No genre better defines the feeling of cramped isolation than midwest emo, or second-wave/indie emo. Featuring standout bands like American Football and Sunny Day Real Estate, this movement builds with beautifully articulate guitar licks and intimate vocals. Although starting in the late 80s with acts like Cap’n Jazz, the genre has gone through different revivals in the following decades, resulting in some of the most beautiful guitar music of the period.

In celebration of being locked inside, I’ve come up with a list of suggestions for the quarantine. The following list is not a ranked list, nor an exhaustive list of the best midwest emo albums to ever exist. Instead, it is a reminder of or pointer towards quality music to help us achieve catharsis in this time of repression and emergency. 

the book about my idle plot on a vague anxiety by toe

Japan might not be the first country which springs to mind when thinking about Midwest Emo, but Japan’s band toe excellently encapsulated all of the genre’s crucial elements with their debut album: the book about my idle plot on a vague anxiety. Math rock guitar mixes with intricate percussion throughout the album to make a delicate and exotic sonic portrait. The opening is one of the most iconic vibes of any opener. It’s a perfect starting point to get into the genre, and always a treat to return to.

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A Portable Model Of… by Joan of Arc 

Cap’n Jazz was originally started by Tim and Mike Kinsella, brothers who would go on to be part of several other bands together, including Joan of Arc. After leaving Tim’s bands, Mike would notably go on to form American Football. A Portable Model Of… is not only a crucial portrait within midwest emo that wildly defined much of its modern character but Joan of Arc’s debut album. Although this 1997 album may be hard to approach, it’s well worth the attention.  

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All Ten by William Boney

No lie, this Midwest outfit was one of the most important bands to me throughout my teenaged years, and into my adult life. William Boney is a band with a well-deserved cult following due to its raw emotive delivery and bleeding lyrics. Their style of music was honed throughout several previous bands, including Merchant Ships and Midwest Pen PalsAll Ten features the majority of William Boney’s tight discography and perfectly delivers the intensity essential to midwest emo in such a groovy way their shows became mandatory moshpits

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Lift Your Burdens High For This Is Where We Cross by The Saddest Landscape

If we’re continuing albums from my high school years, Lift Your Burdens High For This Is Where We Cross was also essential listening. The thrashy catchiness of this band illustrated in the opening track “The Fashion Magazines Have Succeeded” is masterfully matched by the atmospheric success of the closing track “The Sixth Golden Ticket”. Throughout the runtime, this album remains tight and eminently successful, but those looking for a more expansive experience should check out All Is Apologized For. All Is Forgiven. 

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Assumption by Paper Jymys 

Practically scrubbed from the internet, Paper Jymys was a short-lived and excellent project. Their one surviving album displays powerful lyric writing, tasteful brass inclusions, and a jazzy atmosphere. Assumption is a winning example of the esoteric directions midwest emo can stretch itself. With such a loose genre, the variety can go from post-hardcore to indie-pop in a single beat.

Dancing Is Depressing by Attic Abasement

If you’d to maintain a depressed atmosphere, few albums will do you better. Midwest emo paired down to a self-loathing monologue better left in the bathroom, but made into one of the most revealing of self-portraits.

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Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store by Forests

Underrated on all counts, Forets is a legendary Singapore midwest emo band that succeeds blending almost all parts of alternative rock. Due to the fact that this band is still on the rise, I will be covering individual releases in the future, but until then check out Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store and these excellent videos.

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And to wrap up this list, I’m suggesting the entirety of Tortoise’s discography. All of it. Is it midwest emo? Eh. What even is midwest emo? Tortoise is vibes. It helps with the general blue that’s spread over the world. They’re excellent at their instruments and feature some of the most touching musical passages ever recorded. Stay safe, and make sure to surround yourself with the content that makes you feel at-home.

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