To properly dissect the best emo albums from 2011, one must not be afraid to use the term “emo” broadly, as this style of music can take shape across multiple genres. In 2011, emo was arguably at its lowest point commercially, as the mid-to-late 2000s boom had slowly faded away at the turn of the decade, followed by the genre’s dip into happier and more neon territory. However, due to the lack of commercial viability during this time, emo in many ways returned to its roots within the underground.
Beyond returning to its humble beginnings, this shift in the musical landscape of the early 2010s served as a reset for a genre that needed to go back to the VFW halls, back to the house shows and, most importantly, back to the bands existing without industry hands trying to turn a large profit. By the time 2011 rolled around, emo was not only back to its scrappy and DIY fundamentals, but it was at its most musically diverse, with bands incorporating everything from melodic hardcore to indie rock, shoegaze, post-hardcore, pop punk and even grunge.
Read more: 9 bands commonly mistaken as emo who really aren’t
2011 was also a pivotal year for releases that jump-started the careers of some of the scene’s most beloved staples, along with significant reunion albums from seasoned artists to the swan-song albums that marked the end of legendary careers. In many ways, 2011 was a year of birth, rebirth and death for the genre. It would take nearly seven years for emo to have a resurgence in the mainstream with the rise of SoundCloud rappers such as Lil Peep and Juice WRLD, and now with the recent boom of pop-punk-inspired emo courtesy of artists such as Machine Gun Kelly and WILLOW.
With the rise of emo night events and full-circle support for the genre from Gen Z, one cannot help but look back at a time when the genre was swept under the rug of popular culture. Chances are, you may have missed incredible releases or need to revisit gems that still hold up to this day.
Transit – Listen & Forgive
While Transit got their start playing a more melodic-hardcore and pop-punk style in the vein of bands such as Lifetime, it wasn’t until Listen & Forgive came out that the group began to truly spread their wings. Transit’s third record incorporated lush song arrangements, open chord guitar tunings and a healthy dose of Midwestern emo influence a la American Football and the Promise Ring to their signature dual vocal parts. Standouts include instant classic “Long Lost Friends” and the bold, declarative collaboration with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump “All Your Heart.” Transit remained a scene staple for a handful of years until their sudden breakup in 2016. Tragically, the band’s chief songwriter and visionary Tim Landers passed away in 2019, leaving behind a well-loved discography and influence on the next generation of pop-punk and emo bands.
Man Overboard – Man Overboard
Man Overboard cracked the code on writing open and relatable songs with their 2011 self-titled release. They penned songs about heartbreak, self-destruction, coming of age and the excitement of young love, which would cement the band as a fan favorite within the pop-punk community. As a whole, this record will satiate emo fans who like both a pop-punk-inspired sound similar to New Found Glory and a darker, more melancholic mood in the vein of bands such as Senses Fail or the Early November. Much like their best friends and labelmates Transit, Man Overboard disbanded in 2016. Now the world is eagerly awaiting the kings to return and defend pop punk and emo once again.
Balance And Composure – Separation
From the first minute of “Void,” the opening track of Balance And Composure’s stunning debut album Separation, it’s clear that you’re in for an intense ride. Frontman and guitarist Jon Simmons’ personality and introspection ring out on every track through his somber vocal deliveries and at times painfully honest lyrics. Standouts include “I Tore You Apart In My Head” and “Stonehands,” both of which embody the record’s overall balance of delicate and ambient textures paired with fuzzed-out and abrasive elements that allow each song to swell and build tension. Balance And Composure only released two more full-lengths before disbanding in 2019, leaving a considerable void in the hearts of the many die-hard fans.
The Story So Far – Under Soil And Dirt
There’s so much to unpack with the debut record from the Story So Far. Under Soil And Dirt was the perfect storm of emotion, youthful energy and aggressive tendencies that would catapult the young band to the top of the pop-punk and emo echelon. Since the album’s release, there have been countless imitators who have tried to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle moments of this record, but none have come close to capturing its raw sincerity. Whether you enjoy the album’s heavier tracks (“Mt. Diablo”), barn burners (“Quicksand”) or sugar-sweet ballads (“Placeholder”), Under Soil And Dirt has just about every mood.
Thursday – No Devolucion
Thursday penned perhaps the perfect swan song with their final record, No Devolucion. The record finds the group in their most experimental, somber, subdued and delicate territory, offering a dark, moody experience throughout its duration. Vocalist Geoff Rickly’s signature melodramatic vocals shine over lush arrangements and offer an intimate glimpse inside his mind at the time. Looking back at this record, it makes perfect sense that this would be the band’s final record. It closes perfectly with the nearly eight-minute-long track “Stay True,” which offers a sense of closure and just enough ambiguity that their journey may not be entirely over. Now that Thursday have been reunited for several years, one can only imagine what their inevitable new record will entail.
Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday
While Taking Back Sunday’s self-titled album is far from their best work, it’s one of their most important to date. This record marked the long-anticipated return of original guitarist and vocalist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper, whom many assumed would never return to the band after their departure in 2003 following the release of their classic debut album Tell All Your Friends.
What makes this record special is the apparent energy and excitement radiating from Taking Back Sunday with their newfound reunion and seeing the band give fans what they desired with tracks such as “Best Places To Be A Mom” or “Faith (When I Let You Down).” However, they also showed exactly what they wanted to do artistically with heavy tracks such as “El Paso” and the delicate closer “Call Me In The Morning.” This record is the band returning to form with grace and hints at where their sound would evolve over the ensuing years.
Title Fight – Shed
Shed is without a doubt one of the strongest melodic-hardcore releases of the last 20 years. However, Title Fight expand upon this genre brilliantly through their ’90s-inspired emo influences that pay homage to bands such as Rival Schools, Hum and Texas Is the Reason. The record was produced by New York hardcore and emo legend Walter Schreifels (Quicksand, Rival Schools, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today). Shed is an unrelenting record that captures a band just beginning to reach their prime and laying the groundwork for the next generation. Standouts include “Crescent-Shaped Depression,” the title track and the heartfelt and vulnerable “27.”
Touché Amoré – Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
From the moment opening track “~” explodes, Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm declares “I’m parting the sea between brightness and me.” Immediately it’s clear that an unrelenting sonic journey is about to unfold. Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me contains deeply personal lyrics, jangling minor chords and its fair share of blast beats that create an exciting, emotionally uplifting experience.
The record, which beams with energy, does take a few moments to bring things down to a delicate somber mood with tracks such as “Condolences,” which finds Bolm at his most vocally vulnerable with simply a room microphone placed in what sounds like a bathroom over a minimalist piano line. Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me is undoubtedly the record that put Touché Amoré on the map and made them a household name across the emo, hardcore and indie communities.
Basement – I Wish I Could Stay Here
The debut album by English rockers Basement is one of the most compelling releases to come out of the 2010s emo revival. I Wish I Could Stay Here is the sonic equivalent of a dark, damp and somber day in the U.K., with an almost post-grunge element mixed. Ultimately, it makes the music feel like the best parts Citizen or Turnover, blended with the rawness of classic grunge bands like Nirvana or Bush. Basement have since become a critically acclaimed group that consistently release forward-thinking music that elevates the emo and hardcore genre to new heights while retaining classic and timeless energy.
Sleeping With Sirens – Let’s Cheers To This
If seeing Sleeping With Sirens at the end of this list feels out of place, well, it definitely should. With their sophomore album Let’s Cheers To This, Sleeping With Sirens exploded into the mainstream. The record has all of the best parts of the mid-2000s emo and pop-rock in the vein of My Chemical Romance, the Used and Taking Back Sunday. Equally, it captured the neon era of emo with its poppier elements in the style of heavy hitters such as the Summer Set or Boys Like Girls while also diving into the metalcore crossover that emo was experiencing as well. Sleeping With Sirens made a record that was unapologetically catchy, emotional and, most importantly, relatable. We can all relate to a song like “If You Can’t Hang” at some point in our lives, and much like the rest of the record, it still holds up strong today.