Embrace self-titled LP/CD [Dischord Records #24, 1985]. This band just wasn't around long enough to polish all their songs. Some of the lyrics are kinda funny in their lack of subtlety, but some just cut right down to the core of the human condition.
Rites of Spring - "End on End" LP/CD [Dischord Records, 1985]. I don't even need to talk about this. This band wrote the book.
Dag Nasty - Can I Say LP/CD (CD includes later "Wig Out at Denko's) [Dischord Records, 1985]. Musically, this is fast melodic punk but the vocals are *so* heartfelt and emotive, and the lyrics *so* unrelentingly introspective and hopeful.
Fugazi - self-titled 12" EP, "Margin Walker" 12" EP / "13 Songs" CD [Dischord Records #?, ?]. They showed us that sometimes there's more depth and power in restraint and quietude than in full-power blasting punk. Sometimes you just need to all strum the same octave chord and shut up.
Fuel 7" and LP, or discography CD. If not for this band, I think the world would have been too afraid to infringe on the sound Fugazi had carved out. Fuel wasn't afraid to write great, powerful songs on the Fugazi foundation. (I gather there's a different band called Fuel on the radio these days, kinda techno?)
Jawbreaker - Unfun and Bivouac LP/CDs. Beautiful, angsty pop-punk with a huge minor-key edge, deep, incisive lyrics that cut right to your soul, and a keen sense of when to relax, when to build up, and when to just blast it out at full power and scream.
Samiam - untitled LP/CD [New Red Archives, 1990]. Aspired to the same thing as Jawbreaker, but somehow more sincere and honest.
Ignition CD discography [Dischord Records]. From 1984 to 1989 or so, this band covered a lot of ground under the DC guitar rock banner.
Hot Water Music - Finding the Rhythms CD (compilation of early EPs) and Fuel For The Hate Game. Takes the best of the Fuel/Fugazi twin vocal/twin guitar drive and adds a sweaty Avail pop-punk pulse, with scratchy, gruff singing that doesn't need to be beautiful to get the point across. This band positively embarrasses bands with only one singer.
1.6 Band - CD discography. Took the best of the Dag Nasty energy and catchy, corkscrewing riffs and added the best emo style 16-year-old vocals ever recorded.
Kerosene 454 - Situation At Hand [Art Monk Construction]. A temple to the DC octave-chord noisy over-distorted SG/Marshall guitar. This is the guitar sound bands dream about. These are all sweet pop songs made impossibly heavy by the crushing weight of the loudest guitars ever recorded.
Lifetime - 2nd 7" / "seveninches" CD on Glüe Records. Good God, talk about heartfelt singing, adreneline-charged bouncing energy and speed, and the sweetest melodies ever written. This band's mission was to reunite punk and hardcore and emo.
Falling Forward - Hand Me Down 12"/CD. Right in the middle of a bunch of styles - a bit of moshy east coast hardcore, a bit of emo yelling, a lot of Midwestern emocore melody. Introduced a lot of sxe kids to melodic, sensitive rock that was still powerful.
Split Lip/Chamberlain (same band) - Fate's Got a Driver. Perfectly crafted songs dripping with Midwestern melody and driving energy. Some people hear crooning bar rock, but the emo buildups and the way the singer's voice breaks in the loud parts prove otherwise.