Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs have produced a surprisingly large amount of bands operating in the emo scene. These artists are spread all over the emo spectrum, some leaning more towards math-rock, some flirting with folk punk, while others opt for a post hardcore sound.
The purpose of the following article is not to quibble about what genre best captures a particular band’s sound. Rather, we’ll use the word “emo” as an umbrella term so as to include many different artists with a punk spirit who hail from the greater Philadelphia area. Without further ado, let’s start our survey of Philly’s emo scene!
Best Album: Some Kind of Cadwallader
Years Active: 2006-2011
For those unaware of Algernon Cadwallader, the song “Spit Fountain” should serve as a more than adequate introduction. Their sound is decidedly emo with a heavy math-rock bent courtesy of the expert guitarwork of Joe Reinhart. Both of their albums are worth a listen and were reissued for availability on streaming services in 2018. Though the band is no longer active, some of its members now play in Hop Along (see below). Oh, and if you didn’t catch those lyrics from “Spit Fountain”, the members of Algernon Cadwallader vote in the affirmative
Balance and Composure
Years Active: 2007-2019
Best Album: Separation
Balance and Composure’s take on emo features a mixture of alternative rock and post hardcore vibes, with musical comparisons to both Brand New and Nirvana. They were formed in Doylestown, Pennsylvania following the breakup of other local bands and have managed to continually change their sound, adding electronic production to their last album “Light We Made”. The band announced a farewell tour in January of 2019.
Years Active: 2011-2019
Best Album: Nervous Like Me
Members Kelly Olsen and Allegra Anka met while at college in New York before moving back to Philadelphia to pursue their musical ambitions with Augusta Koch. The title of Cayetana’s first LP, “Nervous Like Me”, should indicate that this emo band is fully immersed in their own feelings. Despite little to no formal training on their respective instruments, Cayetana is able to combine pop punk with indie rock for a brilliant result. After a breakup announcement, their final show was played in Philadelphia in August of 2019.
Years Active: 2004-Present
Best Album: Blue Sky Noise
Following an abrupt departure from the band Saosin, Anthony Green joined Colin Frangicetto to form Circa Survive. The band’s sound is really only emo-adjacent, and might be better described as progressive or alternative rock. Their third album, “Blue Sky Noise”, impressively debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Alternative Albums Chart. Nirvana is the major influence for the band, but Green has also mentioned other eclectic inspirations ranging from Paul Simon to Bjork. The band’s latest album, “The Amulet”, was released in 2017.
The Dead Milkmen
Years Active: 1983-1995, 2004, 2008-Present
Best Album: Big Lizard in My Backyard
Ah, The Dead Milkmen. No doubt the goofiest band on this list but likely also the most legendary. The Dead Milkmen are firmly rooted in the tradition of punk music, at times even venturing into folk-punk territory. Their debut LP, “Big Lizard in My Backyard” features “Bitchin’ Camaro” the group’s most popular song alongside “Punk Rock Girl”. The satirical content of their songs, including many attacks on media and right-wing rhetoric, is still pertinent today. You could also talk me into 1988’s “Beelzebubba” being their pinnacle achievement.
Years Active: 2007-Present
Best Album: Everyone Everywhere
Here is a band that can’t be mistaken for anything else but emo. Brendan McHugh’s earnest vocals are able to equally capture feelings of angst and nostalgia as he is accompanied by fervent instrumentals. Their decision in 2014 to allow fans to choose the amount of payment for physical media was also a monumental DIY gesture in a music industry dominated by profit-driven decisions.
Years Active: 2005-Present
Best Album: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
No, I don’t consider Hop Along emo at all. But I did include them on this list as a result of their founding members having such strong emo ties and their very real claim to be the best band operating out of Philadelphia these days. Their earlier material, particularly the album “Get Disowned” is more in the punk spirit and features the fusion of Joe Reinhart’s guitar with Frances Quinlan’s sharp vocals. The band’s discography has all been stellar thus far so here’s to hoping they release more music soon. Find a complete review of this band here.
Years Active: 2015-2016
Best Album: Awkward Pop Songs
Lou Diamond (formerly Matt Diamond) formed JANK following the dissolution of his duo Panucci’s Pizza. Rather than opt for emotionally driven songs filled with acoustic instrumentation, JANK featured more playful tracks with a much higher degree of energy. They released what would be their only album, “Awkward Pop Songs”, in 2015 and quickly developed a cult following. The band would soon dissolve after being accused by many in the Philadelphia DIY scene of sexual abuse.
Years Active: 2014-Present
Best Album: Sunset Blush
Kississippi, the solo project of singer-songwriter Zoe Allaire Reynolds, showcases a sound that is emo mixed with a healthy dose of indie-folk spirit. Her only album takes its name from the wine Zoe and friends would drink before long, late-night conversations. You can’t get much more emo than that. “Sunset Blush” remains her only full length album but there could be more in the near future as Reynolds announced her signing to Triple Crown Records on October 8th, 2020.