In the early 2000s, “emo” was a label that few musicians wanted stuck to them. Even Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carraba – as much the poster boy for the genre as anyone – disavowed it. “I didn’t think it was an appropriate name for grouping us together, but it stuck,” he said a few years back. “It’s like the term ‘hipster’ that was very cool but is now meant as an insult. That’s what happened with ’emo.'”
Carrabba prefers the less charged “singer-songwriter,” which would also apply to Vermont musician Sam Wiehe – but he doesn’t mind if you call him emo. “I know it has a certain stigma and can be attached to ‘sad boys’, but to me, emo music just means music that is emotional,” Wiehe says. “And that really is all I wanna make.”
The 20-year old Wiehe records as Concrete Jumpers – or, rather, recorded. His new album Dear Madison is his last under that name. It’s a breakup album filled with heart-on-sleeve emotion and sometimes devastatingly personal lyrics. So…emo.
The opening song “Ghosts” sets the mood:
Dear drugs that I took, the ones that shook
Me awake and wouldn’t let me forget
That before I am dead, I’ll rid myself of regret,
My guilt and my fear will die first
Dear love that I had, wasted on someone that
Didn’t bother to tell me their intent
Why’d I believe so easily that there was a you and me
In this rocky fucking place I call home?
I don’t know
I guess I’ll never know
We’ll never know
“These songs almost all come from conversations I had with my roommate after I broke up with my ex,” Wiehe says. “The last song title [“I Heard My Roommate Say”] is a direct reference to that.”
The music is spare and to-the-point, acoustic guitar power chords and the occasional harmony. True to the emo genre, it’s lyrics-first music, but deceptively catchy. A song like “Cornwallis and Kerley” (the title is a Stranger Things reference) gives tough lyrics the sort of melodic hook one could imagine teen crowds singing along to: “I’m honest, I promise / I’m a loose end, I’m a comma / I’m a run-on sentence here without you.”
Concrete Jumpers came to a natural end with Dear Madison, Wiehe says, since his first album under the name (2015’s Balance) was about this same relationship beginning. And though Dear Madison has some tough moments, he ends the album – and the project – on a hopeful note.
“The first few songs were the first I wrote after the breakup,” he says. “It starts with me lamenting the breakup on ‘Ghosts’. Then I deal with issues of family, missing my ex, and by the end, new love and love for myself. The album ends with a song about hope and the future. The album is essentially about me learning to love myself before loving someone else.”
Listen to and download Dear Madison below. Though Concrete Jumpers is no more, Wiehe will continue making music under other names in the future. It may not be emo, but it will undoubtedly be emotional.