"Emo" isn't really as bad a word as critics would have you believe. From the '80s heyday of Rites of Spring and Embrace to the genre's many mutations throughout the '90s, emo has an honorable tradition that a few shitty MTV bands can't erase. When the Appleseed Cast released its debut, The End of the Ring Wars, in 1999, it was just one more link in a chain of soaring post-hardcore that stretched back to Split Lip and Sunny Day Real Estate. But with 2001's atmospheric Low Level Owl, the band far outdistanced its Kansas origins. Incorporating digital textures and mesmerizing ambience, the Appleseed Cast fine-tuned its experimentalismwith its last offering, Two Conversations (a disc more indebted to the high-concept whine of Radiohead), and is already starting work on a new album at Pachyderm Studios with Explosions in the Sky producer John Congleton. Reclaiming the word "emo" may be the last thing the Appleseed Cast has in mind -- but its next opus could finally do the trick anyway.