Emo doesn’t need a revival. It needs a rehabilitation.
We’ve heard enough songs about band dudes, the women who betrayed them, and the vacuum of mercy left in their wake. Bands like Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, and All Time Low defined the genre with songs romanticizing toxic relationships and self-harm. Minneapolis pop-punks Unturned are done with the reckless vengeance.
“It needs to happen, because the music needs to get better,” says singer Parker Toyne. “The more inclusive the genre gets, the more diverse it gets, the better the music gets. That’s why we’re seeing this renaissance in this scene.”
Bursting forth from the same DIY basement scene that birthed bands like the Happy Children, Niiice., and Remo Drive, Unturned have spent the past five years sculpting their once-bratty pop punk into a controlled combustion of their post-high school existential exhaustion. Their new EP Sunk, which they’ll celebrate on Saturday with a show at the Fallout, is rife with disgust and ennui. On songs like “Headrush” and “Vertigo.” Toyne’s vocals are as snot-nosed as Tom Delonge’s in his Box Car Racer days. But that’s where the similarities between this record and early-aughts emo ends. Sunk isn’t a collection of revenge songs; it’s an emblem of what can be accomplished when the chaotic energy of emo is channeled towards making things better.
Sunkopens with “Swimming,” a twitchy spiral of self-loathing where Toyne doubts his own ability to love and be loved. “And I hate the sound, the weight that my words carry out/They bring no sustenance,” Toyne wails. “I just wanna be strong enough to be someone you can depend on.”
Lead single “Headrush” picks up on that thread. Toyne sits, burned out and exhausted by living the dual lives of college homebody and touring musician playing 70 road shows year, wondering when his apathy will kick over into something with some true meaning.
“A lot of these songs were written in the year after I graduated high school a year ago,” Toyne says. “I really felt unfulfilled in what I was doing in my life. I could only focus on the thought that my friends were all gone doing other shit, and I hated it. But that’s just running from one problem and creating another. It’s fight or flight, but it lasted three months.”
Sunkfeels as much like a document of Unturned past rather than an indication of the band’s future. From the awkward post-pubescent fumblings on “Shake” to the anxious jealousy on “Vertigo,” these songs chart the emotional progress of Toyne and his bandmates as they claw their way toward the the idea of what it means to be a working band.
“When we were writing these songs, we had all this doubt,” says drummer Sam Kuchera. “We didn’t know where we were going. We’d come to practice, and it was just anxiety.”
Guitarist Will Leach came up with the name Sunkto describe the collective burnout Unturned felt trying to get their band off the ground. In 2017, they signed with a manager who promised to get them in front of labels. He insisted they record Sunk at the Barbershop in New Jersey. Things were going well until the day before the band was due to drop the first single, announce the EP, and embark on a 26-day tour: Their manager texted from to say he was quitting to work with another band.
With their momentum siphoned, Unturned spent the next year shopping the EP to labels, hoping not to have to start over from scratch. They were 19 and hung out to dry, gassed from the sheer thoughts of the work ahead. Eventually, they were approached by California record label No Sleep, home of bands such as La Dispute and Toyne’s personal inspiration, the Wonder Years. After almost a year (to the day) of unease, Sunk was finally released on vinyl on March 22.
Anxiety, anger, self-loathing—Unturned shake all this shit loose, but they don’t do it so that they can sit back and admire the wreckage. They do it so they can build a stronger structure. At the end of the existential slog, in the closing moments of an EP about the emotional tempest of exhaustion, Unturned come through it all with to a distinctly un-emo conclusion. “Don’t let me go,” Toyne bellows on the last line of closer “Comedown.” “I traded change for growth.”
“I’m dealing with a lot of the same things, but in a more proactive way,” Toyne says. “We’re feeling confident. After having this whirlwind of a year and a half, the five of us finally have an idea of what we want to do together. That’s reassuring.”
BaseMNt Music Show ft. Unturned
With: Student 1, Heart to Gold (acoustic), Oftener, Climi
When: 6 p.m. Sat. Apr. 13
Tickets: $10; more info here