On Oct. 20, 2019, Philadelphia local experimental rock band mewithoutYou announced via Facebook that 2020 would be their last year as an active band. As fans waited for more details to emerge, it was difficult not to draw comparisons to the recent breakup of local post–hardcore giants Balance and Composure, who performed their final show in May, and Modern Baseball, whose 2017 breakup was one of the first casualties of the emo revival. With three giants of the Philly scene falling in recent years, who will step up to take their place?
mewithoutYou released a longer statement the next day, describing that there were "numerous" reasons for their disbandment, but saying that "the decision was collectively born out of honesty, respect, and love for one another." Further, the breakup would be prolonged—the band is scheduled to open for Thrice this coming winter, and are planning a farewell tour later in the fall that will likely end in the city of their origin, Philadelphia.
Doylestown local post–hardcore band Balance and Composure followed a similar track to mewithoutYou—they announced via Instagram this January that they would perform six final shows in the spring and then go their separate ways. The decision was rumored after their ten–year anniversary tour in 2017, as vocalist and guitarist Jon Simmons said in an interview with podcast Strange Nerve that they had just completed their "last tour." Their final performance as a band was a sold–out show at the Fillmore on May 11, 2019.
In contrast to mewithoutYou and Balance and Composure, Philly emo band Modern Baseball ended without fanfare. In January 2017, guitarist and vocalist Brendan Lukans announced he would be staying at home for the band's upcoming European tour to focus on his physical and mental health. Less than a month later, the band cancelled their United States tour so that all the members could focus on their mental health. Co–frontman Jake Ewald said in an interview with The Fader, "We just said, let's not call it a breakup and make a huge deal about it and have a 'Last Show Ever' or anything like that. Let's just take it easy for now, and if we wake up and want to do it again, then let's do it."
All three bands were critical to the development of the emo and post–hardcore scenes, specifically in Philadelphia. mewithoutYou's spoken–word vocals, jazzy instrumentation, and knack for storytelling predate acts like La Dispute by year. Balance and Composure, along with acts like The Wonder Years, Tigers Jaw, and Title Fight, helped to generate a new scene of what Stereogum called "suburban Keystone Staters" performing a combination of "pop-punk, hardcore, emo, 'soft grunge,' and plain ol’ alt-rock." Yardbarker, meanwhile, called Modern Baseball one of the best pop punk bands of all time and credited them with helping revive the scene.
These bands rarely reached "fame," but that was to be expected—they were emo, post–hardcore, grunge, alt–rock, where the greatest achievement you can possess is a cult following, much like local trio Algernon Cadwallader, who Stereogum referred to as "the starting point for the entire emo revival."
All three of these Philly bands reached that level of cult following and elevated the city in the process, to the point where VICE released a somewhat tongue–in–cheek article, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that "Philadelphia Has the Best Punk Scene in the Country Right Now." In the absence of these giants, new and established acts have to step up to keep the scene alive.
Scranton–based Tigers Jaw seems the most poised to take the title of Philly's emo kings—between the release of the Eyes Shut EP last month and their current tour supporting local punk legends The Menzingers, the band shows little sign of slowing down. Additionally, Lansdale locals The Wonder Years just completed their third annual Halloween tour, and Hop Along lead singer Frances Quinlan recently announced both a solo album and a small tour. As for Circa Survive, the behemoth of the harder side of Philly post–hardcore, the recently–announced Blue Sky Noise tenth anniversary tour will conclude at Union Transfer in June.
At the same time as established bands fill the void left by their peers, new bands spring up in basements and garages every day, especially in cities like Philly that cater to the DIY punk scene. The fifth wave of emo, should it come, will be those who were raised on the fourth, who absorbed Algernon Cadwallader and Title Fight, used it as a blueprint, and tweaked the aspects they didn't like. They will eventually create their own spin on the scene, and will fully take over once Tigers Jaw and The Wonder Years take their final bows.
One of the issues with bands like mewithoutYou, Balance and Composure, or Modern Baseball is the skew towards a cult following. All bands are temporary, and whether they end in a farewell tour, a spontaneous breakup, or under some other circumstances, the end will always be mourned. Crowning Tigers Jaw as the official successor to Balance and Composure, or The Wonder Years as the kings of Philly emo, will only put more pressure on those remaining bands, speeding up their eventual breakup. Instead, the old bands of the scene should be fondly remembered, the present appreciated while they last, and the future embraced when it comes.