It’s an interesting time for emo, which has been going through several sea changes since the late aughts, when “emo” became divorced from much of the music it had represented and turned into a catch-all for histrionic whining and a cartoonish version of goth fashion that would make Tim Burton blush. Just this year two of the groups largely responsible for informing that popularized idea of emo—that’d be Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance—went through some major shifts. The superhero-obsessed dudes in My Chemical Romance parted ways at the end of March, which put a stop* to the band’s streak of dropping grand rock-operas and briefly turned front man Gerard Way into a punk version of Watchmen‘s original Nite Owl as he went through the group’s albums track by track on Twitter, dropping anecdotes and fond memories for any followers who cared to pay attention. A few weeks later Fall Out Boy returned from a short hiatus to drop Save Rock and Roll, an album that indulges the foursome’s pop side, landed on top of the charts, and forced images of the band members’ new looks upon the masses (the dudes have new haircuts, everyone). Although underground punk musicians around the globe have been reclaiming emo’s old sounds and cranking out great tunes over the past half decade, the appearance of Save Rock and Roll has done more to convince mainstream music listeners that emo is flexible and liable to change than any of the exciting new groups have been able to thus far.
Fall Out Boy is hardly the only one changing things up. Last week Geoff Rickly, who fronted screamo standout Thursday till the band went on indefinite hiatus at the end of 2011, dropped his second “mixtape” of solo recordings, Darker Matter, and it bears only a slight resemblance to his work in Thursday and agitprop hardcore group United Nations. It’s a searing and strange antifolk EP that shows Rickly running wild with his experimental side; not only does the dude pull off making a wobbly blues burner (“Crushed Penny”) and a trip-hop tune made with what sounds like a church organ that also name-checks a jazz trumpeter (“Somewhere, Listening to Chet Baker Without Me . . . “), but he puts those songs side by side and makes the transition from each unusual song work.