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A new era of musical discovery

Is 23 years old too old to go through a phase?

I ask because I think I might be going through a musical phase that I theoretically should have explored 10 years ago.

When I was in middle school, the emo music craze hit the mainstream with bands such as Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional.

If you managed to make it through the early to mid-aughts without emo showing up on your radar, here's a quick crash course. It had its musical roots in the '80s hardcore punk scene with bands such as Embrace (which featured Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye) and Rites of Spring (whose singer Guy Picciotto went on to co-found Fugazi with MacKaye). Bands who helped found this style (originally called emotional hardcore, or emocore) wanted to break out of hardcore's self-imposed rules and explore themes of self-searching and emotional release. As the American music industry waded through the grunge wave and the indie rock movement, emo pulled in the musical flotsam from those styles to evolve its sound. It remained primarily in the underground until the late '90s. Just as I started to notice that girls were interesting people who did not, in fact, have cooties, these punk rock songs about love and emotional concepts were hitting rock radio in a big way.

And I completely turned my nose up at it.

I had just started to discover Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden in middle school, and my musical trajectory was sending me toward more extreme fare such as Lamb of God, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse. Why would I want to explore my feelings through music? I still, to this day, couldn't tell you what attracts me to heavy metal, but it resonated with me at a young age, and I kept seeking out its more extreme forms — death metal, black metal, deathcore. I wanted music that was loud and violent. Not necessarily lyrically violent — though some bands I listen(ed) to have violent lyrics — but definitely sonically violent.

I would dabble briefly in punk and alternative and then go back to the realm of heavy and brutal music. It wasn't until I drifted apart from the last of my high school friends at the end of my freshman year at Southern Oregon University that I thought to myself, "Is this what really matters about music?"

I expanded my musical palette, no longer imposing genre restrictions on myself. It pulled me into a new era of musical discovery for me.

I'm sure those of you reading this remember when you went through that era when you discovered that style of music that would become yours. You would hear that one band that beckoned for you to come to the party, and suddenly you were falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. That's how it was for me with heavy metal, and that's what's happening to me now with pop-punk and emo bands.

One thing that I've noticed is that discovery happens much quicker and is more wide-reaching than when I was discovering heavy metal. Discovery back then was through magazines, friends and maybe your favorite band's "Top Eight" on MySpace (does anyone remember that? Just me? OK, moving on). Now, I can type an artist I like into Pandora and then just hear new bands that I might like for hours, while Spotify puts many of these artists' complete discographies at my fingertips (and my eardrums) for free.

I don't know why the music that was popular when I was 13 is resonating with me so much at 23, but it is. That's the wonderful thing about music — it finds you when you need it to. As a young geek in middle and high school, I needed violent and angry music to provide a release for me. I feel like that and football helped me to not become an angry and violent person out in the real world. Maybe this style of music is resonating with me now because personal things going on in my life require it.

Ian Hand is assistant editor for Tempo and an enormous geek. Follow him on Twitter @IanHand_MT.