound as a whole. Like the band logos and merch gear depicted above, which seamlessly transform the raw material of human power relations into an immediately legible brand identity (mistakes into long-term plans; gender difference into value differentials), vocal polyphony becomes emo’s key signifier that both draws upon and consistently effaces its imbrication with the misogynistic logic of male melancholia. Emo’s alibi, one that it shares with a range of cultural movements during the early aughts such as the “new sincerity” in literary fiction, is to insist on the depoliticization of the personal: this is just the sound of creative boys who’ve had their hearts broken. 

 

***

 

What would it mean to repoliticize the personal from the position of someone who benefited from that depoliticization? One possibility is to rethink the dynamics of attachment—retrospectively embarrassing as they might be—as forces to learn from rather than stubbornly disavow. This would entail an effort to see the past drawn anew from the perspective of the present, and perhaps to resituate the true location of emo’s melancholic structure. Emo’s real melancholy, for me, lies in the recognition that the two scenes described in this essay are indissociably linked: that the unparalleled thrill of singing my guts out in my friend’s basement—a thrill that has quite literally grafted itself upon my psyche—is a pleasure financed by the violence of the world formalized in the songs we were singing. Emo’s real melancholy, for me, is the recognition that even my most cherished scenes of innocence and rightness—the feeling of fissures suddenly repaired, existence suddenly aligned with essence— are underwritten by a contract none of us had any idea we signed yet were already making good on.  

 

My teen and young adult years were punctuated by extraordinary acts of violence committed by men against other men. By the time I had entered college, my tenth-grade science partner was shot and killed while stopped at a red light by a kid on a bicycle; a boy I played soccer with in middle school was attacked and thrown off the High Level Bridge and later killed himself in a motel during a shootout with police; someone we knew from school stabbed and killed an elderly man in a downtown parking lot; and at our prom afterparty, a boy from a different high school snuck a wooden knife past the metal detectors and stabbed another boy in the neck. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the brutality we bore witness to involving fists, bottles, and baseball bats. My friends and I learned to recognize the privileges of our masculinity only much, much later. The world of men in which we came of age seemed more likely to maim, humiliate, and kill us than praise us or take us by the hand. I grew up constantly terrified that I’d be the kid hit with a tire iron at our rival school, bottled at the bar for looking like a “faggot,” or beaten with his own vacuum cleaner in his parent’s living room (all of these things I saw). The only antitoxin, it felt at the time, was the company of my male friends, the ones I could trust, and the aggregate sweepings of moments like Chris’s mom’s basement, where we could feel safe and assured and true.

 

Emo’s real melancholy, for me, lies in the realization that even our temporary escape from the realm of masculine brutality led us into a topsy-turvy projection of the very place we fled. The bonds of male camaraderie are forged by sublimating this threat and displacing its antagonisms but keeping its logics—the traffic in women, the gender differential, and the melancholic structure of resentment—perfectly intact. At the center of our stories, too, are voiceless and anonymous women. Freud knew (and Taking Back Sunday’s remake of Fight Club makes explicit) that the psychic life of melancholia is not a rejection of violence but its circumlocutory fulfillment, undertaken at the height of narcissism insofar as the melancholic wages a battle that both cannot be won (its rewards are endless) and cannot be lost (its pleasures are guaranteed). And this is, in part, how the discourse of “toxic masculinity” perpetuates the very symptoms it seeks to curtail: by offering up the lure of a different, uncontaminated masculinity that nevertheless maintains the power imbalances it depends upon. For me, emo’s vocal polyphony is the formal space of these tensions—the place where they crystallize, flicker into focus, and then dissolve. When I listen to Taking Back Sunday’s lyrical duels now, I hear two boys grasping towards the dream of an alternative form of kinship—maybe one that can only be experienced in the naivety of adolescence—nevertheless mortgaged to the cruelty of everyday misogyny. And I see my friends and I dancing around Chris’s mom’s basement, swinging our guitars and howling into our microphones, dreaming impossibly, hopelessly, in a language it would take our entire lives to unlearn, that the rest of the world might just rush away. 

Can vocal polyphony be saved from itself and disentangled from its legacy? Emo has recently entered its fourth wave: the scene is becoming more diverse, more politicized, explicitly queerer and feminist. Bands like The Hotelier, Big Wight, Diet Cig, Riley!, awakebutstillinbed, and many others are actively rejecting the melancholic traffic in women that has motivated the movement, and are singing openly about the misogyny, transphobia, and racism that has always infected the scene. But these bands have also, for the most part, abandoned vocal polyphony. All the failures of our fathers/can’t define us/if all that weight fell on our shoulders/who could blame us? sings Shannon Taylor of awakebutstillinbed. But she sings those lines alone. If the chance to redeem emo’s only genuine aesthetic contribution to rock has already come and gone, this is surely the most emo possibility of all. 

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