Emo has always been somewhat of a inward-looking genre. From Rites of Spring, to Capn’ Jazz to American Football to the emo boom of the mid 00’s, the genre has seemingly always been identified by the feelings of the lyricist, acting as something of an avatar for the audience to project on to and through. But rarely, perhaps with the exception of the self-parodying song names of bands like Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco, has emo gotten as obviously meta and self-legacy aware as we saw from 2018, for both good and ill.

We saw the entire gamut of approaches to bands approaching both their and the scene’s collective legacy, with Coheed and Taking Back Sunday (the 00’s scene’s continued most active participants) embarking on a nationwide co-headlining tour, followed by Coheed’s triumphant return to their storyline with Unheavenly Creatures, Thursday’s continued victory tour of sold-out anniversary shows for War All The Time and Full Collapse, Fall Out Boy’s complete jettisoning of rock music in favor of…whatever Mania was, Brand New’s self-prophesized end (though their quick scuttling, I imagine, wasn’t what they had envisioned), and Jawbreaker’s incredible and staggeringly-attended return, but no two approaches to legacy were as different and opposed as Senses Fail’s If There is Light it Will Find You and Saves the Day’s 9.

If There is Light it Will Find You saw Senses Fail’s own look back in the rear view–both at their own place in the history of the scene, but even more so with an eminent sense of gratitude for the scene itself. It’s a true thank you note from the band to the fans, the bands (including a direct allusion to Saves The Day), and the experiences that led them to where they are now. A surprisingly wistful and affecting record that acts like you and a good friend speaking about the “old days” that might not have been good, but might have been great. It’s a document that says “despite everything, we are, at once, both different people and not that different at all. We wouldn’t have it any other way. And we are going to be here til’ the wheels fall off.” I wrote about it at length when it first came out.

Saves The Day’s 9, however, is a beast of a different color. While the hard-driving guitar lines of their younger years are back and catchy as ever, their is something in the lyrics that feels inherently rotten. Saves the Day made a name for themselves with clever, curiously specific lyrics that somehow acted as universal maxims that touched us all in places that felt amazingly close to home. “You Vandal” became the anthem of one of my unrequited lovelorn periods with, no joke, the object of my affections running off to Costa Rica. (“Last Night I dreamt you called from Costa Rica/Yeah the place you’ve been the last two weeks”) Here, though, with 9, Saves the Day have created something that feels curiously out of touch and distant. Posed as a thank-you to fans, what follows is nearly 40 mins of the band only looking at their reflection as the band equivalent of Narcissus. Conley and co go through an almost literal laundry list of accomplishments that seem less intended to evoke nostalgia than to inflate their collective ego and stoke their sense of grandiosity. There is a distance here that feels strange–all the moreso with their musicianship being top-knotch on this record. It creates a weird dissonance that leaves you desperately WANTING to like 9 but finding you are kept at armslength.

Where do these records differ? Both act as old friends reliving the old days, so why does one feel gratingly oppressive and the other invigoratingly hopeful? How do you even qualify the difference? Both of these are legendary bands who rode the wave of the 00’s emo scene to heights that even they didn’t see and are probably as surprised as everyone else that almost 20 years later they are still playing to crowds as taken with their imagery as ever. But where Senses Fail’s 2018 release feels like a good friend talking about the good old days with a sense of wistfulness and gratefullness for having contributed to where they are now as people, Saves The Day’s 9 feels like the highschool jock who is furiously trying to reconstruct those same circumstances that made him great back then. I know, however, that Saves the Day still have greatness in them–a band that managed to release seminal records like Stay What You Are, Through Being Cool, Can’t Slow Down…not to mention, being the StD apologist that I am, their Sound the Alarm/Under the Boards/Daybreak trilogy–it’s inevitable that the band will get another great record out.