Polyvinyl Records started circa 1995 and was explicitly connected to the blossoming “Midwest Emo” scene of the time. The founders were based out of Champaign, Illinois, which is exactly where the Kinsella family and others were creating this sound. Mike, Tim, and Nate Kinsella were all a part of music in the mid 90’s and would soon become the godfathers of Midwest Emo in bands like Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and American Football.
The Kinsellas weren’t the only ones contributing to this sound. Bands like The Promise Ring, Braid, and Rainer Maria come to mind as well. This was Emo music being made with similar DIY intent to what was happening in Washington D.C a few years prior (with bands like Rites Of Spring and Embrace), but with less fury and more melody; less drama and more nostalgia. This movement was also a bit before the mainstream Emo bubble of the early 2000’s (with bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Paramore). Those efforts often had fancier production value and more boisterous attitudes than the 90’s Midwest Emo, but many of them cite the 90’s efforts as influences on their own sound.
A lot of labels helped kick start this side of the Emo scene, but Polyvinyl is where so many of these bands have called their home at one time or another, and thus Polyvinyl lives as a hub for this type of information. Today, Polyvinyl is as strong as ever supporting numerous bands and not all of them identify as Emo or even Emo-adjacent. They’ve supported Experimental and Indie Rock as well as Electronic and Folk, so to minimize their identity to specifically Emo would do them a disservice. So much of their roster are incredibly talented and, combined with their marketing skills and PR presence, they are one of my favorite record labels to explore.
Below, I’ll talk a bit about music that we offer that is published through Polyvinyl.
To put it lightly, Deerhoof are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. I dare people to find valid arguments against this. The Magic released in 2016 and is their 14th out of 18 studio albums since 1996. With so many albums, our system doesn’t offer all of them, but this is my favorite from the selection. This band is unstoppable. They exude creative energy at all costs and make it look incredibly easy. Very quirky, very fun, very energetic, and superbly inventive songwriting. They intersect so many influences, but this is a Rock band at heart while sounding like no one else. I’m not kidding, they are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. Go see them live sometime and you’ll know.
Shugo is a multi-instrumentalist with an affinity for whimsical song writing. I’d consider Shugo a folk musician, but the sounds he brings to his records are diverse. He routinely builds robotic instruments to play percussion or piano and employs numerous musicians to play things like accordions, kazoos, Theremins, or horns. On TOSS, Greg Saunier of Deerhoof is playing drums, connecting the Polyvinyl family members. Shugo is influenced by classics like The Beatles and The Beach Boys and makes those sounds very modern with heartwarming and fun soundscapes. There is even a track here that sounds like it came straight from a Tom & Jerry episode.
Owen is the solo project of Mike Kinsella. A lot of people that write off the Owen catalog as too simplistic, but I wonder if its my favorite material from Mike. Mike helped coin the Midwest Emo style in the 90’s and that is still present here, but its stripped back just enough to make something that is remarkably cleaner than a lot of Midwest Emo records. We offer a lot of Owen material, but I revisit At Home With Owen the most. I will admit, it is overly simplistic, but its emotional clarity has an easy time finding my soft spots. The album art is a tight fit as well: it’s peaceful, mysterious, and a little lonely. Wading through those emotions brings catharsis for me.
The further I research for this article, the more I realize just how much Polyvinyl music I listen to and consider important. If I go on much longer, this will take up too much space, so I’ll wrap up with a few more recommendations gauntlet style.
- American Football by American Football – The quintessential Polyvinyl and Midwest Emo release. This album is the root structure from which most Emo Revival music branches from. If you listen to only a single Midwest Emo song, make sure it is Never Meant.
- Time ‘N’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito – Kero Kero Bonito is half British and half Japanese and somehow sounds exactly like the combination of those scenes. This Pop music fits into the British PC Music crowd like Hannah Diamond and GFOTY, but also the J-Pop classics like Perfume and CAPSULE.
- [USA] by Anamanaguchi – This is their most recent album where they have evolved to their most mature form. This band combines chiptune and Nintendocore with traditional rock instrumentation for 8-bit fueled Rock epics. Extremely colorful, bright, and dramatic. Not a lot of bands out there keeping the chiptune vibe alive and these guys treat it with finesse and expertise.
Everything you see here (except a few) are accessible through our catalog! Just click on the links in each blurb and you’ll find them through Hoopla (or YouTube)! Here is a link to both a comprehensive list of Polyvinyl releases and their official website. Check out these lists for more great tunes.
— Reviewed by Noah, Bon Air