Twinkly guitar-picking, off-key vocals, and emotive screaming — genre-defining band American Football “never meant” to acclaim cult status as one of the most notable Midwest emo acts.
Yet, American Football is just one of the significant bands that have claimed recognition under the genre dubbed the name Midwest emo.
Born out of the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington D.C., Midwest emo is a subgenre of emo music that rose in popularity within DIY movements across the United States throughout the 1990s. Despite the name, Midwest emo is not exclusive to the Midwest. A handful of bands with this sound — such as Chamberlain and Cursive, which are from Indiana and Nebraska, respectively — came from the Midwest, so the genre name stuck for future bands to come.
The genre is defined by the loud and heavy sounds of punk softened up by catchy and thought-provoking lyrical material. Various guitar techniques have become staples of the genre, such as pull-offs and harmonization. To lay the foundation, musicians usually add an intricate bass line.
Midwest emo is known for experimenting with different key and time changes. Fans of the genre also emphasize the importance of the “twinkly guitars” and breathy, strained shouting to contrast the irregular rhythms and sound dynamics.
The genre’s influence from many different rock outfits from the early 90’s emotional hardcore scene lends itself to blend into other genres. The most notable being math rock, which is characterized by complex, unconventional harmonies and intricate rock-inspired guitar riffs. This genre rose to popularity in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and much like Midwest emo, many math rockers, like bands Don Caballero and Shellac, were based in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
At the same time, the post-rock movement was growing in the indie and underground music scenes of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The genre explored new textures and timbres that differed from traditional rock structure, in addition to combining rock instrumentation and electronics.
Below is a list of Midwest emo bands who launched the genre, in addition to some artists who influenced the fourth wave of emo in the 2010’s.
Moss Icon – “Complete Discography”
Moss Icon, formed in late 1986 in Annapolis, Maryland, was known as an early influence on the post-hardcore and hardcore punk splinter genre, as well as on the eventual development of emo. Their album “Complete Discography” symbolizes a transition from the aggressive hardcore punk genre scene to the birth of emo.
Cap’n Jazz – “Analphabetapolothology”
Cap’n Jazz was an emo band formed in 1989 in Chicago by brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella. After the band’s 1995 break up, independent record label Jade Tree assembled this retrospective album of the band’s complete recorded works, which gained success and led to the band’s reunion in 2010.
Sunny Day Real Estate – “Diary” (2009 Edition)
One of the early rock bands in the Midwest emo scene, Sunny Day Real Estate helped establish the genre, and their album Diary was greeted with positive reviews. Shortly after recording their second album “LP2,” the band broke up, and band members Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith joined Foo Fighters in 1995.
American Football – “American Football”
American Football became one of the most praised emo and math rock bands, despite only being active from 1997 to 2000. The track “Never Meant” from this self-titled album came to be closely associated with the Midwest emo genre.
Frat Mouse – “Rat Pack”
Frat Mouse is a newer band, contributing to the post-modern revival of Midwest emo. The track “Gigachad Jawline” on Rat Pack is tangential to the works of American Football and Modern Baseball.
The Wicked Farleys – “Make It It”
The Wicked Farley’s debut single, “Ken Theory”, in 1997 defined their unique math rock and punk sound. The group released two albums, Sentinel & Enterprise and Make It It, which have comparable sounds to the Swirlies and My Bloody Valentine.
Algernon Cadwallader – “Some Kind of Cadwallader”
Stereogum refers to this band as “heroes” of the emo revival, often known as the fourth wave of emo. Some Kind of Cadwallader was their first full-length album, which was released in 2008. This album is definitive of the 2010’s Midwest emo genre revival.
Check out some Midwest emo staples here:
Arianne Landers is a industrial engineering major, content writer and DJ trainee for KCPR. Mairi O’Toole is an art and design major, designer and DJ trainee for KCPR.