There’s not much of a tradition of emo in the UK. In the 90s, emo developed so geographically that the generally-used term for it is ‘Midwest emo,’ since its sound was incubated by bands like Cap’n Jazz from Illinois, The Promise Ring from Wisconsin, The Get Up Kids from Missouri. That’s not to say that that scene was by any means insular; Texas is the Reason from New York, Jimmy Eat World from Arizona and Mineral from Texas all had distinctly ‘Midwestern’ sounds, and the forebearers of any one of those bands were Sunny Day Real Estate from Washington state and Jawbreaker from California. Plus, none of it would have happened without the Revolution Summer bands from DC, most notably Embrace and Rites of Spring, and perhaps, more importantly, Fugazi which sprung from both of them. Cross-country touring, plus zines and demo exchanges, meant that emo was pretty effectively shared across every corner of the States. Many of those bands did tour the UK too – Braid and The Get Up Kids went over there together in 1998 – but it seemingly wasn’t enough to imprint on the UK its own parallel scene, at least not one that made enough of an impact to enter the canon of emo as we talk about it twenty years on.
What we have now is ‘fourth-wave’ emo (also known as emo revival), a spiritual continuation of that Midwestern scene, with the difference being that this one was and is built heavily around Bandcamp, Twitter, and online blogs like PropertyOfZack, The Alternative and, yeah, Chorus.fm. Since house shows and local community amongst bands are still key to DIY, it didn’t bring about a total eradication of geography – ask anyone about the Philadelphia scene, for example – but it does mean that now there’s no ocean for music to travel, bands that emulate the 90s Midwestern sound can pop up anywhere.
For ThreadBear, ‘anywhere’ is Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, north-eastern England. Fine By Me, their debut full-length, was released in April this year. Just as Midwest emo thrived in the monotony and dreariness of its cornfield surroundings, it’s worth assuming that northern England provides much the same in its grey skies; a combination of frustration and boredom that drives young bands to both the emotion you hear in the songs and forming a band as an outlet.
This is to say two things; first, that Fine By Me is quintessentially emo. Twinkly riffs, quiet-to-explosive dynamics, transparent and dramatic lyricism. This is not a bad thing, nor do I think it’s an accident; it’s a firm and absolute entry to the genre, which is really a key facet of fourth-wave emo. Partly because any band drawing from ‘90s emo as fourth-wave does is drawing from the same maybe dozen core influences, leaving little room for dilution. But mainly because, as the emo revival’s entire purpose is in its reclamation of the term ‘emo’ from the maligned corporate mutation of the genre that we now call third-wave emo, commitment to the word and all of its sonic aesthetics has become a point of pride, something to rally around, which ThreadBear proudly partake in. There’s clear worship of their influences in parts – the opening chords of ‘There’s Always Money In The Banana Stand’ could be straight from Mineral’s The Power of Failing, and the drum intro of ‘You Might Be Sexy Julian, But You Can’t Teach Me Anything About The Liquor’ from Texas Is The Reason’s Do You Know Who You Are?. Plus, the often wordy and pop-culture referencing song titles (the aforementioned as examples) recall prominent revival bands like Marietta and Snowing. You couldn’t discuss Fine By Me without using the term ‘emo,’ try as you might to apply more critically respectable euphemisms like ‘post-hardcore’ or ‘indie rock.’
Which brings me to the second point: Fine By Me’s real strength, as with any good emo record, is in its genuineness. There’s a reason emo was created in basements by people barely out of their teens. It’s a vehicle for unpretentious, unfettered expression, something that you have to really feel and believe in – anything contrived or corrupted sticks out like a sore thumb on an emo record. On Fine By Me, the heart with which the vocals are delivered and the passion with which the instruments played make for a vital outpouring of emotion, one that feels real. The interlocking screaming at the end of ‘I’m A Bad Friend And I’m Sorry,’ for example, is one of the record’s most powerful moments. There’s a kind of scrappy chaos to the performances too that evokes Cap’n Jazz or early Braid, taking the tumultuous intensity of the lyrics and shaping the songs to match. Those lyrics, it should be said, are sometimes the weaker points of the record – while emo isn’t known for subtlety, lines like ‘If I killed myself would you even think about me?’ can feel a little too on-the-nose. Still, again its saving grace is in its realness, the passion behind it, the feeling that you’re listening to someone say exactly what he means.
Fine By Me isn’t a record that breaks new territory musically – but then, as a debut effort, that’s not really expected of it. (Funnily enough, it kind of does break new territory geographically, since Newcastle is no hotbed for emo or DIY music.) What it is is a heartening continuation of emo’s lineage that proves the UK is as good a breeding ground as any for the genre. It’s kind of amazing that a scene built initially on pure emotion and passion has survived this long and spread this far, but I suppose that’s precisely because it’s built on such emotion and passion. As long as bands like ThreadBear believe in it so wholeheartedly, it stays alive.